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Rafting Colorado River - Rafting on the Colorado River

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Rafting the Colorado River is an exhilarating experience no outdoor enthusiast should miss. Whether opting for a leisurely one-day float to savor the scenery, or a multi-day adventure with the thrill of heart pounding rapids, the spectacular wild beauty of the Colorado River is an astounding feast for the senses that is bound to leave you breathless.

Explorer John Wesley Powell first rafted the Colorado River through Cataract Canyon in 1869, in the area known today as Canyonlands National Park in southwestern Utah. Powell was awestruck by the jagged red rock splendor of this remarkably sculpted ancient landscape, and returned for a second trip in 1871 to further his studies. Though others followed years later for pleasure rafting trips, it was Norman Nevills who began running the first commercial whitewater rafting trips in 1937, using army-style black rubber rafts. There is no shortage of thrill seekers today, and rafting the Colorado remains ever popular among adrenaline junkies, nature lovers, and photographers alike.

The Colorado River affords many rafting opportunities in its majestic canyons. Ranging from the tranquil floats through Ruby or Horsethief Canyon, to the thundering whitewater rush of Westwater, Cataract, or Grand Canyon, rafting the Colorado has something for everyone of all ages and skill levels. Rapids are classed according to difficulty: Class 1—flat moving water, Class 2 and 3—mild to moderate rapids, and Class 4 and 5—rapids are vigorous and intense. Almost everyone can handle the Class 2 and 3 variety, including children age 5 and up and active seniors; Class 4 and 5 would not be advisable for children under 12 or inactive seniors. There is also Class 6 rapids, by the way, which are considered unrunnable due to high waterfalls and very violent rapids, far too dangerous for anyone to attempt.

Planning ahead is essential before embarking on a Colorado River rafting adventure. Unless you are already an experienced river rat, you will want to make reservations well in advance with a rafting outfitter or tour company whose seasoned guides will make your trip safe as well as fun. The time of year you plan to go rafting on the Colorado River is also very important, especially if you are seeking that ultimate whitewater thrill. Peak runoff occurs in May and June when the river is at its highest and fastest from the spring snowmelt. Browsing the Internet will help you find dozens of outfitters and tour companies that will provide you with trip itineraries, pricing, and other valuable information on rafting the Colorado River. Many of them offer all-inclusive package deals with airfare, hotel, and shuttle service, and most combine your rafting experience with short hikes into the many secluded side canyons, where you can swim in pristine pools, frolic under tumbling waterfalls, and marvel at the abundant canyon wildlife.

For multi-day excursions, the rafting companies generally provide everything you need, including all camp gear, life vests, delicious meals, beverages, and a portable toilet/sanitation station. In very warm weather the most you’ll need to bring is a bathing suit, shorts, a T-shirt or two, a lightweight long-sleeved shirt for evenings, old tennis shoes, flip-flops, and a sunhat or visor. The rafts have dry storage available, though packing space is limited, so try to keep personal items to just minimum essentials. Sunscreen, toothbrush, small bottles of biodegradable soap and shampoo, a waterproof disposable camera, sunglasses with a snug-fitting strap, and any needed prescription medicines should do it. Mosquitoes aren’t usually a problem during peak runoff, though if planning to raft the Colorado after that time you’ll want to bring a good deet-based repellent. If you have diabetes or any special diet needs, let the company know when booking your trip, and they will do their best to accommodate you. Also keep in mind that everything that is packed in, is packed out. The rafting companies take great care and pride in practicing “camping without a trace”, so that all that’s left behind on the beaches are your footprints.

Rafting the Colorado River is an exciting experience you’ll never forget, no matter what trip you choose. Bask in the sun, get wet and have fun, embrace Nature at its finest, and enjoy the ride of your life!

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