One of the most significant waterways in the southwestern United States, the Colorado River and its many tributaries rush through the heart of the Grand Canyon National Park. The river as a whole runs through Arizona, California, Colorado, New Mexico, Nevada, Utah, and Wyoming, and stretches 1,450 miles from the central Rocky Mountains into Mexico. The river is visible from many points along either rim of the Grand Canyon, where visitors can snap excellent photographs of this remarkable body of water. For those interested in traveling down to the water directly, the river is also accessible via hiking or the immensely popular rafting excursions.
Colorado River History and Background
The Colorado River has been an important waterway in American history from the time of the earliest settlements. Native American tribes used the river for travel, sustenance, and irrigation, and the American settlers who later (after the reacquisition of the territory from Mexico) came to live in the southwestern territories adopted the river for similar purposes. Today the river serves to provide water for 7 U.S. states and 2 Mexican states. Controlled by a series of dams, aqueducts, and reservoirs, the Colorado River is a marvel of modern engineering. It is also an incredibly popular tourist attraction, serving as the site of multiple tours and whitewater rafting trips.
What’s at the Colorado River
Known especially for its remarkable whitewater rapids, the Colorado is a dynamic and multifaceted river that encompasses calm stretches alongside rough waters and scenic waterfalls. Those interested in whitewater rafting will find this river a welcome challenge! A number of commercial rafting trips run through the Grand Canyon on a regular basis, but private excursions are almost never an option due to heavy regulations on the National Park.
Depending upon the region of the river you’re exploring, waters can range from peaceful to moderate to intense. The most prominent is whitewater rafting, often described as the experience of a lifetime; indeed with its exhilarating rushes and turns, it’s a truly remarkable active adventure. Of course, that’s not the only kind of river adventure available on the Colorado! You can also enjoy slow water rafting, pontoon boats, and low-key rowing endeavors.
There are also a number of options for guided rafting excursions that last days or even weeks. Combining rafting with hiking, camping, and sightseeing, these excursions are truly immersive outdoor experiences. Long term rafting excursions can originate at Lees Ferry and traverse the river all the way to Lake Mead and the Hoover Dam! Most journeys, however, focus on either the Upper or Lower Canyons. Many of these multi-day rafting excursions are extremely popular, necessitating booking well in advance to ensure a spot.
Visitors who prefer sightseeing to rafting will still find much to enjoy about the Colorado River. In fact, some of the most striking landmarks along the river itself are its many beautiful waterfalls, including the stunning Havasu Falls and Mooney Falls, both located in the Havasupai Indian Reservation.
Hiking is one of the most popular ways to explore this gorgeous natural expanse, with several companies offering hiking excursions in a variety of durations and themes, ranging from some of the most challenging hiking anywhere in the country, to leisurely jaunts down easier trails. Of course, many people actually hike in groups under their own guidance, as the region is well suited to independent explorations for those with knowledge and experience.
Tips for Visiting the Colorado River
- The Colorado River is actually one of the most popular whitewater rafting destinations in the country.
- The Colorado River is hidden from view at the South Rim viewpoints in the Grand Canyon Village.
- Photographs of the Colorado River are available from many points along the Grand Canyon, but some of the best will come from hikes or camping trips within the Canyon itself.