The 4 Most Essential Colorado River Maps and Guidebooks

Check out the Beginner’s Guide for more general rafting information.

Colorado River Map
a basic schematic map of the Colorado River through Grand Canyon
(click on map for larger version)

The best map for rafting the Colorado River is by Tom Martin and Duwain Whitis. It’s simply called Colorado River in The Grand Canyon, published by the reputed RiverMaps series.

Colorado River in the Grand Canyon This map is intended for private boaters who are rowing their own raft through the Canyon.

It’s a bit too detailed (And maybe even too boring) for those on a commercial trip. Keep scrolling for a better guide for passengers.

It’s easy to use, waterproof, and loaded with navigational information.

If you’re a boatman on a trip and you don’t have this map, not only will you be left out in the dark, but you could be a hazard to you and your group. Seriously.

Colorado River in The Grand Canyon by Tom Martin and Duwain Whitis

Tom Martin (co-author of this map) is regarded as an authority on private river trips in Grand Canyon. For more on Tom, see below:

Tom Martin has been hiking in Grand Canyon from river rafting trips since 1969. He has participated in scientific rafting trips as a field technician, worked as a commercial river guide, and participated on numerous non-commercial rafting trips as a permit holder. Tom co-founded the Grand Canyon Private Boaters Association, the Grand Canyon Hikers and Backpackers Association, and presently serves as Co-Director of River Runners for Wilderness. Tom worked for twenty years as a physical therapist at the Grand Canyon Clinic at the South Rim and has hiked the 277 mile length of Grand Canyon from Lee’s Ferry to Pearce Ferry.

The next best choice to Tom’s map (Or better yet, as a supplement to it) is Dave Nally’s new pocket map.

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 extremely useful and to-the-point descriptions of how to run all the major rapids.

Tom’s map (listed above) is still the most thorough resource out there, but the pocket map is much more convenient and still lists all of the best information.

Grand Canyon Colorado River Rafting Pocket Topo Guides & Maps (12×18″ Tear-Resistant / Waterproof)

Dave Nally is a masterful boatman and accomplished Grand Canyon explorer. Serving as the lead boatman on my first two river trips, he’s my personal Obi-Wan Kenobi when it comes to rafting the Grand Canyon.

After dozens of rafting trips and hundreds of days and nights backpacking, guiding, thru-hiking, and canyoneering down never-explored side canyons within Grand Canyon, Dave Nally was inspired to create an all-inclusive weatherproof, compact, lightweight, topo map for river and canyon adventurers who need quick references on where they are, what rapids loom ahead, possible side canyon excursions, and where camps can be made for the night.

The Best Colorado River Map and Guide for Passengers on Commercial Trips

Belknap’s Grand Canyon River Guide has long been the go-to guidebook for rafting trips. All of the tour guides recommend it to their customers.

It’s perfect for newcomers because of the sections on wildlife, plants, geology, and history. This book really enables you to embrace your trip and revel in the Canyon. With these pages at your fingertips, you could know more about what’s around you than anyone else on the trip (Other than the tour guides, of course!).

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 of the exact places that you were without it.

Belknap’s Waterproof Grand Canyon River Guide All New Edition

blacktail canyon

The Best Hiking Guide for a River Trip

Tom Martin also 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 stuff 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!

Day Hikes from the River: A Guide to Hikes from Camps Along the Colorado River in Grand Canyon

For the Extremely Hardcore: Canyoneering

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 book – Grand Canyoneering. 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.

Grand Canyoneering: Exploring the Rugged Gorges and Secret Slots of the Grand Canyon