The Ocoee River is known throughout the South for its status as a whitewater rafting hotspot, with the unique honor of being the only in-river whitewater rafting course to be used in the Olympic Games. You may have heard or read about the different classes of rapids used to describe the speed and turbulence of different parts of the Ocoee, but what do those classifications mean?


The International Scale of River Difficulty

The American Whitewater Association created the International Scale of River Difficulty to give whitewater enthusiasts an idea of the recommended skill level for different stretches of river. The scale applies to water sports like rafting, canoeing, kayaking, river boarding and paddle surfing. The scale goes from Class I to Class V, with higher classifications suggesting tougher rapids. Some classifications are wide enough to have subcategories (like Class III- and Class III+) to indicate small variations in difficulty.


Class I Rapids: “Easy”

Rapids that are classified as Class I rapids are the lowest-rated rapids on the scale. Class I rapids are as gentle as rapids get, and can be easily navigated by swimmers. Another important characteristic of Class I rapids are their lack of obstructions that are more common at higher classifications.


Class II Rapids: “Novice”

While tougher than Class I rapids, Class II rapids are still easily navigated by swimmers without group assistance. Class II rapids have wide, clear channels and don’t require scouting for safe passages up ahead. Unlike Class I rapids, Class II rapids require some maneuvering thanks to the presence of rocks and medium-sized waves.


Class III Rapids: “Intermediate”

This is the classification where concentrated effort becomes a key part of navigating rapids. Class III rapids feature moderate, irregular waves which can be tough for beginners. More complex maneuvers are required to control your watercraft of choice, thanks to faster currents, larger waves and a greater number of obstructions. Swimming is still possible in Class III rapids, but self-rescue may not always be an option. The most famous rapids on the Ocoee River are its series of Class III rapids, including Double Trouble, Diamond Splitter, Double Suck, and Wooten’s Folly. Other rapids on the Ocoee River have been given the Class III+ rating, like Broken Nose and Tablesaw.


Class IV Rapids: “Advanced”

The powerful, intense waters of Class IV rapids require precise handling to safely navigate turbulent currents. Class IV rapids are moderately dangerous for swimmers, and group assistance is often essential for rescue. These rapids often feature large waves, constricted passages and large, rocky obstacles. A strong roll is highly recommended for kayakers on Class IV rapids. Rapids like “Grumpy” near the starting point of the Middle Ocoee River have a Class IV rating.


Class V Rapids: “Expert”

This classification of rapids contains the most difficult passages of rivers that have been sufficiently explored and documented. Class V rapids are extremely long, obstructed or very violent. Swimming in Class V rapids is dangerous, and rescuing swimmers can be difficult even for experts. Class V rapids require a high level of fitness and rafting competence to navigate unavoidable waves, congested chutes and sudden drops. Rafting Class V rapids is usually prohibited to first-time rafters.


Class VI Rapids: “Extreme”

As you could probably guess, Class VI rapids are extremely unpredictable and dangerous. Commercial expeditions aren’t allowed on Class VI rapids and exploring these waters is reserved for teams of experts during favorable conditions. Once a Class VI rapid has been run many times and is properly evaluated, it may be lowered to a Class V rating.


Book your whitewater rafting trip today!

The Ocoee River is an excellent spot for rafting for people of all skill levels, as the river features rapids from Class I all the way to Class V for brief stretches. Whether you’re looking to improve your rafting skills on Olympic-class whitewater or simply want to have a nice, cool afternoon with family and friends, the Ocoee River has what you’re looking for. Book your rafting trip today!