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White Water Rafting 101: What Does “Class” Mean?

Get ready for the 2015 Colorado river rafting season

When it comes to Colorado river rafting adventures we talk a lot about the “Class” you can expect to encounter on our many expeditions, but what exactly do the “class” ratings mean?

Standardized International Scale of River Difficulty

There is a standardized rating for all rivers to determine the class of the rapids or a stretch of the river. However, these ratings may change with the seasons and many rivers can have several different class ratings on various sections of the river. But, we can generalize a little. Here goes…

Arkansas River Rafting

125 Miles of Colorado whitewater on the Arkansas River from Class II-V. Book now with Dvorak Expeditions.

Class I: Here you can expect fast moving water with small waves and riffles. Those in the rafting community may lovingly refer to the Class I as “your bathtub” as there is little risk involved. Note: we did not say “no risk”. Never take any moving body of water for granted.

Class II: You’ll see these rapids coming as well as any obstacles. Class II is a straightforward stretch of rapids, with clear visibility of any rocks or boulders that may get in your way. Perfect for families and beginners.

Class III: Now the rapids are getting a little more unpredictable. Moderate rapids with larger irregular waves will require more complex maneuvering. The currents are fast and you’ll need to have good control of your boat to get through tight passages or around ledges.

Class IV: Expect intense and powerful rapids. Although the rapids may be predictable, the water can be turbulent and you’ll need precise handling of your boat and quick maneuvering under pressure as you hit unavoidable waves, holes and constricted passages. Not for first timers.

Class V: Long, obstructed and occasionally violent rapids bring added risk to every paddler. Expect steep drops with large, unavoidable waves and holes through complex and demanding routes. The rapids may continue for long stretches requiring the paddlers to have a high level of fitness.

Class VI: These rapids are extreme, unpredictable and dangerous. Only professional paddlers should take on a Class VI, and pre-scouting the route may not be possible so you will have to brave the unexpected. This also means that rescue may not be possible.

Dvorak’s Expeditions – Est. 1969

Family Owned & Operated

Bill & Jaci Dvorak