Rating Grand Canyon’s Rapids

Grand Canyon Rapids are rated on a 1-10 Scale

Lava Falls is a Class IV to V Rapid Rated 8-10 on the Colorado River Scale

The rapids in the Grand Canyon are rated on a 1-10 scale. This may seem confusing to whitewater aficionados who have become accustomed to the more universal Class I-VI scale:

Class 1: Very small rough areas, requires no maneuvering.

Class 2: Some rough water, maybe some rocks, small drops, might require maneuvering.

Class 3: Whitewater, medium waves, maybe a 3–5 ft drop, but not much considerable danger. May require significant maneuvering.

Class 4: Whitewater, large waves, long rapids, rocks, maybe a considerable drop, sharp maneuvers may be needed.

Class 5: Whitewater, large waves, continuous rapids, large rocks and hazards, maybe a large drop, precise maneuvering

Class 6: Whitewater, typically with huge waves, huge rocks and hazards, huge drops, but sometimes labeled this way due to largely invisible dangers. Class 6 rapids are considered hazardous even for expert paddlers using state-of-the-art equipment, and come with the warning “danger to life or limb.”

The biggest rapids in the Grand Canyon are Crystal and Lava Falls which are rated anywhere from 7-10 depending on the water level. They have huge waves and require maneuvering. However, especially in Lava Fall’s case, they have a nice recovery zone after the rapid. So on the classic scale these rapids would probably be considered Class IV. Hance, Hermit, Granite, Bedrock, Dubendorff, House Rock, 231-mile, Sockdolager, Grapevine, Specter, and 24-mile rapid would also probably fit into this Class IV rating with most of the other rapids in the Grand Canyon rated at Class III. Grand Canyon rafting is always excititng.

2 Responses

  1. Skip Surguine says:

    Do you know anything about the origination of the older (I.e. CURRENT) 1-10 rapid ratings now used more-or-less exclusively on the Colorado River? I am trying to write a story, mostly just for my family but who knows, about a trip I took with you folks in either 1971 or maybe 1972 from Lee’s Ferry to Temple Bar. It was billed as the last Sierra Club trip on which outboard motors were to be used and headed up on our side by Frankie Marx of (I think) the Glendale, CA group of the Sierra Club. Mr. Mackay (so?) Was the main person from Colorado River and Trail.

    • Crate Inc. says:

      Hi Skip,

      Somehow we missed this message. Les Jones put out a scroll map about the rapids of the Grand Canyon in the 1950s or early 1960s and I will have to look and see what rating system he used. I think Belknap put out his first guidebook in 1969 and in that guidebook he used the 1-10 scale, but I will do a little more research and get back to you. I am Dave Mackay’s son and I would love to hear about your trip. I will get back to you in the next week or so.


      Walker Mackay

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