Whitewater rafting through the Grand Canyon

By: Ron Moon, Photography by: Viv Moon

Following decades of pining, and a year-long wait, Ron Moon finally got his Grand River Adventure.

Whitewater rafting through the Grand Canyon
I’ve just spent eight days rafting the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon in the USA. It was, in a single word, fantastic!

Over the years, I’ve been lucky enough to have some great river trips, like rafting the Franklin River in Tassie or walking and paddling the Murray River from its source near Cowombat Flat in the Victorian High Country, downstream as far as Mildura.

There have been other adventures afloat as well, such as paddling the Zambezi in Africa and some wild whitewater rafting in northern Queensland, New Zealand and Alaska.

But I gotta say, this latest one was an absolute beauty. You see, I’ve just spent eight days rafting the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon in the USA. It was, in a single word, fantastic!

The trip starts at historic Lees Ferry in northern Arizona, just below the impressive Glen Canyon Dam, considered Mile Zero for Colorado River rafters. For the next 50 or so miles, you float downstream and through the numerous rapids of Marble Canyon before coming to where the Little Colorado River, with its limestone blue water, enters the main river.

From here, you’re officially in the Grand Canyon and soon in the deepest part of the abyss, with the southern and northern rims of the great chasm, rarely seen by rafters over a mile (1.6km) in vertical height, somewhere, above you. Here, the cliffs bordering the river are at their sheerest, the river at its narrowest, the water flowing at its fastest, the plunging rapids at their most numerous and the whitewater stretches at their wildest.

Today, the canyon is visited by millions and more than 22,000 people raft its thundering waters each year.

In the many years travelling the region, we’ve experienced most of what’s on offer here including staying at the historic Blue Angel Lodge on the South Rim, flying over the great chasm, visiting every lookout and even walking the glass footway of the Grand Canyon Skywalk — about the only thing I’d never bother to do again! Twenty years ago, I visited Lees Ferry and watched rafters put in and said, "I’d like to do that!"

Last year, when I revisited Lees Ferry and said the same thing, Viv said, "Well, bloody book a trip and do it!" So I did.

There are about a dozen companies running trips on the river and we chose Grand Canyon Whitewater, and it was a great choice — I couldn’t recommend them highly enough!

You need to book a year out to get the trip you want while, if you want to plan your own independent trip canoeing or rafting the canyon, you need to register each and every year for five years to get a time slot.

As an Aussie, there are a few differences in how you behave on the river. For example, all, and I mean ALL, solid waste has to be brought out with you, while all liquid waste goes down the river. In other words, you don’t wee behind a bush but in the river; the rafting mantra being "The solution to pollution is dilution". This works pretty well in a river flowing at the rate of the Colorado, but we’re certainly not advising the same for Australia’s sluggish streams.

I’ve also gotta say, the camps and the riverside generally are the cleanest I have ever seen. In eight nights camped on sandbars along the 225 miles of the river we travelled, I picked up a single Band-aid at a camp and a yellow waterproof jacket that had been washed downstream into a bush. The cleanliness was very impressive and we could all learn a thing or two from that example!

So, on your next trip, grab a canoe or a raft, and paddle and float down a river near you. If, in the future, you come to the USA and want a grand adventure then try rafting the Grand Canyon with Grand Canyon Whitewater. Anybody can do it… and you will never, ever forget it! 

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Check out the full feature in issue #91 August 2015 of Camper Trailer Australia magazine. Subscribe today for all the latest camper trailer news, reviews and travel inspiration.