Packrafting is of course a traditional and essential use in Grand Canyon with countless historic applications of small portable rafts by Native Americans, travelers in the 1800s, backpackers, canyoneers, and river runners. Packrafts are “essential” in the sense that they are necessary as a tool to carry out certain itineraries in a reasonable fashion. Most importantly, navigating a small packraft on the Colorado River through majestic Grand Canyon is humbling, exhilarating, and pure fun.
Packrafters who win river permits through the weighted lottery system (and who obtain backcountry permits where required) currently enjoy the privilege to devise unsupported packrafting itineraries in the Park with few limitations beyond standard river and backcountry regulations that apply to all visitors to Grand Canyon National Park. For this privilege, packrafters can thank Park administrators and APA board member, Roman Dial, who collaborated in December 2007 to clarify non-commercial weighted-lottery river permit regulations with regard to packrafting.
In addition to itineraries that involve extended stretches of packrafting on lottery-won river permits, some canyon visitors authorized only with backcountry permits have requested permission to use packrafts for river crossings and short stretches of river.
Packrafts allow canyoneers and backpackers to concoct creative loop trips that use short stretches of floating to link side-canyon descents with alternate egress routes. However, some other river user groups have justifiably expressed concerns about the fairness and other potential conflicts of allowing packrafters on the river without the requirement to win a permit in the weighted lottery. In response to the apparent conflict, Superintendent Dave Uberuaga issued a compendium in April 2012 that limited packrafting on a backcountry permit to a maximum of five miles. In an updated 2014 Compendium, however, the Superintendent tightened this regulation considerably. If you are headed to Grand Canyon for a packraft trip, please review our special guidelines, which contain current regulations, and a behavioral code that will promote goodwill and future packrafting access.
The long-awaited Backcountry Management Plan (BMP) (last updated in 1988) arrived in late November 2015! APA has begun a careful evaluation of the 628-page document, and we expect to provide guidance to APA members in March as to how to comment. The comment period closes in early April 2016. At first glance, the NPS has done a fine job balancing varied recreational interests, including packrafting, with protection of resources in the canyon. Please watch for our rally calls in March.
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