a basic schematic map of the Colorado River through Grand Canyon
(click on map for larger version)
Best Maps & River Guides for Rafting the Grand Canyon
Here’s the definitive list of the best field guides for your river trip down the Grand Canyon.
As opposed to online resources, These maps and guides are meant to go down the river with you. Three of them are waterproof, so they can be strapped on to your rocket boxes or even stuffed in your PFD pockets.
As a Grand Canyon addict I like to have all of these resources in my library, but in this post I break things down based on your intended uses.
Best River Map for Boatmen:
Guide to the Colorado River in The Grand Canyon
Tom Martin and Duwain Whitis
The overall best map for navigating the Colorado River is by Tom Martin and Duwain Whitis. It’s simply called Colorado River in the The Grand Canyon, published by the reputed RiverMaps series.
This map is intended for private boaters rowing through the Grand Canyon. It excels as a primary source for navigation, rapids, and campsites, and there’s extensive notes with a sharp eye for geology and history.
It’s a bit too detailed (And maybe even too boring) for someone on a commercial trip (keep scrolling for a better guide for passengers), but aficionados with a base knowledge of Grand Canyon will especially appreciate this guide.
It’s personally my favorite river resource – I keep it near at hand on all of my rafting trips. I’ve even carried its pages on backpacking trips that brought me the river.
The book’s pages are waterproof and extremely durable. I like to keep it in the open air for quick access, via a cord that I weave through its spiral binding and tie closed, forming a loop. I then attach the cord to a convenient cam strap with a carabiner.
Most Convenient (& Best Budget) Field Map
This pocket map (yes, it easily fits in your pocket) is the most succinct guide for rafting the Grand Canyon that’s ever been made. It’s perfect for boatmen (and even some passengers) to keep on hand as a quick reference. It’s a great supplement to the guide listed above, and is waterproof and tear-resistant.
What strikes me most about the pocket map is how much information has been squeezed into such a convenient package! The closer you look at it, the more it shows – from Lee’s Ferry all the way to Pearce Ferry – all the hikes, camps, rapids, and a handy tide chart too.
There’s also a list of useful, to-the-point descriptions of how to run all the major rapids – an addition that I find to be indispensable. The author is a masterful boatman and accomplished Grand Canyon explorer. As the lead boatman on my first river trips, Dave Nally is my personal Obi-Wan Kenobi for rafting the Grand Canyon.
Best Colorado River Map & Guide for Commercial Passengers
Belknap’s Grand Canyon River Guide
Buzz Belknap & Loie Belknap Evans
Belknap’s has long been the go-to guide for rafting trips. All of the tour guides recommend it to their customers. This is the best all-round choice if you won’t be in the pilot’s seat, or if it’s your first extensive trip inside the Grand Canyon.
The detailed interpretive sections on wildlife, plants, geology, and history will get you up to speed in no time. Belknap’s best enables you to embrace your trip and revel in the Canyon’s natural beauty. With these pages at your fingertips, you’ll possess engaging insights about your surroundings.
For some people it’s an even better keepsake than their photo albums. Years later, they can still point out all of the highlights and campsites in what later becomes a whirlwind of wondrous memories. You’ll never remember all the Canyon’s exact locations without it.
Better yet, try grabbing a waterproof pen and marking it up as a rafting guide that doubles as journal.
The Best Hiking Guide for a River Trip
Day Hikes from the River
Tom Martin has an excellent hiking guide that’s intended exclusively for boaters from the river. The beauty of a rafting trip is that your boat acts as a mobile trailhead, capable of accessing a lot of the best hikes in the whole Grand Canyon!
This guidebook opens up a world of possibilities. Without it you’ll miss out on so many of the best hikes… probably the best thing about your trip! It includes topo maps, the exact river mileage points, and a lot more.
Warning! You probably should not get this book if you’re a passenger on a commercial trip. Knowledge of all the tantalizing possibilities of hikes and sights that your guide simply passes by could spoil everything!
You should also be warned that a few of the hikes are rated at an expert-level for Grand Canyon. Tom is an extremely accomplished Grand Canyon explorer – most of the listed hikes will lead you into rugged terrain, and even involve some rock climbing.
An alternate hiking guide for hikes from the river is the book Grand Canyon River Hikes.
A Hardcore Canyoneering Guide
Finally, if you’re into canyoneering and rappelling down cliffs into nasty, deep, freezing pools of water, than you’re probably no stranger to Todd Martin’s books (especially in Arizona). Todd Martin is not to be confused with Tom Martin.
Needless to say, this book will do you no good if you’re on a paid, commercially guided trip, because they probably won’t take you canyoneering. It’s also intended for the most hardcore of Grand Canyon explorers with the requisite skill set and physical conditioning.