The unofficially named Horseshoe Bend float trip or Marble Canyon float trip consists of floating on the Colorado River from Glen Canyon Dam to Lees Ferry. Until recently, there were no official tourism boats designated to backhaul people up to the dam, resulting in this being kept as one of Arizona’s best secret adventures. This stretch of the Colorado River has always been known to be a popular spot for some of the best fishing in the Southwest, but with the growing popularity of outdoor recreation, Horseshoe Bend, and Antelope Canyon, this part of the river has become a more well-known and accessible Arizona experience.
Lees Ferry is where all full Grand Canyon river rafting trips begin on the Colorado River and where a Grand Canyon Colorado River Rafting Permit is required. These are difficult to come by and must be applied for in February to be able to be part of the permit lottery. People can do partial river trips that start at Phantom Ranch with a permit or through a professional river tour operator, but all commercial river boats put-in at Lees Ferry. Grand Canyon National Park officially begins downstream of Lees Ferry. The part of the canyon upstream from Lees Ferry is Marble Canyon. You can obtain a permit to float the Colorado River from Glen Canyon Dam to Lees Ferry year-round at the kiosk located at the entrance of Lees Ferry. There is no charge for the permit nor limit to the number of permits available. One permit per group is required.
The water through Marble Canyon tends to be smooth and even glass-like through much of the 15-mile stretch. There are no rapids to speak of, common summer wind conditions could turn this into a Type II Fun experience. On the other hand, the Grand Canyon portion of the Colorado River has some of the biggest, most technical rapids in North America. DO NOT go past Lees Ferry when floating down the Colorado River. You will likely find yourself in trouble either with either the law or nature - or both. Being rescued from Grand Canyon National Park is a dangerous feat for all parties involved, so it’s best to just respect the rules and take out at Lees Ferry.
You’ll need to pay a $30 fee per vehicle to park there, but if you already have a National Parks Pass, that will do the job. There will be a self-serve pay-to-park kiosk on the way into Lees Ferry, which is where you can also get your free permit to do the float. If you plan to arrive the night before your float trip, Lees Ferry has a campground with bathrooms and a few other basic amenities. There are 54 sites on a first-come-first-serve basis, and it costs $20 per site/per night in addition to your $30 entrance fee to park at Lees Ferry.
The Ropes Trail is steep, has no protection, has several hundred-foot drops off the side of the trail, and requires some fitness and outdoor trail experience. Although some people have been seen carrying hard-shell kayaks down the trail clumsily, it is strongly not recommended. A packraft is definitely better suited for this adventure.
Yes! This float can be done in one day. The river stretch is 15 miles and the current will help you float you down the river unless there is a strong upstream wind, which does happen often during the warmer temperature months. There are also petroglyphs and slot canyons to explore along the way - so if this is something you want to explore, one day might not be enough time.
Yes! There are several campgrounds along the river. These campgrounds are free and on a first-come first-serve basis. They can get crowded, so get there early to choose your ideal spot. Please only stay in designated campgrounds. See below for detailed camping info and a map of campground locations along the river.
There are several composting toilets located at and in between campsites, and they keep pretty fresh, too! Use these provided toilet facilities whenever possible. If not, keep a wag bag with you for #2 so that you can follow the Leave No Trace policy. When you have to pee and you’re not near a composting toilet, pee IN the river and NOT on the sand or on a bush. Diluting your urine is the most ecologically friendly thing you can do for this unique and fragile ecosystem.
Keep an eye out for wind speed and direction when planning your trip. There is a specific areas along the river, where the canyon walls funnel wind upstream at high speeds causing you to possibly float backward or at the very least make it difficult to paddle forward. This occurs more often on warm weather days closer to the afternoon, but it can happen any time of the year if the weather conditions permit. As you get closer to the date of your trip and the windspeed/direction for the day is projected to be problematic for self-powered watercraft, it is possible that the commercial backhaul boats could cancel your ride to the dam or will recommend that you camp on the river and finish the trip in the morning when the upstream wind speeds tend to be more mellow or non-existent.
Here are some general wind speeds and directions to avoid or at least be aware of when planning your trip:
Winds from the southwest to northwest in excess of 10mph could manifest as up to 30mph in the canyon. In such cases, you will have a difficult time or more likely not be able to paddle downstream until wind conditions change. Depending on where you are located on the canyon, beaches to hunker down on may be scarce.
Check Weather Conditions on NOAA »
Yes, fishing is not only permitted, it’s one of the best places to fish in Arizona. You must have an Arizona fishing license and familiarize yourself with the fishing rules and regulations of this area. Barbless hooks are required and there are certain species and sizes of fish that are protected.
That’s up to you.
Depending on the kind of winter the area had, this could go either way. Much of northern Arizona still has snow in the spring keeping the temperatures pretty cool. The water will be really cold, but you’ll still have plenty of sunshine and great camping weather. Keep an eye out for wind conditions on those warmer days if you go in the spring.
The camping weather can be pretty warm, the sun is relentless, and though the water is still cold, it’s welcomed and enjoyable. And then there’s the high chance of the wind epic.
Camping weather is nicer, but a bit on the chilly side. The air temperature is cooler, so the sunshine is welcomed, but if you get wet - it’s cold. The upstream wind possibility becomes much less of an issue.
Be prepared to be cold. But at least you’ll have the river and the canyon to yourself - and a much smaller chance of wind issues!
Follow all boating laws for Arizona when boating on the Colorado River. Because of the nature of the river, there are additional restrictions for your safety.
In Glen Canyon National Recreation Area, the Superintendent's Compendium defines laws specific to Glen Canyon. These laws include:
36 CFR § 1.5 Closures and public use limits
Colorado River mile -15.1 R near Kayak Beach (NAD83 12S 457135, 4086805 UTM) shall be closed annually to all recreational use during the Osprey breeding season (March 15 - September 1)
Fishing is prohibited in the following areas: All structural parts of the Charles H. Spencer Riverboat (Historic Structure) at all times whether submerged or exposed above water. The Charles H. Spencer Riverboat is located on river right upstream from Lees Ferry.
River Travel Upstream of Lees Ferry - Prohibited: River travel is prohibited upstream of the three (3) closure buoys, approximately 1/4 mile downstream of Glen Canyon Dam without a permit from the Bureau of Reclamation. A sign is posted on the shoreline on both sides of the river designating this closure. Horsepower Limitations Upstream of Lees Ferry - Restricted: When releases at Glen Canyon Dam reach 35,000 cfs or above, a minimum of a 25 horse power motor is required for upriver travel from Lees Ferry.
36 CFR § 1.6(e)
Visitors utilizing any type of watercraft on the Colorado River between Glen Canyon Dam and Lees Ferry must obtain a Lees Ferry Backcountry Permit. One permit per group is required. Permits are free of charge on an unlimited basis and are available at self-service kiosks near the Lees Ferry launch area. Permits do not reserve campsites or place any restrictions on allowable activities within the river corridor. Visitors must submit one copy of the permit at the permit kiosk and keep one copy on their person. Permits are not required for visitors only hiking or fishing along the riverbank.
36 CFR § 3.12(a) Water skiing: designated waters
Any towing of persons by vessels is prohibited on the Colorado River, between Glen Canyon Dam and the downstream river boundary of Glen Canyon National Recreation Area where it adjoins Grand Canyon National Park.
36 CFR § 3.7 (b)(1) PERSONAL FLOTATION DEVICES
All occupants of hand-propelled craft operating between Glen Canyon Dam and the boundary of Grand Canyon National Park are required to wear a U.S. Coast Guard approved personal flotation device (PFD) when underway.
36 CFR §7.70(e)(i) Personal Watercraft in Glen Canyon National Recreation Area
A person may not launch and operate a PWC in the following area: On the Colorado River between Glen Canyon Dam and the downstream river boundary of Glen Canyon National Recreation Area where it adjoins Grand Canyon National Park.
Camping is limited to 14 days and is permitted in designated areas only. There are five designated areas, marked with signs, on a first-come, first-served basis. Upriver campsites are provided with toilets and fire pits. All campsites are located well above the river and require a short walk from your boat. This is to prevent camps from being damaged by high water releases.
Fires are permitted only in the fireplaces provided or in portable fire pans. No ground fires are allowed. If portable fire pans are used, all burned charcoal must be carried out. Collection of wood is prohibited.
Carry out all litter and garbage. There is no regular garbage collection upriver. Plastic litter bags are available free of charge at the ranger station. Dumpsters are available at the launch ramps for garbage disposal.
Federal law prohibits the disturbance, defacement, or removal of historic or archeological sites. Do not deface rocks and cliffs. Do not disturb plants or animals, and do not feed wildlife.
There are no fees or permits required to camp upriver. Entrance fees and vessel use fees apply.
Great for all ages, enjoy a ride through a 2-mile long tunnel to the base of Glen Canyon Dam where you will walk to your river raft with sandstone walls soaring 700 feet above you. Your friendly guide will help you aboard our roomy 32-foot raft. Then sit back and relax as you take in th … More
Great for all ages, enjoy a ride through a 2-mile long tunnel to the base of Glen Canyon Dam where you will walk to your river raft with sandstone walls soaring 700 feet above you. Your friendly guide will help you aboard our roomy 32-foot raft. Then sit back and relax as you take in the sights and stories of the Colorado River in Glen Canyon including the rich natural and human history of the region. You’ll make a beach stop, where you can take a short hike to see a petroglyph panel and even take a quick dip in the cool river. Back aboard your river raft, you’ll float through iconic Horseshoe Bend. Look for rainbow trout in the crystal-clear water, dozens of birds nesting on the banks of the river and possibly a herd of big horn sheep along the way. Your raft trip ends at historic Lees Ferry, where you’ll board our buses for the ride back to River Headquarters.
Our Horseshoe Bend Rafting Trips are completely family-friendly. We provide chilled water and lemonade. Book your spot now!