How to Pick a River Trip – White Water Rafting in Colorado

Choosing a River SectionPicking An OutfitterRafting FAQ’sRapid Classifications

Choosing a River Section:

Click Here to view map of Colorado rivers

Here are the most common methods for choosing a river section.

  1. Location: Choose a river that is near where you are staying or that is between two destinations. Click Here to see a map of all rivers in the state of Colorado.
  2. Difficulty: Choose a river whose difficulty matches the abilities, ages and experience of your group. See the “Rapid Classifications” tab on this page to understand the river difficulty ratings.
  3. Season: Some rivers are dam controlled and run all or most of the summer and some have relatively short seasons due to rapid snowmelt in a smaller basin.
  4. Length: Colorado rafting trips range in length from just a short one-hour trip to half-day, full-day, and multi-day trips from 2-10 days in length.
  5. Climate: Rafting conditions in Colorado are often dictated by elevation. The higher the starting point the cooler the weather. Head to low elevation rivers in Western Colorado to warm up. Head to high elevation rivers in the central mountains to cool off.
  6. Scenery: Rafting in the mountains offers views of peaks and pines. Rafting in the deep canyons can offer steep and sculpted walls. Wide valleys may be through ranch country or desert scrublands.

Questions to ask the outfitters that you are considering:

Every outfitter Claims to be the “Best Outfitter in Colorado”. Here are some questions to ask and ways of interpreting the answers…

How long have you been in business?
How experienced are the guides?
Will my group be split up?
What is the entire cost of the trip including all license fees and access fees?
What is the cancellation policy?
What type of transportation is provided?
What meals, if any, are provided?
What is the condition of your equipment?
What rental equipment is supplied?
What are the living arrangements for your guide staff is?
Are the guides and staff allowed to smoke?
What is your safety record?
What communication do you take on the river?
How can I check your references?

Common Questions and Answers about Rafting:

Is rafting dangerous?
I can’t swim. Can I still go rafting?
How fit do I need to be? Is it strenuous?
What should I wear?
What kind of trip should a beginner choose?
Can my children go rafting?
Can senior citizens go rafting?
Will I fall out of the boat? If I do what should I do?
How much should I tip my guide?

Rapid Classifications:

Rapid classifications are very subjective, but usually most people agree to within one class of each other. Generally speaking, kayakers and very experienced rafters downplay the ranking while canoeists generally upgrade the ranking. This website tries to rank sections in between the extremes. When a double rating occurs (as in calling a section Class III-IV) we feel most of the section falls in the easier category, but one or a few rapids fall in the more difficult category, at least at the more common flow levels. Flood stage is generally not taken into account in the rating as some rapids get harder and some get easier during high flows.

Since most rafters are familiar with Browns Canyon on the Arkansas River – we’ll use it as our example: We rate it Class III-IV. Most of the rapids are Class III however we consider Pinball and Widow Maker Class IV rapids. A lot of people with a lot experience in Browns Canyon consider it only Class III after doing it dozens or hundreds of times. We don’t believe in downgrading a rating due to the number of times it has been run. If you look at the definition below, those 2 rapids are clearly Class IV. At flood stage, many people quit running the section and it becomes borderline Class V, but we don’t call it Class V, as it rarely flows at that level of difficulty.

Classes Defined:

Class I: Easy. Mostly flat, slow moving water with the occasional small wave. Clear passages and no severe obstacles.
Class II: Mild. Small rapids, low in difficulty with clear passages and a few minor obstacles.
Class III: Moderate. Numerous, medium sized waves. Clear, narrow passages requiring maneuvering. Rapids with rocks, creating some severe obstacles.
Class IV: Difficult. Rapids are long, with powerful waves and rocks creating potentially dangerous hazards. Precise maneuvering through narrow and/or rock-choked passages.
Class V: Extreme. Difficult, long and violent rapids, close together in distance. Big, powerful drops, along a steep gradient through forceful currents. Pinpoint precision maneuvering through tight passages and around frequent severe obstacles.
Class VI: Considered unrunnable! Do not attempt. Waterfalls and other unavoidable life-threatening hazards.

Colorado Rafting River Guide:

Colorado Rafting River Guide
Check out our detailed information about the rivers you can raft across Colorado.

What Our Guests Say:

I have rafted with other companies before but I found your company and Mike, our guide, to be outstanding! I will be back!
Joe M.
The trip, your people, your facility never get old.
Fred P.
From the enthusiastic greetings when we arrived at the office this am, all service was top notch.
John D.
We feel we have found new friends in Wilderness Aware and plan on spending time in the future with you.
Susie S.
One of the best times of my life!
Dylnn R.
Thanks for the great time on the river. You do a super job of taking care of your crews.
Jan P.
I work in safety – wish I could get all our regional safety folks to present their safety meetings with the same enthusiasm and professionalism.
Karla S.
Pete was great. Extremely friendly and he took great care of us and really put our group first. Our trip was relaxing and fun!
Erin L.
Very professional yet very informal approach—not an easy combination to sustain—nice team—office included.
Mark W.
Sarah, our guide, was the consummate professional.
Becky M.
I started rafting at WA in 1999 and have always had a good time. I highly recommend WA to anyone who wants to raft.
Marty E.
We booked our trip cold off the internet and found from the very beginning a very friendly and courteous staff that helped out and answered all our questions.
Carolyn W.
Matt was the most enthusiastic and exciting guide I have ever had… and I have done this a lot.
Carl M.
Very pleasant and enjoyable experience. Rafted four other times and this was the best.
Linda H.
Sarah was fantastic! Very knowledgeable and very fun! Best trip ever, even the low water! We will be back again!
Barbara L.
The entire staff from reservations to first contact to trip guide was friendly and helpful. Our Scouts had an outstanding time!
Ken T.
It was the best first experience in rafting. Ben was awesome!! Five stars!
Kirby S.
Your staff and guides were so helpful and so much fun. My kids ranked that half-day trip as the highlight of our month long trip!
Patty G.
Best time I’ve had on the river in the past 15 years!!!! Will return soon!!!
Dylan S.
You are great to work with and your guides are fun to be around and well trained. Each experience I’ve had with you (3) has been excellent.
Dawn R.
Appreciate your professional and fun staff! Will definitely return next year!
Dana Q.
Your internet advertising was great. People who answered the phone very helpful and the guides top notch. Seems like your manager has done a wonderful job. I see why you are a successful company.
Phil G.
This was my first rafting experience and you guys made it awesome! Thank you so much!
Jamie L.
When I made our reservation I knew we were going to have a fantastic time. Everything that happened today exceeded my expectations.
Mark E.
This company is quality. Six years ago I did the same trip with Jack, Ian, and Kelly and the quality is as good today.
Chris G.
I loved my experience at WA and will definitely be back with more people.
Cory D.
Frenchie was the best guide I’ve ever had! This is a great company and I will definitely be telling friends about it!
Jamin R.
This trip surpassed all of my expectations.
Amy B.
We had an awesome time. I would definitely recommend your company!
Leona H.
I would like to commend your staff on their great teamwork and enthusiasm. This was the highlight of our trip to Arizona.
Michele E.
We had an awesome time! All staff we dealt with were very personable and helpful. I can’t imagine anything you could do to improve!
Rusty B.
Good job, as usual. Our 5th or 6th trip with WA. Big fans of WA.
Tim S.
I love the staff!! Very entertaining and welcoming. This was a great rafting experience. I want to come back tomorrow and do it again!
Bailey W.
We’ve been with a lot of different rafting companies over the years and we have never used the same company twice but everyone on the trip agreed that your company is the best!
Lisa P.
Family friend always said Wilderness Aware Rafting was the best. I totally agree!
Angie D.
We have rafted round the world and this is by far the best—best trained guides, best safety, best food, best fun. Thanks.
Jane H.
We started rafting with you in 1988. This is our fourth trip. Will be back.
Jim L.
This was the highlight of our trip to Colorado!
Beth G.
I want to raft again and again and well you get the point…again.
Levi V.
Been rafting six times around the country. Best trip and guide so far.
James H.

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