The Post-Game: Tips for your BEST Grand Canyon Family Rafting Adventure!

In May our family embarked on a three day, two night Grand Canyon rafting trip with Western River Expeditions.

With a teen, a “tween,” four senior-citizens, my husband and I knew we were in for a memorable trip. We booked this travel a year prior to our departure date. It was expensive. We were nervous. And we were committed to enjoying every moment!

Indeed, we had an epic adventure, but there are a few things I learned along the way. I share numerous tips and anecdotes here…

There are so many things that we did wrong! We want to help YOU prepare so that you won’t make the same mistakes on this bucket list trip!

Clothing for your Grand Canyon family rafting adventure!

Waterproof Pants – BRING THEM!

 So did I do that? No, no, I didn’t.

Here’s the deal. No matter how hot it is outside, that river water temperature is in the fifties year round. At least half of the seats on the raft receive consistent drenching from the rapids. Thus, even if it’s a very hot day, you will likely get wet, and it will take you a while to dry.

In spite of the heat, until you are dry, you will be shivering from the chilly water against your skin.

Neoprene Socks – USE THEM!

We brought neoprene socks on our rafting trip,  but did we use them?

Sometimes we used them, sometimes we didn’t. If I were to do it again, I would wear neoprene socks for the entire time that I am on the raft. Your feet do get cold, but it is not just the chill of the water that you want to protect them from. It is the sun. And even if you wear great sandals, there are places where they are open and your skin is exposed.

The neoprene socks will not only help to protect your feet from the cold water, but they will also help to protect your feet from a lot of the sunburns that are inevitable if you don’t have some sort of sock on your feet.

The Sarong 

The next thing that I decided I wouldn’t bring was a sarong. That was my worst choice of all!

If there is a number one item in the clothing section that I wish that I had brought, it would be that sarong!

A sarong is just a very, very thin material that  is almost like a blanket or a scarf that you wrap around yourself. Many women will use them as coverups on the beach.  You can buy them at most tourist locations. But this little gem of fabric can be used for so many purposes on a rafting trip!

If you go during the hottest time of the year, you can dip your sarong into the water, throw it over your shoulders or your skin, and cool off while you’re sitting on the raft and the sun is beating down on you.

But how I most needed that sarong was to protect my skin from the sun! We’ll talk more about the sun and protection later, but the sarong should be a key player in your toolkit to protect your skin from burns.

Quick Dry Clothing

I chose to bring shorts  that were  the material of swimsuit bottoms. They were not quick dry.  

It is very important that you heed the “quick dry” advise due to your clothing’s impact on your body temperature. While you may feel hot on the raft, the second you are splashed by a rapid (or a fun-loving friend,) you will suddenly feel a chill you cannot shake!

You will only warm up again AFTER your clothes are dry. And you will be counting the minutes!

On my next rafting adventure, I will absolutely bring quick drying shorts and tops!

Additional Clothing Tips

Two other tips are really important when you’re packing. One is, bring only TWO outfits: the one you are wearing upon arrival to the river, and one alternate.

There will not be a single moment of your trip when you will feel “clean.” You will be wet, dry, cold, or hot, but mostly combinations thereof. So, two outfits will suffice. Neither will be clean, even the clean one…

Then, tip TWO: ensure that you bring string and clothespins to hang-dry your wet clothes. I deliberately did not bring these items, and I regretted it. The items in your bag may never be clean…(like ever…for the rest of their existance,) but they CAN be dry. Enjoy the dry!

Personal Care Items for your Grand Canyon family rafting adventure!

Let’s see how much I messed up when it comes to that.  Spoiler alert: A LOT!


We used an SPF 30, chemical-based, spray sunscreen. I did reapply it frequently and liberally. But it didn’t matter. I don’t know if it had ANY protective impact at all! I ended up as red as a Maine “lobsta!”

Thus,  my first suggestion would be to use a mineral sunscreen. I used a zinc-based sunscreen on my face as I do daily at home. My face did fare well in the canyon and never turned red. That was the only part of my body that was well protected from the sun.

Additionally, you could try an SPF 100 chemical-based sunscreen, but I wouldn’t rely on it.

An even better alternative is to use other physical protection such as high-coverage clothing and clothing with its own SPF promises.


It is dry as burn toast at the bottom of the canyon! You may think you have experienced dry skin, but unless you have lived in the Middle Eastern desert, you don’t know this kind of arid!

Rafting the river is different than going to the Grand Canyon and hanging out for two or three days. When you are on the water and that river is constantly splashing you, the sand is constantly beating you, and the sun is constantly cooking you, the oils in your skin wash away faster than you can even say, “lotion!”

It took us over a month after getting home for our skin to start feeling normal again.

Bring the lotion, heed that advice.

Not an “item,” but BRAID THAT HAIR!

Additionally, if you have long hair, wear your hair in braids the entire time.

If you have little girls, if you are tender headed, if it is possible to braid your hair, braid it.

Leave it in the braids, and don’t mess with it. Your hair will dry out. It will become so brittle and crispy that if you take your hair down, if you try to wash it and brush through it, your hair may just chip off as if it is stale, hollow baguette.

In fact, letting the oils from your hair build up on your head is the best form of maintenance you can offer. Nobody will think you smell because, frankly, you will all smell so badly that your nose won’t even register scent anymore.


Have kleenex available to you while you’re on the raft. There are a lot of different allergens at the bottom of the canyon that you may not realize affect you. Be prepared.

Electrolyte Tablets

And finally, you need to stay hydrated. In order to do that, I strongly suggest electrolyte tablets. I got dehydrated the very first day.

I did have electrolyte tablets with me, but I waited to drink them until dehydration struck. Don’t be like me. You’re smarter than that!

There are many brands. I prefer the NUUN tablets, and my husband and kids prefer the Liquid IV. Under no circumstances would I be caught at the bottom of the Grand Canyon without electrolytes!

Moisterizing Eye Drops – ESSENTIAL

Here’s the big story on the personal care items…

The one thing that cost me the most time and enjoyment on the entire rafting trip were dry eyes.

I don’t have a lot of dry eye issues, but I do find myself having to use drops once a month or when I drive for too long or stare at a screen for too long.

I did not have any eye drops with me at the bottom of the canyon. So, between the sand, the water, and the arid climate, I was unable to keep my eyes open by late afternoon each day. I ended up with my eyes closed on the raft or my eyes closed lying on my cot with wet compresses.

Thus, if you wear contacts, have thyroid issues, or have EVER IN YOUR LIFE suffered from dry eyes, THIS is an absolute requirement for your Grand Canyon trip! Please heed this warning. I don’t want you to miss a second of this special adventure!

Sleeping Better during your Grand Canyon family rafting adventure!

Bring Your Pillow

Bring a pillow. I think they say it’s optional. No, no, no, no, no, no, no.  Bring a pillow.

Roll one up. Throw it in a dry bag. And have a great night’s sleep!

Consider a Bed Pad

One gentleman on our trip brought a bed pad. He preferred soft mattresses, and the cot would bother his back. He simply added an inflatable pad to his gear and enjoyed a great night sleep! Good for him!

Sleeping is important. If you need something to make the nights more comfortable for you, consider bringing it. This is a trip for you to ENJOY!


Bring earplugs.

Okay, so I don’t wake  up to snoring around me. Maybe or maybe not because I contribute to it…

But I know there are a lot of people that will struggle to sleep if there is snoring going on around them. And let me just tell you that camping with 40 people in close proximity, there will be a chorus of snoring. So, if you’re a light sleeper, bring the earplugs.

Prepare for Comfort – TOP TIP!

Before you crawl into bed each night, be sure you PREPARE your sleeping area!

When you go to sleep, you will be hot. Three hours later, the temperature will drop 30 degrees, and you will be cold.

Ensure that you have WITHIN ARMS’ REACH whatever you might need to warm yourself!

Grab your socks, your headlamp, tissue, and Hothands (if you so choose.) Place them next to you in bed or in your sleeping bag. Additionally, sleep on TOP of your sleeping bag. Do NOT leave it at the bottom of your huge bag of gear. Have it immediately available for when you wake up cold in the middle of the night.

(Note: if you’re going on this trip in July, you will NOT get cold at night…Also, we hear that even if you are offered a FREE trip in July, you should just say no…)

 Odds and ends for your Grand Canyon family rafting adventure!

Caribiners  – bring extras

Bring extra D-rings or carabiners. We lost a number of them along the journey, and I can only imagine how many we could lose on a six night trip! Bring extras!

Sunglass Cleaner

The next thing that you will need is sunglass cleaner. Your sunglasses,  which you absolutely must wear, will be sprayed with splashes and sand. You will need more than a silk cloth to clean them. Go ahead and purchase so lens wipes. You can thank me later.

Extra grocery bags

Everything  that you touch and wear will quickly get gross. You will want to section off your belongings. Bring SEVERAL grocery or plastic bags. Be liberal with this packing item. You will be the hero of camp.

Deck of cards

I suggest you bring a deck of cards. During the evening, after everybody eats and enjoys a chat, you may have time to go back and enjoy another hour or so of sunlight with your family.

Play a game. Whether it’s Crazy Eights with the littles or Spades with everybody else, a deck of cards will be a big hit and facilitate some special memories.

3 Final Tips for your Grand Canyon family rafting adventure!

I have three final tips that are very, very important. We did not hear about these ahead of time, so I hope they serve you well!

Consolidate your bags at the Hotel

When you store your bags at the hotel, they charge you per bag. If you are travelling with a family, bring a large duffel bag to consolidate all belongings and only be charged for storing a single bag.

We each stored small, personal-item-sized bags, and we were charged four times what we could have spent by sharing a duffle!

The Number of people on your raft MATTERS!

You will want to be aware of how many people will be on your raft.

Each raft has a capacity to seat 18 people. If you are riding as one of eighteen people, there will be no available seat on the raft for you to get up and move around.

Our rafts ended up with 14 passengers each, and that was a perfect capacity.

The extra four, open seats allowed for people to lie down, walk around, and go and chat with different people.

We could shift anytime we became uncomfortable. If the sun was burning one side of us or the front-facing, straddle numbed our legs, we could simply pop up and sit elsewhere.

Having extra space by having fewer people than maximum capacity definitely increased our enjoyment of the trip!

TOP TIP: Sit in the front at least once!

The last tip I have came from one of my kids, and I thought it was brilliant:

Sit in the front at least once.

In the front of the raft,  there are nine seats where you have to straddle the raft…you know, the same position you used when you rode the mechanical bulls at your college bars. (Is that just a Texas thing?)

You are on the rafting trip to enjoy the rapids, to feel the intensity of the most famous rapids in the world. So lean into that. Enjoy that.

Even if only once, even if only for one set of rapids. You’re going to get soaked. Your legs may not enjoy the straddle. But at least do it once. That’s what you’re there to experience.

And then you can walk away knowing that you have had the most thorough rafting experience of the Grand Canyon that your money can buy. That epic, bucket-list dream has come true, and you have lived it to your fullest capacity.

Final Thoughts for your Grand Canyon family rafting adventure!

Grand Canyon Family Rafting

Go on this trip. Enjoy it. Start with the three day, and see what adjustments you need to make so that you can confidently proceed to the six or seven day trip, if you so choose.

You’re not going to be comfortable all of the time, but you will love it. You can do it. Your kids can do it.

I am so grateful for the time I spent on the river, for the people I enjoyed, and for the memories I made.

Read more about how to enjoy the Grand Canyon with your family or how to reserve an experience at Phantom Ranch!

Best wishes on your journey!