River Classification

What Makes them So Fun for Whitewater Rafting

What is

What is Whitewater River Classification?

In case you hadn’t noticed, we love rivers!

It’s important to know what you’re getting yourself in for before you raft any river, and the river classification offers a helpful guide to the technical difficulty of a river to make sure you’ll have the most fun and safe experience. Whitewater is rated on a scale of increasing difficulty from Class 1 to Class 6. The whitewater rivers that we are rafting on at Canadian Rockies Rafting range from Class 2 to Class 4, making them ideal for first-timers, while also offering a bit of an edge for all you thrill-seekers! Here are some general guidelines for the whitewater classification system.

Class I - Easy

Fast moving water with riffles and smallwaves. The river has few obstructions which are all obvious and easily navigated with little training. The risk to swimmers is slight and self-rescue is easy.

Our Bow River Nature Float is mostly a Class I river.

Class II - Novice

Straightforward rapids with wide, clear channels which are evident without scouting. Occasional maneuvering may be required, but rocks and medium sized waves are easily avoided by trained paddlers.

Swimmers are seldom injured and group assistance, while helpful, is rarely needed. Rapids that are at the upper end of this difficulty range are designated Class II+.

Our Kananaskis Whitewater has some Class II rapids.

Class III - Intermediate

Rapids with moderate, irregular waves which may be difficult to avoid and which can swamp an open canoe. Complex maneuvers in fast current and good boat control in tight passages or around ledges are often required. Large waves or strainers may be present but are easily avoided. Strong eddies and powerful current effects can be found, particularly on larger volume rivers. Scouting is advisable for inexperienced parties. Injuries while swimming are rare and self-rescue is usually easy but group assistance may be required to avoid long swims. Rapids that are at the lower or upper end of this difficulty range are designated Class III- or Class III+ respectively.

Our Kananaskis and Horseshoe Canyon tours both have some Class III rapids.

Class IV - Advanced

Intense and powerful but predictable rapids requiring precise boat handling in turbulent water. The rapids may feature large, unavoidable waves and holes or constricted passages demanding fast maneuvers under pressure. A fast and reliable eddy turn may be needed to initiate maneuvers, scout rapids, or rest. Rapids may require mandatory moves above dangerous hazards. Scouting is usually necessary the first time down. The risk of injury to swimmers is moderate to high and water conditions may make self-rescue difficult. Group assistance for rescue is often essential and requires practiced skills. A strong eskimo roll is highly recommended for kayakers. Rapids that are at the upper end of this difficulty range are designated as Class IV- or Class IV+ respectively.

Our Horseshoe Canyon has some Class IV rapids.

Class V - Expert

Extremely long, obstructed, or very violent rapids which expose a paddler to added risk. Rapids may contain large, unavoidable waves and holes or steep, congested chutes with complex, demanding routes. Rapids may continue for long distances between pools, demanding a high level of fitness. The eddies that exist may be small, turbulent, or difficult to reach. More difficult Class V rapids may combine several of these factors. Scouting is recommended and may be difficult. Swims are dangerous and rescue is often difficult even for teams of experts. Proper equipment, extensive experience, and practiced rescue skills are essential. There is a large range of difficulty that exists beyond Class IV which makes the difficulty of Class V rapids very diverse.

Class VI - Extreme & Exploratory

These rapids have rarely been attempted and exemplify the extremes of difficulty, unpredictability, and danger. The consequences of errors are very severe and rescue may be impossible.

These rapids are for teams of experts at favorable water levels. After a Class VI rapid has been run successfully several times, its rating may be changed to Class V.


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