People rafting through whitewater rapids.

River Ratings & Adventure Levels

People having fun rafting through rapids.

What’s Your Adventure Level?

All OARS trips are active participatory adventures by nature and involve some level of physical exertion. Most often, our trips take place in remote settings where exposure to the elements—including cold water, heat, sun, wind and rain—is a given. And, frankly, we wouldn’t have it any other way. What we offer isn’t a bus tour, a shore excursion or a theme park ride. We take you off the beaten path to places you might struggle to access on your own and it’s our goal to immerse you in the beauty of a region.

Adventure level varies from trip to trip, but even an “easier” trip can become “challenging” under the right conditions—weather, water level, and even your personal choice of boat and/or hiking options can contribute to just how adventurous your OARS experience will be.

For each of our trips, we’ve tried to provide an approximation of what adventure level (from easier to challenging) you should expect to encounter under typical circumstances. Many trips are suitable for reasonably-fit first-timers, but all our trips are made more enjoyable by a certain degree of personal fitness and an adventurous spirit.

River Ratings for Whitewater Rapids

Choosing the right level of whitewater is the first step in making your whitewater rafting experience a success.

Rafts and inflatable kayaks on a Class I section of the Lower Klamath River

Class I

Swift current with riffles and small waves. Few obstacles, all obvious and easily avoided. Ideal for: Children aged four and older, first-timers, all adults, use of inflatable kayaks.

People rafting down a Class II river.

Class II

Easy rapids with wide-open channels and medium-sized waves. Some maneuvering may be necessary to avoid obstacles. Generally, children four years and older may experience Class II rapids. Ideal for: Children aged four and older, first-timers, all adults.

Class III rafting on the South Fork of the American River

Class III

Moderate rapids with irregular, medium- to large-sized waves. Waves large enough to cause a boat to capsize may be present but normally can be avoided. Quick maneuvering may be required to avoid obstacles. Generally, children seven years and older may experience Class III rapids. Ideal for: Children aged 6 to 8+, beginners to intermediates looking for manageable thrills.

Tunnel Chute is a Class IV rapid on the Middle Fork of the American River

Class IV

Powerful rapids featuring boulder gardens, large waves and/or small waterfalls. Quick and precise maneuvering is essential for successful runs. Prior Class III experience is recommended, although aggressive first-timers looking for a challenge are generally accepted. Minimum ages will generally vary from 12 to 16 years. Ideal for: Adventurous individuals, intermediates or aggressive beginners looking for a challenge.

People rafting down a Class V river.

Class V

Intense and violent rapids with steep drops, waterfalls, massive waves and extremely constricted channels. Rapids may require “critical” maneuvering above dangerous hazards. Prior Class IV experience may be required. Participants should be in good health, capable swimmers and physically fit. A swim practice may also be administered by our guides at the river. Ideal for: Experienced paddlers and hard-core adventurers.

People rafting down the Grand Canyon rapids.

1-10 Scale

Grand Canyon rapids are rated on a 1-10 scale. Flat water is 1 while tough rapids like Lava Falls or Crystal can be rated 10 at certain water levels. A 10 rating in the canyon is roughly equivalent to a Class V in the standard river scale.

Discover Your Next OARS Adventure

Group white water rafting in the American River.

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