New Hampshire is a haven for paddling enthusiasts, offering a myriad of extraordinary destinations, from gentle floats to adrenaline-pumping challenges suitable for every skill level. From the expansive Winnipesaukee River to the charming smaller brooks, the state's waterways promise a diverse range of paddling experiences. Let's paddle into the local favorites that make New Hampshire a paddler's paradise.
Upper Winni, Tilton: The Upper Winni stands out as an ideal playground for beginners. Its gentle introduction includes mild whitewater sections followed by stretches of calm water, providing newcomers with a comfortable space to make mistakes and take risks. This section serves as a crucial training ground for fundamental skills such as reading the water, scouting, catching eddies, peeling out, and mastering boat control. Moreover, it offers an excellent opportunity to learn the essential art of rolling in current, a must for anyone venturing into whitewater paddling. This section starts out at the boat ramp on Shaker Road in Tilton and ends at the takeout off Gibson Mill Road in Tilton.
Ayers Dam, Bristol:
Venturing into the First Pemigewasset (The Pemi) section we will be discussing is the "Ayers Dam" section in Bristol, which welcomes paddlers with a Class II-III experience. This section is particularly favorable for beginners, featuring a natural wave that allows them to build confidence, learn new tricks, and hone skills like sliding down rocks and surfing. It's worth noting that the wave appears only between specific water levels (300-1,100 CFS), adding an element of timing to the paddling adventure. Directions to run the Ayers Dam section – The put in is located behind the transfer station off Ayers Island Road just past the solar field, there is a dirt road that you can park right after the dam. The parking for the takeout is a dirt parking lot right off Coolidge Woods Road.
Smith River, Bristol: For those seeking a Class III adventure with continuous whitewater and stunning scenery, the Smith River in Bristol delivers. Running parallel to the road, this section facilitates multiple runs, making it an excellent choice for both learning and savoring the natural beauty surrounding the paddler. The best way to access the Smith River is up Smith River Road on the left-hand side and the takeout is on Cass Mill Road. This section is the best in winter or early spring when the water is up higher. Be cautious as there may be wood and ice buildup in various rapids such as Ray’s Rapid.
A classic among novice paddlers, the Lower Winni promises a consistent whitewater experience throughout the year. Boasting 13 major rapids in a mile and a quarter section that drops 98’ per mile. The Lower Winni run ends in New England’s first whitewater park, offering paddlers not only thrilling challenges but also a historical journey with all of Franklins rich mill history. The Put in for this run is at Crossing mill Road end ends at Trestle View Park.
East Branch of The Pemi, Lincoln Woods: Embarking on the East Branch, paddlers are treated to a classic river run featuring 10 miles of continuous Class 4 boulder gardens. The best time to run this section is during April and early May when the snow is melting. At higher flows, it transforms into a bigger water run, unleashing continuous wave trains and massive boofs. For a New England run this river is on the wider side sitting around 85’ in width. Its popularity among paddlers is evident as it traverses from Lincoln woods to Woodstock fire department.
Upper Pemi, Echo Lake: Reserved for the most experienced paddlers, the Upper Pemi section from Echo Lake to Woodstock is a true New England Classic. Characterized by dramatic steep drops and breathtaking scenery, this section beckons skilled paddlers, with locals recommending tackling it during the spring or after heavy rainstorms for the ultimate adrenaline rush. This section has steep drops, narrow slides, sieves, and steep boulder gardens making this a packed 3.7-mile run. The put in is located on the north side of the basin parking lot from I93 South in the Franconia Notch state park. The takeout is located behind the Indian Head hotel on the left-hand side.
When it rains it flows!
Walker Brook, Danbury: Walker Brook is a class IV Brook that is only 1.7 miles long, that is an extremely technical and steep creek with no flatwater. Navigating Walker Brook demands precision, as this narrow and steep creek reveals significant drops after a bout of heavy rain. Paddlers must exercise caution due to potential wood accumulation and conduct thorough scouting before attempting the approximately 1.7-mile run, which descends a notable 300 feet. The put in for Walker Brook is located off Walker Brook Rd (if you hit Stewart rd. coming from Danbury you’ve gone too far) and the takeout is located off Frazier rd. on river right.
Fowler River, Alexandria: Originating from the summit of Mt Cardigan and meandering down to Newfound Lake, the Fowler River offers a remote creek adventure with miles of boulder garden-style drops. The journey includes a strenuous portage around Welton falls, adding an element of challenge to this picturesque route.
Baker, Wentworth: The upper Baker provides a steep run originating from Mt Moosilauke and stretching miles down to the town of Wentworth. Characterized by its continuous nature, featuring slides, boulder gardens, and ledge drops, it stands out as a popular creek in New Hampshire. Paddlers enjoy flexibility in choosing their put-in points along the river, with the take-out options along any point on 25A, depending on their desired paddling distance.
Pond Brook, Wentworth: Ideal for novice creek boaters, Pond Brook begins at a marshy area alongside 25A across from Cape Moonshine Road. The rapids here are fairly straightforward, featuring pool-style drops, slides, boulder gardens, and culminating in a 5-foot-tall clean waterfall, aptly named "backyard boof," just 300 yards from the takeout. However, paddlers must exercise caution, as the run tends to collect wood, requiring a comprehensive scout before embarking on the adventure.