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Top 5 "Grand" Canyons to Explore This Summer

The Grand Canyon isn't the only canyon that is grand...time to buckle up and see some of the Colorado Plateau’s other hidden gems.

By: The Outbound Collective + Save to a List

This summer, discover the thrilling whitewater, awe-inspiring scenery, secret swimming holes, and sandy beaches that the lesser-known canyons of the Green and Colorado Rivers have to offer. These are the same uncharted and unknown depths that legendary one-armed explorer John Wesley Powell first descended in 1869 when he journeyed into the great unknown. And while Powell and his wryly crew may have put these places on the map, the spirit of adventure is still alive and well within the walls of these magnificent red rock labyrinths.

If you’re ready to discover the many “grand” canyons of the West, we’ve put together a list of adventures from our friends at OARS that everyone from seasoned rafters to first-timers and families will love. Unlike early expeditions, though, these trips include top-notch guides and equipment, gourmet cooking, and hassle-free camping. Prepare to have the journey of your life...

1. Float Through Flaming Gorge

photo: David Hessell

On this 1- or 3-day trip through red rock country, even the littlest explorers can take on Anticipation Rapid, Roller Coaster Rapid and Mother-in-Law Rapid (don't worry, she's tame). With time to explore, swim, fish (this stretch of river offers world-class trout fishing), and gather around the campfire each night, a Flaming Gorge rafting trip is the perfect introduction to whitewater rafting for families and first-timers alike. This quick and easy adventure is a crowd-pleaser. 

2. Delve into Dinosaur National Monument & the Gates of Lodore

photo: Josh Miller

Whether you go for 3, 4, or 5 days, a trip down the Green River and into the heart of Dinosaur National Monument will be something you'll never forget. With Grand Canyon vibes, hikes to hidden oases, and big-wave whitewater action, a Gates of Lodore rafting trip is nothing but fun. Not to mention, it’s the perfect trip for experienced paddlers who are looking to step-up their game (you can hop on an inflatable kayak or SUP to experience the rapids up-close-and-personal), but tame enough for newbies to have the time of their lives. Sounds like a vacation win for the whole crew.

3. Discover Underrated Desolation Canyon

photo: Whit Richardson

If you really want to get away, fly into this wild and remote canyon and disappear down the Green River for five days. On a “Deso” trip you’ll be wowed with whitewater--there’s more than 50 Class II-III rapids to conquer--plus epic scenery (yes, those canyon walls are as high as Grand Canyon in some places), hiking to relics of the past and comfy beach camping. When have you ever been able to go this far off the grid and not had to haul so much gear on your back?  

4. Conquer Cataract Canyon & Canyonlands

photo: James Kaiser

Backdoor access to Canyonlands National Park and legendary whitewater await rafters on a Cataract Canyon rafting trip. This 4- or 6-day adventure may start out tame, but it ends with a bang as you tackle the infamous Big Drops before flying out of the canyon and retracing your journey. Along the way, hike to seasonal waterfalls and hidden slot canyons, soak up the scenery as you paddle a SUP or inflatable kayak, and camp under a billion stars in a red rock wonderland. Want to crank up the adventure level? Snag a spot on an early season trip in mid-May and June when the winter snowmelt comes crashing through the canyon.

5. Soak in the Grandeur of Grand Canyon

photo: James Kaiser

A Grand Canyon rafting trip is the creme de la creme of river trips, bar none. For 15+ days you'll be totally unplugged, off-the-grid and immersed in one of the greatest natural wonders of the world. As you journey down 280 miles of the Colorado River you’ll float through the wonders of Marble Canyon, marvel at the mysteries of the Inner Gorge and crush world-famous rapids like Lava Falls, Crystal and Granite. Each day brings another mind-boggling spectacle, stunning side hike or life-changing moment. It’s undoubtedly the best rafting trip on the planet, and if epic adventures are your M-O, it should be at the top of your bucket list.  

To book a tour or for more info visit OARS!

cover photo: James Kaiser

We want to acknowledge and thank the past, present, and future generations of all Native Nations and Indigenous Peoples whose ancestral lands we travel, explore, and play on. Always practice Leave No Trace ethics on your adventures and follow local regulations. Please explore responsibly!

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