Rafting Lingo

River Classifications & Descriptions


Rivers have a wide variety of personalities. Not all are raging torrents of water as depicted in Hollywood’s The River Wild!  Different rivers have different features; even different sections of the same river can be completely different.  Take the Kicking Horse River, for example. The river itself is 80-kilometres long but only a quarter of that is actually runnable by raft. Some sections are braided and shallow with hazardous logjams. Other sections are just too steep and dangerous. 


The International Scale of River Difficulty classifies individual rapids on a scale of 1 through 6. Class 1 is easy whereas Class 5 is nearly impossible; Class 6 is unrunnable. A rapid may vary in terms of the time it takes to run. Some rapids take only a few seconds whereas others may take 20 seconds or more. Portage and Shotgun rapids, on the Kicking Horse River, cover approximately 1-kilometer of river distance. That’s a good minute or two of non-stop whitewater action! 


Here are the six tiers of Rapid Classification: 


REMEMBER: This scale is subjective. Grading of rapids can fluctuate season to season, day to day, and sometimes hour to hour. This scale is meant only as a guideline for how easy, or difficult, a rapid or section of the river may be. Our knowledgeable reservation specialists know what the river level may be at the time of your chosen trip.  

Wild Water Adventures - Class 1

Class 1 Rapid

Wild Water definition:  Very relaxing.
Gentle, moving water. Very small waves requiring little or no maneuvering. 

Wild Water Adventures - Class 2 Rapids

Class 2 Rapid

Wild Water definition:  Guests may get splashed.
Regular waves, easy to see, may reach 3 to 4 feet in height. Simple maneuvering may be required to avoid rocks, river bends or other obstacles.

Wild Water Adventures - Class 3 Rapids

Class 3 Rapid

Wild Water definition:  Guests will get wet!
Large, continuous series or sets of waves, some in excess of 6 feet. ‘Holes’ or hydraulics may be present which could be rafted or avoided. Small drops, ledges or waterfalls may be present. Scouting the rapids is suggested for all but the most experienced of river persons.

Wild Water Adventures - Class 4 Rapids

Class 4 Rapid

Wild Water definition:  Guests will get soaked . . . like a 9 or 10 on the ‘fun scale’!
Confused and erratic waves or holes. Large obstructions need to be avoided in what is referred to as ‘must moves’.  Risk of injury if swimming without the benefit of a raft. Very difficult. Scouting is required.

Wild Water Adventures - Class 5 Rapids

Class 5 Rapid

Wild Water definition:  Adrenaline junkies only!
For most people, Class V goes off the ‘fun’ scale and enters the ‘kinda scary’ scale! Very challenging for even the most experienced river persons. High risk of capsize or injury. Limited navigation. Scouting is essential.

Wild Water Adventures - Class 6 Rapids

Class 6 Rapid

Wild Water definition: Niagara Falls in a barrel!
Virtually non-navigable, or navigable only at particularly favourable river levels.

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