Let’s face it: Arizona is a state known for its mild winters and relatively hot summers. But whether you’re talking temperature or just the general disposition of all those along for your Arizona vacation there’s one very reliable way to keep your cool: head for the river. We don’t mean skipping stones at water’s edge, either. What you need to do is ride it - raft and paddles, meet white water. Because while this southwestern state doesn’t have quite the variety of raftable rivers that neighboring Utah does, it still nonetheless has more to offer than just a deservedly infamous run through the Grand Canyon.
That having been said, a multi-day trip down the Colorado River as it carves a dramatic and often hair-raising course through the majestic Grand Canyon is up there on the epic list. Between April and late September when the river is at its biggest, rafting trips fill up weeks, months, even years in advance, whether you’re going for a comparatively short four-day trip or running the river all the way from Lees Ferry to Lake Mead. No slight meant to the state’s other two rafting rivers, but the Colorado is a show stopper.
However, whether you’ve already been there, done that, can’t get a reservation for another five years or simply want an easy day-trip close to Phoenix, say, or Sedona, there are other options. Less than two hours by road from both is the the Verde River, the state’s only official Wild and Scenic River. Cutting through canyons and national forest, this mild to intermediate river is most suited for rafting between mid January and mid April. Thanks to rapids that top out at Class III, this one is suitable for families and rafting newbies; in years when the water stays low, you can even attempt it in an inflatable kayak.
And finally, there’s the Salt River run through Upper Salt River Canyon, aka the “Mini Grand Canyon”. Readily accessible from both Phoenix and Tucson, this intermediate run enjoys one of the shortest rafting seasons around, water levels depending, from roughly mid March through April. Pick between half-day trips, full day express runs or a slower multi-day approach with time to explore the river canyon for this one.
So fair enough, the Grand Canyon is the granddaddy of them all, but whether you’ve got a time crunch to consider on your next Arizona vacation or are simply looking for variety, don’t get hung up on the Colorado River. Give the Verde and Salt Rivers a scenic whirl and you’ll enjoy a spot of spring white water action long before most other rafting rivers even open for the season.