One of the toughest things about organizing a private Grand Canyon river trip, aside from pulling the permit itself, is the logistics. Boats, gear, food, shuttle, etc. are all an integral part of making your trip as memorable as possible and making sure you don’t have a mutiny on your hands mid-trip because you forgot to pack enough toilet paper. Lucky for you, there is an easy way to make all of this an afterthought; by letting someone else do the work for you! There are several options for private trip outfitters, all of which are great businesses, but our personal favorite has been Moenkopi Riverworks in Flagstaff, AZ.
Moenkopi offers a “Door-to-Door” service for private trips, where they provide fully rigged boats, First Aid and emergency equipment, satellite phone, camp kitchen, food, groovers, as well as transportation to and from the river. Basically just about everything that you need other than personal gear, some of which they also offer as add-on rental options such as drysuits, paco pads, drybags, cots, tents, and plenty more.
What makes this service more than just a “gear rental” is the services provided and years of outfitting experience. Their highly trained staff will help you every step of the way, from food planning, to gear organization and everything in between. They have this art down to a T, and it shows. When you initially contact them for a quote, they will custom tailor your rental to your needs and can be scaled from just about everything, to mixed personal / rental boat trips, to basic gear rental. They will even just do a food purchase and pack for trips that have all the gear, but don’t want to deal with the food prep and pack. We opted for the full door-to-door option, simply for the extra room of 18′ boats and the convenience of not having to coordinate (and clean) our own gear.
Our rental boats were top-of-the-line, practically brand new Sotar 18′ self-bailers with Sawyer MX oars, that were fully outfitted and more than capable. We opted for 5 boats for 16 people, which was enough room for a 16 person / 21 day trip, but don’t be afraid to go with 6 if you can swing it, especially for longer winter trips.
Moenkopi has several different menu options to choose from (all of which are high-quality) and can accommodate almost any mix of dietary restrictions or allergies. You can also opt to create your own menu (for an additional fee), but we found the pre-set menu to be more than adequate, even with a few glutards and lactose intolerant people on our trip. They provide food surveys for each person on the trip, so be sure that everyone takes some time to fill these out properly. If you have dietary restrictions, be sure to mention those and list the types of alternative foods you would like. The few “gluten challenged” people on our trip found their menu options a little limited on occasion, especially towards the end of the trip, so make sure you spell out any specific items you would like included and quantities. Overall there were often ample amounts of leftovers, so unless you’re a TRULY heavy eater, just check the “normal portions” box.
Once the selection has been made, Moenkopi purchases, organizes and packs all food into ammo cans organized by individual days and large coolers that held ice for all 21 days of our Oct/Nov trip. Our only suggestion here is to forego the grapefruit in favor of more hearty fruits they offer (ours went bad within about a week). Also, if your group wants to hike a lot, you might consider one of their more simple menus as well, as some of the meals we had on the winter menu required a decent amount of prep and cook time.
Most groups opt to meet in Flagstaff and rent out the Moenkopi Riverhouse, a plush rental that can accommodate up to 16 people, the night prior to rig day. Moenkopi then picks up the group and transports them, plus all the gear, to Lee’s Ferry. Because of our proximity to the put-in, we opted to drive straight to Lee’s Ferry and meet the Moenkopi crew there on rig-day.
Once at the put-in, Moenkopi will help your group inflate and rig your boats and gear. This process is a bit tedious and takes some time. Make sure you take your time with initial boat setup because once you start adding gear and weight, you’ll have a very difficult time adjusting things. Make sure your drop floors are properly elevated, your oar towers are where you’d like them and all your rigging is how you’d like it before you start loading gear or food. Ask questions as you go if you have any.
Every boat will be a designated boat; Dairy Boat, Meat Boat(s), Produce Boat, Lunch Boat and Groover Boat. Don’t be afraid of picking the groover boat! While it may not be the optimal boat for a mid-summer trip, it is the least amount of daily rigging work and we didn’t have any sort of odor issue, even at the end of the trip.
One suggestion that differs from Moenkopi’s recommendation is to have a member of your group fill out the boat maps (where everything is located on each boat) while they are being loaded. It was suggested that we do them after we had launched, but once on the water we simply didn’t have the focus to fill them out and found it to be a battle to find things sometimes.
After you’ve spent the day rigging, Moenkopi will walk you through all the rest of the camp and group gear to make sure that you understand the daily camp process and how all the equipment works. They also include a helpful guide that covers everything you need to know incase you forget something. A member of their team will even spend the night so that they can assist you the next morning with any questions or issues that might arise. They’ll even shuttle you to Marble Canyon Lodge for dinner the night before your launch, where you can also purchase any last minute items you may need for your trip (like extra headlamp batteries!)
From there, they’ll see you off and you’re on your way! Hopefully you didn’t forget any personal gear (or beer! We averaged about 4-5 per day per person overall even with some moderately heavy drinkers), because you will soon be deep within the walls of Marble Canyon on your way to the Grand Canyon proper. On the water, we found all the gear and supplies to be top notch. The camp kitchen equipment was spot on and worked great. Our only advice here is to make sure you settle your water as much as possible before trying to filter (or just filter from side creeks that are less sediment laden). We found it difficult to stick to the two included filters for a 21 day trip, even after settling overnight. Use flocculant if you need to, or just budget for a 3rd filter in your group costs.
One of the best parts about the Door to Door service is getting to the end of the trip, loading all your dirty rental gear onto a trailer and watching it drive away, knowing you won’t have to clean or deal with it all! Its also nice not having to put the miles on your own vehicles for the shuttle (or packing a bunch of very stinky people into your own cars). Moenkopi will shuttle you from either takeout back to Flagstaff. Our advice is to skip Diamond and do the night float down to Pearce. Its super easy and only takes 10-12 hours to float from Separation to Pearce.
Once you’re back in Flag, its time to say your goodbyes and get back to “the real world”. Don’t forget to tip, which will go to your shuttle drives and all the people behind the scenes that purchased / packed your food, organized and cleaned all your group gear, and deal with you poop. We recommend a standard 10-15 percent, so be sure to budget that in to your group costs rather than struggling to collect cash after the fact.
We had an amazing trip, and much of that was thanks to Moenkopi. Brady, Andrew and the rest of the crew were friendly, knowledgeable and extremely helpful with organizing our trip. If you’ve got a trip coming up, be sure to give them a call!
Moenkopi Riverworks5355 N Dodge AveFlagstaff AZ 86004928-526-6622
All photos © Matt Gerhardt 2019