Editor's note: Enjoy this guest post from Ben Sack of Echo Canyon River Expeditions.
Various Levels of White Water Rafting in Colorado
It’s no secret that Colorado offers some of the best white water rafting in the country, and although some people might be shy by the term “white water” there are varying classes of rapids for everyone. Thinking about white water rafting in Colorado with young children? No problem! There are plenty of class I and II rapids that they will be sure to enjoy. Want something a little more thrilling? Maybe try some III, IV, or even class V rapids to get your adrenaline pumping.
Colorado White Water Rafting Preparation
When trying out Colorado white water rafting, it’s important for everyone involved to have a good idea of what level of rapids they will be encountering on the river. To make this slightly easier to understand, rafting professionals have developed the International Scale of River Difficulty, a scale that breaks down the rapids by classes. Classes range from I to VI, and speak to the level of difficulty for a particular river or section of river. Let’s begin by exploring each of these classes a little deeper.
Easing into It: Class I Rapids
This is the easiest, and most tranquil of all six classes. This type of trip can be described as more of “floating” trip than white water rafting. The water is typically described as slowly moving with very few small waves, and little or no obstructions, such as rocks. The Arkansas river offers some of Colorado’s best class I rapids for a relaxing and calming day on the river.
Getting Warmed Up: Class II Rapids
Beginners typically find themselves equally as comfortable on class II rapids. They are not too much different than class I, but more waves can be present, and rafters may be required to maneuver around some obstacles. Participants may feel the raft being pulled more strongly by the river’s current, but the river’s pathway remains open and the excursion remains relaxing. For Colorado white water rafting, Bighorn Sheep Canyon is a popular place to go for class II rapids, although there are also some class III rapids on this stretch of the Arkansas river as well.
Exhilarating Colorado White Water Rafting: Class III Rapids
Class III rapids offer more excitement than the previous two. Specifically, the river’s waves are much higher and irregular, and often crash over the sides of the raft, soaking its passengers. Additionally, there may be narrow passages that require the rafters to maneuver through precisely. In search of class III rapids for white water rafting in Colorado? You’ll certainly find some class III rapids on Bighorn Sheep Canyon. Rafting through the Royal Gorge is another magnificent place to start, although parts of this stretch of the Arkansas river can also reach class IV levels.
On the Higher Adrenaline Scale: Class IV Rapids
Even more intense, class IV rapids are not for the faint of heart. They are described as long, and difficult stretches often with narrow passageways that require rafters to navigate carefully through challenging rapids. For the daredevils looking for white water rafting in Colorado, class IV rapids are at their best in the Royal Gorge near Canon City, but they can also be found on Clear Creek, a tributary of the South Platte River. Be sure to have a professional guide with you if you decide to take on these high-class rapids!
Colorado White Water Rafting Experts: Class V Rapids
Class V rapids can be described as a mix of all of the above, with some additional dangers. This class is extremely challenging, and includes lengthy and treacherous stretches that can be near impossible to maneuver. This level of rapid should only be explored by experts, or at least the highly experienced. Accidents on these rapids can be life threatening, and rescues can be even more difficult. To find class V rapids for white water rafting in Colorado, journey to Pine Creek, a steep and very narrow stretch of the Arkansas River.
Extreme Stakes: Class VI Rapids
The most extreme of them all, class VI rapids offer some offer the most dangerous routes for white water rafting professionals. Only teams of expert rafters should even attempt these rapids, and doing so can often be life threatening. To put it simply, commercial rafting trips don’t even touch class VI rapids. A class VI rafting run should only be attempted by the highest skilled Colorado white water rafting enthusiasts, and only with a copious safety support network in place. A class VI rapid could include dangerous waterfalls with rocks and crack sieves waiting below, or it could be a section of river that has never previously been navigated successfully by raft.
About the Author
Ben Sack is the General Manager of Echo Canyon River Expeditions, Colorado’s largest white water rafting outfitter. He’s also a raft guide, photographer and a father of two boys. He writes to inspire the adventurer in all of us to get out and explore our local rivers.