Millions flock annually to the Grand Canyon. It’s no secret why—incredible views and Instagrammable hikes. What’s maybe not so easy to see is how such a vast expanse could possibly have an overcrowded feel. When you’re as grand as this canyon, you attract tourists from around the world; so, where can you visit this awe-inspiring natural wonder without the throngs of visitors? How about by water? On a raft?
You’ll need just under a month (depending on your pace) to complete the adventure. Beginning at Lees Ferry and ending at Diamond Creek, the journey along the Colorado River is just under 300 miles. But it’s quite the adventure—some days, you’ll just float along; some days, you’ll hold on for dear life as you zip and zag through fast-moving rapids.
And some days, you might decide to get out of the water and explore the river’s shores. You’ll find trails leading to dramatic crevices, serene grottoes, and astounding waterfalls, almost all of which you can’t get to by land. The Colorado River also lets you access archaeological sites that tell the tales of the original inhabitants, such as the Pueblos. Their granaries can be found at Nankoweap.
The only drawback is this—you can’t simply drop your boat in the river and expect to go on this amazing adventure without permission. This isn’t a commercialized trip and you must seek a permit. There used to be a waiting list but because of understaffing in the National Parks Service system, the list was about 25 years long. In 2006, the service decided to do away with the waiting list and instead offered up a lottery process every year.
To “win” your right to this adventure, you submit your name to the National Parks Service in February when the annual lottery opens—and there are only 250 permits given per year. It’s not a sure bet that you’ll get one, but if you apply for some of the less popular dates, such as in wintertime, you have a better shot.
Exclusive Grand Canyon adventures do exist. It’s definitely worth it to give it a try—you’ll get to see the canyon in all its glory without all the extra visitors, or you can just stick to the rim or choose a commercial rafting company. What do you think?