People say this is the trip of a lifetime. That's why I want to do it again! Excitement, beauty, adventure, introspection, making lifetime friends (or enemies, if you're unlucky) learning new skills, hiking side canyons unavailable from the rim, and more waterfalls and swimming holes than you can imagine. Time to really enjoy the Colorado River in Grand Canyon, for up to 30 days, depending upon the season.
Although everyone knows you can pay a lot of money to raft the Colorado River in Grand Canyon as a paying passenger with a commercial outfitter, not many take the time to figure out how to put together a do-it-yourself noncommercial trip. First you need to get the permit, or find someone else who has one. The permit lottery is run every year in February, and leftover permits are also available via the lottery system throughout the year. You need apply only once per year, for a $25 fee, to enter all the lotteries, but if you win a permit, you had better be ready to pay $400 to Grand Canyon National Park right away. All the information, rules and regs can be found on the nps website: You don't have to be an expert river runner to win a permit. Incidentally, the old system, whereby people had to wait 20 years, is thankfully a thing of the past. However, you are allowed only one trip per year, unless you are listed on the roster as an employee on a commercial trip. You can't go on one private trip, and also be a paying passenger in the same year on a commercial trip.
You may put in for years and not get a permit. Once you have a permit, though, you had better find yourself a couple of expert river runners to help you set up your trip. Joining one of several online private boaters' associations is helpful. You can post: "I have a permit for such and such a date, need boatmen and advice." You can also hire an outfitter who will put together food for you and rent you all the boats and gear, and the groovers (toilets in rocket boxes, hence my witticism in the title). There is a lot of information available about how to run the trip, what to bring, etc. The NPS rule is, everyone going on a private trip contributes equally, and no one makes any money off the funds. The exception may be made if some have to rent the gear and others have all their own gear. This must be decided in advance, whether the cost of the rentals will be split equally or not.
On my first full Grand Canyon river trip in July-August 2011, many of those rowing had never rowed before, yet they did fine. However, most, but not all of them, were young and very athletic. This is not absolutely necessary, but it helps. If a lot of newbs are rowing it is very important to have a couple of very experienced boatmen along to provide instruction. Very helpful also is all the printed information available: river guidebooks, etc. There are waterproof map books which you keep in front of you as you row. Several in our group used an inflatable kayak, a stand-up paddle board, and a small paddle raft, but not all the time. Some toys are not allowed, such as boogie-board-type devices.
There is also a lot to learn about rigging the rafts, setting up the kitchen and groover, dividing up tasks, setting an itinerary, having a daily plan, etc. You can't see everything in one trip--there is just too much to take in between Lee's Ferry and Pierce Ferry. Many boatmen form networks of friends and join several clubs, and are able to get on a trip every year. Networking with other boaters, there will always be someone who lucked out in the permit lottery.
Be aware and read the many rules and regulations provided on the Park website. Also be aware that on launch day you will be spending a lot of time with a river ranger, who will give an orientation to the group, and will inspect all your gear. You must have every piece of equipment required, exactly as it reads in the manual. Lifejackets must be of a particular type and MUST be marked "Coast Guard Approved." If it says you need a fire blanket, then they will not let you go without one. Everyone needs a photo ID, and they will not let anyone leave who does not show them one.
Another popular option is the so-called "Diamond Down," a three to five day trip from Diamond Creek to Pierce Ferry. A permit is needed, but is easier to get than the full Canyon permit. There is a dirt road to the put-in at Diamond Creek, which is near Peach Springs, AZ, and is administered by the Hualapai Tribe. A great deal of fees must be paid to them in order to make use of their road and ramp. Information about this can be found here: http://www.nps.gov/grca/planyourvisit/overview-diamond-ck.htm
So, there is a lot of equipment and skill and expertise needed to successfully accomplish this, but start now, meet some boaters, either online or via a paddle club, and put in for your permit. You won't regret it! It's the trip of a lifetime! That's why I'm going again next year!
WARNING! Hiking and outdoor related sports can be dangerous. Be responsible and prepare for the trip. Study the area you are entering and plan accordingly. Dress for the current and unexpected weather changes. Take plenty of water. Never go alone. Make an itinerary with your plan(s), route(s), destination(s) and expected return time. Give your itinerary to trusted family and/or friends.