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Are you dreaming of paddle boarding the Grand Canyon? This destination is truly incredible and should be added to every avid paddle boarder’s must-paddle list. But trust us when we say, the Grand Canyon is not for the faint of heart and must be treated with respect at all times. Paddle boarding the Grand Canyon is a truly once-in-a-lifetime experience!
This is one of the world's most incredible natural wonders, bringing oohs and aahs from those perched up above. Just imagine being in the heart of it!
The iconic and impressive cliffs are carved out by the copper-colored Colorado River. Layers upon layers in colorful rock formations record billions of years of history. And you can paddle in and amongst it!
Keep reading to discover how you can organize your trip to get paddle boarding the Grand Canyon. This guide will tell you where to head to and what you need to prepare for a successful trip with unrivaled views and iconic natural beauty.
So pack your paddle board, get your permits in order, and be ready to have the time of your life!
Table of Contents
The great Colorado River is immense, iconic, and awe-inspiring. This is a staggering 1,450-miles-long river that sweeps across the USA. The section that carves through the Grand Canyon in Arizona is 277 miles (446 km). That’s an insane amount of paddle boarding opportunities!
It’s important to note that this is a highly technical river to paddle and not recommended for beginners. Sections can be intense with rapids or shallow in parts, requiring the paddler to have some experience.
You’re going to need reliable and durable equipment to keep up with the adventure. The 11’ GILI Adventure Inflatable Paddle Board is an excellent SUP to be the foundation of your gear!
Unlike paddle boarding at your local beach or lake, you need a permit to launch your SUP in the Grand Canyon. There are two types of permits: non-commercial and commercial.
Commercial permits refer to businesses offering guided tours and experiences on the Colorado River. Any operator offering these services will already have the appropriate permit.
Non-commercial permits are for experienced paddlers who plan to explore the Grand Canyon area without a guide. There is a lottery process to obtain this permit, and you have to fit a specific criteria:
The lottery is only open three weeks in February each year, and you can only get one permit per year. This isn’t something you can do spontaneously. You have to prepare and plan every aspect of your tour in advance.
The different permits allow for different types of SUP trips. The length of your trip depends on how experienced you are with paddle board expeditions. Non-commercial permits offer two length options:
Anyone who opts for the 2-5 day trip must launch their SUP from Diamond Creek, the south rim of the Grand Canyon located along the Hualapai Indian Reservation. Whereas the 12-25 day trips must get in at Lees Ferry, located towards the Utah border in the northern area of the Grand Canyon.
Commercial permits allow tour guides and operators to offer 1-18 day trips. Booking with a tour guide is a good way for beginners, and those less confident on a paddle board, to experience the magic of the Grand Canyon. The guides can provide reliable equipment and will make sure you stay safe while paddling the river, sharing their tips, tricks, and years of experience.
Read More: How To Prepare For A SUP Camping Trip
So you’ve got your permit, and your stand up paddle board is ready to go. Now, you just need to plan your route and make sure you visit the best locations in and around the Grand Canyon while on your SUP.
Ok, this one is kind of a cheat entry to the list of best locations to paddle board the Grand Canyon – the Colorado River flows right the way through, so you’re guaranteed to paddle these waters. Prepare yourself for the paddle of a lifetime!
Parts of the Colorado River can get shallow, so we recommend using stumpier river fins to avoid any damage to your stand up paddle board. And remember to pack your camera, you’re going to want it!
Havasu Creek is not for the faint-hearted. To reach this incredible location, you must first take on a 36-mile hike or paddle off the Colorado River (but this could take anywhere between 1 and 2 weeks!)
This could be the best place to test your SUP camping skills. A true adventure for only those wildest at heart!
Lake Mead is 24 miles east of Las Vegas. This is a fantastic option for beginners to try out paddle boarding without committing to a mega trip. As a man made reservoir off the Hoover Dam, you can expect relatively safe conditions for most of the time.
Check out Desert Adventures for SUP lessons or rentals on Lake Mead.
Salt River offers spectacular views of the surrounding mountains and opportunities for wildlife spotting. This is a different kind of paddling than other places around the Grand Canyon. The open and calm waters are suitable for any level of experience.
Horseshoe Bend is one of the most iconic and beautiful locations in the Grand Canyon, and you can paddle it! The water is generally slow moving, allowing you to fully take in the moment and capture a photograph or two.
Make note, this location is normally part of a longer trip as there is no direct access.
Choosing when you paddle board the Grand Canyon is an important aspect you need to factor in. The seasons will play a big role in how your expedition will pan out.
The Grand Canyon National Park is open year-round. However, be warned, there can be some pretty extreme weather conditions!
Spring and Fall are by far the best seasons to paddle board the Grand Canyon. During this time, the temperatures are cooler, and the crowds tend to be thinner. You will still need to pack some sunblock though!
If you’re planning on taking on the Grand Canyon by paddle board, then you really need to plan your trip carefully. This not only means your route and duration but also your SUP gear. This is going to be a trip of a lifetime, so don’t mess it up with poor preparation.
Essential SUP gear needed for a Grand Canyon expedition:
There are several established and recommended camping sites along the Colorado River that you can stay at during your own tour of the Grand Canyon.
Here are just a few to get you started:
Have you found an absolute gem of a place to stay? Let us know so we can check it out on our next trip!
Don’t worry if you aren’t the most experienced paddle boarder. Many companies offer SUP experiences and guided tours along the river and through the Grand Canyon.
It is recommended that you have the basics nailed before booking one of these guided trips. That way you’ll get the most out of your time.
Paddle boarding to Grand Canyon is a dream every SUP enthusiast should add to their list. This destination is world-class and iconic, so why not explore the lesser-known side of it from down the bottom!
With careful planning, your paddle boarding trip will be truly epic! Be sure to take plenty of photos along the way. You’re going to want to remember every detail of this paddle board experience.
Yes, you can paddle board the Grand Canyon’s Colorado River. However, you are required to obtain permits to do so. There are two types of permits: commercial and non-commercial. Commercial permits are provided by tour operators when you book to join one of their experiences. Non-commercial permits are intended for proficient paddlers who don’t need a guide.
In order to get a non-commercial permit, you need to have a high level of SUP experience and be over the age of 18. You acquire this by entering a lottery, run every February. If you are one of the chosen ones, then you must book your date of use at least 90 days before you plan to start paddling.
Colorado River has so many incredible places to take a SUP. If you are planning a tour through the Grand Canyon, you will need to launch from either Diamond Creek or Lees Ferry, depending on how many days your tour will be.
Horseshoe Bend is the most iconic and photographed location along the Colorado River in the Grand Canyon National Park. Some long SUP expeditions will take you through this section, allowing you to see the natural wonder from the slow-moving water of the Colorado River.
Some sections of the Colorado River can get rough with rapids to navigate. This is challenging and not advised for beginner paddle borders.
Beginners can join an experience to paddle board the Grand Canyon area with a tour company. Some offer just 1-day experiences for those who aren’t so confident in being on the water for a long period of time.
It’s recommended that everyone has tried paddle boarding before heading to the Grand Canyon. This is a challenging location at times, so it will be for your own safety to know the basics of how to handle a SUP.
Spring and Fall are the best seasons to take a paddle board to the Grand Canyon, either May to June or September to October. The temperatures are cooler, and the crowds are thinner, providing you with a much more pleasurable experience.
Winter and summer months are not advisable. Temperatures can be extreme, in both ways, along with high winds and flash flooding. This can be dangerous when on a paddle board.
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