What Class Rapids are on the Snake River through Hells Canyon

If you have a Snake River Rafting trip through Hells Canyon coming up, you are probably wondering what class rapids you might encounter. Let's start by delving into the whitewater rapid classification system, a standard used by most rivers worldwide, ranging from class I to class VI, almost exclusively referred to in roman numerals. The classification of a rapid is subjective, typically agreed upon by boaters familiar with a particular section of river. Class 1 represents calm, flat water, while class 6 denotes rapids deemed unrunnable by the boating community. The majority of rivers and rapids attracting boaters will fall within the class II-V range. Within this range, class 2 rapids are easy and playful, while class V rapids can present congestion and higher risk but remain navigable. During a ROW Adventures trip on the Snake River through Hells Canyon, guests can expect encounters primarily with class II and III rapids, and occasionally encounter class IV rapids based on water levels. The Snake River is also known for its "pool and drop" features, where stretches of calm water are broken up by exhilarating rapids. For further understanding of rapid classification, explore our whitewater classification guide.

To help break down significant rapids on this stretch of river, we’ll start by laying the foundation of a 5 day trip through Hells Canyon, giving you some context on the river, and what you can expect on a trip through the deepest river gorge in North America.


Map of the rapids along the Snake River through Hells Canyon


Snake River through Hells Canyon quick facts:

  • Best Rafting Season: May-October offers the best weather and water temperatures. Because the Snake River is dammed, the Hells Canyon section remains raftable nearly all year long.
  • Location: The Snake River through Hells Canyon borders Oregon, Idaho, and Washington.
  • River Flow: The Snake River runs north and feeds into the Columbia River.
  • Tributaries: From the Snake Rivers mouth in Wyoming to its grand feed into the Columbia River, the Snake has 54 tributaries flowing into it helping to create rapids along the river.
  • River Mileage: From the Hells Canyon Dam put in to the Heller Bar take out is 108 river miles. Floating from the Hells Canyon Dam to the alternate takeout at Pittsburg landing is 33 river miles.


Scout of Wild Sheep Rapid from the Oregon side of Hells Canyon, Snake River


Wild Sheep Rapids - Class IV

Soon into day 1 through Hells Canyon you’ll encounter Wild Sheet Rapids. Coming in as a class IV rapid at nearly all flows, wild sheep is the perfect introduction to the style of whitewater that lies downstream. As the longest rapid on the river, you can expect to find plenty of large waves and hydraulics here.

Whether you are on a guided trip with ROW Adventures, or on a private trip,  scouting from river left is highly recommended. Because the water levels on the Snake are dam controlled, big rapids like Wild Sheep can look very different day to day. The lines through Wild Sheep change depending on the water level. At most flows, the run is to enter river left and pull hard to get to the center. T-up to the big breaking laterals coming off the left towards the bottom. At high water there is a river right run through powerful waves and hydraulics.

Named after the bighorn sheep you might spot on your trip, this set of rapids is sure to be splashy and thrilling! 


Scouting view of granite rapid from the Idaho side in Hells Canyon


Granite Rapids - Class IV

Up next in the rapid rotation you’ll come to Granite rapids. This Class IV rapid earns its name from the imposing granite boulders that define its tumultuous waters.

As you approach Granite Rapids, you’re met with a striking landscape of sheer cliffs and rugged terrain, setting the stage for an adrenaline-pumping journey through another iconic rapid of Hells Canyon. The river narrows, funneling into a series of powerful waves and complex hydraulics, demanding precise maneuvering and unwavering focus from guides and those on the oars.

At certain water levels, you may hear talk of the Green Room being open. The Green Room is a special line through Granite rapids that only exists at specific water levels. The Green Room is a favorite novelty among guides. You never know, you just might get lucky and experience the ride if the room dares to be open!

Granite Rapids is renowned for its technical nature, with narrow chutes and turbulent currents testing the skills of even the most experienced paddlers. As rafts and kayaks navigate the rapids, they're met with exhilarating drops and explosive waves, creating an unforgettable ride amidst the stunning natural beauty of Hells Canyon.

Three Creek Rapids - Class II/III

Three Creek rapids is a fun series of rapids known to guides and frequent river goers as a “read and run.” This means the rapid is easily navigable by looking downstream and identifying obstacles, challenges, and necessary maneuvers all from the raft.  

Bernard Creek Rapids - Class II-IV

Upper Bernard rapid can be considered a class IV depending on the water level. It’s another wave train with punchy waves providing an even bigger and wetter ride than its sister rapid downstream!

Lower Bernard is a fun wave train that often provides more splashes than you might think! This is a rather short rapid with a clear route down the middle of it. This is a great rapid to sit toward the front of the boat to cool you down on those hot summer days. 


Upstream shot of a group rafting through a rapid on the Snake River through Hells Canyon


Waterspout Rapids - Class IV

Shortly downstream you will sneak up on another iconic rapid in Hells Canyon, Waterspout. This rapid is a bit more technical as it requires skillful maneuvers to dodge a boulder towards the end creating choppy water. Higher water levels tend to wash out this rapid, creating a much calmer experience through the rapid. Your guide will likely take your boat just to the right of all the action, allowing for fun waves, splashes, and views of huge waves to get your adrenaline pumping!


A tandem inflatable kayak rolling over waves


Sluice Creek Rapids - Class II/III

Sluice creek rapid is an all time guest favorite. It’s known for fun roller coaster waves that rafts cruise right over. This rapid is named after the Sluice Creek Airstrip just downstream that provides excellent widespread dispersed camping. The airstrip is on the Oregon side of the Snake River and is still used by small planes periodically. 

Rush Creek Rapids - Class III/IV

You’ll know you’re coming up on Rush Creek Rapids as a large boulder in the middle of the river indicates the beginning of the rapid. At higher water levels the boulder creates a big drop in the water that guides tend to steer boats around the right of. At low water this rapid becomes more technical due to navigating various sneaky rocks throughout the rapid. 


Downstream angle of an oarsmen in a red raft rowing through a rapid on the Snake River


Imnaha Rapids - Class III

Imnaha rapids is the last significant rapid on the Hells Canyon stretch of the Snake River and provides an excellent close out to the incredible whitewater on this river. This is a fun rapid with rocks creating good hits and splashy waves. At higher water levels Imnaha can easily be washed out.


The rapids of the Snake River through Hells Canyon offer a thrilling array of challenges for whitewater enthusiasts, from the moderate splashes of Class III rapids to the heart-pounding thrills of Class IV waves. By familiarizing yourself with the specific characteristics of each rapid in preparation for your trip, you'll embark on an unforgettable adventure through one of America's most spectacular river canyons, forging lifelong memories amidst the wild beauty of Hells Canyon.

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