Choosing a River Section:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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…
Common Questions and Answers about Rafting:
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.
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.