Plan a Grand Canyon Raft Trip

Get Started and Plan a Grand Canyon Raft Trip

Where do you start? Great question. There are many types of trips to choose, different trip lengths and other various factors to take into account when you start to plan a Grand Canyon raft trip. There are so many details to consider along with your planning process. Here is a list of the most frequently asked questions we receive from inquiries in our office from folks during their planning phase.  You may soon decide you are ready for more frequently asked questions about Life on the River and even specific questions about what to bring and what is provided under Equipment and Gear.


Do you offer a one day trip? What are your trip lengths?
No. Because the Grand Canyon is so massive and remote, there are limited locations to access the river. The total stretch of river we run is from a “put in” location at Lee’s Ferry to a “take out” location at Diamond Creek. This 226 mile stretch of river can be run in a variety of lengths ranging from 6-16 days. Give us a call or use the website to start the process of deciding which trip is right for you. If you are looking for a one day trip, contact Colorado River Discovery (888-522-6644); they offer a one day raft trip on the Colorado River in Glen Canyon out of Page, Arizona.

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Why should I go with you? What sets you apart?
Our repeat customers are quick to answer, “it’s the guides!” They are the heart of the company and have guided an average of ten years in the Grand Canyon. They are extremely talented, creative, interesting, knowledgeable, and caring individuals who enjoy sharing their love of southwestern rivers. We also receive high compliments for our customer service and the attention provided to guests in preparation for the rafting adventure. Our caring, helpful and experienced office staff will help you with your reservation, trip preparation and last minute questions and concerns. In addition, the team includes our amazing dedicated food packers, warehouse, bus drivers, hiking guides, and orientation hostesses.

AzRA and GC Discovery takes great pride in modeling stewardship of the earth both on and off the river including recycling, purchasing environmentally friendly products, teaching and practicing minimal impact camping, and serving a menu which includes both locally grown and organic products when available. We are a philanthropic, family owned company and support several local environmental organizations such as the Grand Canyon Trust, Grand Canyon Wildlands Council and Peregrine Fund (see links page for a complete list of non profit organizations we support). We also participate in the Grand Canyon Fund’s dollar per day donation program which is committed to enhanced access for persons with disabilities, environmental education, and other regional Grand Canyon related projects and organizations.

plan a Grand Canyon Trip with AZRA

Photo by Ralph Hopkins

There are also many other reasons our guests choose us: we are also one of the first Grand Canyon outfitters to offer the Classic (previously known as our “hybrid trip”) and all paddle option and still one of the few companies that still do them, we operate out of Flagstaff, Arizona and end our trips at Diamond Creek (see frequently asked question Why end the Trip at Diamond Creek) and we love side hiking and exploring the side canyons. Finally, it is our goal to share this experience of a lifetime with you and we strive in every way to ensure this happens!

People often ask me “Why do you keep going back to the Canyon? You’ve done it so many times — what’s the point?” It’s difficult to explain how each trip is different — how the chemistry of the group, the guides, the weather, the level of the river, the phase of the moon, the hikes, the blisters and bruises…all the multitude of pieces combine to make each trip a unique experience. ” — Margie R., 12-time repeat customer

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Who can go and what are the age requirements?
We take families, couples, friends, and many passengers travel solo. Prior river experience is not necessary for Classic or Motor Adventures but we do recommend prior experience for the our All-Paddle Adventure. Arizona Raft Adventures welcomes people of all races, religions, orientations, and abilities.  In fact, almost anyone can go on a Grand Canyon rafting adventure but there are some boundaries.

Guests range in age, and many folks are surprised to learn our average age passenger is between 50-65 years of age.  You must be at least 10 years of age to participate on a Motor Adventure, 12 years of age to participate on a Classic Adventure, and 16 for an All-Paddle Adventure. All minors have to be accompanied by an adult of at least 25 years of age. In addition, if the minor is not traveling with at least one legal guardian, all legal guardians have to sign off on three forms for the minor to travel with a non-legal guardian: an acknowledgement of Risk; authorization for the non-legal guardian to accompany the minor; and consent for the adult who is accompanying the minor to authorize medical treatment for the minor. There is no age maximum but it is important to realize that special consideration should be given if you are 70 years of age and older. The intense environmental conditions in the Canyon and the physically taxing nature of the adventure can make this trip extra challenging for elderly guests.

While you plan a Grand Canyon raft trip, it is important for all guests to be aware of the physical demanding nature of the trip. There are also inherent risks and discomforts such as high temperatures, prolonged sun exposure, cold 52 degree river water, dry air, and elevation changes (Lee’s Ferry is 3,107 feet above sea level and Diamond Creek is 1,325 feet above sea level). When you are in the canyon, medical help is hours away. Please check with your physician prior to your trip if you have ANY medical condition or take ANY medication. If you exceed 250 lbs. in weight or a 52 inch chest and/or waist, please contact the office prior to booking so we can ensure a proper fit into one of AzRA and Discovery’s Type 5 life jackets. We can also accommodate a wide range of needs including those who are physically challenged or have medical conditions. I

If you have any questions or concerns regarding any of these details or if you would like to discuss whether this is an appropriate trip for you or anyone in your group, please call the office at 800- 786-7238 and we will be happy to discuss any concerns.

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What is the group size?
Group sizes vary depending on what type of trip you choose and what time of year you sign up. The average group size for our non-motorized trips is 18-20 passengers and approximately 6-7 crew. The group size for our one-boat motorized trip is approximately 13 passengers and 2-3 crew and the group size for our two boat motor trips is approximately 18-24 passengers and 4 crew.

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When is the best river level (water flow)?
Many people assume higher water and bigger rapids come with spring snow melt, however, that’s not the case in the Grand Canyon. The river flows are moderated by the Bureau of Reclamation as they manage a large reservoir and a hydroelectric generating station at the Glen Canyon Dam just 10 miles above our put-in location. Because of this, we have plenty of water to run the river through our entire season April – October. We consider our “peak high water” season typically in July and August when the Bureau of Reclamation releases a higher volume of water through the hydroelectric generator to meet the demand for summer electricity. Some of the whitewater does get more intense with a higher volume of water flowing through the Canyon. But the rapids in the Canyon are not always more exciting with more water. In fact, in some cases, higher water actually “washes out” some of the rapids and in other cases, lower water actually makes a rapid more challenging and exciting. Whether on the river at lower, more technically challenging levels or higher levels with bigger waves, the rapids are always fun!  If you are curious about the current water level fluctuations over the past 7 days, check out the United States Geological Survey (USGS) water gauge reading at Phantom Ranch. The data is measured in cubic feet of water per second and typically at 60 minute intervals.

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How physically demanding is the trip?
A river trip through the Grand Canyon is a physically active trip and you may find yourself participating in activities such as loading and unloading boats, setting up and tearing down camp, hiking side canyons, and paddling through the rapids (classic or paddle adventures only). When you plan a Grand Canyon raft adventure it is important to acknowledge that it is also physically challenging adjusting to the environmental factors such as wind, sun, sand, water, elevation, cold and heat. Previous customers reinforce time and time again being in relatively good physical condition is essential for an enjoyable trip. Some of our trips are more strenuous than others. If you would like to discuss trip options, please call our office and speak with one of our knowledgeable and helpful staff.

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Do I need to know how to swim?
No, because everyone wears a Coast Guard approved life jacket while on the river. While swimming ability is recommended, many non-swimmers come with us each year. It is important for us to know if you cannot swim so please indicate your swimming ability on your Guest Information sheet prior to your trip.

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What is the difference between the Upper Canyon and Lower Canyon

Plan a Grand Canyon raft adventure

Vasey’s Paradise Waterfalls by Ralph Hopkins

This is one of the most difficult questions to answer because the entire Canyon is so incredible. One of the more obvious differences is the Bright Angel Trail. You have to hike out of the Canyon on the last day of your trip if you are on an upper Canyon trip and hike into the Canyon on the first day of your trip if you are on a lower Canyon trip. We do not recommend hiking out if you have any problems such as asthma, cardiovascular disease, or history of heat-related illness. We do not recommend hiking into the Canyon if you have any problems with your joints, muscles, or bones in your lower back, hips, knees, ankles or feet. Deciding to hike the Bright Angel Trail in either direction should be given consideration because hiking the Bright Angel Trail is difficult. Hiking up is definitely more of a cardiovascular workout and takes longer whereas hiking down definitely has more impact on your lower body which may leave you fatigued and sore for several days.

The upper Canyon is a 6-7 day trip and the lower Canyon is 9-10 days depending on the time of year you choose.

Although the two largest rapids on the 226 mile stretch of the river (Lava and Crystal) are on the lower half of the river, the third largest rapid (Hance) is on the upper.

Another minor difference is that the upper tends to offer more shade because the river runs more north and south whereas the lower runs more east and west. This could be an advantage either way depending on what time of the year you decide to go.

Both the upper and lower have amazing side hikes including vistas, waterfalls, and side canyons.

There are more ruins and more panoramic views on the upper half.

The lower half features the Inner Gorge, the deepest part of the Canyon.

All in all, if you have the option, choose the full canyon trip or plan on coming back and doing the other half.

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Why end the trip at Diamond Creek? (full and lower trips only)
When you compare Grand Canyon outfitters while you plan a Grand Canyon raft adventure you should know there are three “take out” points to end the full length or lower half trips: Whitmore Wash (river mile 188), Diamond Creek (river mile 225), and Pearce Ferry Road (mile 279). Understanding the differences between these choices can be confusing. We end all of our full and lower trips at Diamond Creek. We feel this offers you the fullest experience, maximizing your time in the heart of the Grand Canyon, and gives one the most amount of time in the section of the Grand Canyon that has all the best hikes and the famous rapids. The Diamond Creek take out point avoids the controversial use of helicopters, which is necessary at Whitmore Wash, or adding an extra 54 miles to your trip below Diamond Creek to Lake Mead. The time it takes to traverse these 54 miles takes away from the time one has to relax and enjoy the most scenic areas and fantastic hiking opportunities upstream in Grand Canyon.

The river below Diamond Creek is predominantly flat water with the exception of three low rated rapids. Mile 240 is the beginning of Lake Mead Recreation area. Due to the flat waters of the lake meeting the river corridor, the river becomes backed up and the slow current is full of sediment which creates the need to navigate around multiple sand bars. The scenery changes drastically during this section as it turns into barren cut banks and impenetrable thickets of invasive tamarisk brush which makes finding camp spots difficult. Cut banks are large sand walls created by the sedimentary delta deposits left by the Colorado River meeting the calm waters of Lake Mead’s fluctuating water levels. It is also often 115+ degrees on this section of the River on many days of the summer. Finally, there is an influx of tourists brought in by helicopters from Las Vegas for sightseeing trips and pontoon rides on the this section of the River.

Due to the extreme heat, slow current, lack of hiking opportunities and generally less scenic nature of this area, most companies who run this stretch of river bring in jet boats about ten miles above Pearce Ferry Road to expedite the transport of their passengers through this section.

One common misconception is that by going all of the way “to the lake” means you get to experience the blue waters of Lake Mead; however, due to a large unrunable rapid, recently created by the extremely low levels of Lake Mead, all commercial trips are required to take out at Pearce Ferry Road which is 20 miles away from the actual lake.

Diamond Creek road is a dirt road alongside Diamond Creek Wash and is the only road to the bottom of the Grand Canyon. Although rare, it is possible in the case of severe flooding in Diamond Creek, that the road can become impassable. If this were to happen on the day of your take-out, we may have to continue down to Pearce Ferry Road at mile 279, in which case, return time to Flagstaff could be late in the evening (or in extremely unusual cases, the following morning.)

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Will I be asked to sign a liability waiver?
No. But you will have to sign an Acknowledgment of Risk form. There is an element of undeniable risk inherent in any adventure-based activity. Our Acknowledgment of Risk describes some of these risks and the possible consequences and challenges you to make an informed vacation decision. Your reservation and signature on the form tells us you are willing to assume personal responsibility for the many risks involved and the personal choices you make. If you have questions about the risks or our safety record, please call us before making a reservation.

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Do you offer any discounts?
Yes. You may find promotional discounts ranging from 10-25% off on the Trips on Sale page. You may be notified of sales by becoming a Fan of the AzRA Facebook page where we also post our latest sales and promotions. Sale prices and discounts are available to new bookings only.

We are also extremely grateful to those who come again and again. To show our appreciation and to thank guests who return for another trip within three years of their previous trip, we offer a 10% discount on your next regular price reservation (applicable to the repeat traveler only). In addition, once you have a trip history with us of four or more trips, you are eligible for a lifetime 10% discount regardless of your return frequency.

To thank our U.S. Military Veterans, Active Duty military, National Guard & Reserve for their service, we are proud to offer you 10% off any regular price reservation. You are eligible if you have served in any branch of service, or during any period of service, both wartime and peacetime. A valid military ID is required to receive discount applicable to veteran only.

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When should I travel?
Regardless of which trip you are on, you need to be at the orientation meeting which begins at 7:00 p.m. the night before your trip departs. For arrangements after your trip, we suggest upper Canyon trip guests stay at the South Rim the evening of your hike out and travel home the next day. Sometimes it takes people longer to hike out than they think it will. For lower or full Canyon trip participants, we suggest staying at the DoubleTree by Hilton Flagstaff,  the night you return from your trip. We anticipate a return time to Flagstaff somewhere between 3-7 p.m. Unpredictable weather conditions may make the bus ride back to Flagstaff longer. Also, most groups have a post-trip dinner in Flagstaff the evening of the return.

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Why travel through Flagstaff?
Flagstaff has a friendly, small town feel in a beautiful mountain setting that fosters smooth transitions between civilization, nature, and back to civilization. Since Flagstaff is centrally located in Northern Arizona, this splits an otherwise long bus ride into a three hour leg to Lees Ferry followed by a three hour leg back to Flagstaff from Diamond Creek at the end of the full canyon trip. If you are on an upper or a lower trip, one of these legs is replaced by a 1-½ hour shuttle ride to the south rim of the Grand Canyon. AzRA Discovery does not provide the shuttle between Flagstaff and the South Rim but it can easily be arranged with shuttle companies that run daily in between. Flagstaff also has a small airport serviced by US Airways through a Phoenix connection. Flagstaff Pulliam Airport is currently undergoing renovations in order to attract more airlines; check their schedule as there may be other airlines flying in and out of Flagstaff in the future. If a connecting flight is not possible, there are daily shuttles scheduled between the Phoenix Sky Harbor Airport and Flagstaff. Flagstaff is a great town to begin and end at and you should consider this when you plan a Grand Canyon raft trip.

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What else is there to do in the surrounding area?
Northern Arizona has many interesting things to do and see including several National Parks and Monuments, the famous red rocks of Sedona, and local activities in and around Flagstaff. Flagstaff has a plethora of things to do ranging from museums and site seeing, outdoor recreation activities, and a cozy downtown area featuring great restaurants and taverns. See the links page for suggestions on sightseeing in Flagstaff and around Northern Arizona.

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How do I make a reservation?
After you pick the best trip option and check dates, call our office at 800-786-7238 or send an email to info@azraft.com to check availability. You may also call us if you would like to discuss trip options directly with one of our knowledgeable office staff. We do ask for the full legal name, mailing address, email address, phone number, date of birth, height and weight for each passenger on the reservation. Once you have secured a trip date with our reservation staff, you have ten days to put down a non-refundable deposit in order to confirm your reservation. If the trip is within four months of departure, the deposit period is forfeited and the full payment is due in full within ten days of booking the reservation.

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What is the deposit policy if I make a reservation?
The deposit is $400 per person and is due within 10 days of securing your reservation. You may make your deposit by personal check, Visa or MasterCard. Your deposit is non-refundable so please consider purchasing trip cancellation insurance to protect yourself from unforeseen circumstances that might cause you to cancel.

AzRa does not sell trip insurance, but you might want to consider Travelex Insurance Services, as they provide standard trip insurance policies that have been used successfully by many of our previous guests. Click here to read more about travel insurance.

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When is the final payment due and is it refundable?
The final balance is due 120 days prior to your trip departure date (group trip final payment is due 180 days prior). Your final payment due date is noted on your invoice. We send out an email reminder but please mark your calendar to ensure the final payment is made on time. If your payment is due on a weekend date, please adjust accordingly as the office is not open on the weekend. The final payment may be submitted by a check or you may call our office and authorize a credit card payment on either a Visa or MasterCard (sorry we do not accept American Express or Discover). Once you make your final payment, your trip fare is non-refundable. Hopefully you have already taken this into consideration and have made proper arrangements with a trip insurance provider. If you have not made arrangements with a trip insurance provider, you may want to consider again purchasing trip insurance at this time. We don’t actually sell trip insurance, but you might like to consider Travelex Insurance Services, as they provide standard trip insurance policies that have been used successfully by many of our previous guests. If you purchase trip insurance at this time, certain conditions or situations might not be covered so be aware of the provider and coverage. If you did not purchase trip cancellation insurance at the time of deposit, pre-existing conditions may not be covered.

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Do I have any options if I or someone on my reservation has to cancel?
Once the deposit is paid, it is non-refundable. Once the final payment due date has passed, all payments are non-refundable. We encourage all guests to purchase a trip cancellation insurance policy to cover themselves for unforeseen reasons that may cause a cancellation. Not only do we recommend you purchase trip insurance, but we recommend you purchase it within two weeks of the deposit payment to ensure you cover any pre-existing medical conditions. If you did not purchase an insurance policy and find that someone in your group or yourself must cancel, you may consider two possible options. Although we do not transfer money from year to year, we will allow you to rebook on another trip departing within the year PENDING AVAILABILITY. We may not have space for you on a different trip at the time of your cancellation. A second option is for you to replace your own cancellation. For example, if your spouse is not able to attend and you want to bring your nephew, this is an acceptable solution to us. We request written notification by email, fax or regular mail in the event you have to cancel or have found a replacement for your cancellation.

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How do I pick a trip best for me or my group?
Before you can make a reservation, you must first decide what type of trip best suits you and the rest of your group. We offer three different rafting options varying in length from six to sixteen days. Begin here for descriptions of the different types of trips. Alternatively, call our friendly reservation staff to discuss what trip might be best for you at 800-786-7238. Once you choose the trip that best fits your interest and ability level, it is time to make a reservation.

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Are there trip opportunities for persons with disabilities?
Yes. Opportunities include trips organized by non-profit groups, trips organized by families and friends, as well as encouraging persons with less severe disabilities to mainstream on previously scheduled trip dates when possible. Please contact our office if you have any questions regarding accessibility and your participation. Read more…

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Does AzRA work with Travel Agents?
Yes. If you are looking for a travel agent to assist you with your trip planning, we recommend Flagstaff’s very own Rivers and Oceans for your travel agent needs. We also recommend Advantage Grand Canyon, out of Phoenix, Arizona. If you are a travel agent and wonder if we work with new agents, the answer is also yes. Please contact our office and speak with one of our knowledgeable staff for details.

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What is Red River Sports?

Red River Sports is a small retail division operated by the office staff as a service to our guests specializing in river gear. We sell all the important items necessary for your rafting trip in the Grand Canyon and at lower prices than you will find elsewhere. We want to make sure you have access to the items you need to be well prepared for your trip. We operate primarily with online orders and also sell our retail items at the Flagstaff orientation for guests on an upper or full Canyon trip. If you are on a lower Canyon trip, please place your order by phone or mail as you will not have access to the retail items at the South Rim orientation. 

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Do I need a film or photography permit from the Park Service?

Probably not if you are taking photos and film for personal use only. If you have any questions regarding whether or not you might need a permit, review the permitting guidelines or want a copy of the permit application, please visit the National Park Service Filming/Photography Permits website.

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Does AzRA support a photo sharing site so that I may share photos with my fellow passengers?

Yes. AzRA has a Shutterfly page available for our 2013 guests and expect to have this service available for future seasons as well. AzRA provides each guest with personalized instructions on how to share photos. Guests join Shutterfly or sign in to his/her existing Shutterfly account. Upon entering the site, guests locate their trip folder and add 10-20 of their favorite pictures to share with the other guests on the trip.

This page allows our guests to share their photos with each other on a company supported platform; the platform also provides download and printing capabilities in addition to just viewing photos.

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