My Grand Canyon Trip

Trip leader tips
learned the hard way.

For private
Grand Canyon River Trips


Congratulations. You won a permit to run the Grand Canyon! First you celebrate, call your friends, and toast your good fortune. Then then panic sets in...Holy crap - now I have to pull this sucker off.

I just completed my fifth trip in May, 2008. There's tons of planning and work required to lead a good trip. And getting advise from previous travelers can never hurt. So here's my 2 cents on what we've learned....

Should we use an outfitter's gear or our own?

Some of our group members have guided commercially or run the Canyon over a dozen times. For the first time, we decided to hire an outfitter to supply everything.

We used Canyon REO for our Shuttle, Gear, and Food on our 2008 trip. They did a superb job. I think you definitely want to use an outfitter for your food and shuttle. Hands down, this is best way to go.

As far as rafts are concerned - our group was undecided on this one. Experienced rafters did not like jumping into an unfamiliar boat weighted down with 3 weeks worth of gear. The commercial boats are very sturdy...and piggy. They have to be. We even choose to use some 16 foot boats instead of 18ers. They were still piggy. Our smaller rowers had a tough time with them. As a group leader, you need to discuss the pros and cons with your rowers and let them decide. Don't let someone bring a marginal raft. Leave those at home and rent.

What to bring

This seems to take up too much of the trip leader's time. The biggest problem is your guests will bring too many clothes. You have to train them that they will be wearing the same pair of swim shorts day after day. See our Packing list for suggestions.

Make sure you instill in your guests that everything they bring has a high probability of getting damaged by water or blowing sand. But do go to the trouble to bring the right group toys and enough chairs. These really make a trip more a lot more fun.

Communication with the outside world

We rented a Satellite phone this trip. They don't work well in the canyon. We were only able to check for messages on a few days where you have a really big view of the southern sky. Even so, I think it was worth having. It came in very handy.

I did not get our phone from the outfitter. Instead I Googled 'satellite phone' and shopped. The deals are all over the place.

Even though I went with a top-of-the-line Iridium phone, we never were able to keep a connection for over a minute or two. Don't bother with buying voice mail or lots of minutes. Instead get and learn how to use email messaging. Practice when you get the phone. It's very weird on the these phones. Make sure you broadcast the message number to your passengers so they can pass it along. Then leave the phone on for a few hours in the evening and if you're lucky, you'll get your messages. They're fun to read to everyone at dinner!


The days of taking extra batteries is dead. Everyone wants their iPod and camera charged at night (not to mention the satellite phone and air mattresses). I did a lot of research and testing to came up with something that actually worked. It's basically a flexible solar panel, a car booster battery, and a small inverter stored in a dry bag. Click here for more information.


We choose to have our cars shuttled from the put-in to Peach Springs. Then Canyon REO drove down their trucks and vans to meet us. This worked out well. Better than taking a van all the way back to the put-in or bringing your cars down to Diamond Bar. Saves money, wear and tear, and it gets everyone to their stuff soonest.

If you have people hiking in or out mid-trip, don't forget to get parking permits for the them. Check with the park or the outfitter.


We stuck with Canyon REO's simpler menus. They were great! There was always plenty of food.

Take a 3 ring notebook with some plastic sleeves where you load the day's menu. Keep backup copies of the menus in your personal bag. Sheets blow away, get wet, get used for starting fires, and get shuffled.

As far as food crews goes - Assign 4 people per crew. Put two experienced people with two beginners. Then rotate every day starting with dinner. Then the crew has time to figure things out while others are relaxing. Make sure your best camping chefs go first so they can figure out the kitchen and train the others.

Drinks: This is always a tough one. We choose to limit our group to 2 cans per day. That's still 576 cans! We also brought 6 two-liter mylar bags of wine. We lived happily on lots of lemonaide and hard liquor mixed with whatever. But more wine would have been nice for our gang. There was actually a beer or two left over at the end. Amazing.

Evacuation insurance

It was $28 per person and covers helicopter rescues for a year. Make everyone get it. You will want to order Class C and D coverage. This is only supplemental insurance to your regular plan.
Click here for the link to Divers Security.

Budgets / Collecting money

Collect a 50% deposit up to guarantee a slot. Then get the rest before the trip starts. Your guest list will fluctuate wildly between the time they say they want to go and the money actually comes in. Just expect it.

Create a contingency fund of about $1000 in your budget. You'll use it. Trust me. Trying to get a few extra bucks from everyone after the trip for broken oars is no fun. Wouldn't it be better to treat the gang to a big 'back to civilization meal' instead if nothing breaks?


  Best wishes with your trip!!
Bob Spier