For years it was nearly impossible to kayak the Grand Canyon independently. Sure, there were plenty of guided rafting tours that you could hire out for a few hour or a few days, but in order to float the river yourself, you’d have to get your name on a waiting list for an independent permit. That waiting list was legendary in its length and paddlers typically waited ten years or more to get the permission they needed.
Three years ago that all changed when the National Park Service switched to a lottery system that awarded the permits on a weighted system that favors those who have never rafted the river before. This new system did away with the waiting list, which had grown to 25 years in length, altogether, offering fortunate paddlers the opportunity to get their permit in a matter of months.
The lottery is conducted every February by the Grand Canyon National Park with all entries requiring a $25 fee. Each entrant is allowed to select up to five dates in which the would prefer to paddle, with the summer months being the most in demand. Those who haven’t floated the river in the past five years are given priority, and once the lottery has been conducted, winners are expected to pay a $400 deposit towards the total price of the permit, which is $100 per person. Unclaimed permits are given away in follow-up lotteries.
There are a few caveats to the system however. The Park Service requires that at least one person paddling under the permit have experience on the Colorado River, or under similar river conditions. That person will serve as the guide, and work with the other paddlers to ensure that it is a safe journey.
And what is it like to paddle the Canyon independently? Travel writer Kate Siber of the Boston Globe found out recently when she was lucky enough to go on just such a trip. She has written about her experiences in an article that was recently published in that paper, and from the sounds of things it was quite an adventure. Kate says that while the rapids are exciting and wild at times, the majority of the time on the river is spent on calm, flat water. She also reports that the scenery is beautiful and their is plenty of fun to be had exploring the side canyons and shoreline of the Colorado as well.
For adventurous kayakers, these new options for paddling the Grand Canyon are a wonderful opportunity. You no longer have to wait decades to get a chance to be out on the water, and you can enjoy one of America’s most impressive natural resources as few have ever had the opportunity to do.
To find out more about the lottery click here.