Rafting Lingo

Whitewater Rafting Class Levels & Descriptions

Despite what Hollywood would like to have you believe, rivers are not all like the movie The River Wild! In reality, each river varies in the number and intensity of rapids. Between rapids, there is often plenty of opportunity to relax, view the scenery, and enjoy the information about the area that your guide will share with you, or take photos.


The International Scale of River Difficulty that rates individual rapids from class I (easy) to class VI (nearly impossible) is used in all our river descriptions. A rapid may vary in terms of time from just a few seconds to 20 seconds or more. Below you’ll find whitewater rapid class descriptions that translate the rafting class levels into layman’s terms.


REMEMBER! This scale is subjective. Rapids can change in difficulty seasonally and as quickly as overnight! This scale is meant only as a guideline for how easy or difficult a rapid, river or river trip may be. It is best to speak with one of our knowledgeable reservationists to find out what the river level may be like at the time when you would like to raft with us, and assist you is choosing the best trip.

Class 1 Rapid

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

Class 2 Rapid

“Wild Water definition: You may get splashed.”
Regular waves, easy to see, may reach 3 to 4 feet in height. Avoiding rocks, river bends or other obstacles may require simple maneuvering.

Class 3 Rapid

“Wild Water definition: You will get wet!”
Large, continuous series or sets of waves, some in excess of 6 feet. “Holes” or “hydraulics” may be present, and can be run or avoided. Small drops, ledges or waterfalls may be present. Scouting the rapids is suggested for all but the most experienced of river persons.

Class 4 Rapid

“Wild Water definition: You’ll 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 are referred to as “must moves.” Risk of injury if swimming without benefit of a raft! Very difficult and scouting is required.

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. Limit of navigation and scouting is essential.

Class 6 Rapid

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

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