Photo: Rich Rudow
The Grand Canyon is every paddler’s dream, with good reason. Towering canyon walls, Thousands of miles of remote backcountry travel, and stunning beauty. Rafting through the Grand Canyon is widely-considered one of the top whitewater trips in the World and a lottery system is used to award river permits. Officials at Grand Canyon National Park have recently approved up to 8 miles of Raft Assisted Backcountry Travel (RABT) on a backcountry permit, an entirely different permit from the river lottery permits. RABT allows the use of a packraft as a secondary means of furthering a backcountry trip. The allowance of packrafting on a backcountry permit has taken over a decade of rapport building with the Park Service led by leaders from the APA community to get RABT allowed.
Packrafting in the Grand Canyon is challenging, and requires many years of acquiring the skills and confidence to safely execute a backcountry trip. Those most likely to succeed in the Grand Canyon are skilled backpackers who are familiar with remote desert travel.Getting down from the rim of the Grand Canyon is strenuous and there are very few trails. Every year, there are a number of rescues that take place in the Grand, including a few from packrafters getting in over their heads. APA strongly encourages anyone interested in a RABT permit to ensure they know the full risks of undertaking a backcountry trip in the Grand Canyon.
Grand Canyon Park Rangers are familiar with and friendly towards packrafters. However, packrafters skirting the park rules and making poor decisions in their trip planning have been ticketed and have also jeopardized the allowance of packrafting in the national park. Low impact trips that are planned within the uses of a backcountry permit are critical to expanding packrafting opportunities on public lands. APA urges all packrafters to be knowledgeable about regulations and be role models of responsible backcountry travel.
In order to preserve the use of RABT in Grand Canyon National Park, we have put together a summary of key regulations for backcountry travelers using a packraft can be fully educated and prepared!
Raft Assisted Backcountry Travel is a means to allow backpackers and canyoneers river access to support overland trips. As the NPS describes it, “The primary purpose of the trip is land based, typically a backcountry hike or canyoneering trip, and the travel on the Colorado River is incidental.”
1. Permit - apply for a backcountry travel permit, designating that you will be using RABT. A permit is required regardless of how long you plan to be out, even for day trips.
2. PFD - a PFD (type III or V) is required for any river travel.
3. Multiple crossings - multiple crossings and launches are allowed as long as they have been approved on your itinerary by the park.
4. River miles - travel is limited to a combined total of 8 river miles on a single backcountry permit, or approved exceptions.
5. Self Carry - you must be the one to carry your craft in and out of the canyon.
6. Restricted areas - RABT is not allowed from Lees Ferry to Navajo Bridge (river mile 0 to river mile 4.5, or Boat Beach to Pipe Creek (river mile 88 to river mile 89.5).
The above rules are specific to RABT designated permits, however, users are required to follow all other backcountry travel requirements. These include proper disposal of human waste. Note that campfires are not allowed on the RABT backcountry permit.
You can read the full NPS regulations on page 15 of the GCNP Compendium of Use and Activity Restrictions.
Easier backpacking routes are in the upper part of the Grand Canyon, in an area known as Marble Canyon. APA recommends that backcountry users start there until they acquire the skills and confidence to advance to harder routes within the Grand Canyon.