Rafting the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon is one of North America's greatest adventures. The wet 'n' wild ride is an expensive thrill, however, so be sure to choose wisely when hiring a rafting outfitter. Here's what you need to know.
Plan the trip at least a year in advance. Most of the rafting trips through the Grand Canyon book quickly--National Park regulations allow a limited number of boats through the canyon each season--and require a down payment. If you can't plan that far in advance, go standby and ask the rafting outfitters to call you if there's an opening. The Colorado's water releases are controlled, so the best rafting conditions are typically in the spring (April) and fall (September and October).
Review your budget--you may be draining more than your raft every day. Costs run a minimum of $250 per person per river day. (All food and nonalcoholic beverages are included.) Add more for travel to and from, gratuities, hotels and alcohol.
Choose from four types of watercraft: oar rafts (the guide does all the work), paddle rafts (you paddle and the guide steers), motorized rafts (long raftlike boats with a specialized outboard motor), and traditional dories (charming 17-foot/5.2-m wood boats that carry three passengers and a guide). Hybrid trips, where you paddle one day and rest the next, are also available.
Scrutinize potential outfitters. Visit the Web sites of commercial rafting companies licensed to run the Grand Canyon, then call the toll-free numbers, ask for brochures and grill the staff. Where possible, try contacting previous clients via e-mail or phone numbers provided by rafting companies.
Expect to spend six to 16 days: six to seven days for Upper Canyon trips, nine days for Lower Canyon trips, and 13 to 16 days for full-canyon trips. Rapids range from class I to V; however, Grand Canyon water levels are based on the water being released from Lake Powell through the Glen Canyon Dam.