What Are the Best Colorado River Boat Rides?

travel reviews

K. Kravitz, Tour Reviewer

From the mailbag comes this question from Donna K., Cheyenne, Wy: “Our family vacation is in Las Vegas this year and we are going to include a side-trip to the Grand Canyon and want to take a Colorado River boat ride. Can you please explain what’s available and which is the best for a group that includes several children under the age of eight?”

I’d be happy to because almost all tours that include the river are great for kids and provide one of the most unique ways to interact with the Grand Canyon. First, let’s split hairs. The word “boat” means a lot of things to a lot of people. Here in the canyon, it can refer to either a steel-pontoon or a rubber-pontoon boat. The difference between the two boils down to how much time you want to spend on the water. Let’s take a closer look…

grand canyon colorado river boat

Colorado River, Boat Trip, West Rim

Steel-Pontoon Boat Tours

The only steel-pontoon boat trip that I’m aware of at this time is one operated by the Hualapai Tribe at the bottom of the West Rim. This boat ride is usually added to bus, helicopter and airplane tours from Las Vegas. Each includes a 4,000-foot helicopter ride to the bottom, and then it’s a short walk to the dock. The river pilot will take you 15 to 20 minutes up the Colorado River, cut the engines and drift back to the starting point. The bottom of the canyon is a mystical place and drifting on the Colorado dramatically enhances that.

Here’s a list of Las Vegas tours that include this boat ride (click a link for more information).

West Rim Bus, Helicopter & Boat
West Rim Airplane, Helicopter & Boat
West Rim Helicopter, Boat, Skywalk

Rubber-Pontoon Boat Tours

The rubber-pontoon boats are also known as water rafts. These trips are available at the West Rim and the South Rim. Here are details:

West Rim

This trip is part of a Grand Canyon helicopter package that lands at the bottom of the West Rim. There you’ll enjoy a Champagne toast before exploring the surrounding area and the river. Then it’s off to the base of the Hoover Dam, where you’ll switch over to an expedition-quality pontoon raft for the start of a beautiful 11-mile, smooth-water float tour to Willow Beach, AZ. Use this link for more info:

West Rim/Hoover Dam Helicopter Boat Tour

South Rim

These smooth-water float tours are Grand Canyon National Park’s hottest day trips. Choose from basic and deluxe versions. The basic includes bus transport to Glen Canyon Dam, while the deluxe uses a 19-passenger airplane. Deluxe also comes with a 4×4 Jeep tour to stunning Antelope Canyon. Then off you go on a 15-mile float trip that rounds internationally famous Horseshoe Bend before concluding at Lee’s Ferry. Use these links for more info:

South Rim Boat & Bus Tour
South Rim Boat, Jeep & Airplane Tour

grand canyon boat tour

Coloado River, River Rafting, Grand Canyon

Let’s Boat the Colorado

Colorado Boat rides in the Grand Canyon come in many shapes and sizes, so there’s bound to be one that appeals to everyone. The steel-pontoon boat rides are add-ons to larger canyon tours from Vegas. Rubber-pontoon boat trips are available at the West Rim/Hoover Dam and the South Rim. These trips are 1-day adventures that are open to kids four years and older. The Grand Canyon is an epic place. There’s a lot to see from the top, but to really get your hands around the canyon. you’ve got to enjoy it from the bottom. Especially during a boat or one-day rafting tour!

Update: There’s also 1-day white water rafting. Trips start from Williams & Flagstaff and come with 8 sets of class 1-7 rapids!


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