The Ultimate Guide To Paddle Boarding The Grand Canyon

Paddle Boarding The Grand Canyon

Paddle boarding the Grand Canyon is truly a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. Unlike your local lake or beach, this stunning SUP destination requires both permits and years of SUP experience. In fact, there are many steps you must take before you can legally launch your SUP on the beautiful Colorado River in the Grand Canyon National Park. 

Each year, around five million people visit the Grand Canyon but only a fraction of those receive the permit needed to paddle the scenic river. If you think you’re ready to take on the highly-technical Colorado River and the unforgiving online lottery, we’ll show you everything you need to know below. 

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The Mighty Colorado River 

Over 20 million years ago, the Colorado River carved its way through the Grand Canyon. Today, it dominates a 277-mile stretch that runs through steep canyon walls and along the sandy beaches. If you’re lucky enough to acquire a permit, the beautiful Colorado River will be the main body of water that you will paddle board on during your Grand Canyon adventure. Depending on the length of your SUP adventure, you will get to explorer different parts of this majestic reservoir. 

Paddle boarding the Grand Canyon stretch of the Colorado River is not for beginners. In fact, this could arguably be the most highly technical location to paddle board in Arizona. As the river winds its way the canyon, you must be prepared for intense rapids and shallow waters. This segment of the river adventure is not known for having calm water, so you must be well equipped with the most durable and useful stand up paddle board products. The longer your trip, the more experienced you must be.

paddle board permit

How To Obtain The Correct Permits 

There are two different types of Colorado River Permits — noncommercial river permits and commercial river permits. Commercial river permits are for all commercial visitors, these are your tour guides and tour companies. Noncommercial river permits are for the experienced paddle boarders who want to paddle the Grand Canyon without an area guide. 

In order to obtain a noncommercial river permit, you must be 18 years or older, have the correct paddle experience required by the national park, and enter a lottery. Note that the lottery is open for only three weeks in February each year. When applying for your permit, you must first pay a small fee, pick your ideal date, and make your way through the waited lottery website

Once the lottery closes, you will be emailed the results and your dates if you win. Remember, you are only allowed one permit per year, so if you are already participating in another tour, then you will not be eligible to enter the lottery until the following year. 

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The Different SUP Trips 

The length of your paddle board trip on the Grand Canyon depends on what type of permit you receive. If you have the required experience to be your own guide then you will be eligible to apply for a noncommercial permit. A noncommercial permit gives you the choice to explore the Colorado River for either 2-5 days or 12-25 days. Depending on your preference, you have the flexibility to have a short or long paddle board adventure through the scenic river. 

If you choose to paddle board for 2-5 days, then you must launch from Diamond Creek. Diamond Creek is a spot in the south rim of the Grand Canyon located along the Hualapai Indian Reservation. If you choose to partake in a 12-25 day trip then you must launch from Lees Ferry. Lees Ferry is located in the northern area of the Grand Canyon, close to the Utah border. 

Commercial permits offer more trip options. So, if you choose to paddle board with a tour company you have the option of 1-18 day trips. Booking a trip through a company is highly recommended for less experienced paddlers. Tour guides will provide all the necessary equipment to rent, and ensure your safety. The Grand Canyon National Park recommends booking single-day tours with the highly-rated Glen Canyon Float Trip Experience. For any trips 3-18 days long, you can visit the national park website for a list of recommended concessioners. 

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The Best Paddle Board For The Grand Canyon

The best type of stand up paddle board for paddling the Grand Canyon is an inflatable SUP. These blow up paddle boards are the best for riding on rivers because they are super durable, lightweight, and ideal for hiking backcountry trails when stored in their padded backpacks.

With an inflatable SUP, you will not have to worry about protruding rocks or rocky coastlines damaging your board on your trip down the Colorado. In addition, since you can deflate an inflatable SUP, hiking with it in its included carry bag makes transportation effortless compared to an epoxy SUP.

Where To Camp Along The Colorado River 

The campsites will be among the most magical parts of your SUP trip through the Grand Canyon. As you make your way down the Colorado River, there will be a number of remote and backcountry campsites from which to choose.

Paddlers often opt for camping on the sandy banks of the Colorado River. This location doesn’t require any additional hiking to your campsite. Also, there is nothing better than falling asleep to the sound of a flowing river.  

If you are more daring and choose to camp in the rugged wilderness, remember that you will also need to obtain a backcountry permit. While the backcountry provides amazing, jaw-dropping views, it is only recommended for elite hikers. 

If you prefer camping at established campsites, the Grand Canyon offers three campgrounds close to the river. Keep in mind these campgrounds only allow a stay of two nights total. This is an ideal option for campers wanting to enjoy a short river adventure.

  1. Bright Angel Campground is technically the only truly established campground at the bottom of the Grand Canyon. It is located a half-mile from the Colorado River and provides drinking water and toilets. 
  2. Indian Garden Campground is another great campground located near the Bright Angel Trail. It also has drinking water and toilets. 
  3. Cottonwood Campground is the smallest campground and only provides water during some parts of the year.
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The Best Time Of Year To Go

The Grand Canyon National Park is open year-round, so you can plan your paddle board trip any time of the year. While this is great news for people who can only travel certain times of the year, be warned, the weather in the Grand Canyon can be quite extreme. The summer is known to reach scorching temperatures over 100 degrees Fahrenheit and experience sudden thunderstorms with flash floods. While the winter months experience below-freezing temperatures and snowstorms. 

The most ideal time to plan your paddle board trip to the Grand Canyon is from March to May, and September to November. During these months, the days are cooler and the crowds are thinner. 

Wrapping Up: Paddle Boarding The Grand Canyon

If you are well prepared and an experienced paddle boarder, then paddling the Grand Canyon may be in your future.  Being an experienced paddler will help you take on the Grand Canyon’s rapids and fluctuating river levels. Beginner paddlers can also experience this wonder, but it is highly recommended to book a tour if you’re inexperienced. Remember that in order to SUP the Grand Canyon, you must either book a tour through a company or get a permit. While only a select few get to paddle the winding rivers of the Grand Canyon, don’t ever give up hope on the adventure of a lifetime!

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Douglas Robichaud - Doug is a content writer at ISLE Surf & SUP who has been surfing and paddle boarding for over 10 years. With a degree in English/Journalism, Doug has been an outdoor adventure content writer for over four years. Since joining the ISLE team, he has become a paddle board expert in all topics ranging from products, basic tutorials, tips and tricks, SUP safety, and new trends.