White water rafting may seem like an intense adventure best left for those adrenaline junkies and crazy daredevils out there, but people of all ages, abilities, and experience levels can participate in and enjoy the exhilarating rush of white water rafting! Whether you are looking for an exciting new experience that the whole family can enjoy or a thrilling white-knuckle ride that you won’t soon forget, a white water rafting adventure may be just what you are searching for!
International Scale of River Difficulty
Rivers have different class ratings that specify the difficulty of that particular stretch of river or rapids. The class reflects the skill level required to safely traverse that section of water. The evaluation system has six different grades, so all rivers are assigned a class of I-VI.
Class I: This is the easiest class. Waters are typical flat and calm, with a few small waves and minor obstructions. Risk is very low and self-rescue is easy.
Class II: Expect basic rapids in this class rating. While some maneuvering may be required due to rocks and medium-sized waves, it is still pretty straightforward. Risk is low, but so are the thrills.
Class III: This intermediate level will feature moderate rapids with some irregular wave patterns. Faster currents and stronger eddies can be experienced, and would be designated as class III+.
Class IV: For a more intense white water adventure, this class can deliver! With boiling rapids and powerful eddies, you’ll get an exhilarating experience without the increased risks of higher classes.
Class V: At this level, rafting gets extremely difficult. Violent rapids, steep drops, and frequent obstacles make this class quite a challenge. Hazards are common and risk is high.
Class VI: Don’t even think about it! Rivers with this rating are deemed unrunnable and are rarely attempted. You’ll find large waterfalls and other death-traps along these waters, so steer clear.
Choosing The Right Class
If you’ve never been white water rafting, it can be tricky to know what class is best for your group. You don’t want to be expecting a thrilling journey only to get a mild ride, and you don’t want to take on a river that is too advanced. If you’re planning on having small children or elderly folks in your party, look into class II or class III rivers, and use your own discretion from there based on their individual skill and ability levels. Children as young as 4-years-old can go rafting. If you have no prior experience white water rafting, but still want a thrilling white-knuckle ride, check out class IV rivers. If you’ve white water rafted in class IV rivers before and feel confident in your aptitude, challenge yourself with a class V river! Talk with your guide and let them know who is in your party, and they can help you to determine which class will best suit you.
Best Rafting Locations
You can find great rafting locations just about anywhere you can find rapids! Colorado, West Virginia, and Oregon are all popular white water rafting states that offer numerous options at a range of class ratings. The section of the Colorado River that cuts through the Grand Canyon is a premier rafting location that lets you experience the iconic landmark as you never have before! The Gauley River in West Virginia is another common destination, offering both breathtaking views and boiling rapids with a class IV rating. In Main, the Kennebec River draws rafters for its churning rapids that include attractions such as the Three Sisters and Magic Falls. Lastly, a tributary in Idaho’s Salmon River known as Middle Fork offers rafters a 105-mile course that drops 3000 feet in elevation along the journey! At any of these phenomenal rafting locations, you will have a selection of guides available for you to pick from.
Like all adventure sports, there is some risk involved in white water rafting, but don’t let that scare you away! In fact, statistically, being in a car is more dangerous than being in a raft, so you should be more weary of the drive to the river than the ride down the river! At the start of your white water adventure, your guide will talk with you about safety practices and some basic maneuvering techniques. These guides are raft masters for a reason, so follow their guidance. If you pay attention and listen to their instructions, both on the river and off of it, you should have a safe and successful experience.
White Water Rafting Tips
Bring Sunglasses: The glare off the water can be blinding when you’re on the river. Aside from the damage the sun can do to your eyes, it can make navigating the water difficult. Even if there are cloudy skies, bring your sunglasses just in case!
Dress Appropriately: Be aware of the weather and the temperatures, and dress accordingly. Wear water shoes, old tennis shoes, or some form of wet-ready footwear. Pick clothes that are comfortable so that you are unrestricted and able to maneuver easily.
Make Friends: Some rafts can accommodate up to ten people, so prepare to see some unfamiliar faces joining you. Introduce yourself and make conversation. You’re going to be sharing a pretty thrilling experience together, so make friends!
Tip Your Guide: Your guide works hard to make sure that you feel both safe and entertained. And this hard work often comes with little pay. If you think your guide did a good job, let them know by tipping them. They will appreciate it!
White water rafting emphasizes the importance of enjoying the journey. When you’re on the river, it won’t be about getting to a destination, it will be about living in the moment and letting yourself feel the excitement! If you are ready to take on an experience unlike any other, strap on your life jacket, prepare to get wet, and go white water rafting!