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A spectrum showing how is white water rafting rated, mild class 1-2, moderate class 3+ and wild class 4+

Whitewater Rafting River Rating System

Understanding Whitewater Rafting River Classification in Colorado

Whitewater rafting river classification

Curious about whitewater rafting ratings? Colorado’s rivers are classified from Class 1 to Class 6, dictating the intensity of rapids. Let’s navigate through whitewater class ratings in Colorado to understand what each level entails.

How is White Water Rafting Rated? Whitewater Rapids Classification Explained.

Class 1-2: Mild Waters with Novice Rapids

Class 1-2 rapids feature gentle, straightforward flows with few obstacles, and small waves. These waters are ideal for beginners and families looking for a relaxed, scenic float. Rafters can expect minimal waves and easy navigation, with some small splashes.

There are several class 1-2 sections on the Arkansas River that are ideal for families with young children or beginners looking to float a mild and scenic stretch of river. The Upper Bear Creek half day trip between Buena Vista, CO and Salida, CO offers stunning views of the Collegiate Peaks with small-scale rapids. Bear Creek is your best option for family river rafting trips in Buena Vista, CO. Guests as young as *4 years old and 30 lbs can enjoy this incredible Colorado river trip. The full-day Bear Creek family float trip includes a riverside lunch on the banks of the Arkansas River.

Class 3: Intermediate Rapids and Moderate Rafting, Popular Rafting Levels

Class 3 rapids offer a step up in intensity, with moderate waves and technical challenges, requiring increased maneuvering as paddlers navigate through larger waves and obstacles. These rapids provide an exhilarating experience for guests at least *7 years old and 50 lbs, seeking an intermediate challenge, with plenty of moderate-level whitewater and exciting class 3+ rapids. 

Set against picturesque 14,000′ peaks and spectacular canyon scenery, rafting in Browns Canyon National Monument offers thrills and laughter as you paddle through Pinball, Zoomflume, Bigdrop, Staircase, Punchbowl, and more. Whether you’re a first-timer or a seasoned rafter, this wet n’ wild experience promises memories that will last a lifetime!

Class 4 – 5: Challenging and Technical Rapids

Class 4 rapids are characterized by powerful waves, complex maneuvers, and significant obstacles. Rafters can expect steep drops, turbulent waters, and narrow passages. These rapids require precise paddling, strong teamwork, and are perfect for those in good physical condition seeking a premier whitewater experience. Recommended for ages *16 and up, dropping to 14 at lower flows, class 4+ trips promises excitement, challenge, and scenic beauty for all who dare to paddle through its rigorous waters.

Experience adrenaline-packed thrills at Royal Gorge near Colorado Springs, navigating through a stunning 1100′ deep gorge and conquering rapids like Sunshine Falls. Head to Buena Vista for the Numbers section, featuring continuous class 4+ rapids perfect for adrenaline-seekers in top physical condition.

Class 6 – Extreme Rapids, Not Suitable for Commercial Trips

Class 6 rapids are considered too hazardous for commercial rafting trips due to their extreme conditions. These rapids feature intense turbulence, undercut rocks, and other dangers. Only highly skilled and experienced whitewater kayakers attempt Class 6 rapids, using specialized equipment and safety measures to navigate safely.

Performance Tours Rafting: Your Colorado Rafting Adventure Awaits!

At Performance Tours Rafting, we cater to rafters of all ages and abilities. Our raft trips offer a range of experiences, from mild to wild, ensuring there’s something for everyone.

Whether you’re embarking on a mild family adventure or seeking heart-pounding thrills, Performance Tours Rafting has the perfect rafting experience for you. With more than 38 years of guiding guests through Colorado’s rivers, our experienced river guides are ready to create unforgettable memories with you. Contact us today to book your whitewater rafting adventure and experience the thrill of the rapids firsthand!


*minimum age varies with conditions



A mild and scenic raft trip is perfect for families! Fully immerse yourself in Colorado’s wilderness with a unique view from the river. These raft trips feature class I to II+ rapids and the minimum age ranges from 4 to 6 years, depending on the raft trip.

Rafting on Browns Canyon


A moderate raft trip is exciting by comparison, splashy, and our most popular. The class III+ rapids are the perfect intro to whitewater with a healthy balance of paddling and time to enjoy Colorado’s stunning scenery. Minimum ages are typically between 7 – 10 years, depending on current trip conditions.



Calling all thrill-seekers! Our challenging raft trips are for those who love a good heart-pounding adventure and are not suitable for children. The minimum age is 14 to 16 years, depending on water levels.