The Best Rafting Company in the Grand Canyon
Colorado river &
This summer, I had the absolute pleasure of white water rafting the Colorado River through 200 miles of the Grand Canyon; and what a trip it was. Throughout the 11-day, paddle-only trip, there were multiple times I was amazed that this was something I was getting to do. I’d been looking forward to this paddle-only rafting trip since 2018 and I can honestly say I wasn’t disappointed.
A large factor in this trip being so badass was the company I booked through and the guides we had.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m pretty positive it’s impossible to have a ‘bad time’ rafting in the Grand Canyon, but certain things will add or detract from the overall experience. Before the trip, I read reviews and did my best to find what I thought was the best rafting company in the Grand Canyon. And if I wasn’t sure before the trip, I definitely am now. I can comfortably say with firsthand experience that Colorado River & Trail Expeditions (aka CRATE) is by far the best rafting company in the Grand Canyon.
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In this post, I won’t get into too much detail about how incredible the Grand Canyon is, how memorable the sunsets and sunrises on the Colorado River were, or how I went in with little regard for geology and left with a whole new perspective on rocks and conservationism. Frankly, there are plenty of others who do that (and do it better than I could).
I do feel the need to give credit where credit is due and talk about the experience I had and how CRATE went above and beyond in so many ways to ensure it really was the trip of a lifetime. Their approach to the whole rafting trip is why I know CRATE is the best rafting company for a Grand Canyon trip.
A rafting trip in the Grand Canyon isn’t a cheap or casual experience. For many it’s a once-in-a-lifetime thing. It’s something you dream of. It’s something you save up years for. And it’s something that afterwards, you want to know you did right.
When I look back on this rafting trip, there are five things that really stood out to me. I believe CRATE does these 5 things better than any other Grand Canyon rafting company, which makes their trips truly one of a kind.
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Could you get by with only a few of these?
But knowing a CRATE trip has them all… why would you ever want to?
Build a Sense of Community
I’ve always said who you’re with is equally (if not more) important than where you are. Our rafting group was small—12 people (not including guides)—and was made up of multiple groups from all over the country with different backgrounds, interests, and beliefs. We’d never met before the pre-trip meeting (the night before the trip) and honestly, I wasn’t sure how we’d all get along.
But any reservations I had were quickly put to rest because the CRATE guides did an amazing job of bringing the group together and making us feel like one group rather than 5 different ones. Whether it was through playing games at camp, getting our best paddling position figured out, or unloading the mothership over the 11 days, we became a family.
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While on the trip, I became really good friends with a guy named Kevin (now known as the Muscle Hamster). Kevin is in his early 60s, a retired EMT/Firefighter, and was on his 3rd CRATE rafting trip (he’s a bit of a psycho). I’m not sure if between Kevin and I, our beliefs or background could be any more different. But man, I fucking love him. Kevin is one of the most capable and prepared people I’ve ever met and has a heart of gold. Lucky for me (and the rest of my group), because we were woefully unprepared and understocked for this trip, Kevin took us under his wing and helped us not only survive the trip but have the time of our lives while teaching us different skills and tricks each day.
At the beginning of the trip, he mentioned he was getting married in October, and on the last day he invited me to come. Little did he know, I don’t say no to much. I love Kevin and I love love, so it was an easy decision. I spent last weekend at his house outside Fort Lauderdale for his wedding to Estela and it was wonderful. In the end, friends are the family we choose and CRATE helps turn strangers in family.
Suffice to say, I feel a special bond with the 11 other people on my Grand Canyon rafting trip that I know will last a lifetime.
As important as the bond you form with your fellow rafters is, the relationship you’ll create with the river guides will make or break your trip. Grand Canyon rafting guides are quite literally there to keep you alive. They do everything from navigating you over deadly Class 10 rapids, to cooking every meal, and making sure you survive the 8 mile “Emma hike” you’ll never forget.
As someone who has worked many entertainment//service jobs, being able to relate to the guests while also being fun, knowledgeable, AND entertaining isn’t something that just anyone can do. But Ben, Casey, Carter, Kai, and Phoebe were such a good team that I couldn’t help being drawn in by them. Each of them loves the Grand Canyon in a way I didn’t even know was possible. Carter and Casey’s parents were both river guides and grew up on the river, while Ben (our trip leader) wrote a master’s thesis titled “The Colorado River Beyond Resource: Habitat, Home and Restoration Connecting Generations Moving Downstream.”
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In short, they live, sleep, and breathe the Grand Canyon and rafting. Yeah they are great guides, but they are even better people. When you are surrounded by people who are inspired and passionate about something you can’t help but start to feel that way too. Through them, their knowledge, and love of a good time, I ended having a completely different trip than I intended. I went in only caring about the rapids, but left wanting to save the world.
I’ve gone on record that I’m not a huge “food guy”. I eat to continue living. Truth be told, this has shifted a little over the last few years, but not much. During my past hiking and rafting trips, I usually eat 1 or 2 meals a day and have basically gotten by on things like Cliff bars, peanut butter and jelly, tortillas, beef jerky, and summer sausage with cheese. Super easy things that will give me enough energy to survive the next day. Is it glamorous? No. But I survived.
CRATE does not share my ‘survival is enough’ mindset for food, and on a 200-mile rafting trip, I couldn’t have been more thankful.
Each day we were woken up with the “COOOOOFFFFFFEEEEEEE” call and provided with a buffet-style breakfast, including sausage, eggs, pancakes, french toast, fruit, etc.
Lunch was usually set up quick on the side of the river and what I would describe as ‘Sandwiches and Snacks’. But here’s the thing—there was no limit to the options provided. Turkey, ham, salami, lettuce, 5 types of cheese, tomatoes, onions, more avocado than a Chipotle… I was in sandwich heaven. Throw in the fact that there were always cookies as well and I feel no shame in the fact that I got the name ‘The Cookie Monster’ from a fellow rafter.
Dinner was always the best meal of the day. Over the 10 days of the Grand Canyon rafting trip, we had things like fajitas, burgers, brawts, stir fry, and steak.
It’s really impressive that we float down the Colorado River with enough supplies for these types of meals. I can’t state this fact enthusiastically enough: with CRATE, I ate better on my rafting trip in the middle of the Grand Canyon than I do at home.
Only “Paddle Only” trip
Everyone wants to see the Grand Canyon differently. Some want to stand at the top of the North Rim for 12 minutes and take their photo for Instagram. Others want to casually float down the Colorado while being propelled by a motorized raft. But I wanted to paddle. As much of the Grand Canyon as they’d let me, anyway, but apparently I’m in the minority because it’s not a common request. If you search online, you’ll find only 1 company that offers a ‘paddle only’ trip of the Grand Canyon—CRATE. You’ll also find they only offer the trip once a year. So for me, this was one of the original and biggest selling points.
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But CRATE does it differently than you would expect. Instead of literally paddling 200 miles through the Grand Canyon regardless of the water (flat or rapid), their trip combines paddling and at times being towed by a motorized raft when the water is flat and barely flowing. We still spent 80% of the time paddling the Colorado, but towing for a few miles here and there helped to give us more time to do things like make camp, hike, and hang out. It was a perfect balance for creating amazing memories while still feeling accomplished (and physically exhausted) at the end of each day.
Customer Service & Support
With every interaction I had with the CRATE staff, I could tell they just care. They want to do a good job. They want to do the right thing. They want you to have the time of your life. I really can’t say enough good things about Vicki, Bonnie, and the rest of the CRATE office staff. In the weeks leading up to the trip, they had to have gotten over a hundred emails from me with question after question. Yet they couldn’t have been more helpful, understanding, or patient. CRATE did their best to make sure not only myself but everyone in my party was as prepared as possible.
Because they aren’t a huge rafting company, they really listen to what their customers say and want. But it goes beyond that. CRATE is willing to work with their customers to provide the experience they want. If you do a charter trip (something I’m looking into next year to raft Cataract Canyon), they will tailor the trip to what you and your group want to do. Do you want to hike more? Be on the water? Have more time at camp? Whatever it is, the CRATE team helps you create a one-of-a-kind, unique experience that you just can’t get with any other rafting company.
The Golden Question: Is rafting the Grand Canyon worth it?
I’ve told people that my 11-day paddle-only Grand Canyon rafting trip ended up being a top 3 trip of my life. Which honestly, I didn’t expect. I knew I’d have a blast white water rafting, but I didn’t expect the overall trip to have such an impact on my life or perspective. The rafting trip is right up there with the 5 weeks backpacking Southeast Asia with some of my best friends and going to Russia for the World Cup.
After going on it, I know this trip only turned out as amazing as it did because of CRATE, and I really do believe they are the best rafting company in the Grand Canyon. If you are looking for a Grand Canyon adventure or just want to raft in Utah, Arizona, or Alaska (yes they do an Alaska trip!!!) do yourself a favor and go through CRATE.