Colorado River Rapids Classifications

Class I Rapids: Novice

Moving water with riffles and small waves.  Few obstructions, all obvious and easily missed with little training.  Risk to swimmers is slight; self-rescue is easy.

Class II Rapids: Beginner

Straightforward rapids with wide, clear channels which are evident without scouting.  Occasional maneuvering may be required, but rocks and medium-sized waves are easily missed.  Swimmers are seldom injured and group assistance, while helpful, is seldom needed.

Class II Colorado Rafting Trips:
Bighorn Sheep Canyon
Brown’s Canyon

Class III: Intermediate

Rapids with moderate, irregular waves which may be difficult to avoid.  Complex maneuvers in fast current and good boat control in tight passages or around ledges are often required; large waves or strainers may be present but are easily avoided.  Strong eddies and powerful current effects can be found.  Injuries while swimming are rare; self-rescue can be easy but group assistance may be required to avoid long swims.

Class III Colorado Rafting Trips:
Bighorn Sheep Canyon
Brown’s Canyon

Class IV: Advanced

Intense, powerful but predictable rapids requiring precise boat handling in turbulent water.  Depending on the character of the river, it may feature large, unavoidable waves and holes or constricted passages demanding fast maneuvers under pressure.  Rapids may require “must” moves above dangerous hazards.  Risk of injury to swimmers is moderate to high, and water conditions may make self-rescue difficult. Group assistance for rescue is often essential.

Class IV Colorado Rafting Trips:
Royal Gorge
The Numbers

Class V: Expert

Extremely long, obstructed, or very violent rapids which expose a paddler to added risk. Drops may contain large, unavoidable waves and holes or steep, congested chutes with complex, demanding routes. Rapids may continue for long distances between pools, demanding a high level of fitness. What eddies exist may be small, turbulent, or difficult to reach. At the high end of the scale, several of these factors may be combined.  Swims are dangerous, and rescue is often difficult even for experts.

Class V Colorado Rafting Trips:
Royal Gorge
The Numbers

Class VI: Extreme and Exploratory Rapids

These runs have almost never been attempted and often exemplify the extremes of difficulty, unpredictability and danger. The consequences of errors are very severe and rescue may be impossible. For teams of experts only, at favorable water levels, after close personal inspection and taking all precautions. After a Class VI rapid has been run many times, its rating may be changed to a Class V rating.