Colorado - 18. Lee's Ferry to Lake Mead

Colorado, Arizona, US


18. Lee's Ferry to Lake Mead (The Grand Canyon)

Usual Difficulty III-IV (for normal flows)
Length 296 Miles
Avg. Gradient 9 fpm
Max Gradient 35 fpm

Nankoweep Graneries

Nankoweep Graneries
Photo of Dennis Huntley painting by Dennis Huntley taken 09/15/12 @ 18000 cfs

Gauge Information

Name Range Difficulty Updated Level
usgs-09404200 4000 - 48000 cfs III-IV 01h04m 14600 cfs (running)
usgs-09402500 4000 - 48000 cfs III-IV 00h19m 13900 cfs (running)
usgs-09380000 4000 - 48000 cfs III-IV 00h34m 13400 cfs (running)

River Description


The Grand Canyon is one of the seven Wonders of the World.  Magnificent views of the geological record are on prominent display throughout a journey through this canyon. Every day that passes reveals new eras of time and new aspects of creation.  

The long history and multitude of stories about the Grand Canyon have built the whitewater up to heroic proportions in the public mind. However, river running knowledge, skill, and equipment have improved tremendously in the century that boaters have been running this section.
By todays standards the Grand Canyon is a very reasonable adventure. The gradient tells the tale; most of Grand Canyon is flat water. The infamous 1 to 10 rating system does not mean that these rapids are harder than class 6. The hardest rapids on the run were simply given a 10 rating and everything else was rated respectively lower. A Grand Canyon 10 corresponds approximately to a class IV rating on the international scale.  The 1 to 10 rating was system developed for heavily loaded large rafts, and a 10 on this scale might not require a single stroke from a kayaker (though perhaps a lot of bracing and rolling if one wanted to try that!). Modern experienced river runners can apply their usual river-running judgment.

The skills required for a kayaker to negotiate Grand Canyon include:
1. A bomber roll. The water is cold and the river is so wide that swimming to shore is often difficult.
2. The ability to turn sideways to a big wave train and paddle out of it.
3. The ability to keep your balance and your cool in sustained funny water (whirlpools and boils occur at the bottom of many rapids and along eddy lines).
4. The ability to scout and choose a big-water line.

The skills required for an oarboatman in the Grand Canyon are in some ways much more difficult. Rafts are typically fully laden and very heavy.  It takes a good understanding of the rapids, early decision making and a lot of hard work to get a raft to the right place in a rapid. The risk to a a baggage boat is much greater than for other river runners. A swimmer can flush through the biggest rapids. A kayaker can get flipped and easily roll back up. But if a baggage boat flips, it will take a long time to get it to shore and a lot of manpower to got it flipped back over, upright. A flip can cost hours of effort and important supplies can be lost or ruined.

Boatmen need the:
1. Ability to hang on to the oars in heavy water, the ability to manuver with only one oar if needed and the ability to quickly replace an oar. 
2. Ability to maintain or recover a ferry angle in heavy water. 
3. Ability to catch eddies at the bottom of rapids and the ability to break out across big eddy lines. 
4. Ability to keep rowing when you miss a line, straighten out and push when facing a big hole, and get back in the seat when knocked off.
5. Ability to rig very well and maintain your anchor lines through changing night time water elevations.

Putting together an expedition that meets Park requirements and keeps a group of river runners well fed and happy for 18 or more days is a challenging task.  

Put in: 
The primary launch point is Lee's Ferry, which is measured as mile zero on most maps.  

Trip participants can arrange to hike in or out at a variety of trails in the mid-section of the run. The most common location to swap participants is Phantom Ranch (mile 89).  The allows people to do the upper or lower half of the run even if they do not have the time to do the full trip. Park service fees are about the same whether you do a full or half trip and these arrangements must be planned out before the trip.

Take outs: 
The majority of private trips in Grand Canyon travel 226 miles to Diamond Creek, Arizona for their takeout. Diamond Creek is an intermittent stream that doubles as a roughshod road. Other takeouts include Pearce Ferry on Lake Mead (mile 279) which has been rehabilitated and re-opened after being closed due to low lake levels. The next access is South Cove, which is 17 miles farther on the lake.

Diamond Creek access information: 
The Hualapai Tribe charges a fee for each person, vehicle and driver that goes to or from Diamond Creek. In 2017, that fee is $65. You can arrange for a shuttle service to pick you up or you can make arrangments with the tribe for shuttle between the river and Peach Springs. The $65 is in addition to any shuttle fee. 

Hualapai River Runners
P.O. Box 246
Peach Springs, AZ   86434
(928) 769-2210 / (800) 622-4409

Boaters may also launch at Diamond Creek and travel 54 miles to Pearce Ferry Boat Ramp.  The permit for doing this section is much easier to obtain than for launching at Lee's Ferry.  Diamond-Down River Trip Application    Grand Canyon NP: Diamond down information

Grand Canyon Weather links:
Weather Forecast for Grand Canyon Park
Page, AZ,  is just upstream of the put in.
Zone Area Forecast for Marble and Glen Canyons, AZ   NOAA
Zone Area Forecast for Grand Canyon Country, AZ       NOAA
Phantom Ranch is about half way through.
South Cove, Lake Mead  
Sunrise/ Sunset

Other information Sources:  
Grand Canyon National Park: river running information
Grand Canyon River - Audio/ Video Podcast Channel

The Grand Canyon is perennially represented among American Whitewater's Top 40 River Issues. Check out AW's articles on the fee demo program and the wilderness and access lawsuit.
Grand Canyon Private Boaters' Organization. They do excellent work for private boaters and have a very informative online discussion forum.
River Runners for Wilderness wiki
Grand Canyon River Guide's Association
Moenkopi blog
Slideshow of rapids
Colorado River NASQAN program
Grand Canyon Monitoring and Research Center
Time Lapse Videos of beach erosion
Durango Bill's 3D tour

There are many videos on you-tube and at similar video websites.  Search for grand canyon, rafting, kayaking, whitewater and similar, or by rapid names. 

Outfitters and shuttle services for private trips:  
PRO -  Professional River Outfitters
Canyon REO
Moenkopi Riverworks
River Runner Shuttle Service
Ceiba Adventures

Interesting Water facts: 
Lee's Ferry is the dividing point between the Upper and Lower Colorado Rivers for water rights politics.
Water for the South Rim Village flows through a pipe from near the north rim, down right Angel Canyon, across a bridge and then back up to the south rim. It is all gravity fed. Pumpkin Springs is arsenic.

Reaches of the Colorado River:
01. Hot Sulphur Springs to Hwy 40 bridge (Byers Canyon) (CO, IV)
02. Gore Canyon (CO, IV-V)
03. Pumphouse campground to Rancho Del Rio (Pumphouse) (CO, III)
04. Hanging Lake Exit 125 (I-70) to Shoshone Power Plant Exit 123 (I-70) (Barrel Springs) (CO, IV-V [V+])
05. Shoshone Power Plant, Exit 123 (I-70) to Grizzly Creek, Exit 121 (I-70) (Shoshone) (CO, III-IV)
06. Cameo Dam (Big Sur / Lucky 7) (CO, III)
07. Loma to Westwater (Ruby / Horsethief Canyons) (CO-UT, II)
08. Westwater to Rose Ranch (Westwater Canyon) (UT, I-IV)
09. Cisco (Rose Ranch) to Moab (Professor Valley) (UT, I-III)
10. Moab to Powell Reservoir (Cataract Canyon) (UT, I-IV)
11. Lees Ferry to Lake Mead (Grand Canyon) (AZ, I-IV)
12. Black Canyon (AZ-NV, I)

Permit Information

Permits for the Grand Canyon are required and available through a weighted lottery system in February (additional dates may be distributed throughout the year).

StreamTeam Status: Not Verified
Last Updated: 2017-10-20 16:03:24


Stream team editor

Rapid Summary

Mile Rapid Name Class Features (Legend)
0.0Lee's FerryN/APutin Photo
4.3Navajo BridgeN/A
11.2Soap Creek RapidIII
17.0House RockIII+Photo
21.021 Mile RapidIII
23.023 Mile RapidIII
24.024 Mile RapidIIIPhoto
24.524 1/2 Mile RapidIII+
25.025 Mile RapidIII
29.029 Mile RapidIII
31.6Paradise CanyonPhoto
33.0Redwall CavernN/A
43.0President Harding RapidII+Photo
47.0Saddle Canyon
61.5Mouth of the Little ColoradoN/APhoto
65.4Lava Canyon (Chuar) RapidIII
84.6Zoroaster RapidII+Photo
87.8Bright Angel Canyon and TrailAccess
90.2HornIVHazard Photo
95.0HermitIIIPlayspot Photo
98.0CrystalIVPortage Hazard Playspot Photo
116.5Elves ChasmN/APhoto
125.0Fossil RapidIII
133.8Tapeats Creek and RapidII+Photo
136.2Deer CreekN/APhoto
179.3Lava FallsIV+Hazard Playspot Photo
220.7Granite Springs RapidIII+
225.5Diamond Creek takeoutAccess
229.0Travertine Rapid
240.0Surprise RapidIII
280.0Pearce Ferry TakeoutN/ATakeout
281.0Superimposition RapidIII+Hazard
290.0Iceberg Canyon RapidII
296.0South Cove Take outTakeout

Rapid Descriptions

Lee's Ferry (Class N/A)

Lee's Ferry, Mile 0

Lee's Ferry, Mile 0
Photo of Lee's Ferry - The day before put-in by Daniel W. Webb taken 08/09/04 @ 18000

Put in  There is a large parking area and unloading area next to a long boat launch area.  Private groups must unload and rig on the right side while commercial groups rig to the left.  There are toilets and potable water.   There is a covered picnic area that can be used for lunch, but not for any cooking.  

Navajo Bridge (Class N/A, Mile 4.3)

An old and a new bridge cross here about 500 feet above the river.    The old bridge is now a pedestrian walkway and viewing area.   On the north side of the bridge is a parking area, bathrooms and a small visitor center.   The view from the bridge is tremendous.  The view from below looking up at the bridge is pretty neat also. 

Badger (Class III+, Mile 7.8)

Badger is the first real rapid with Grand Canyon waves.  It is more difficult at lower flows when there are some rocks and holes to avoid.  

Soap Creek Rapid (Class III, Mile 11.2)

Soap Creek enters on the right just below the beginning of the rapid.  A typical rapid with large rocks and holes on either side at the top, but a wide tongue down the middle into standing waves.   Decent camping above the rapid on river right. 

House Rock (Class III+, Mile 17.0)

Flip at House Rock Rapid

Flip at House Rock Rapid
Photo of Rafters from the Mesa - Tempe Group by Ratt Boy (KHCC-GC) taken 06/24/04

This rapid is named for House Rock Wash.   The rapid curves gradually to the right, so the current carries boats towards the left into a number of very big breaking waves.   Lurking in the waves at the bottom of the rapid is a boat flipping hole. 


It is easy for kayakers to go to the right of the hole, or to go through it and roll back up afterwards.  Loaded rafts have to pull hard to stay right.  If there is enough water, smaller rafts can sneak far right at the top and maneuver their way through shallow rocks. 

21 Mile Rapid (Class III, Mile 21.0)

Start of the "Roaring Twenties", a series of fun and relatively closely spaced rapids. 

24 Mile Rapid (Class III, Mile 24.0)

24 Mile Rapid

24 Mile Rapid
Photo of Chrissy Zeltner by Ratt Boy (KHCC-GC) taken 06/25/04

This rapid is new and formed in 1989

24 1/2 Mile Rapid (Class III+, Mile 24.5)

A BIG hole scout left.

Paradise Canyon

Vasey's Paradise

Vasey's Paradise
Photo of Vasey's Paradise by Ratt Boy (KHCC-GC) taken 06/26/04

A hike

Redwall Cavern (Class N/A, Mile 33.0)

On the left is a giant natural ampitheater carved out of the limestone.   It is an easy and very popular stop.    It is dark and cool in the back.   Sounds carry loudly through the cavern.  

President Harding Rapid (Class II+, Mile 43.0)

President Harding Rapid

President Harding Rapid
Photo of Brian Day by Thomas O'Keefe В© taken 5APR07

A big rock occupies the center of the river.  Clean tongues are on either side.  At some flows there is decent surfing for kayakers.   At high flows, the rock creates a monster hole, but there is plenty of room to avoid it to the left.   Campsite on river left. 

Saddle Canyon
Side Hike

Kwagunt (Class III, Mile 56.0)


Photo of Jeff Knechtel and Mark Pavkovich by Ratt Boy (KHCC-GC) taken 06/28/04

Mouth of the Little Colorado (Class N/A, Mile 61.5)

Little Colorado

Little Colorado
Photo of Little Colorado and North Rim by Ratt Boy (KHCC-GC) taken 06/28/04

The Little Colorado enters from the left.   During the dry season it will be flowing milky blue and will be a few hundred cfs coming from limestone springs just a few miles upstream.   During rainy times this river will be muddy with flows from its vast drainage. 

Unkar (Class III+, Mile 72.4)

A long boulder strewn rapid.

Hance (Class IV+, Mile 76.5)

Hance Rapid, first half

Hance Rapid, first half
Photo of Mark Mastalski by Thomas O'Keefe В© taken 04/07/07

This is the first real ass kicker with big holes.   It is one of the longest rapids on the river and the rapid most cluttered with boulders and holes.    Boaters must make multiple manuvers throughout the rapid.   People typically scout from river left, but you can also scout on river right to better inspect the hero route through the biggest holes on the right.


Most boaters enter the rapid center right then work left to avoid the biggest holes. 

Sockdolager (Class IV, Mile 78.6)


Photo by Thomas O'Keefe В© taken 04/08/07

Don't get too far off the big V waves and find yourself smacked around.

Grapevine (Class III+, Mile 81.5)
A long set of big wave trains.

Zoroaster Rapid (Class II+, Mile 84.6)

Zoraster Camp

Zoraster Camp
Photo by Paul Martzen taken 03/25/09 @ 7,500 to 1,400 cfs

Only relevant at low flows.

Bright Angel Canyon and Trail

Trail to the rim and site of Phantom Ranch where there is a postoffice and eatery.   Three different trails meet the river here.   One to the north rim and two up to the south rim.   You can hike a fun loop over the Bright Angel bridge and back over the Kaibab bridge.  

Horn (Class IV, Mile 90.2)

Making the Move at the Top of Horn

Making the Move at the Top of Horn
Photo of Amanda by Thomas O'Keefe В© taken 04/09/07

Possibly the most difficult and intimidating rapid at lower flows.   Dark walls rise raggedly on both sides.   A big clean tongue enters the rapid on the right and flows into big breaking waves and finally into a monster wave hole. 


One strategy is to enter on the tongue, then get left of the bottom hole.  Another route is to enter between two horns at the top left of the rapid, punch some big waves then easily stay left of the bottom hole.  


The waves through out the rapid are powerful.

Granite (Class IV+, Mile 93.4)


Photo by Thomas O'Keefe В© taken 04/09/07

Granite is a long rapid with big waves.  The tongue funnels towards the right against the wall, and the waves tend to be largest on that side.  It is an easier ride to the left of center.

Hermit (Class III, Mile 95.0)



The biggest free standing waves up to this point on the river.

Crystal (Class IV, Mile 98.0)

Raft runs Crystal

Raft runs Crystal
Photo of Steve Ingalls by Judi Cleary (KHCC) taken 08/15/01 @ 17,000cfs

Crystal became the big one in 1966, after a big flash flood in Crystal Creek dumped big boulders in the river and constricted the main channel to the left.   Crystal Hole dominated the center of the river and large diagonal waves surfed rafts towards it. 


Over time high flows in the main river have gradually reduced the power of the central hole and made it easier to miss the hole.   It still remains a serious rapid.   Scout from river right.

Turquoise (Class III, Mile 103.0)
More of teh "gemstone series"

Elves Chasm (Class N/A, Mile 116.5)

elves chasm

elves chasm

There is a wonderful short hike up to a pretty swimming hole.  It does involve some scrambling.   Adventurous climbers can continue scrambling past the main swimming hole and eventually come out above. 

Fossil Rapid (Class III, Mile 125.0)
Side hike her also

Bedrock (Class III+, Mile 130.5)

The main current runs down the left side of the channel then piles up against a large bedrock midstream island.   Half of the current turns sharply to the right of the island and that is the safe route.    The other half of the current pushes to the left of the island, then turns sharply right on the downstream side.


The left side of the island is a narrow and extremely turbulent chute.   The rock walls on both sides are honecombed with potholes carved by the water.  


Scout from river right and take some time to explore the interesting rock formations there.   Bedrock creek is also a nice hike. 

Deubendorff (Class III+, Mile 131.8)


Photo by Thomas O'Keefe В© taken 04/02/07

This rapid is deceiving.   It is big and wide and easy at the top.   Once it picks up speed it curves a bit to the right then has large holes scattered through out.   With a heavy raft it is easy to blunder into a few of them. 

Tapeats Creek and Rapid (Class II+, Mile 133.8)

Tapeats Rapid

Tapeats Rapid
Photo by Thomas O'Keefe В© taken 04/02/07

The rapid is a minor rapid, but the creek offers wonderful hiking.  Two trails climb the cliffs on either side of the creek then traverse narrow ledges above the gorge.  Facing upstream at the mouth, the trail on the left is easier, while the trail on the right requires some scrambling. 

Tapeats Creek flows year round because it is fed by two major springs; Thunder River and Tapeats Spring.  Thunder River is the closer but still requires a couple hours of hiking.   The trail past Thunder River, continues on to Surprise Valley and eventually to the north rim or over to Deer Creek.


Kayakers can carry boats up the right side trail so that they can paddle through the narrows.   See Tapeats Creek— Thunder River to Colorado River.


Camping is no longer allowed at the mouth of Tapeats Creek. 

Deer Creek (Class N/A, Mile 136.2)

Deer Creek Falls

Deer Creek Falls
Photo by Judi Cleary (KHCC) taken 08/15/01 @ 17,000cfs

Deer Creek is spring fed and flows all year long.   Boaters are provided with a dramatic sight where the creek gushes out of a notch in the cliff, then free falls about 170 feet, into a pool next to the main river.    A large sand bar seperates the base of the falls from the river.

There is a trail that starts at the mouth of Deer Creek and goes all the way to the north rim.  A long, but popular day hike from the river, during the cool season, is from Tapeats Creek to Deer Creek via Surprise Valley.   The steep hike to the valley above the falls is very nice by itself.

Experienced Canyoneers can travel through the short narrows leading down to the top of Deer Creek Falls.  It requires good rock climbing/canyoneering skills.  There are several bolted rappels past waterfalls within the narrows, while the final rappel is said to be 180 feet.   See,  and Todd's Hiking Guide.

Upset (Class IV+, Mile 149.8)



This large rapid makes a gradual right turn against the cliff wall on the left with the debris fan on the right.  A very large wave hole lurks in the center of the waves about 2/3 of the way through.

The conservative route is as far right as you can scrape down. An exciting line is available on the left side which avoids the main hole, but requires punching other wave holes that are only somewhat smaller.


Tougher at lower flows.  Not sure at what flows the wave holes wash out. 

Lava Falls (Class IV+, Mile 179.3)

Raft Running Lava Falls

Raft Running Lava Falls
Photo of Raft Running Lava Falls by M. White taken 06/06/01 @ 14,000

Lava rapid (mile 179) is the most intimidating rapid in the Grand Canyon.  Because of another flash flood in Prospect Canyon, the left side of the rapid (which is considered by some to be a sneak) is cluttered with boulders, and more popular with rafters at higher flows (at least 15,000). Center at the top of the rapid is one of the biggest pourover holes you'll ever see, yet you will not be the first to throw some ends there if you try. You can scout from either side, but the impressive scout is to follow a small trail on river right up to an outcrop of lava where you can overlook the maelstrom. It doesn't look good, but you can't see while you're in it. The standard line is to start center right. Rafts commonly punch through the maw of the V-wave, but kayakers can bust through the lateral that feeds it from the left and smooth out their ride.

Granite Springs Rapid (Class III+, Mile 220.7)

Granite Springs drainage flashed sometime in 2016.  The river was narrowed and many boulders were deposited in the channel.  A large boat flipping hole or wave is in the middle of the rapid.

Diamond Creek takeout

A rough dirt road comes down the side canyon to the river.   The eddy is fairly small and Diamond Creek rapid starts immediately downstream.  During the monsoon season in July and August, Diamond Creek can flash flood and wash the road out. 

Pearce Ferry Takeout (Class N/A, Mile 280.0)

Because of the low levels of Lake Mead, this take out and boat ramp has not been usable for several years.  (as of 2008)  The river is separated from the boat ramps by a mile or so of sand and silt. The reservoir needs to be at elevation 1,177 or higher for this take out to be usable. Check with park service and other resources to make sure.


Superimposition Rapid (Class III+, Mile 281.0)

This new rapid that is forming at around mile 281 is becoming a class 5 to 6 on the Grand Canyon scale and should be approached with caution as there is a large wrap rock in the center of the channel. The rapid is hard to see as it is on a 90 degree corner.   Reservoir silt has filled in the old river channel which ran along the cliffs to the north.  The river has cut a new channel to the south, exposing a rock ridge.  As the reservoir level dropped the rapid has become bigger and bigger.

Photos of Superimposition Rapid near Pierce Ferry, uncovered by the low lake levels.  Photos from February 2008.   

Durango Bill's page with excellent photos and explanation of the formation of this rapid. 

The satellite view on the map tab gives a good close up view of this new rapid when you zoom in.


Iceberg Canyon Rapid (Class II, Mile 290.0)

When the lake level is around 1105 feet or lower, a rapid appears at the end of Iceburg Canyon.   An excellent surfing wave is reported to form there, also.    The location and rating are approximate.

South Cove Take out

While Lake Mead is very low, South Cove is the only viable take out past Diamond Creek. 


Scripps Institute has published a study suggesting that Lake Mead could go completely dry by 2021

User Comments

Users can submit comments.
November 8 2010 (2666 days ago)
Michael SawyerDetails
I have collected video, GPS info, River Mile Markers (Blue Flags), Camp Locations (Green Flags),
Rapid Locations ( Red Flags), Points of Interest (Yellow Flags), videos (click on Rapid Flags), NPS
Regulations, interesting links, Photos, Wikipedia links, and AW... links, and ... if you want
something on there let me know. It's a work in progress, I'm already behind a major update so check
back every couple of days or so. Once you get Google Earth open, and get tired of flying around on
your own, if you look in your Google Earth Temporary Places and click around, you'll find a funny
looking triangle looking icon. If you play it, it will fly you down the entire Grand Canyon. You
can see the various Places as you fly. Stop anywhere and click on a marker for more info. It is a
long flight. Sawyer

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