The Difference Between Whitewater Classes and What They Mean in Colorado

When choosing your rafting trip, finding the right class of rapids for you is essential to having a good time. Whether you are looking for an adrenaline-fueled whitewater adventure or a scenic float, a basic understanding of rapid classification is necessary. Rapids are classed from I through VI, with I being the calmest and VI being the most intense.  Here at Breckenridge Whitewater Rafting, we have a strict age limit of fifteen years old to raft rapids of Class IV or higher.

Class I Rapids

Imagine a bathtub, with a gentle breeze coming through the window. The rivers that we raft do not feature long sections as calm as this. This class of rapid is great for floating on inner tubes or for a relaxing day on some kayaks.  There aren’t any trips that Breckenridge Whitewater runs labeled Class I.

Class II Rapids

These rapids consist of easy waves up to three feet high. Our floats on the Upper Colorado and Gold Rush trips have this type of whitewater and are great for families with younger children, or people who may simply be looking for a more relaxing trip. Some small maneuvers may be required on Class II rapids to avoid smaller boulders. Don’t stop here, the fun is just getting started!

Class III Rapids

Our Browns Canyon trips consistently have Class III rapids. This level of rapids is great for families looking to step up the adrenaline levels a bit but may still have children under fifteen. Waves reach up to four feet high and river passages narrow, forcing more difficult maneuvers from guides and henceforth more paddling from guests. These are the kind of rapids that people typically picture when the words ‘white water’ are mentioned. And they only get bigger from here.

Whitewater Rapids
Courtesy of Pixabay

Class IV Rapids

Bigger, faster, longer, and more difficult to navigate. The drops will send your heart racing and the continuous rapids will keep you sweating the whole stretch of river. Guests on Class IV must be able to swim and have to be in athletic shape. Experience rafting is not necessary, but just be prepared for the roller coaster of adrenaline that you are getting yourself into. The Numbers on the Arkansas River and Upper Clear Creek each feature Class IV rapids and are perfect for those ready to take that next step.

Class V Rapids

The Gnarliest of the gnar. Waterfalls, rainbows, and plenty of obstacles. In a sentence, Class V trips are intense and once you finish the rapids you and your raft will feel the biggest sense of accomplishment.  Strong swimming skills, rafting experience, and a good fitness level are all required to run Class V rapids.  Check out the Pine Creek section of the Arkansas River and Lower Canyon section of the Clear Creek if you’re up for the challenge.

Class VI Rapids

Class VI rapids are only classified as such until somebody has successfully run them. These are for certified professionals only; no commercial outfitters run Class VI rapids. Fun fact: Niagara Falls has been classified as a Class V since people have gone over the falls in a barrel, so you can only imagine the intensity of a Class VI.

Niagara Falls

Who’s ready for some great whitewater?  We may be passed high water season, but there’s plenty of river to venture out on still.  Call Breckenridge Whitewater Rafting today and get your rafting trip booked!