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! 


KODI'S SAFETY RESPONSE TO COVID-19

We Focus on Safety for Your Raft Trip

We have added new procedures for our daily operations to put you at ease and make sure that we are doing everything we can to ensure the health and safety of you, our guests and staff:

  • When booking, please let us know if you would like to reserve your own boat, keeping your group to just your travel companions. We understand that you may prefer to maintain additional social distancing measures and we will accommodate to the best of our ability so long as it does not compromise your safety on the river.
  • Please be prepared to cover your face on the bus or van ride. Face coverings will be available for a nominal fee. You are welcome to bring your own. Your guide will not be able to hold onto it for you while you are on the river.
  • Implementation of a digital waiver system so you can sign pre-trip documents before you arrive. Don't worry, if you forget we will also have tablets available for you as well and the option for you to use your own mobile device. A link to your waiver is found in your confirmation email.
  • Installation of new hand sanitizing stations throughout all of our facilities as well on buses and vans. We want you to feel like you can freshen up on the go.
  • Disinfect and clean KODI transportation. We have enough buses and vans to rotate them out of service each day to make sure your ride is fresh and clean before it is put back into service between trips. You will also be offered sanitizer before getting into a KODI vehicle.
  • Wiping down restrooms, door handles and booking counters between trip departures in addition to regular scheduled cleaning and maintenance.
  • As always, we continue to sanitize all of our gear after use including wet suits, helmets, PFD's (lifejackets!), splash jackets and river booties. Remember you are always welcome to wear your own rain jacket or shoes on the river as long as they lace or strap around the ankle (no crocs or flip flops).
  • Also, know that your raft and paddles have been properly cleaned before you use them on your trip!

*We are learning each day. Our efforts are self-implemented and like many of you, we are charting new territory. We will do our very best to make sure we are working to stay on top of new health and safety regulations as they apply to our operations in the coming weeks.

 


collegiate peaks scenic overlook

Your Perfect Weekend Exploring Buena Vista, Colorado

Just a couple hours’ drive from Denver, but a world away, lies one of our favorite little towns of Buena Vista, Colorado. The whitewater rafting capital of Colorado (BV as it’s known by locals), boasts three sections of the Arkansas River we love to raft including Big Bend, Browns Canyon, and the Numbers. Browns Canyon is one of our nation’s newest national monuments, designated by President Obama in February of 2015.

Read more river history in our 2-part series about Brown’s Canyon.
Part I  |  Part II  |  Brown's Canyon Official Website

Rafting and Adventures

First, make your reservation for your rafting adventure with Kodi Rafting. You’ll want to lock down your reservation for a half-day, full-day, or half-day rafting with ziplining, horseback riding or cycling adventure so you can fill in your other perfect weekend activities around the best activity in the valley. We especially like the zip and raft … zipline through the trees in the morning and raft the Arkansas during the warmest part of the afternoon. Want more insight? Call our specialists to pinpoint what will work best for your group at 877-747-RAFT (7238).

 

Camping and Lodging

Now that rafting is booked, where to stay? We love camping, and Buena Vista offers numerous campgrounds from a KOA to dispersed camping and everything in between. Camping Information

Not into sleeping outdoors? One of our favorite rustic lodges is right on the banks of the Arkansas River on 23 tree-covered acres, just one mile from downtown Buena Vista. The highly-rated Buena Vista Riverside Lodge at 30000 County Road 371 offers just 5 rustic-chic rooms, some with whirlpool tubs, which are great after a day on the river. This is the definition of local modern rustic Colorado with a communal game area, a fireplace with amazing views, and a complimentary house-made full breakfast daily from 8-9 AM.

 

Family friendly lodging in the Buena Vista valley with wildlife
Elk wanter through the valley. Photo courtesy of Buena Vista Riverside Lodge.

Sightseeing

Since the views in the BV valley at 8,000 feet are epic and surrounded by 14’ers (14,000+ foot peaks), we love to stop at the collegiate peaks scenic overlook. It’s a landmark pull over on Highway 24, ideal to take some great pictures, and marvel at the majesty of Mt. Princeton and the whole mountain range.

Another fun drive is along the Arkansas River, turning at the put-in for the Numbers section of the river. Cross over the river and drive south along the narrow road. You are very likely to see wildlife, and the stone tunnels will remind you of Road Runner and Wile E Coyote. This is classic Colorado, we hope they never “improve” this road.

 

Quenching Your Hunger and Thirst

We have our favorites and although small, Buena Vista has some fun little places to get a drink and fill the belly! One of our favorites is the Deerhammer Distillery at 321 E Main Street. The cocktails are handcrafted and delicious. Deerhammer is known for the best Sloe Gin Fizz ever, and they distill single malts, bourbon, rye, limited run single barrel spirits including a clear whitewater whiskey that is infinitely drinkable. Get a cocktail, take the tour with said cocktail in hand, mingle with the raft guides and other colorful residents that frequent this local institution. And of course, take home a bottle with a couple of recipes to relive the experience at home after you enjoy their funky little patio.

Another local business focuses on craft brews and layers in the colorful tavern with food and draft beer at its two BV locations. Eddyline Brewery brews and cans their beer right on-site at the taproom location at 102 Linderman Avenue in the center of town. Their second location restaurant is at 926 South Main Street right along the Arkansas River and across from the Buena Vista Whitewater Park – which is an awesome place to watch some of the best kayakers practicing their skills in the new South Main Neighborhood development. Great eats include wood-fired pizzas, burgers, wild game sausage, and delicious salads.

great dining and beer in the Buena Vista valley
Colorful dining room, local art and the best brews in the valley. Photo courtesy of Eddyline Brewery.

 

In the mood for a marg? Try dinner at Casa Sanchez 3 at 314 Charles Street. Their guacamole is terrific, and pair perfectly with the natural margaritas mixed with actual lime juice. The pork dish is perfect to share and the shrimp tacos are a delicious, healthy alternative.

We also love the Simple Eatery at 402 E Main Street. They offer fresh ingredients, locally prepared and earned a coveted #1 restaurant rating on Trip Advisor. Try the beef stroganoff or chicken club sandwich or the bison ravioli with the sage cream sauce. Save room for the carrot-coconut cake! This is an “order at the counter” scene but don’t let that put you off, it gives the staff more time to prepare fresh food to order. Simple Eatery is co-located with spoon it up frozen yogurt and artisan bakery, so you know these folks are into food! They also have a patio for those nice days when you want to be outside.

Kick-Back Experiences

In the summer, we adore the funky little drive-in movie theater in the shadows of Mt. Princeton. The Comanche Drive-In plays first-run films in the middle of a field making for a great throwback experience. Just 3 miles west of BV on Highway 306, they are one of only 8 drive-in theaters remaining in Colorado (and one of only about 300 in the US), and notably at the highest elevation. Thinking back to those grainy films of the ’70s? Not the Comanche – they upgraded to new digital projection in August of 2018 and offer 4k digital clarity along with sound piped in through your car radio or your own portable through FM radio. Of course, popcorn and concessions are for sale – they take cash only, so be prepared! Get up to date film information on their Facebook page.

Our last recommendation for the truly perfect weekend in Buena Vista is to soak in our local hot springs for a soothing, healing, and massively relaxing experience. We love the Mt Princeton Hot Springs with their odorless hot springs bubbling out of the ground at 140F degrees. Open year-round, there are numerous choices spread around the manicured grounds of the resort. For a $25 day pass to the hot springs, you can choose from the relaxation pool, cascading hot springs, or the truly unique chalk creek hot springs where you dig down into the rocks to encourage the hot bubbles of healing to reach your body. Their full spa offers massage, facials, body treatments, and more pampering than you may have enjoyed in years. The resort also has 5 different lodges for accommodations … and is a favorite destination for everything from family reunions to weddings and bachelorette weekends.

Chalk Creek Hot Springs at the base of Mt Princeton
Chalk Creek Hot Springs, image courtesy of Mt Princeton Hot Springs Resort

Buena Vista adventures, experiences, and views are things movies, stories, and memories are made of. I was lucky enough to attend camp at the base of Mt Princeton when I was a kid and my experiences whitewater rafting, horseback riding, and hiking were memories I’ll never forget. It’s what brings visitors back time and again to this very special little Colorado valley.


Hiking the Colorado Trail? Take a Break in Buena Vista

There are many ways to enjoy The Colorado Trail, from a day hike or bike ride to a multi-day trip or end-to-end excursion beginning in either Denver or Durango.

With so many access points along the Colorado Trail, it can be hard to decide where to start, where to stop, or where to take a break.

At KODI Rafting, we think Buena Vista is a great place for all three! Roughly in the middle of the trail, Buena Vista offers an excellent basecamp, break, or exit because there's so much to do here. From soaking in one of several hot springs to grabbing a bite to eat at any of the town's top-rated restaurants, Buena Vista has it all.

Some really neat things to do in Buena Vista include but are not limited to:

  • Rafting the Arkansas River through Browns Canyon National Monument
  • Soaking in hot springs
  • Hiking and mountain biking
  • Seeing live music at one of several world-class venues
  • Eating along Main Street at a delicious food truck
  • Shopping stores filled with locally crafted goods
  • Zip lining
  • Horseback riding
  • Enjoying a weekend festival like the Rapids & Grass Beer Festival or Gold Rush Days

What better way to begin your Buena Vista adventure than with KODI Rafting? Sure, we can hook you up with a stellar raft trip, but we can also arrange your mountain bike ride, your hot spring soak, or your zip line adventure.

Whether you're starting your Colorado Trail hike, ending it, or just taking a break, KODI Rafting is your source for Buena Vista adventure.


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.


The History of Browns Canyon National Monument: Part II

Friends of Browns Canyon, a 501 (c)(3) non-profit, officially formed in 2003, with volunteers spending hundreds upon hundreds of hours in the field mapping and getting to know the area. Later that year, the 5th Congressional District’s Republican Rep. Joel Hefley had 10 areas in the district and could pick one to push forward as a wilderness.

With a Republican congressman as an ally, the Friends of Browns Canyon thought their wilderness proposal for Browns Canyon was all but passed. But the legislative process in Washington would prove to be more complicated.

The bill was drafted, introduced to Congress in November 2005, and was passed favorably to the House Committee on Natural Resources. However, this is where the bill died because the NRA opposed the closure of the Turret Trail, which maintains access for hunters.

The Friends of Browns Canyon created a board of directors for the first time in 2012 and hired their first executive director. That year, Senator Udall proposed taking a different approach by pursuing a national monument for Browns Canyon. It would designate 22,000 acres for the national monument, 10,500 of which would be wilderness.

At the end of 2013, Udall introduced the Browns Canyon National Monument and Wilderness Act of 2013 in the Senate. In mid-2014, the U.S. Senate National Parks Subcommittee held a hearing on the bill. But the bill went no further in the Senate.

Along with Sen. Michael Bennet, who co-sponsored Udall’s bill, Udall urged President Barack Obama to consider using the Antiquities Act to designate Browns Canyon a national monument, sidestepping the congressional route that had failed for the last decade to bring the project full circle.

White House officials reported Feb. 18 that the president would use the Antiquities Act to declare Browns Canyon a National Monument. And sure enough, the next day


The History of Browns Canyon National Monument: Part I

Browns Canyon National Monument provides ample year-round recreation opportunities for sportsmen and outdoor enthusiasts.

The most popular stretch of whitewater river in the country runs through Browns Canyon, where commercial rafting companies offer a variety of float trips. The monument also protects important habitat for bighorn sheep, elk, mule deer and many other wildlife species. The monument’s multi-use trail system accommodates hikers, horseback riders, and mountain bikers, while the Arkansas River in Browns Canyon is part of a 102-mile Gold Medal trout fishery.

While many of us in the Arkansas River Valley can’t imagine not having Browns Canyon National Monument outside our back door, it was a designation that was hard fought and almost didn’t happen at all.

In 1976, Congress instituted the Federal Land Management Policy Act (FLPMA), an act that directed the Bureau of Land Management to review its land for best management practices and gave the BLM direction to manage resources. FLPMA was the first initiative that said the area in the heart of Browns Canyon, which wasn’t a wilderness study area yet, had wilderness characteristics.

From the late 1970s into the 1980s, Browns Canyon was further inventoried for wilderness characteristics, and in 1980, the BLM reached the decision that 6,614 acres of Browns Canyon did qualify as a wilderness study area and purchased nearly 150 additional acres to add to the original recommendation after an intensive inventory of the area. Inventorying of Browns Canyon continued through the ’80s. A 1991 BLM Wilderness Study Report officially recommended the Browns Canyon WSA for wilderness designation.

Around this time, a handful of advocates began the hard work of turning Browns Canyon into a dedicated wilderness. These were non-paid volunteers who, for the first 10 years, operated on less than $1,000 a year. Their goal was to create a wilderness area east of the Arkansas River with the Browns Canyon Wilderness Study Area at its heart.

Continued in Part II…


The Perfect Buena Vista, Colorado Vacation: A Three-Day Itinerary

From your drive into the Arkansas River Valley, you can tell Buena Vista bursts with outdoor recreational opportunities.

Fourteen thousand-foot peaks line one side of the valley while the Buffalo Peaks line the other. Together, they provide miles upon miles of trails for hiking, ATVing, horseback riding, and mountain biking. And during certain weeks each year, these mountains become a hunter’s paradise.

Buena Vista also has a darling Main Street made up of boutique shops selling vintage and handmade items, bike gear, art, and more. There are also several options for coffee, lunch, and satisfying your sweet tooth, making a stroll along Main Street a delightful event.

Close to downtown are two hot springs resorts, always a favorite among visitors. At night, during the summer, free music is offered at several different locations. Just a short drive away, adventurous visitors can soar among the tree on a zip line.

Last, but certainly not least, is the Gold Medal Arkansas River. World-renowned for its amazing whitewater, Buena Vista’s pride and joy has brought rafters and kayakers to the Arkansas River Valley decade after decade.

With so many options for your Buena Vista vacation, how will you ever squeeze everything in during a three-day visit? Contact KODI Rafting. We can help.

KODI’s reservations specialists can hook you up with many Buena Vista activities, making scheduling a breeze! Here’s what we recommend.

Day One:

Start with a full day on the river, of course! From Buena Vista, you can spend a day rafting Browns Canyon National Monument. Not only is this our most popular trip, we’ll also serve you a riverside lunch.

Day Two:

Take a horseback ride in the morning and a dip in some hot springs in the afternoon. If you’re sore from your ride, a soak in our natural hot springs is the perfect cure.

Day Three:

Start the last day of your Buena Vista vacation with something bold—zip lining! KODI Rafting will book your morning zip line at Top of the Rockies Zip Line located between Frisco and Leadville near the Summit of Fremont Pass.

Finish up your amazing three days in Buena Vista with a simple hike. We have dozens of trails with varying degrees of difficulty. Take this time to reflect on your visit and soak in Buena Vista’s breathtaking scenery.


Avoid I-70. Take the Road Less Traveled.

Denver is a super popular vacation destination, and why wouldn’t it be? This booming city has culture, sports, and is close to Colorado's famed Rocky Mountains where you'll find an abundance of outdoor recreational activities.

Unfortunately, getting into the mountains can be tough, especially when traffic along the I-70 corridor slows you down.

Don’t let bumper to bumper traffic steal precious Colorado vacation time. Book a Colorado raft trip with KODI Rafting. We have rafting trips in Buena Vista that avoid I-70’s traffic by taking you along Highway 285.

This less-traveled route goes through Bailey, over Kenosha Pass, and into South Park (yes, that South Park) before dropping you into Buena Vista.

Buena Vista is a small—but growing—mountain town. From rafting and mountain biking to hiking and rock climbing, this Colorado gem has it all.

Buena Vista is considered by many to be the whitewater capital of the United States, and for good reason! The Arkansas River, Colorado’s #1 rafted river, runs right through town and offers several access points just a short drive from Main Street.

From Buena Vista, you can also raft Browns Canyon National Monument, a breathtaking canyon featuring granite cliffs, colorful rock outcroppings, and drastic elevation changes ranging from 7,300 to 10,000 feet.

KODI Rafting offers the following Buena Vista raft trips: