Rafting on the Colorado River: Class Levels

Class Levels of Rafting on the Colorado River

The Grand Canyon stretch of the mighty Colorado River is home to many Class IV to V whitewater rafting class levels. There are certain stretches of river that only professionals and seasoned whitewater river runners raft. If you are thinking of exploring the Colorado River on either a private or commercial raft trip, then it is best to get acquainted with the different class levels of rafting on this mighty stretch of the body of water. One thing to note is that in Grand Canyon, the classes are more specific as they us a 1 - 10 (I -X) rating scale. Advantage Grand Canyon has been providing thrill seekers with the correct information regarding these classes of rafting trips so they can better appreciate what they are signing up for. It is important to note that the intensity of the rapids depends on water flow and speed, as well as water level.

There is no "better" time to raft for better rapids as the Glenn Canyon dam is constantly releasing the flow of water year round so the rapids are not roaring only during spring run off as in other rivers. Some rapids react more aggressively in slower lower water while others do the opposite. Along the entire stretch of the Colorado, our outfitter partners can take you and your family for a ride of a lifetime.

You will not have to navigate these rapids as your experienced guides will be doing so. The only exception is in a paddle raft where you will be digging into the water while being commanded by your river guide at the rear of the raft. In every other raft type, you'll need to hang on and enjoy the ride!

Classes or rapids are rated using the International Scale of River Difficulty (ISRD). This is an American system that is used to rate the technical difficulty levels of rapids or stretches of river on a scale of 1-6 in order to give rafters an idea of the skill level needed to navigate a specific waterway. The six categories in the International Scale of River Difficulty are referred to as classes. Many rivers are given a general classification, but contain sections with rapids both below and above that grade. Classes of specific waterways may change frequently due to shifts in weather patterns, water level fluctuations, geological disturbances, downed trees and more. These are the different class levels of rafting in the Colorado River and rest assured that your highly experienced Grand Canyon commercial rafting guides will navigate you through them expertly.

Difficulty Levels of Rapids

Class I Rapids - Easy

This class of rafting simply means you will have a very relaxed ride flowing along with the river?s current. There are occasional small waves and very few obstacles and river features that you should be concerned about. Fast 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 - Novice

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 by trained paddlers. Swimmers are seldom injured and group assistance, while helpful, is seldom needed. Rapids that are at the upper end of this difficulty range are designated Class II+. When you begin to see rougher waves that are nonetheless no more than 3 feet tall with occasional rocks or boulders that require some degree of maneuvering, then you know that you have just entered the domain of Class 2 level of rafting. Here, you will have to be on your toes as you will also have to steer your raft away from obstacles.

Class III Rapids - Intermediate

Rapids with moderate, irregular waves which may be difficult to avoid and which can swamp an open canoe. 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, particularly on large-volume rivers. scouting is advisable for inexperienced parties. Injuries while swimming are rare; self-rescue is usually easy but group assistance may be required to avoid long swims.

Class IV Rapids - 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. A fast, reliable eddy turn may be needed to initiate maneuvers, scout rapids, or rest. Scouting may be necessary the first time down. Risk of injury to swimmers is moderate to high, and water conditions may make self-rescue difficult. Group assistance for rescue is often essential but requires practiced skills. A strong eskimo roll is highly recommended.

Class V Rapids - 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. Scouting is recommended but may be difficult. Swims are dangerous, and rescue is often difficult even for experts. A very reliable eskimo roll, proper equipment, extensive experience, and practiced rescue skills are essential.

Because of the large range of difficulty that exists beyond Class 5 rapids, Class 5 is an open-ended, multiple-level scale designated by class 5.0, 5.1, 5.2, etc? each of these levels is an order of magnitude more difficult than the last. Example: increasing difficulty from Class 5.0 to Class 5.1 is a similar order of magnitude as increasing from Class IV to Class 5.0.

Class VI Rapids - Extreme and Exploratory Rapids

These whitewater rafting 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 rapids has been run many times, its rating may be changed to an appropriate Class 5.x rating.

The Grand Canyon stretch of the Colorado River often uses a different rating system. The Class 1-10 system that is used in the Grand Canyon roughly parallels Classes I-V on the International Scale of River Difficulty (ISRD). In the Grand Canyon, Classes 1-2 equal ISRD Class I, Classes 3-4 equal ISRD Class II, Classes 5-6 equal ISRD Class III, Classes 7-8 equal ISRD Class IV and Classes 9-10 equal ISRD Class V. Below is a short description of Class VII-X according to ISRD.

Class VII and VIII Rapids

There are plenty of narrow passages, long and quite difficult rapids, and very turbulent water in a Classes 7-8. This for the advanced rafting enthusiast as it requires precision maneuvering.

Class IX and X Rapids

The ultimate in navigable river systems, the Class 10 is where many professionals and daredevils will go for an optimum adrenaline rush. There are plenty of gushing rapids, spinning and twisting water features, and obstacles the size of a house. The Gore and Tunnel rapids in the Colorado River are just 2 examples of Class 10's and in Grand Canyon depending on the water level Chrystal rapid and Lava Falls.

Both the Grand Canyon?s Class 1-10 scale and the International Scale of River Difficulty are effective and invaluable in allowing a rafter to decide whether or not a particular course is within his or her own ability level. They?re useful, albeit subjective, as they?re based on expert?s opinions and subject to change without advance warning. In determining what course may be best for you, use sound judgement and don?t be afraid to ask. We?re here to help you with any and all questions you may have regarding your rafting trip.

Contact us here at Advantage Grand Canyon for more information at 888-244-2224 or click below to search for your Grand Canyon rafting trip!