For those who like their vacations filled with excitement, adventure and awe-inspiring views, and don’t mind sleeping outdoors under the stars, a one-day or multi-day whitewater rafting vacation down the Grand Canyon’s Colorado River is an experience like no other. Several companies offer trips throughout the warm season (usually April to September), with highly-trained tour guides who usually prepare all the meals for the trip and organize activities like hiking side trails.
Many companies have different whitewater experience options like motorized or oar-driven boats, trips with hike-in or hike-out locations, trips that start from easy access points like Las Vegas, and graded rapids levels so beginners can choose a gentler experience. Although it’s important to be in good physical health if you intend to do any hiking, most Grand Canyon rafting companies take pride in accommodating special needs passengers. The long access season, mind-blowing scenery and excitement are good enough reasons alone to head for Arizona for your next vacation, but here are 7 other perks you’ll get from a Grand Canyon whitewater rafting vacation:
- Excitement like nothing else.
The Grand Canyon’s whitewater rapids fall everywhere between the familiar whitewater river scale of I to VI, although the Grand Canyon itself uses a particular 1 to 10 scale, as most of its rapids were graded before the international scale was created. Even a Class II rapid has waves up to three feet that can splash over the sides of the boat, and at Class V the boat is spinning, twisting and rocking on high waves that require careful maneuvering and cause pulse-pounding excitement.
- Feel small.
With towering walls and a massive river, an unbroken view of the horizon and brilliant stars, sweeping rainstorms and twisted trees grasping the vertical cliffs, there’s nothing like the majesty of the Grand Canyon to give you a feeling of real inspiration and awe. Bright Angel Trail is a 6-hour hike up or down, and looking over a steep precipice to the colorful rocks and glittering river thousands of feet below remind you that we are all just little humans in a big, beautiful world.
- Learn American history.
The Grand Canyon was famously praised by President Theodore Roosevelt in 1903, “You cannot improve on it. The ages have been at work on it, and man can only mar it. What you can do is to keep it for your children, and for all who come after you, as the one great sight which every American… should see.”
The partnership between humans and the Grand Canyon dates back at least to the Ancestral Puebloans, who lived in the area in 1200 BCE. The Yuman, Havasupai, and Walapai peoples still inhabit their ancestral land today. You can feel the presence of immense human history in the walls of the Canyon, and imagine the lives of the people who lived there, seeing the same view as you, looking up at the stars.
- Reconnect with nature.
Photographs don’t do it justice. Sleeping on the ground, feeling the wind blowing through your hair, eating food cooked over a fire and watching clouds scuttle across the sky can ground you back in nature. Keep an eye out for the amazing variety of wildlife in the Grand Canyon– from Bighorn sheep, raccoons and squirrels to bats, coyotes and maybe even mountain lions.
- Group camaraderie
There’s nothing like being in an adventure with a small group of enthusiastic, like-minded people to form bonds that can last a lifetime. When you’re hanging tight to a raft barreling down a rapid, you come to trust your campmates. Taking photos, talking and winding down after dinner together are where the great memories are made.
- See geologic time first-hand
The Grand Canyon was formed by the erosion of the river over millions and millions of years. For at least 3,000 of those years, humans have lived along the canyon. The deeper the canyon, the more ancient geology is exposed to your sight. You can look at rock that was laid down when dinosaurs still roamed America. Experience the bridging of modern and ancient time as you float down the river.
- Time for reflection
It’s not all rough-and-tumble excitement on a whitewater tour. There are plenty of stretches of gentle flowing river where you can keep an eye out for wildlife, talk with your group or just watch the river. After a day’s travel, resting in camp is the perfect time to watch the stars, listen to the night breeze and reflect. Wherever your thoughts take you, wherever your feet go, you’ll always have memories of the Grand Canyon.