For some, the Colorado River is a critical water supply; for others a place for adrenaline-inducing adventure. For the Hualapai Tribe of Northern Arizona, it's both of these and so much more. Before embarking on a whitewater rafting trip, take a deeper dive into the mystery and majesty of one of the longest rivers in the United States.
The Colorado River is the sixth-longest river in the nation at 1,450 miles, flowing through seven states, two nations and 11 national parks and monuments. The waters carved about 277 river miles through the Grand Canyon, with 110 miles running through the Hualapai Indian Reservation and Grand Canyon West.
The Colorado River is revered as a life-giving source, known by the Hualapai as "Ha'yiđađa," the backbone or spine of the river. The river and the riparian ecosystems through the canyon flow through the hearts of the Hualapai people, who believe they were created from the sediment and clay of the river.
Indigenous peoples of all tribes recognize the sacredness of water and its interconnection among all living beings. The Hualapai see the river as a living, breathing entity with its rapids as a force to be respected, revered and protected. When you go on a whitewater rafting trip with the Hualapai River Runners, you'll be led down the river by a majority of Indigenous river guides. These certified experts share their narratives to educate and inspire visitors to protect and take care of this life-giving and sacred resource.
With the only direct road leading to the Grand Canyon, the Hualapai River Runners offer the only one-day whitewater rafting experience on the Colorado River. This one-day guided rafting tour takes you about 55 miles through the deepest part of the Grand Canyon, estimated at 3,500 to 4,000 feet. As you make your way, the elevations change from where you start at the top of the canyon to the bank boarding your boat to where you disembark at the end of the trip. This causes the rock formations and environment to change dramatically offering you the chance to experience more of the environment.
Your one-day rafting trip is an adventure through different ecosystems that begins in the highlands at Peach Springs before you make your way down to the river on a one-hour bus ride. From here, you go to Diamond Creek before ending at Pierce Ferry. This journey takes you through different elevations that change the scenery around you. Keep your eyes peeled to see different types of geology and rock formations as well as vegetation. Wildlife is abundant. You could see bighorn sheep and reptiles like chuckwallas and lizards, maybe even a rattlesnake. Less common, but equally exciting sightings include deer, eagles and bobcats.
Your river guide is not only certified to safely traverse the Colorado River but is also an expert at sharing points of interest along your 55-mile rafting trip. In the first half of the journey, you'll conquer rapids, whereas the second half is rapid-free, allowing for sightseeing. Your Hualapai river guide will point out the storage facilities, campsite and ledges made into the rock left by men attempting to build the Bridge Canyon Dam in the 1940s, a project that stalled in 1968 after years of public opposition. As the boat glides past Separation Canyon, you'll learn the story of the Powell Expedition and the three men who attempted to hike out in 1869. During monsoons, waterfalls are sure to surprise and delight, plus views of the famous Skywalk and Guano Point.
You’ll also learn more about the Hualapai Tribe, from the shelters and homes the Hualapai built along the walls of the Grand Canyon to the tribe’s history, including the 1874 La Paz and how the Canyon served as a refuge to the significance of the Colorado River for the Hualapai and the Yuman language family tribes. Plus, you’ll hear the oral histories of the Hualapai creation story stemming from the canyon. And every trip includes a moderate hike and short climb to Travertine Cavern Falls with lunch along a sandy beach.
Since 1988, the Hualapai River Runners have offered the only one-day rafting trip on the Colorado River and two-day paddle trips. The company employs Indigenous people of their tribe and neighboring nations, including Chemehuevi, Havasupai, Hopi, Navajo, Mohave, Paiute, Yavapai-Prescott Yavapai-Apache, Colorado River Indian Tribes and Zuni.
Many river guides start after high school, working up to becoming certified guides, and take pride in the opportunity to give back to their communities while educating visitors about their culture and lifestyles. The jobs created by the attraction help Hualapai and other Indigenous people support themselves. In contrast, your ticket purchase supports the Hualapai Tribe. This sovereign nation does not receive federal funding, with proceeds from your ticket helping sustain the Indigenous peoples that call the Hualapai Indian Reservation home.
After this bucket list adventure, you'll leave knowing more about these vibrant people, their past and present, and leave with a better understanding of their sacrifices, struggles and successes. And most importantly, you’ll become an environmental steward, conserving natural resources and traveling sustainably.