Seasons of Grand Canyon –

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

Truly, each month offers a different experience.

Seasons of Grand Canyon –

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

Truly, each month offers a different experience.

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 Canyon experience even more 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 which means 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 suit. There are less trips launched this time of year and group sizes are limited to smaller numbers during the shoulder seasons. This means that April availability is more limited than other times of year and guests are less likely to experience crowding at any site.

May – This is when the National Park allows outfitters rafting through the inner gorge to take 28 passengers on their motorized trips and 24 passengers on their non-motorized trip. Early May is still a good time to raft if you’re looking to avoid the heat and there may still be some wildflowers in bloom. It is still possible for late winter storms to occur until mid-May and usually by the last week in May the weather will level out.

June – Historically speaking, June consists of clear skies and sunny days with average day time temperatures of 95 degrees with 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. 

July & August – It is arguable as to whether these are the hottest months to raft in the Grand Canyon because our monsoons are in full swing during this time of the year. 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.

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. 

September – This is when trip sizes return to 20 passengers on motorized trips and 16 passengers on non-motorized trips. Also by NPS regulation, 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.

September has temperatures that are similar to June and is generally pretty stable month weather wise; however, because it’s fall rafters should expect to experience significant heat and chill over the course of a trip and even throughout each day. Boaters who come prepared for all of the elements with high quality gear and layers enjoy their trips immensely.

October – There are even fewer departure dates 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 of year for slower paced trips, longer dry hikes, and shorter days.

Ultimately, it’s about keeping an open mind and being prepared.

When talking with my clients about weather patterns I try to emphasize that Grand Canyon and all of its weather and wilderness is what makes the experience memorable and authentic.

No matter when you travel be prepared for variable weather patterns and know that every season is a new experience.