GRAND CANYON RAFTING ADVENTURES
Which is better-the Upper Canyon or Lower Canyon Adventure?
The first thing to understand is the Upper and Lower trips are two separate parts of the 14-Day Full Canyon trip (16-Days on some Spring and Fall dates). Many participants will do the whole 14 days, then some folks will hike out when the rafts reach river mile 89 on day 6 or 7. That same day, others will hike in to replace the ones who hiked out and complete the trip with the guides, rafts, and other participants on the full trip. Those hiking out are considered to be on the “Upper Canyon” trip, and those hiking in are considered to be on the “Lower Canyon” trip, which is 9 or 10 days long.
By choosing either half, you’ll miss many river miles, along with their respective amazing hikes and sights. We HIGHLY recommend that you do the full trip if you can do so. Most people that choose a half trip will come back to do the other half or even the full trip later after they realize how much they missed. However, we understand that many cannot do 2 full weeks and they often want to know which portion is “best.” Below is a short list of the key differences between the two sections of the river. For some more detailed observations of the difference between upper and lower partial trips go to Which Do I Choose?
Want more details on what each trip is like and the seasonal weather conditions in the Grand Canyon? Check out our quick Guide to Grand Canyon Rafting.
Bright Angel Trail Hike - What to Know for Upper and Lower Canyon Trips
Our Upper and Lower Canyon adventures require a beautiful, yet strenuous hike in or out of the Bright Angel Trail on the first or last day of the trip. While beautiful and a great opportunity to get up close and personal with the canyon, it is not for everyone. Click here to determine if the Bright Angel Hike is right for you.
- Upper Canyon trips involve rafting the first 89 river miles, considered the “upper section” of the Colorado River, then hiking up Bright Angel Trail on the last day of your expedition
- Lower Canyon trips involve hiking down the Bright Angel Trail on the first day of your trip, then rafting the last 137 miles, or the “lower section” of Colorado Rive
- 7.5 mile (12 km) trail from Pipe Creek (not Phantom Ranch) to South Rim of Grand Canyon Village
- 4,600 foot (1400 m) elevation climb or loss
- Average pack weight is 15-25 pounds (6.8-11.3 kg) + 3 quarts of water (weighing about 6 pounds or 2.7 kg)
- Average hiking time is 6-8 hours
- Length: 6 days, 7 days on some spring/fall dates
- River Miles: 89
- Hike Out Required on Bright Angel Trail: Hike out to South Rim from river at Pipe Creek. Hard on the lungs and stamina. If not in good physical condition, this may be a slow, long slog to the top.
- Rapids: 14 major rapids, 2 rapids rated IV or IV+ on the International Whitewater Scale. Read here for more detail.
- On-River Hiking: Likely to have more, shorter hikes with expansive vistas. On cooler days/trips, some very long hikes may be offered.
- Attractions: More likely to stop at archaeological sites.
- Introduction to the River: Slower, gentler introduction to the rapids. Starting with medium and smaller-sized rapids, and ending with the biggest rapids just before hiking out. Great for nervous folks or parents with kids.
- Introduction to the Geology: Great intro to the basic geology of the Canyon. Allows more time to learn about the complexity of geology as the Canyon grows in depth and rock layers slowly as you float downstream. The guides have more time and visual aids with all the rock layers being exposed at river’s edge, to help in the understanding of Grand Canyon geology.
- Scenery: Both sections have dramatic, incredible Grand Canyon scenery. The upper has the younger rock layers that one gets to experience up close and personal. There are also expansive rim views on one day of the upper.
- Temperature: Given the same weather conditions on the same day, the average ambient temperature is usually about 3-5° F cooler than the lower.
- Ecology: Great Basin Desert plants, Utah juniper, Utah agave and blackbrush, with a slow transition into Sonoran Desert plans, such as barrel cactus as you descend in elevation.
- Length: 9 days, 10 days some spring and fall dates
- River Miles: 137
- Hike In Required on Bright Angel Trail: Hike down to river at Pipe Creek from the South Rim. Not an option if you have bad knees or hips. Extremely difficult on the joints and muscles. If not in good physical shape, the hike in can be physically debilitating and ruin your river trip.
- Rapids: 14 major rapids, 5 rapids rated at IV or IV+ on the International Whitewater scale.
- Hiking: More likely to have more, longer hikes in length.
- Attractions: More likely to have more stops with water features, such as streams, ponds and waterfalls.
- Introduction to the River: More of a whirlwind of an introduction than the upper. Immediate immersion into most of the biggest rapids, as they occur the first two days after hiking in. In general, as you progress downstream, the rapids get farther apart and less big, except for a couple nearer the end.
- Introduction to the Geology: Learning about the geology of the Canyon is more challenging, as the younger and topmost layers are not at river level on the lower section. You do not see them close up after the hike in. Learning about them is harder when focusing on hiking in, as this is where you do briefly see them up close.
- Scenery: Both sections have dramatic and incredible Grand Canyon scenery. However, the lower section has more side canyons with perennial streams that have riparian plants and trees.
- Temperature: Given the same weather conditions on same day, the average ambient temperature is usually about 3-5 F degrees warmer than the upper.
- Ecology: The lower starts out with Sonoran Desert plans and slowly transitions into Mojave Desert plants. You’re likely to see ocotillo, creosote, and various cholla cacti species as you drop in elevation.