California Whitewater Rapid Classification Guide

Class II, III, IV … what does it all mean? If you aren’t familiar with California’s whitewater rapid classification system, you aren’t alone! You may have heard a river guide refer to a certain rapid as a “class three”, or have read online that a certain river is a “class IV run”. Here’s an easy guide to help you understand what it all means so you can choose the best fit for your idea of a good time on the river!

California Whitewater Classification Guide

There are five classifications of rapids in California. Different states have different classification systems for their rapids. This means a class III in California, isn’t necessarily the same as a class III somewhere else.

Class I

Class I rapids include moving water, small waves, and small riffles. There may be obstacles present, but all are easy to spot and easy to avoid.

  • This is ideal for small children and adults looking for a very relaxed float downriver. Beginners welcome!

Class II

Class II rapids are easy to navigate and feature medium sized waves with clear and open channels. There are few obstacles, all of which are easily avoidable, but may require some maneuvering.

  • Fun for everyone – this class is great for kids and adults alike. Beginners welcome!

Class III

Here’s where things start getting a bit more exciting! Obstacles become more challenging to maneuver. You will encounter waves that are large enough to flip a boat (though this rarely happens).

  • This level is great for older children and adults. Class III rapids are thrilling, but have low risk involved. Some experience is great, but not required.

Class IV

Ready for a thrilling trip downriver? Class IV rapids can include large waves, small drops, and lots of rocks. These rapids require quick and strategic maneuvering. Good thing your guide knows where to go!

  • This class is great for adventurous adults and young adults with some experience rafting. Beginners are also welcome on class IV, but should be in good physical health and be ready to paddle!

Class V

For the most adventurous among us! Class V rapids can be quite bumpy and jarring. You may encounter waterfalls, tight squeezes, very large waves, and steep drops. Your guide will likely need to maneuver around dangerous obstacles.

  • Ideal for adults who are READY TO PADDLE their hearts out, and are seeking a thrilling adventure! You should be in good physical health and have prior rafting experience.

Over Class V

Anything over a class V is considered “unrunnable”. There are too many hazards and too much risk to take people down a rapid over a Class V. If you come across one of these rapids on river, you will “portage”. This means that everyone is offloaded and the boat goes down on its own, or with an extremely experienced guide. Your guide will catch the boat at the bottom, or meet you at the end of the rapid.

The guides at Mother Lode River Trips are highly experienced, well trained river enthusiasts. Hop in their boat and they will gladly tell you more about rapid classes and the river features that make white water rafting an adventure loved by all ages!

Picture of Denise Karapinar

Denise Karapinar

Activites at Mother Lode

On The American River

At The Adventure Center

Team Building & River Skills

50th Anniversary Ropes Rafting

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit. Ut elit tellus, luctus nec ullamcorper mattis, pulvinar dapibus leo.