Before you go whitewater rafting, it’s essential to understand some of the basics of how rapids are classified. Each rapid is categorized due to how rough it is to navigate and its potential danger. The following is a list of whitewater levels:

  • Class A

  • Class I Whitewater

  • Class II Whitewater

  • Class III Whitewater

  • Class IV Whitewater

  • Class V Whitewater

  • Class VI Whitewater

Find out the basics of what each whitewater class means so you can better understand what you may experience on your trip down the Yellowstone River with Wild West Whitewater Rafting.


Class A water is perfectly still water. There are no waves or currents. The only way a boat moves in class A water is if you are using a sail, motor, or paddle. Because Yellowstone River is always moving, Class A water is never part of any trip down the river.


Class 1 Whitewater

Class I whitewater rapids are sections of moving water that may have small waves no higher than one or two feet.

Class I rapids are similar to the lazy river at a water park where you can easily float down the current without struggling, and you have no difficulty swimming or standing up in the water. These rapids will gently push you and your boat down the river, but there are no whitecaps (when a wave is large enough that the top of the wave falls and creates a white cap on top of the wave) or difficulty in maneuvering safely through the water.

Class I whitewater rapids may sound boring, but they’re an essential part of any rafting trip. After getting done with a vigorous section of class III rapids, some mild class I rapids are always a very welcome break for everyone on the boat. They provide a great time to relax between higher classes of rapids. Some people even prefer to have an entire day of class I rapids where they can sit back and have a relaxing, safe trip down sections of the river.


class 2 whitewater

Class II whitewater rapids, also known as novice rapids, are straightforward to raft through. They have wide, clear channels that make it easy to navigate at first glance but may contain some minor rocks or other obstacles. Class II waves are medium-sized, with the occasional higher wave that can be easily navigated around.


Class 3 Whitewater

Class III rapids are harder to navigate and can easily swamp a kayak. They are full of high irregular waves (up to four or five feet tall) that will crash over the bow of a boat or raft. The pull of the current will feel stronger between waves with jolts of pushes and pulls throughout the rapid. Class III whitewater may also include obstacles, barriers, or narrow passages that require precise maneuvering to navigate safely.


Class 4 Whitewater

Class IV requires advanced technical skills. Where the other classes can be a fun or challenging ride suitable for most ages and levels of fitness, class IV rapids are a workout that requires high amounts of attention and skill.

Class IV whitewater rapids are long stretches, typically through narrow passages that include multiple obstacles to avoid and larger waves. This whitewater class tends to be longer and steeper than other rapids and requires technical movement. Technical movement includes strategically placing the boat, raft, or kayak in the right place in the water to create the best results for that segment of the rapids. This can include turning, spinning, and even lateral moves across the current.


Class 5 Whitewater

Class V rapids have strong currents, and the hydraulics within the rapid can hold or even flip boats. They are extremely long, violent, and demanding for everyone on the boat.

Class V whitewater can include unavoidable waves, whirlpools, unpredictable currents, larger vertical drops (waterfalls), tricky obstacles, and large boulders, and they pose a high risk to passengers. Because of the danger associated with class V rapids, they should only be run by experts who have scouted the rapids first to better understand what they are up against.


Class 6 Whitewater

Class VI is the highest whitewater class for rapids, and they are un-runnable. No amount of skill, technique, or equipment makes it a good idea to run a class VI. They carry with them a very high possibility of serious injury or death due to how violent and unpredictable they are.

Due to the high risk and potentially severe consequences of class VI rapids, they will never be included on a Wild West Rafting tour.


Rapid rankings are not set in stone because rivers change. This is more than just the slight change from natural erosion from year to year, but rivers change from day to day and even hour to hour. The biggest thing that affects the river’s mood is the water level.

The water level is how much water is flowing through the river. Lower water levels are going to have lower classes of whitewater because there is less water to move. Higher water levels mean that the river will be flowing faster, creating higher-class rapids.

The same section of the Yellowstone River can change from a class III to class I because of the water level. When water levels are high, the current moves quickly, giving you less time to react and recover during a rapid. Higher water levels can even cover up dangerous boulders and obstacles that would be visible with lower water levels.

Because water levels can change depending on a wide range of factors (groundwater levels, precipitation, evaporation, snow runoff, etc.), it isn’t possible for us to give you a 100% guarantee ahead of time of which class of rapids you’ll experience. But, with our experience and familiarity with the river, we can make sure your trip is memorable and safe.


Our team of raft guides knows the Yellowstone River like the back of our hands. On the Yellowstone River, you can expect everywhere from class I to IV rapids which are exciting enough for any skill level without being overwhelming. Yellowstone River is the perfect blend of an adrenaline-filled adventure while still giving you relaxing time to enjoy awe-inspiring views.