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Rafting the Grand Canyon with Kids

Last updated 16th October 2017

Why go?

A roaring river, soaring canyon walls, wide blue skies. Welcome to the land of the giants. The Colorado River is 1,450 miles long. But the most spectacular section is the 225-mile stretch through the Grand Canyon, where the river has carved its way through more than 5,000 feet of layered rock, creating soaring walls and a labyrinth of side canyons.

The best way to experience the canyon is by boat. Here, time slows down. Children become adults and adults become children. 


We had five 18-foot inflatable rafts – four oar boats (rowed by guides) and the ever-popular paddleboat, which allowed six people to paddle as the guide steered from the rear. For the next two weeks these became our home. 

Our children reveled in this world of extremes. They loved the rapids. They loved sleeping on the sand with nothing but a sheet for cover.

Side canyons offered the unexpected, such as mysterious underwater caves and cliff jumping. 

With more than 160 rapids ranging from flashy ripples to 20-foot waves, a rafting trip can feel like Disneyland. Hearing the roar brings the excitement.

The guide stands up to get a better view, then grabs the oars as the boat glides into the rapid’s sleek, dark tongue. Then giant waves loom up as the raft bucks this way and that until it finally shoots out into the calm waters below. Was I worried about the kids? I have to admit that before the trip, I was a bundle of nerves. But I stopped worrying on the first day. For starters, life jackets are mandatory. Also, the guides are serious about river safety and would much prefer to avoid a mishap than watch it happen. 

But there was something more nuanced at work here. I learned to give up control, because I wasn’t the expert on river safety – the guides were.

At one point my daughter asked if she could stand up during a rapid. ‘Sure,’ said the guide, knowing that particular rapid’s level of danger, and, the next thing, there she was, standing up on the bow, gripping the line and riding the waves like a cowboy. From then on I realized I was off the hook. 

After 13 days, we were all ready for a shower. But driving back home, we were all pretty quiet. “Would anyone want to do this again?” I asked, to be greeted by a chorus of “Yes!”

If I do book another trip, the only change would be to book an all-paddleboat trip. That way everyone gets a chance to sit in the hot seats. 

The lowdown

Travel time: It’s roughly 3 hours and 30 minutes from Phoenix to the Grand Canyon (depending on your starting point).

How to get there:  You can book a flight to Phoenix or Las Vegas depending on your starting point. Some trips offer roundtrip transportation starting from the city and others offer car services to bring your car from the start point to meet you at the end point.

Best time to go: The weather in the Grand Canyon changes frequently, so it’s hard to say when the best time to visit is. In general, April, May and November are the driest months, while June to August is the warmest. 

More information: Several different companies offers rafting trips of between 6 and 16 days on the Colorado River. For more information on rafting through the Grand Canyon, visit grandcanyon.com