Grand Canyon

The Grand Canyon of the Colorado River is one of the most outstanding packrafting venues in the World. The potential is virtually limitless for overland legs with adventurous and magnificent technical and non-technical canyoneering, not to mention river legs on one of the World’s most scenic and exciting whitewater stretches.

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.

River Permits for Packraft Trips

Billy Brown in his Supai Raft in Grand Canyon. Rich Rudow photo.

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 founding 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, many canyon visitors authorized only with backcountry permits have requested permission to use packrafts for river crossings and stretches of river for the completion of extended itineraries.

Roman Dial

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. Then, again in 2018, the Compendium was updated to ease the unreasonable restrictions of past regulations. The moral of the story is that regulations change regularly. 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.

Backcountry Management Plan

Dave Uberuaga

The long-awaited Backcountry Management Plan (BMP) (last updated in 1988) arrived in late November 2015! APA made a careful evaluation of the 628-page document, and submitted comments in March 2016. At first glance, the NPS has done a fine job balancing varied recreational interests, including packrafting, with protection of resources in the canyon. As of January 2018, the Park Service still has not issued a record of decision on the BMP. Please stay tuned.

Contact Us

American Packrafting Association

PO Box 13
Wilson, WY 83014