When to Raft Grand Canyon

shows Best time to raft the grand Canyon what Monsoon season is like on a Grand Canyon rafting trip

Best Time to Raft the Grand Canyon

Rafting through the Grand Canyon is an unparalleled experience. One of the most common questions we receive from first time rafters is, “When is the best time to raft the Grand Canyon?”  We wish we could give a finite answer; however, the honest answer is that the “when to raft” varies from person to person.

Truly, each month offers a different experience. The commercial rafting season runs from April into October. The most noticable variations over the year are the water level of the river, weather and number of trips on the water. In this post we break down what you can expect each month of the season.

Rafting in April

This is the month when most outfitters plan their hiking intensive trips because the cooler air temperatures allow the guides to take their passengers on spectacular side-canyon hikes that aren’t possible during the significantly hotter summer months. What makes the Grand Canyon rafting experience most exceptional during this time of year are the exquisite desert wild flowers in bloom. However, the cooler air temperatures and the potential for a late winter storms require extra preparation for the whitewater portion of the river trip by dressing in layers of warm, quick-drying clothing with a wool cap and socks and your outer most layer being a good waterproof two piece rain gear. There are less trips launching this time of year and group sizes are required to be smaller during the shoulder seasons. This means that April availability is more limited than other times of year making for a secluded river experience.

April Highlights

Weather: Cool with occasional storms. Windy one day out of three.
Hiking: Excellent hiking. Good time to get up above the river
River: Flows is between 8,000 and 13,000 cfs. Moderate, fun whitewater. Green water above the Little Colorado and muddy below it.
Crowds: Few crowds, mostly private trips with a few commercial trips
*** Flowers blooming and Springs flowing

July and August Rafting

It is arguable as to whether these are the hottest months to raft in the Grand Canyon because the monsoons are in full swing. The average daytime temperature is in the 100’s with highs around 115; however, the cloud cover provided by the monsoon storms does cool things off and if it does rain it can drop the temperature by 20 to 30 degrees depending upon the severity of the storm. July and August are unrivaled for the beauty of the storms and high water.

Monsoon Season

Monsoon storms typically roll in each afternoon and are localized, meaning that the rain storms are usually intense but brief as they roll through your area. Of course this is weather and these are generalizations. Be prepared for intense heat and humidity as well as significant rain storms and potentially even hail.  This season is when the river has its most natural appearance: sediment laden and taking on different colors and consistencies depending on where the flash floods are occurring. The clouds and river color make this is a popular time for photographers to visit the canyon because the monsoon storms create unique lighting opportunities. For the properly geared, a rain storm in the Grand Canyon is magical.

Highwater

July and August are the months of highest water as Glen Canyon Dam releases more water to help with the power demands of the southwest. That added water makes for some huge rapids. It also means trips travel faster downstream allowing more time for hiking, exploring and relaxing.

 

shows how green and clear the water is on a Grand Canyon trip in the dry season

Clear green water of the Colorado River during the dry season.

May Rafting

This is the month when the Grand Canyon National Park Service (NPS) allows rafting outfitters to increase their group size 28 passengers on their motorized trips and 24 passengers on their non-motorized trip. Early May is the optimal time to raft if you’re looking to avoid the heat and find the last blooming wildflowers. It is possible for late winter storms to occur through mid-May.

May Highlights

Weather: Warm, dry, windy
Hiking: Good in canyons and on ridges
River: Flows is between 8,000 and 14,000 cfs. Moderate, fun whitewater. Clear, green water throughout.
Crowds: Many trips on the river, mainly commercial
*** Still some wild flowers blooming and a few springs flowing

Rafting in June

June trips enjoy a plentitude of clear skies and sunny days with average day time temperatures of 95 degrees and highs in the 100’s. This is one of the best months to raft for clear water which means the main river is going to be a deep emerald green with some of the side canyon streams most notably the Little Colorado and Havasu Canyon being a brilliant turquoise blue.

June Highlights

Weather: Hot, dry, some winds
Hiking: Good, best in tributaries and slot canyons
River: Flows is between 9,000 and 15,000 cfs. Big, fun whitewater. Clear, green water throughout.
Crowds: Many trips on the river, mainly commercial

shows how clear the water is on a grand canyon rafting trip in June

Little Colorado River running blue into the green water  of the Colorado River.

show weatheer during Monsoon Season on a Grand Canyon Rafting Trip

Monsoon season waterfalls

July Highlights

Weather: Hot, start of monsoons; occassional thunderstorms increase as the month progresses. Some winds
Hiking: Good, best in the mornings and afternoons. Narrow Canyons can flood.
River: Flows is between 10,000 and 18,000 cfs. REALLY big whitewater. Clear, green to Little Colorado and muddy afterwards.
Crowds: Many trips on the river, mainly commercial

August Highlights

Weather: Hot but cooler than July. Heart of monsoon season; frequent thunderstorms in the afternoons and evenings. Some winds
Hiking: Good, best in the mornings and afternoons. Narrow Canyons can flood.
River: Flows is between 10,000 and 18,000 cfs. REALLY big whitewater. Clear, green to Little Colorado and muddy afterwards.
Crowds: Quietest month of the summer on the river. Not many commercial or private trips.

shows localized monsoon rainfall in the Grnd Cnyon

Localized rain storm

Rafting September

Monsoon season is ending in September. The maximum trip size returns to 20 passengers on motorized trips and 16 passengers on non-motorized trips. The last motorized trip through the inner gorge departs from Lee’s Ferry on September 15 every year. After that there are only non-motorized multi-day trips available which means you’d have to dedicate at least six days to rafting. This begins the “quiet time” for commercial boating in Grand Canyon.s

September has temperatures that are similar to June and is generally pretty stable month weather wise. However, fall rafters should expect to experience significant heat and chill over the course of a trip and even throughout a single day. Boaters who come prepared for all of the elements with high quality gear and layers enjoy their trips immensely. Hiking is at its best in September. The mild waether turns what would be scorching, heat stroke creating hikes into relaxing saunters. September is many guides favorite month for a Grand Canyon rafting trip. 

September Highlights

Weather: Hot to warm  as the moth progresses. Monsoon season tapers off by mid month. Some winds
Hiking: Good, improves as temperatures cool.
River: Flows is between 8,000 and 14,000 cfs. Moderate, fun whitewater. Clear, green to Little Colorado and muddy afterwards. Lowers gets clear towards the end of the month.
Crowds: Many commercial and private trips on the river. On September 15 the motorized raft season ends. The second half of the month is quiet as the last of the motor rigs exit the canyon.

Muddy Water during the rainy seasons

October Rafting

Early October is many people's favorite time to be on the water. There are fewer launches in October than September because there is less daylight and the trips have to be longer. Multiday trips are strictly non-motorized during this time of the year; however, for those who cannot dedicate at least seven days, the one day motorized trip in the lower gorge (starting at Diamond Creek, River Mile 225) runs through October 31 every year. 

The average daytime temperature is about 80 degrees with highs in the low 90’s – the temperature difference between standing in the sun versus the shade during this time of the year is extreme in October. Also the later you raft in October the more important it is to be properly dressed in case of early winter storms. October is a quiet time for slower paced trips, longer dry hikes, and shorter days. Bring a book or two to read in the evening. 

October Highlights

Weather: Warm to Cool. Short days particularly in the second half of the month.
Hiking: Outstanding
River: Flows is between 8,000 and 12,000 cfs. Moderate, fun whitewater. Clear, green for the whole trip.
Crowds: Moderate number of trips on the water. Mostly private.

show weather in the fall and spring for hiking on Grand Canyon rafting trips

Fall hiking

Concluding Thoughts

Ultimately, it’s about being prepared and enjoying the moment. Everytime of year in Grand Canyon is special and unique. We are regularly asked what is the best time of year to raft the Grand Canyon. Our answer is, "it depends." Please give us a call and we'll help you find the best time for your Grand Canyon trip. That being said there is no bad time run the river. It is a wilderness trip and no matter when you travel be prepared for weather. We've seen hot days in the winter and cold days in the summer.

Now that you have a better idea about the seasons of Grand Canyon you may want to learn about all the Grand Canyon Rafting outfitters or the four main Grand Canyon river sections.

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