Grand Canyon, Canyonlands & Dinosaur National Monument by River

4 rafts paddling down the Colorado River through Grand Canyon National Park

Chances are you’ve “seen” the Grand Canyon, either in photos or actually standing along the South Rim, peering down into the indescribable abyss. Perhaps you’ve even taken the scenic drive through the Island in the Sky District in Canyonlands or walked through the Carnegie Dinosaur Quarry at Dinosaur National Monument.  There’s no arguing that seeing the iconic views and sights that attract millions of visitors annually is a must,  but wouldn’t it be nice to go behind-the-scenes and away from the crowds to access remote hiking trails, hidden waterfalls, and off-the-beaten-path historic sites?  A river trip is one of the best ways to really experience the wonder of our national parks.  Here are some suggestions for national park rafting trips:

Grand Canyon National Park

It’s not only the ultimate national park adventure, but rafting the Grand Canyon is one of the most sought-after trips on the planet.  Commercial rafting trips along the 277 miles of the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon range from 5 to 19 days. When you take on the full Grand Canyon experience, you’ll not only “see” the Grand Canyon—you’ll live it.  For many, a trip through the canyon is a life-changing experience.

Whitewater rafters on the Colorado River in the Grand Canyon
James Kaiser, O.A.R.S.

A full-length, non-motorized Grand Canyon rafting trip gives people time to stop, look, listen, and explore the treasures this dramatic geologic wonderland has to offer. As you take your time traveling through a rainbow of ancient rock (that’s more than a mile deep in some places!), you’ll be able to ponder the mysteries of the Inner Gorge, enjoy side hikes to Ancestral Puebloan ruins, crystalline creeks and majestic waterfalls, and challenge notorious rapids like Crystal and Lava Falls. 

If you don’t have two weeks to spare, you can still get a taste for all of the majesty the canyon offers with a 5-day rafting trip from Whitmore Wash to Lake Mead through the lower Grand Canyon.

Canyonlands National Park

Canyonlands National Park has more than 2,500 square miles of colorful canyons, cliffs, hoodoos, and mesas surrounding the confluence of the Green and Colorado Rivers, most of which are largely unreachable by visitors just passing through.  If you really want to see this otherworldly region near Moab, UT, spend six days rafting the Colorado River through breathtaking Cataract Canyon into the heart of Canyonlands.

Group gathered around campfire under a starry sky at Canyonlands National Park

A Cataract Canyon rafting trip combines easy floating and fun, Class III or IV whitewater (depending on water levels) with spectacular access to the remote Maze District. Nestled among multi-million-year-old rock formations, you can camp on sandy beaches under some of the best stargazing skies in North America, disappear into slot canyons on adventurous side hikes, and even get the chance to visit ancient ruins scattered throughout the river canyon.  

When the desert sun is beating down, there may be no better way to experience Canyonlands than by river. 

Dinosaur National Monument

Two major rivers converge in the canyon country of Dinosaur National Monument—the Yampa and Green Rivers—which make rafting trips on both rivers the ideal way to explore this unique geologic area.

River rafters on the Yampa River in Dinosaur National Monument
Justin Bailie, O.A.R.S.

The Yampa River is the only major tributary in the Colorado River system that still runs wild and free, straight into the heart of Dinosaur National Monument.  A Yampa River rafting trip offers paddlers exciting Class III or IV whitewater rafting (depending on water levels) through colorful canyons where a billion years are captured within walls that tower more than 1,000 feet above the river in some places. Along the way you’ll marvel at mysterious rock formations like Cleopatra’s Couch, hike to places such as Whispering Cave and Stubb’s Cabin, and explore parts of Dinosaur National Monument few visitors ever see.

Gates of Lodore at Dinosaur National Monument
James Kaiser, O.A.R.S.

On a Green River rafting trip through the Gates of Lodore you’ll wind your way through three distinct canyons—Lodore, Whirlpool, and Split Mountain—all of which contain geological curiosities and rich human history. As the river twists through a catacomb of scarlet slot canyons, yawning valleys, and lush ledges of emerald evergreen and brush, you’ll be able to explore a fascinating land where dinosaurs once roamed.  The Green River offers numerous side hikes, relaxing nights on the beach, and moderate whitewater perfect for young families and laid-back vacationers.

Plan Your Trip

Permits for private river trips are available through the National Park Service, but if you don’t have the gear or the skills to row your own boat, trips with an authorized national park concessioner like O.A.R.S. offer professional river guides, deluxe meals prepared by your guides, as well as all the equipment you’ll need like camp chairs, tents, and waterproof bags to transport your personal gear.

Travel Idea and images provided by O.A.R.S., an authorized concessioner of Grand Canyon National Park, Canyonlands National Park, and Dinosaur National Monument.

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