Classifications of Rapids for Whitewater Rafting in Colorado

Our whitewater rafting guests often ask us questions about river water depth, the kind of rapids they’ll be rafting through, and what the whole class system means as they prepare for their first or even 50th rafting adventure with us.  So we thought we’d bring some clarity to the question and give you an overview of rapids classifications for whitewater river rafting … and provide some expertise on the topic.

Factors in Rapids Classifications

Rapids and the classifications of whitewater vary due to different circumstances: water levels can be high or low depending on the amount of snowmelt and vary as weather conditions change. Our beautiful snowcapped Rocky Mountain peaks melt and flow into Colorado streams, rivers, and reservoirs starting in earnest in May, which is the start of the spring runoff. The start of rafting season usually kicks off in the middle of May as the weather warms up, and tends to max out the highest water flow throughout Colorado depending on altitude and distance from the deepest snow pack. In general, spring snowmelt brings higher water and higher levels of difficulty while running our rivers primarily because the water runs fast and furious, forcing quick decisions as river features change. Water levels fluctuate dramatically throughout the summer and our guides can even see differing conditions between a morning run and an afternoon trip when water levels are in a high state of flux.

What are Rapids Classifications?

Rapids themselves are graded on a class system starting at 1 and progressing to 6.  The higher up the scale they go, the more difficult and the more consequential the stretch of water will be. As an example, there are many variables that can change, either upgrading or downgrading the classification of a rapid. Rapid variables include water levels, objects, under

cut rocks, and strainers (like a log jam). Certain features within a river naturally are more difficult and make it more challenging to navigate. For example, Brown’s Canyon is less difficult to navigate than the Numbers section of the Arkansas River. This is why it’s so great to have an experienced raft guide to help you experience Colorado’s most beautiful areas safely. This, as well as having a great day of fun on the water, is what you experience when rafting with Kodi Rafting. Let’s explore the difference between each classification of whitewater in even more detail than is outlined on our website’s rapids classification page.

Class I is flat, easy moving current. Minimal moves, minimal difficulty. The most difficulty you experience on this level of river is navigating around bends and avoiding shallows, perhaps pulling into eddies. Think of this as a leisurely float down a river. Class I is about staying with the current and literally going with the flow.

Class II is moving current with slightly more difficulty and has specific moves that your raft guide needs to make in order to navigate the river efficiently. The difference between class I and II is the necessity to maneuver around objects or shallow sections. Class II is a moderate river trip and great for families. A bit more adventure and splashing without high anxiety. Join Kodi for class II trips on the Upper Colorado, Blue River, or Clear Creek for 1/2 day or full day trips.

Class III is a moderately difficult section of river, with slightly higher consequences, and with more difficult moves to be made by your raft guide. There is typically faster moving current than class I and class II, and there can be objects and things to avoid along your path. Some of these potential objects could impede your raft, or even flip you over if not navigated around properly. Class II, & III trips are your typical family trips with somewhat older or more adventurous family members. If you’d like to experience a higher level of family excitement, book our Arkansas 1/2 day or full day trip with Kodi at our Buena Vista location, or the Clear Creek Canyon trip departing from Idaho Springs to enjoy class III rapids.

Class IV is a difficult stretch of river. A class IV section has fun, fast and technical rapids. Standing waves, big rocks, turbulent water, and difficult features are all things you will find on Class IV river runs. These rapids are active: multiple objects, multiple variables and multiple moves involved in order to navigate safely. The Numbers of the Arkansas River, and Clear Creek are examples of exciting options Kodi offers to raft this kind of trip, for a high level of excitement and challenge.

Class V is for experts only. This is the most challenging level for a commercially rafted trip. Class V includes lots of maneuvering, with fast consequential moves. Teamwork, communication, coordination, and strong paddling are needed to safely navigate Class V sections of whitewater. These rapids can have large drops, violent currents, and extremely steep gradients – and loads of excitement!

Class VI is extraordinarily difficult or non-runnable sections of river. Rafters face extreme imminent danger. Think cliff drops, big rocks, and scary aspects of challenge. Class VI level rapids are never run commercially, and are often walked around by rafters to avoid them.

So whatever level of challenge, splashes, and excitement you desire, Kodi Rafting can deliver. From calm float trips to expert runs to go big, give us a call to book the rafting adventure that suits your family, group, or yourself!

Call to book your whitewater adventure with us today at 877-747-RAFT or book online here. See you on the river! 


A River Rafting Road Trip

Want to create the ultimate rafting experience? How about a rafting road trip? Hit multiple rivers, all offering unique rafting experiences in the following rafting loop.

It all starts in Denver, where you’ll head 30 miles west on I-70 and stop in the historic mining town of Idaho Springs.

Idaho Springs

In Idaho Springs, you'll raft Clear Creek either on a beginner, intermediate, or advanced raft trip. You’ll hit any range of rapids from class II to class IV. You’ll flow through a rugged, spectacular mountain canyon filled with granite boulders and towering pine trees and finish up with a float through historic Idaho Springs.

From Idaho Springs, continue heading west for 40 miles on I-70 until you hit Frisco, your next rafting stop.

Frisco

Frisco offers some very special rafting trips, including the Blue River Half Day Raft Trip and the Ten Mile Creek Half Day Raft trip. Each offers excellent white water, although Blue River is an early season run as it's dependent on snowpack.

From Frisco, head into the Arkansas River Valley and hit up Buena Vista. A beautiful 60 miles south of Frisco, Buena Vista offers some of the country’s best whitewater.

Buena Vista

From Buena Vista, there are several awesome raft trips to choose from, including KODI’s most popular raft trips through Browns Canyon National Monument. By this time, you might be ready to truly test your skills. If this is the case, you might want to consider KODI’s Numbers Raft Trips. These trips take you down the Numbers, a series of rapids so intense, they were numbered instead of named.

Now that your road trip is done, you can make the easy and scenic drive back to Denver along Hwy 285. However, if you’re not ready to call it quits there’s always KODI’s Kremmling office, where you can jump on the Upper Colorado River for a scenic float and gorgeous views.


Summit County Raft Trips

Summit County is aptly named “Colorado’s Playground.”  Just one-and-a-half hours west of Denver, this outdoor paradise is home to several ski resorts, abundant hiking trails, Lake Dillon, and rivers galore.

Colorado is one of only two “headwater” states in the U.S. This means all of Colorado’s rivers flow out of the state while none flow in (the other headwater state is Hawaii). Summit County towns Breckenridge, Frisco, and Silverthorne sit at the start of many of these rivers, making them an excellent choice for whitewater rafting.

Whether you're in Keystone or Breckenridge, whitewater rafting should be on your list of things to do. The rafting in the area is famous for its scenery as well as its whitewater rapids. Summit County rivers offer something for people of ages and skill levels, so come prepared to have a great ride!

Book a Summit County rafting trip with KODI. Our Summit County trips include:

Blue River Half Day Raft Trip

The Blue River raft trip is what we like to call a “quick hitter” because it gives you an awesome Colorado rafting experience in just one and a half hours of river time.

Level: Fun for Everyone (ages 7+)   |   LEARN MORE

Ten Mile Creek Half Day Raft Trip

Ten Mile Creek is the newest, commercially run stretch of river in Colorado, and KODI Rafting is the only rafting company offering the trip! This Summit County rafting trip is an intense four-mile, class IV run dropping 110 feet per mile in the upper stretch.

Level: Extreme Adventure (ages 16+)   |   LEARN MORE

Stand Up Paddleboard Full Day Adventure

Try the newest, most fun activity on the river with KODI’s Stand Up Paddleboard Adventure. Start with an hour to 90 minutes of flat water stand up paddleboard training. You’ll then go down a mellow stretch of the Upper Colorado River, where stunning Gore Canyon sets the perfect Colorado backdrop.

Age Requirement: 12 years and older |   LEARN MORE

Stand Up Paddleboard Rentals

Want to head out on your own stand up paddleboard adventure but don't have the gear? KODI’s got you covered. Rent a paddleboard from our Frisco outpost for 4 hours, 8 hours, or 24 hours.

Age Requirement: 12 years and older |   LEARN MORE

Group Stand Up Paddleboard Rental – The Beast

Regular-sized stand up paddleboards are fine and all if you're looking to do some solo paddling. But, what if you'd like to enjoy the company of a small crowd right next to you on your board?  Well, lucky you! KODI Rafting rents the “Beast,” an 18-foot SUP that holds up to 10 people.

Age Requirement: 12 years and older |   LEARN MORE