Back in the day, hiking and rafting in the Grand Canyon were as separate as boys and girls at a Catholic boarding school. They were two different pursuits requiring two different trips. But recently, raft companies have been experimenting with hybrid vacations that let you do both on one itinerary. Many outfitters now guide three-week “hiker trips,” where the focus of the journey is as much about the trail time as the rafting. You can hike to the Anasazi granaries at Nankoweap, march to Thunder River, hit the North and South Bass Trails, and tick off the most amazing raft adventure of your life. It’s the best of both worlds–lavish meals, monster rapids, and trailheads that most hikers can’t reach.
You’ll start this three-week epic at Lees Ferry and float a total of 277 miles, doing about 36 miles of hiking on the way. By mile 20, most trips have already knocked off their first river-access-only hike at North Canyon, where a natural water slide is pinched by polished canyon narrows. Each night, the guides scout out campsites on beaches or stairstep ledges notched into the world’s greatest gorge. And the boatmen take care of dinner.
In the cooler shoulder seasons (especially April and October), many companies will call an impromptu layover day to set out on day climbs to the top of towering buttes or up seemingly endless side canyons. Got a fit group? Attempt the summit of the giant church-shaped Tabernacle above the inner gorge at mile 74, or loop from the narrows of Carbon Canyon to psychedelic Lava Creek beneath the eastern canyon’s Palisades of the Desert near mile 69. Getting to either of these spots from the canyon rims takes days; from the river, it’s an afternoon jaunt.
Sunrise, coffee, morning hike, midday float, afternoon hike, gourmet dinner, sunset. Repeat. You could get used to a rhythm like this.
Each of the following outfitters runs at least one hiker trip per season: Arizona Raft Adventures (azraft.co); Arizona River Runners (raftarizona.com); Canyon Explorations (canyonx.com); and Hatch River Expeditions (hatchriverexpeditions.com). Prices range from $3,000 to $4,000 per person.
Find loads of side hikes in Grand Canyon River Hikes, by Tyler Williams ($19, funhogpress.com).