Whitewater River Rafting Levels – Know The Scale of Danger

Whitewater rafting is an excellent outdoor activity that is all about experiencing nature and adrenaline. However, every river is different, and there are different levels of difficulty that come with each level. Before you head out into the water, you must learn more about these different types of white water rapids.

Whitewater Rafting Rating System

The international scale of difficulty for whitewater rafting is an American rating system used to determine the level of difficulty for a stretch of a river or a whitewater rapid. The scale was created to evaluate rivers all over the world by American Whitewater Association. The scale has six different categories, and each is referred to as “Class.”

Whitewater rafting can and cannot be a difficult sport, depending on the class you choose. Each class explains the degree of spine chills that you want to enjoy, and some of them are easy to go rafting on, whereas some are very difficult. These classes help in figuring out how much experience you will need and what you can expect on the rapid you choose to go on.

Each class is designed for a specific category. For example, class one is perfect for kids, adults, and beginners of all ages, whereas class 6 is for daredevils and adrenaline junkies. However, it is a smart idea to trust your guide to choose the right class for you since they assess your capabilities and then place you in the group suited for your skillset.

whitewater rafting levels

Class 1: Easy – For Everyone

This class of rafting represents a river flow that is incredibly peaceful and has minimal obstructions. If you opt for this level, then that simply means that you will have a very relaxed ride, and you’ll be flowing along with the river’s flow of current. It will have some occasional small waves and some obstacles like every other river but not something that you will have to be concerned about.

In easy terms, class 1 is a fast-moving water body with small waves and riffles. The few obstructions are very obvious and can be easily missed using little training. The risk to swimmers on this river is very little, and self-rescuing can be done easily, which makes it ideal for kids and beginners. Some examples of rivers having class 1 include the Big Vermillion River in Illinois and the Whitewater River in Indiana.

Class 2: Novice – Safe Adventures for Families

Class II is ideal for novices and families that love a little adventure. This class has straightforward rapids that have clear and wide channels that you can see through without any scouting. When whitewater rafting on a class 2 river, you will need to be prepared for the occasional maneuvering.

On this class river, most medium-sized waves and rocks can easily be missed by paddlers who are trained a bit. Swimmers do not get injured on these rapids, and group assistance can be helpful but is seldomly needed. Rapids that paddlers can come across at the upper end of this range are known as Class II+, and if you start seeing rougher waves, then it means you have entered the domain of Class 2 level rafting. At the upper end, you can also come across waves that are three feet tall (no more than that), along with boulders and occasional rocks.

Requirement

This class requires you to have a slightly good grip on maneuvering, and here you will have to stay on your toes because you will have to steer your raft away from different obstacles your way.

Location

Some locations for Class II rafting include Cloudburst, Onion Creek Rapid, and Rocky Rapid at Colorado River situated near Moab, Utah.

Class 3: Intermediate – For Thrill-Seeking Beginners

When it comes to class three whitewater rafting river, it can simply be described as a class designed for beginners who want to have a thrill-seeking adventure. Rapids that have irregular wave patterns with moderate waves are usually what you can expect on this river trail. The waves on this rapid are up to four to five feet tall and are difficult to avoid. They can also swamp a canoe easily. Sometimes, you will feel the boat shimmy and jolt due to the punch of these waves, but this jolt is very brief and thrilling for many.

Here, you can come across some strainers and even large waves, but since it is designed for intermediate levels, you can easily avoid it. Furthermore, class III is made of powerful current effects and very strong eddies, especially if you are rafting on rivers with large water volumes.

Non-guided rafts can find themselves in trouble if they are rafting in a class III river on their own. For this reason, If you are an inexperienced party, then you will definitely need scouting. However, this class does not have a lot of injuries while swimming, and self-rescue is easy but does require group assistance, especially in order to avoid long swims.

rafting levels

Requirement

The requirement for rafting on this rapid includes the ability to master complex maneuvering in fast currents because you don’t know where an obstacle may show up. Also, you must be able to keep your boat in good control when passing around ledges and tight passages because the currents will feel stronger here.

Locations

Some areas where you can enjoy Class III rafting include:

  • Marble Canyon, Staircase, Big Hummer, Funnel Falls, Sock-it-to-me, Bowling Alley, Last Chance – all these rapids are located in Westwater Canyon on the Colorado River present near Moab, Utah.
  • Three Fords Rapid, Cow Swim Rapid – which are present in Desolation Canyon on the Green River in Utah.
  • Ben Hurt, Mile Long – rapids present in Cataract Canyon on the Colorado River in Utah.

Are Class 3 Rapids Dangerous?

Whitewater rafting in class 3 rapids makes the water appear white – this is due to the small waves and bubbles, but it doesn’t pose any considerable danger. It does require experienced maneuvering and strong paddling skills but is not a risky rapid to raft on. However, rapids at the upper end are classified as Class III+ and are dangerous. Also, for people under the age of twelve, such rapids must be avoided.

Class 4: Advanced – For Experienced Adventurers

This kind of whitewater rafting river is designed specifically for experienced and professional adventurers. This is because it has powerful and intense rapids that are predictable but can be tricky as well. You will need to have good boat handling, especially in turbulent water. Depending on the mood of the river, it may feature some unavoidable yet large waves along with constricted passages and holes that require alertness and quick maneuvering.

The risk of injury to swimmers on this kind of rapid is high to moderate, which is not ideal for first-timers. Furthermore, the water conditions can make self-rescuing difficult on your own. Most of the time, even for experienced swimmers, group assistance is needed for rescue. In order to go rafting in Class IV rapids, you will need practiced skills along with a good practice of performing a strong Eskimo roll to give you the edge you need.

In simple words, Class IV rapids involve narrow passages, large waves, and multiple obstacles that must be avoided, which requires precision in maneuvering on turns.

Requirement

What you need to know when rafting in class 4 rivers is precise handling of the boat along with reliable and fast turns. These eddy turns will make you scout rapids, maneuver around, and even rest. Scouting for class IV is very necessary if it is your first time on such a rapid.

Location

If you want to go on these slightly dangerous rapids for more thrilling and experience fun, then simply head to the following sites:

  • Skull Rapid – found in Westwater Canyon, Colorado River near Moab, Utah.
  • Big Drop 3, also known as Satan’s Gut, and Big Drop 2 in the Cataract Canyon on the Colorado River near Moab, Utah.
  • Dubendorff, Hance, Granite, IV+ Sockdolager in the Grand Canyon on the Colorado River.

Class 5: Expert – For Seasoned Veterans

Class 5 rapids are described as obstructed, violent, and extremely long, which can be very risky for a paddler. It contains unavoidable large waves along with steeps and holes, demanding routes, and congested complexed chutes. Class 5 rapids continue for very long distances in between pools, which is why the paddler needs to have an excellent level of fitness.

The eddies present in these rapids can be turbulent, small, and sometimes very difficult to reach, whereas, at the higher end of the scale, all of these factors are mixed, allowing only an expert to raft through them. Due to the large difficulty range lying beyond the class 5 rapid, it is considered an open-ended and multi-level class.

It is further classified as 5.0, 5.1, and 5.2, etc., and each magnitude is more difficult than the previous one. For example, if you increase the difficulty level from Class 5.0 to Class 5.1, then this is the same as increasing the difficulty from Class IV to Class V.

Requirements

The main requirement for class V rapids is good fitness along with scouting. Swimming in these rapids is very dangerous, and rescuing is often very difficult, even for professionals. To raft in these waters, a reliable Eskimo roll, extensive experience, proper equipment, and practiced skills for rescue work are needed.

Locations

  • The Wind River Canyon Whitewater, Thermopolis, US
  • Hood River’s West Fork, Columbia Gorge
  • Farmlands Stretch of White Salmon River, Pacific Northwest
  • Husum Falls Drop, Klickitat County, Washington
  • Lava Falls, Crystal Rapids – situated at Grand Canyon, Colorado River
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Class 6: Extreme and Exploratory Rapids – For Those with a Deathwish

Whitewater rafting in class 6 rapids has almost never been attempted. This is because Class VI rapids exemplify the extremity of unpredictability, difficulty, and danger to a whole new level. It has no space for errors because the consequences for such errors lead to drowning, and rescue can, in most cases, be impossible.

After a paddler has run over a Class VI rapid many times and been successful, which is a rare case, then the rating for this can be altered to a Class 5.x rating. However, this is not the end of the class. There are also rapids with class VII and VIII ratings, and they are similar to VI but require more focus. These rapids come with plenty of narrow, long, and difficult passages with turbulent water. Just like class VI, both class VII and class VIII are designed for professional rafting enthusiasts who have mastered the art of precision maneuvering.

This is the ultimate navigable river system and is for daredevils who are not afraid to risk it all. Such rapids provide you with a higher adrenaline rush and are very similar to class VI rapids. Here, you will find plenty of spinning, gushing rapids, obstacles as big as a house, and twisting water features. The Tunnel rapids and Gore in the Colorado River are two examples of such streams.

Requirements

Class VI whitewater rafting is very, very dangerous. It is ideal for a team of experts only and that, too, under favorable water levels, taking all kinds of necessary and over-the-top precautions and making close personal inspections. Remember, taking safety precautions here is essential.

Location

You can find class VI rapids at:

  • Costa Rica’s Pacuare River can reach this class when there’s a high run-off. During this time, no rafting occurs, but you can do it if you want a daredevil adventure.

Whitewater River Rafting Levels

When Do I Need a Rafting Class?

This is the most common question asked by people wanting to go on these water adventures. If you are wondering about the appropriate age for joining these classes, then you should know that there is no hard and fast rule to determine the age. Some factors that do play a part include the difficulty level of rapids, the length of the river, and the time it’ll take to cover it, along with good paddling.

Younger children and some adults have a good attention span that they can dedicate to this activity. Younger kids that are around the ages of five to nine are more suited for river trips that can last around three hours on the water, whereas some have a shorter span of one to two hours.

Every child is different and has a different attention span. Kids that are over the ages of 10 up to their teens can enjoy full-day trips with three to five hours of river time. Middle-aged teens can enjoy long days on the rafts and even overnight river rafting adventures.

If your child is five years old or above, then he can be introduced to rafting classes right away, and if you are in your mid-teens or twenties, then you can take these classes as well.

When it comes to whitewater rafting adventure, then you can take kids under the age of twelve on rapids with a Class 1 to 3 rating. However, kids older than twelve can handle class 4, depending on the learning they have had and the paddling help that the guide may need. Class 5 can only be enjoyed by strong paddlers and individuals who are quick and can react quickly. In simpler terms, Class 5 is good for older teens only.

Apart from the age limits mentioned above, anybody can easily take rafting classes whenever they want. This is a very fun sport to learn and provides you with a whole new experience that you have never experienced before.

Conclusion

When deciding on which river rafting tour is ideal for you, don’t stress yourself out. The best advice we can give you on choosing the right class is to trust your river rafting operational guide to choose the right route for your excursion. These guides are professionals and have years of experience; they will size your entire family or the group you are going with and then narrow down the choices of which route and class to take.

They run these rivers daily and want you to enjoy the river as much as they want to. So whichever river rafting tour you pick for your family, just relax and have the time of your life. Read the guide mentioned above to get a grasp on the different classes and locations present, and most importantly, make sure to have fun.

Wildwater Rafting on the Chattooga River

Dale Dunlop

Alison and I are in Oconee County, South Carolina at the invitation of Ken Sloan, the county’s director of everything related to tourism and man, does he have a great product to showcase. Oconee is the state’s westernmost county and the highest in elevation. When most people think of visiting South Carolina the first things that come to mind are usually Charleston, Myrtle Beach and Hilton Head – all fine destinations to be sure. However, there is a much wilder side to the Palmetto State and you’ll find it here in Oconee County. Much of it lies in the Blue Ridge Mountains, famous for beautiful Carolinian forests, mountain streams and waterfalls and gorgeous, deep clear lakes. I will be putting up a few posts on Oconee County, but I couldn’t wait to write this one about rafting the Chattooga River with Wildwater Rafting. It was one of the best days of my life – here’s why and how you can do the same.

The Chattooga River

Chattooga River, Wildwater Rafting

Chattooga River

Whitewater rafting is one of the most exciting things you can do on an adventure based holiday – it can provide a massive adrenalin hit along with just a great day on the water. However, you need to pick the right river and the right outfitter. We have been on whitewater trips that were closer to a theme park ride than a natural experience. What you want is a river that is not lined with houses, docks and old tires and other debris on the bottom. You also want a river that is not overrun with fellow whitewater enthusiasts where all you see are other rafts and you have to queue up to shoot any of the rapids. And of course you want a challenge and not just a piffle through some riffles. The Chattooga River fits the bill on all accounts.

The Chattooga (not be confused with the Chattanooga) is a designated Wild and Scenic River under the auspices of the National Park Service which means that is has never been damned and has no development on or within a quarter mile of its banks. In other words, it’s truly wild and believe me, it is scenic. Other whitewater trips in the Blue Ridge and Great Smoky Mountains take place on rivers that have been dammed and where the water level is controlled by the the outflow from these dams. The water level on the Chattooga is controlled only by Mother Nature.

As a designated Wild and Scenic River and having the further protection of being in Sumter National Forest, access to the Chattooga is strictly regulated. There are only three licensed operators on the entire river and the whitewater trips are scheduled in such a way that the only other people you are likely to see on the river are the group you are with. The Chattooga is a deadly serious river in terms of the degree of difficulty, with some stretches including Class VI rapids which are just too dangerous to be commercially rafted. For most people, Section 3 which includes many Class I to III rapids and one Class IV, Bull Sluice, should be ideal. For more experienced whitewater enthusiasts Section 4 offers Class IV and V rapids which are pretty well the limit for what you can do anywhere in the world.

The picture above is Bull Sluice from the South Carolina side of the river – Georgia’s on the other side. Ken took us here on the day before our trip just to make sure we were OK with running this portion of the river. Our answer? Of course!

But there’s one more reason to pick the Chattooga for you next whitewater adventure. Cue the banjos – much of the movie Deliverance was filmed on the very stretch of river that Wildwater Rafting will be taking us on today.

Deliverance

Deliverance Poster

Deliverance is one of the most iconic movies of the 20th century and not just for the fact that is a great modern horror story unlike anything before or after it was made. The story behind the story is just as compelling. Director John Boorman didn’t have a big budget, insurance or stunt men when he took Jon Voight, Burt Reynolds, Ned Beatty and Ronny Cox out onto the Chattooga River in 1971 to film some of the most hair raising scenes ever shot. Everything you see in the river scenes of Deliverance is the real deal with the actors doing everything Boorman asked them to. Both Reynolds and Beatty nearly drowned and Voight climbed straight up a cliff without any protection from a fall. Boorman said his cast “Had more guts than a burglar.”

So who would pass up a chance to raft the same waters that Boorman and company made famous almost fifty years ago?

Wildwater Rafting

Wildwater Rafting started on the Chattooga River not long after Deliverance came out and the notoriety of that film helped kickstart the business that now is in its 47th year and third generation of family ownership. They currently offer whitewater rafting trips in Tennessee, Georgia and North Carolina, but it all started here in Oconee County and this is the company’s home base. They occupy the grounds of an old boarding school that operated from the early 1900’s to the 1950’s when kids who lived too far from school to walk or ride a horse, had to be sent to live at the school. This is the old girl’s dormitory that now serves as the administrative office and check-in site for Chattooga River trips.

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The Old Girl

The Old Girl’s Dorm

After being fitted with a Personal Flotation Device and helmet we are introduced to our guides. Alison, Ken and I will go with Dylan Carr who is in his fourth year with Wildwater Rafting and a couple from Galveston who are back for the second day in a row will go with 17 year veteran Mike ‘Tupelo’ Richardson. So there’ll only be seven of us in two small rafts on the river today.

Rafting the Chattooga

What follows is our experience on the Chattooga River with Dylan and Mike as illustrated by photos and videos. The photos of us shooting Bull Sluice were taken by Whetstone Photography who are onsite at Wildwater Rafting headquarters. They were kind enough to let me use the photos for this post.

The one downside, and it’s not if you are the Chattooga River, is that because it is a Wild and Scenic River you must walk in about a quarter mile to get to the launch spot. While Dylan and Mike carry the rafts you will be expected to do your share by carrying some necessary supplies.

It is an absolutely gorgeous spring day.


Like all good things in life the journey starts off fairly easily and builds to a crescendo at Bull Sluice followed by an amazing series of Class III rapids that all completely different, each presenting their own challenges.

Setting Out with Wildwater Rafting

Setting Out

Alison looks calm and determined at the same time.

Alison ready for Wildwater Rafting

On the River

Within a few minutes and after traversing a few Class I and II rapids it pretty obvious that Dylan and Mike have things fully in control. This is a typical small rapid traverse. For anything more serious you’d have to be an idiot to try and film it without a GoPro.

We are expected to paddle at certain times, but I would not in any way describe the paddling on this river run as tiring. All of the people in our group are experienced paddlers so that makes things easier for the guides.

Dylan Carr, Wildwater Rafting

Dylan Carr

After shooting our first challenging set of rapids Dylan asks us if we would like to float them. Sure, looks pretty easy. Here we are gingerly making our way out to the rock from which we will launch ourselves into the river.

And here goes Alison.

We got on the river about 10:30 and our arrival at Bull Sluice is scheduled for 1:15 so we stop for an early lunch with Dylan and Mike putting out a spread using one of the rafts as a table. Nothing tastes better than dining al fresco with a river running beside you.

That’s Ken Sloan having a tough day at the office, but it’s about to get tougher.

Ken Sloan’s Tough Day at the Office

Bull Sluice with Wildwater Rafting

Running Bull Sluice, the only Class IV stretch on Section 3 of the Chattooga River is optional. The guides are required to remove all the gear and transport it to the other side leaving the rafts with only the guide and guests to shoot the sluice. Everybody gets out to visually examine the area for debris like sunken logs that might pose a danger. Looking down at Bull Sluice I don’t see the need for there to be any debris to make it dangerous. Judge for yourself.


Despite everything in my 66 years of experience telling me this is not a good idea, Alison and I decide to accept the challenge. So does the couple from Texas and since I couldn’t be in two places at once, here is my video of them shooting Bull Sluice. Notice how friggin’ calm Mike is throughout.

OK. Now here’s our transit as captured in photos by Devon of Whetstone Photography.

Ready for Bull Sluice with Dylan Carr of Wildwater Rafting. We don’t look too terrified do we?

Ready for Bull Sluice

Too late to turn back now.

On the Top of Bull Sluice

Dylan is actually standing up as we go over the steepest part.

Down We Go

Alison is practically buried as we hit the bottom.

Almost Under

But we do come up.

Almost Through

Then there’s a final narrow chute where the raft rattles between the rocks like a rubber duck in a kid’s bath.

The Final Chute

And just like that, after only 20 seconds it’s over. We’ve conquered Bull Sluice with nary a scratch – actually not true. Somewhere in the middle of that maelstrom Alison managed to scratch the side of her nose pretty good when one of her hands was knocked up by the force of the water.

Just as my heartbeat is starting to return to normal Mike says he’s got another way of experiencing Bull Sluice – just jump into the middle of the damn thing. My first thought is that Mike is a f***in’ lunatic, but he dances out to the edge of the rocks and throws himself in just to prove it’s only about 90% lunacy. They say a fool and his money are soon parted and I wonder if the same goes for a fool and his life. But others say, “Nothing ventured. Nothing gained”. So with nothing to lose but our lives we go on to part 2 of the Bull Sluice challenge.

It’s amazing how stupidly happy one can look only moments before jumping into God knows what.

Parting Photo

I go first and this photo makes it look like I’m actually doing the moonwalk on the water.

Bull Sluice Plunge, Wildwater Rafting

Plunge into Bull Sluice

Alison goes next and shows much better form.

Wildwater Rafting Plunge

Alison’s Plunge

With a little help from an expertly tossed throw line, we get back to shore and look at each other with a “What we’re we thinking? ” look and then just laugh. Really, Bull Sluice was a blast.

One would think that everything after Bull Sluice would be anti-climactic, but it’s not. Far from it, with Class III beauties like Screaming Left Turn (and it is), Rock Jumble and the very tricky ending at Woodall Shoals where we had our only out of boat experience. Anne from Texas ended up in the water not 100 yards from our ending point and I’m pretty sure Mike had something to do with it, but I wouldn’t swear on it. Just the twinkle in his eye seemed a little too shiny.

My favourite part of the lower section was called Surfer, because it was where Burt Reynolds was swept through the rapids after being tossed from his canoe in Deliverance. Shooting it on the raft was not too hard, but doing it like Burt was another matter altogether. Trust Mike to talk me into another dumb, but ultimately exhilarating thing to do with Wildwater Rafting. Getting into the middle of the top of the rapids was the hardest part. You can see it in this video, but you won’t see me actually performing a Reynoldslike manoeuvre through the rapids because the bloody memory card was full and stopped recording. Trust me, I was brilliant.

We were on the Chattooga River with Wildwater Rafting for almost five hours and covered over eight miles and dozens of rapids. It was one of the best experiences of my life. Thank you Ken Sloan and Oconee County for giving me the opportunity to write about this amazing opportunity.

Wildwater Rafting on the Chattooga River

Dale Dunlop

Alison and I are in Oconee County, South Carolina at the invitation of Ken Sloan, the county’s director of everything related to tourism and man, does he have a great product to showcase. Oconee is the state’s westernmost county and the highest in elevation. When most people think of visiting South Carolina the first things that come to mind are usually Charleston, Myrtle Beach and Hilton Head – all fine destinations to be sure. However, there is a much wilder side to the Palmetto State and you’ll find it here in Oconee County. Much of it lies in the Blue Ridge Mountains, famous for beautiful Carolinian forests, mountain streams and waterfalls and gorgeous, deep clear lakes. I will be putting up a few posts on Oconee County, but I couldn’t wait to write this one about rafting the Chattooga River with Wildwater Rafting. It was one of the best days of my life – here’s why and how you can do the same.

The Chattooga River

Chattooga River, Wildwater Rafting

Chattooga River

Whitewater rafting is one of the most exciting things you can do on an adventure based holiday – it can provide a massive adrenalin hit along with just a great day on the water. However, you need to pick the right river and the right outfitter. We have been on whitewater trips that were closer to a theme park ride than a natural experience. What you want is a river that is not lined with houses, docks and old tires and other debris on the bottom. You also want a river that is not overrun with fellow whitewater enthusiasts where all you see are other rafts and you have to queue up to shoot any of the rapids. And of course you want a challenge and not just a piffle through some riffles. The Chattooga River fits the bill on all accounts.

The Chattooga (not be confused with the Chattanooga) is a designated Wild and Scenic River under the auspices of the National Park Service which means that is has never been damned and has no development on or within a quarter mile of its banks. In other words, it’s truly wild and believe me, it is scenic. Other whitewater trips in the Blue Ridge and Great Smoky Mountains take place on rivers that have been dammed and where the water level is controlled by the the outflow from these dams. The water level on the Chattooga is controlled only by Mother Nature.

As a designated Wild and Scenic River and having the further protection of being in Sumter National Forest, access to the Chattooga is strictly regulated. There are only three licensed operators on the entire river and the whitewater trips are scheduled in such a way that the only other people you are likely to see on the river are the group you are with. The Chattooga is a deadly serious river in terms of the degree of difficulty, with some stretches including Class VI rapids which are just too dangerous to be commercially rafted. For most people, Section 3 which includes many Class I to III rapids and one Class IV, Bull Sluice, should be ideal. For more experienced whitewater enthusiasts Section 4 offers Class IV and V rapids which are pretty well the limit for what you can do anywhere in the world.

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The picture above is Bull Sluice from the South Carolina side of the river – Georgia’s on the other side. Ken took us here on the day before our trip just to make sure we were OK with running this portion of the river. Our answer? Of course!

But there’s one more reason to pick the Chattooga for you next whitewater adventure. Cue the banjos – much of the movie Deliverance was filmed on the very stretch of river that Wildwater Rafting will be taking us on today.

Deliverance

Deliverance Poster

Deliverance is one of the most iconic movies of the 20th century and not just for the fact that is a great modern horror story unlike anything before or after it was made. The story behind the story is just as compelling. Director John Boorman didn’t have a big budget, insurance or stunt men when he took Jon Voight, Burt Reynolds, Ned Beatty and Ronny Cox out onto the Chattooga River in 1971 to film some of the most hair raising scenes ever shot. Everything you see in the river scenes of Deliverance is the real deal with the actors doing everything Boorman asked them to. Both Reynolds and Beatty nearly drowned and Voight climbed straight up a cliff without any protection from a fall. Boorman said his cast “Had more guts than a burglar.”

So who would pass up a chance to raft the same waters that Boorman and company made famous almost fifty years ago?

Wildwater Rafting

Wildwater Rafting started on the Chattooga River not long after Deliverance came out and the notoriety of that film helped kickstart the business that now is in its 47th year and third generation of family ownership. They currently offer whitewater rafting trips in Tennessee, Georgia and North Carolina, but it all started here in Oconee County and this is the company’s home base. They occupy the grounds of an old boarding school that operated from the early 1900’s to the 1950’s when kids who lived too far from school to walk or ride a horse, had to be sent to live at the school. This is the old girl’s dormitory that now serves as the administrative office and check-in site for Chattooga River trips.

The Old Girl

The Old Girl’s Dorm

After being fitted with a Personal Flotation Device and helmet we are introduced to our guides. Alison, Ken and I will go with Dylan Carr who is in his fourth year with Wildwater Rafting and a couple from Galveston who are back for the second day in a row will go with 17 year veteran Mike ‘Tupelo’ Richardson. So there’ll only be seven of us in two small rafts on the river today.

Rafting the Chattooga

What follows is our experience on the Chattooga River with Dylan and Mike as illustrated by photos and videos. The photos of us shooting Bull Sluice were taken by Whetstone Photography who are onsite at Wildwater Rafting headquarters. They were kind enough to let me use the photos for this post.

The one downside, and it’s not if you are the Chattooga River, is that because it is a Wild and Scenic River you must walk in about a quarter mile to get to the launch spot. While Dylan and Mike carry the rafts you will be expected to do your share by carrying some necessary supplies.

It is an absolutely gorgeous spring day.


Like all good things in life the journey starts off fairly easily and builds to a crescendo at Bull Sluice followed by an amazing series of Class III rapids that all completely different, each presenting their own challenges.

Setting Out with Wildwater Rafting

Setting Out

Alison looks calm and determined at the same time.

Alison ready for Wildwater Rafting

On the River

Within a few minutes and after traversing a few Class I and II rapids it pretty obvious that Dylan and Mike have things fully in control. This is a typical small rapid traverse. For anything more serious you’d have to be an idiot to try and film it without a GoPro.

We are expected to paddle at certain times, but I would not in any way describe the paddling on this river run as tiring. All of the people in our group are experienced paddlers so that makes things easier for the guides.

Dylan Carr, Wildwater Rafting

Dylan Carr

After shooting our first challenging set of rapids Dylan asks us if we would like to float them. Sure, looks pretty easy. Here we are gingerly making our way out to the rock from which we will launch ourselves into the river.

And here goes Alison.

We got on the river about 10:30 and our arrival at Bull Sluice is scheduled for 1:15 so we stop for an early lunch with Dylan and Mike putting out a spread using one of the rafts as a table. Nothing tastes better than dining al fresco with a river running beside you.

That’s Ken Sloan having a tough day at the office, but it’s about to get tougher.

Ken Sloan’s Tough Day at the Office

Bull Sluice with Wildwater Rafting

Running Bull Sluice, the only Class IV stretch on Section 3 of the Chattooga River is optional. The guides are required to remove all the gear and transport it to the other side leaving the rafts with only the guide and guests to shoot the sluice. Everybody gets out to visually examine the area for debris like sunken logs that might pose a danger. Looking down at Bull Sluice I don’t see the need for there to be any debris to make it dangerous. Judge for yourself.


Despite everything in my 66 years of experience telling me this is not a good idea, Alison and I decide to accept the challenge. So does the couple from Texas and since I couldn’t be in two places at once, here is my video of them shooting Bull Sluice. Notice how friggin’ calm Mike is throughout.

OK. Now here’s our transit as captured in photos by Devon of Whetstone Photography.

Ready for Bull Sluice with Dylan Carr of Wildwater Rafting. We don’t look too terrified do we?

Ready for Bull Sluice

Too late to turn back now.

On the Top of Bull Sluice

Dylan is actually standing up as we go over the steepest part.

Down We Go

Alison is practically buried as we hit the bottom.

Almost Under

But we do come up.

Almost Through

Then there’s a final narrow chute where the raft rattles between the rocks like a rubber duck in a kid’s bath.

The Final Chute

And just like that, after only 20 seconds it’s over. We’ve conquered Bull Sluice with nary a scratch – actually not true. Somewhere in the middle of that maelstrom Alison managed to scratch the side of her nose pretty good when one of her hands was knocked up by the force of the water.

Just as my heartbeat is starting to return to normal Mike says he’s got another way of experiencing Bull Sluice – just jump into the middle of the damn thing. My first thought is that Mike is a f***in’ lunatic, but he dances out to the edge of the rocks and throws himself in just to prove it’s only about 90% lunacy. They say a fool and his money are soon parted and I wonder if the same goes for a fool and his life. But others say, “Nothing ventured. Nothing gained”. So with nothing to lose but our lives we go on to part 2 of the Bull Sluice challenge.

It’s amazing how stupidly happy one can look only moments before jumping into God knows what.

Parting Photo

I go first and this photo makes it look like I’m actually doing the moonwalk on the water.

Bull Sluice Plunge, Wildwater Rafting

Plunge into Bull Sluice

Alison goes next and shows much better form.

Wildwater Rafting Plunge

Alison’s Plunge

With a little help from an expertly tossed throw line, we get back to shore and look at each other with a “What we’re we thinking? ” look and then just laugh. Really, Bull Sluice was a blast.

One would think that everything after Bull Sluice would be anti-climactic, but it’s not. Far from it, with Class III beauties like Screaming Left Turn (and it is), Rock Jumble and the very tricky ending at Woodall Shoals where we had our only out of boat experience. Anne from Texas ended up in the water not 100 yards from our ending point and I’m pretty sure Mike had something to do with it, but I wouldn’t swear on it. Just the twinkle in his eye seemed a little too shiny.

My favourite part of the lower section was called Surfer, because it was where Burt Reynolds was swept through the rapids after being tossed from his canoe in Deliverance. Shooting it on the raft was not too hard, but doing it like Burt was another matter altogether. Trust Mike to talk me into another dumb, but ultimately exhilarating thing to do with Wildwater Rafting. Getting into the middle of the top of the rapids was the hardest part. You can see it in this video, but you won’t see me actually performing a Reynoldslike manoeuvre through the rapids because the bloody memory card was full and stopped recording. Trust me, I was brilliant.

We were on the Chattooga River with Wildwater Rafting for almost five hours and covered over eight miles and dozens of rapids. It was one of the best experiences of my life. Thank you Ken Sloan and Oconee County for giving me the opportunity to write about this amazing opportunity.

Source https://www.riverexchange.org/whitewater-river-rafting-levels/

Source https://themaritimeexplorer.ca/2018/05/15/wildwater-rafting/#:~:text=The%20Chattooga%20is%20a%20deadly%20serious%20river%20in,one%20Class%20IV,%20Bull%20Sluice,%20should%20be%20ideal.

Source https://themaritimeexplorer.ca/2018/05/15/wildwater-rafting/

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