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Whitewater Rafting
Levels & Classifications

Whitewater Rafting Levels of Difficulty

All rivers are rated on a “class” scale to help you determine the size and technicality of the whitewater. Many of our guests are in search of more moderate whitewater - simply to relax and soak up the beauty of the scenery. Others are looking for a more intense whitewater. Regardless of your choice, be assured that Western has one of the best safety records in the industry.

Note that the “class” scale was introduced after many of the rapids in Grand Canyon had already been rated. Learn more about that below.

Interpreting the standard class I - VI whitewater rafting levels:

Whitewater levels infographic


Moving water with small waves that tug at the boat - it’s a relaxing way to spend the day. Each of our trips have some stretches of calm class I water, creating a pleasant break between rapids.


Easy rapids, waves up to three feet tall that are readily seen, and wide channels that can be discovered without scouting. Some maneuvering is required during this little rock and roll.


Waves up to four feet and narrow passages that send the boat shimmying and water gushing over it’s sides. Plenty of excitement.


Long, difficult rapids, narrow passages, turbulent water that requires precise maneuvering and sends hearts racing.


All of the above and then some - large, complex, gushing rapids, twisting, and spinning to deliver the consummate adrenaline rush.


The extreme “un-runnable” rivers or waterfalls. Only the most expert should attempt this - usually seen in extreme kayak videos, etc. Outfitter raft trips don’t go here - there’s too much other water to enjoy without risking it all!


The Grand Canyon continues to use an older river rating scale that was developed before the International scale was introduced. A class V ( highly technical & difficult, etc.) on the international scale is equivalent to a 10 on the Grand Canyon scale. Most rivers use the regular I - V river rating scale, so we often refer to that scale for familiarity reasons.

J-Rig in the Grand Canyon

Can I do big whitewater rapids, even if I am a first-timer?

Western River Expeditions matches the size of it’s boats to the size of the whitewater, so in many ways it depends more on the raft you choose, or where you sit on that raft than which river you choose. If you can grip a rope and follow the guide’s instructions, you are as ready as you need to be for starting out. On rivers where the rapids are more moderate (may vary on water levels), we may bring along paddleboats and inflatable kayaks to let the more adventurous get their thrill while the more conservative can simply grip the ropes on an oar-powered raft.

When the rapids are large (mid-high water Cataract Canyon and all season in Grand Canyon), we use our patented J-rig raft that is more stable and offers a very fun ride. Sit up front for the whitewater rodeo, or stay back in the middle of the raft (a.k.a. the “chicken coop”) where things tend to “buck” a lot less.

Learn: J-Rig Raft for First-Timers

I’m nervous about whitewater…Which trips are best for starters?

Several of our trips offer a way to get your feet wet (pun intended) with whitewater rafting! You don’t have to know a lot before getting to the river, our guides can give you all the instruction you need. But if you’re still nervous (for yourself, your younger children, or Grandma & Grandpa that you’re bringing along) then consider these trips for starters:

Southwest Sampler - Class I-II Rapids (possibly Class III in high water) »

Sunrise over the Colorado River near Moab, Utah

Rapids on this stretch are fun, but not intimidating. Two nights of comfort in town and one night camping along a more mellow stretch of the Colorado River in gorgeous Castle Valley near Moab, Utah.

See: Southwest Sampler

Green River Desolation Canyon - Class I-III Rapids »

Green River through Desolation Canyon Possibly the best river trip for satisfying kids from ages 5 to 95. Enjoy nearly 60 rapids that are more fun than scary in an oar boat or an inflatable kayak. Moab, Utah also offers a lot of other fun one day-activities.

See: Green River in Desolation

Lower Salmon River - Class I-III »

Lower Salmon River

Western Idaho’s Lower Salmon River is ideal for families with younger kids (Family Magic trips) with rapids that are fun and challenging, but not too crazy.

See: Lower Salmon Trip

Rogue River 3-4 Day Trip - Class I-III (possibly IV) »

Rogue River Narrows

The Rogue River has a reputation for having a high degree of difficulty, but this refers to the highly technical kayak runs in the upper portion of the river. From Merlin down, the Rogue offers a nice blend of exciting thrills without the drops and ultra narrow chutes.

See: Rogue River Rafting

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