Whitewater Kayaking The Grand Canyon

Long Overnight Trip Reports, Trip Reviews, Races + Events, Whitewater Kayak Product Reviews, Whitewater Kayaking

We have quite a few customers who have been kayaking for a number of years and finally have the opportunity to paddle The Grand Canyon. Because The Colorado River is such a dynamic place, that has everything from huge wave trains with boiling eddy fences, to miles of flat water, it is very important to have the proper gear. You do not want to be uncomfortable in your boat, and have numb feet on a 21 day, 277 mile trip.

The Grand Canyon is a dam controlled, pool drop river with a gradient of only 7 feet per mile (Browns Canyon on The Arkansas River drops 40 feet per mile and the Middle Ocoee River drops 54 feet per mile). It flows between 7000-20,000 cfs (on average, although it can get higher or lower depending on season and dam control), which is a lot of water, and makes up for the lack of gradient. What does all of this mean? You can expect to float a few miles of flat water (pool) and then run a class III or IV big water drop. Most of the rapids have straight forward lines with big features. Surfing and play is done on the fly. If your a play boater, you’ll end up paddling the rapid with an upstream ferry angle looking out for waves and holes to surf, if your boat and paddling ability are adequate.

If your looking for rivers to paddle that compare to the Grand, you could float Westwater or Cataract Canyon at higher flows, the Main Salmon, Lochsa, Ottawa or the New river (and the Dries).

\”Wilderness. The word itself is music.\”-Edward Abbey
Lots o\’ water in the big ditch. Check out how small the oar frame looks on river right. (Photo credit: Dustin and Katie Urban)

Play Boats:

The Grand Canyon has all types of river features. There are plenty of catch on the fly waves and holes that are perfect for play boats. If your primarily a park and play boater, you will definitely want to bring your play boat on the Grand Canyon, especially if you like doing vertical freestyle tricks like cartwheels, loops, big blunts, etc.

River running the Grand Canyon in a play boat can sometimes be the safest and most fun way down the river, if you have the skills. Smaller boats tend to melt through large water features instead of getting caught up and surfed, because there is less boat to control. Be ready for a wild ride and bring your high brace.

If you plan on paddling all 277 miles of the Colorado, you probably don’t want to bring your play boat. You will wear yourself out trying to keep up with the rest of your trip. Also, if you have never paddled a play boat on a big water run, you may want to consider paddling something a little bigger. The Grand Canyon has huge eddy lines and big pushy rapids. You will get squirted, bounced around a lot, subbed out and most likely flipped over a few times. Sounds a lot like play boating right? A reliable roll and good bracing / play boating skills will make the trip a lot more enjoyable.

Boats to Look at:
Jackson All-Star (click here to read reviews and here to buy the boat)Pyranha Rev
Dagger Agent
WaveSport Project

Stephen Wright shows how to get it done in big water(Ottawa River). If your wondering how an All-Star would be on The Grand….Here\’s your answer. Photo:Nick Troutman

Free Running Boats:

Being comfortable in your kayak is very important. Free Running kayaks are a great (and the most popular) choice because they are playful and behave like rodeo boats, yet are more stable, spacious and comfortable. If you want to feel confident in big rapids, surf and also do vertical tricks (depending on skill) free running boats can do it all. Plus, they are light enough to a take on and off the raft if you decide not to paddle the flats.

Some people consider free running kayaks the “jack of all trades, master of none” boat. They can do it all, but are not particularly great at any one thing. Play boats are smaller and easier to throw around in waves, eddy lines, flat water and holes, yet true river runners have the hull speed and stability to run big water confidently. Also you still would not want to sit in a free running boat all day, every day, for 21 days straight.

Boats to Look at:
The Liquid Logic CR Series (80, 125 and 250 – click here to read a review on this boat.)
Pyranha Recoil (small, medium and large)
Jackson Fun Series (Fun1, Fun1.5, 2Fun,4Fun and Super Fun)
WaveSport Fuse (48,56,64)

River Runners and Creek Boats:

The downside to bringing a play boat/ free running kayak (or any short, planing hull boat) on the Colorado River, is that it will feel sluggish downriver. If you want to run the GC in the fastest boat possible, with maximum comfort, bring a River running kayak. It’s much easier to punch through powerful, boiling eddy lines with a little bit of hull speed. Also, if you plan on paddling the entire river in your kayak, a river runner is the best way to go. You’ll be able to bring a NRS Durasoft cooler (click here to read the review) in the back, wear your favorite Teva’s or Chaco’s and not feel cramped.

Don’t expect to do any play boating except for front surfing and pirouettes. River runners are good for “river running”, not playing. Sometimes bigger boats get surfed easier in big holes, whereas smaller play boats will flush through them.

Boats to Look at:
Liquid Logic Remix (47,59,69,79)
Pyranha Burn or Ammo
Dagger Mamba (7.5,8.0 and 8.5)
WaveSport Diesel Series


What could be better than hanging out in a big cushy inflatable kayak, with an icy cooler full of your favorite beverage, in the most beautiful canyon in the world? Nothing.

The great thing about IK’s are that they offer the freedom and individuality of whitewater kayaking to people that don’t necessarily have the skill. They are stable and do not require rolling (you still have to self rescue – or have someone rescue you if you take a swim), and also have much more room to stretch out and enjoy the view. Another feature that I like about IK’s is that they come in tandem models. You can put the kids and dog in the inflatable and have the raft to yourself, or vice versa.

IK’s are not as responsive as whitewater kayaks. They also get surfed in big holes, similar to how a small raft would. Some inflatable kayaks are large and heavy, and would be a struggle to pull up onto the raft if you are not paddling the entire length of the river.

Boats to Look at:
NRS Maverick
NRS Bandit
AIRE Tomcat

Miscellaneous Gear To Look at:
AIRE Sea Tiger

Liquid Logic Remix XP10
(click here to read a review about the XP10, and here to order one from CKS)
NRS HydroSilk (click here to read HydroSilk Reviews, and here it buy it now!)
NRS DuraSoft Cooler (click here to read a review, and here to buy the cooler)
Stream Machine Squirt Guns
Vortex Blender
Jacks Plastic Welding Paco PADS

Astral V-Eight PFD
(click here to read a review, and here to buy the V-Eight)

Leave A Comment


Related Post