The Upper Connecticut River Valley is a very special place, especially from a whitewater perspective. The Connecticut River flows over the softest bedrock in the region, cutting deep into the land. The high volume of the River means that it has more power to cut through this underlying bedrock than its smaller tributaries do. These smaller streams, unable to cut as deeply and as quickly, are left at higher elevations for much of their length but then must drop steeply down to the Connecticut near their respective confluences with it. This makes for wonderfully ledgy streams entering the Connecticut. An added bonus is that these streams are made utterly accessible by the highways built along the Valley including I-91, Route 5, Route 10, Route 12 and others. Several streams along this corridor are described below, but many more exist with excellent whitewater potential. Explore and Enjoy.
Lower Wells River
1 mile of class 4-4+
The lower Wells runs more often than any other creek run in the northeast (except maybe the Mettawee). It usually runs all spring, most of the fall, and sporadically in the summer. This would be more than enough to recommend it, but great ledge drops, all with multiple lines, good recovery pools, and easy portages make this run a superlative introduction to creeking for intermediates as well as a wonderful playground for experts. A cautious party, scouting and portaging, can take up to four hours making their way down this run but an experienced, familiar group can blitz the one-mile run in as little as ten minutes.
Put into the backwater above an old snowmobile bridge. The six-foot drop below the bridge, Your Mom, is easy, especially on the left. A section of flatwater and riffles (or good play at high water) follows to The Sweetness. This short, but complex tiered drop allows several lines of varying difficulty. Try catching the G-spot eddy in the middle. Another big pool lies at the bottom. The river turns right and then left through some riffles bringing you to the Gatekeeper rocks and hole. There is good eddy line play here at all levels and an excellent right-throwing hole at high levels. The gatekeepers guard the entrance to the Labyrinth, a series of three-foot ledges with interesting routes at all levels, ending with a rather meaty hole at the base. A short calm spot leads to Café Yo Boof, a ledge with an excellent four-foot boof that’s difficult to see from upstream. Try a righty freewheel if you’re extra sneaky.
A bit more class 2 leads to the backwater behind The El Salto Falls, a tricky class 5 waterfall. Scout the waterfall and run it either left or right. The left side is smoother but far riskier and very fun; make sure you land out past the rock outcrop on the left or suffer the consequences of a hard hit. Below here the river flows through a bit of a gorge to Elevator which is named for a fun ferry move across and up the ledge. After this is the beginning of Tantra. This class 4+ rapid begins as a somewhat chaucy class 3 boulder garden, drops through a hole into a short pool, and then tears over a final slide and into the O-face hole. Scout the slide on the right. The left side is a bit tricky but is not too hard if you stick close to the rock that splits the current. The right side is simple but has a pinning rock halfway down that is an issue if you aren’t careful at lower levels. That’s all for the drops, now you need only paddle across the flatwater behind the dam, Smoke if You’ve Got ’Em, to the takeout.
The Wells has been run as low as 50 cfs, but for a well lubricated run look for levels above 200 cfs. Above about 600 cfs the Wells starts to develop some push and big holes. High water runs are really fantastic with great play and big holes.
8 miles of class 1-4
This is the closest whitewater run to Dartmouth. Most paddlers only tackle the lowest mile of stream, but in very high water it can be run as high up as Upper Minkey Falls, a class 5 ledge located at a sharp turn on Ruddsboro Road east of Etna. At this point the stream is very small and consists primarily of small boulders and ledges making for tight, but not difficult, maneuvering. A mile or so of this type of boating lead to the town of Etna, which can also be used as a put-in. Several fun class 3 ledges dot the stream as it passes under small bridges and through old mill races in Etna. The stream is pretty, being gently constrained by the valley walls. Here it parallels Etna Road for a while until it crosses under the road near its intersection with Greensboro Road and enters a wide meandering section. This section is about two miles long and is very prone to strainers. The stream more or less parallels Greensboro Road from a distance here. Eventually, more bouldery rapids and ledges begin to develop as Mink Brook approaches Route 120.
Many parties choose to forego the longer and flatter upper reaches for the continuous class 3-4 rapids of this section. Directly downstream of the Route 120 culvert the stream races over some fun ledges. These can be a good gage for the water levels on the rest of the run, especially downstream.
Below here are several fun and tight rapids with some ledges. This lower section is also rather prone to strainers so beware. Takeout at the Route 10 bridge, or paddle all the way out to the Connecticut and upstream to the Ledyard Canoe Club if you like.
From the Route 120 culvert to the Route 10 bridge is about one mile, while from Upper Minkey Falls to Ledyard is close to eight miles. Mink Brook is a rather flashy stream and runs for one to two weeks worth of days a year, almost exclusively in the spring. Where you put in will probably be determined by how runnable each section looks as you drive along.
park and huck of class 4-5
Known better to boaters and swimming-hole aficionados alike as The Ledges, this series of drops on Bloods Brook just south of West Lebanon are the closest venue to Dartmouth for big-vertical park and drop. Dropping about eighty feet in less than a quarter of a mile, this steep set of ledges offer something for both beginning and advanced creek boaters.
Headed from West Lebanon, drive south on Route 12a and turn left (east) onto Trues Brook Road. Put in on the upstream side of the first bridge you cross (you may want to scout first on the downstream side). Try not to park on or trespass across obviously private land.
The first ledge (class 4) has a very shallow landing, but can often be boofed to satisfaction. A fast pool leads to the second ledge, a clean twelve-foot drop on the right. This second ledge offers up the best free vertical and gets the most repeat runs. Proceed downstream through a narrow spot to a ten-foot ledge with three chutes. The center often has logs pinned in it. The left is usually the easiest and least consequential, while the right requires a gutsy mid-air pivot to avoid a face-plant on a huge boulder. A couple small ledges lead to the toughest drop. This is a twisting, multi-tiered class 5 rapid, squeezing through a cleft at the end which tends to collect debris. Most boaters portage back up to their car and forego this drop due to its technical difficulty and the preclusion of returning straight to your car if you run it. Those who run this drop usually make the short paddle out to Route 12a, allowing you to run another five-foot ledge on the way.
Bloods Brook is runnable for much of the spring and tends to be clear of ice earlier than many other area runs.
White River, West Hartford Section
3 miles of class 1-2
The White River is the longest unregulated tributary of the Connecticut. It flows through a beautiful pastoral valley in the heart of Vermont and enters the Connecticut at, surprise, White River Junction. Along most of its length the White offers class 1 and 2 paddling for a few months in the spring. The section near West Hartford, however, is runnable at a wider range of levels and has more agreeable whitewater. While this is still a beginner run, this section of the White is composed of many ledges which provide an interesting challenge to beginners at lower levels and incredibly epic surfing to more competent paddlers. Route 14 closely parallels this entire section of river, allowing access at multiple points. The normal takeout is at the bridge in West Hartford, which is also the location of the best low-water playspot on the river. The Bridge-hole is fun as low as 400 cfs, is a short boat and washes out above about 1,200 cfs. Between these levels this diagonal hole is good for well placed cartwheels, spins and is great for learning how to sidesurf.
To reach the normal put in, drive 3 miles past West Hartford along Route 14 to a dirt roadside pullout with a trail down to the river. Class one rapids dot the first mile or so to the first harder rapid Quarter-mile. This class 2 rapid is easy down the middle. At high water a huge hole forms on river right. A couple more class 1 rapids lead to a section of river with a cliff on the left, immediately below the road. The next rapid is S-turn for its configuration at low water. Look for a decent wave-hole at most levels. Below S-turn is the widest and shallowest section of the run, but if you know where to go it can be navigated without walking as low as 200 cfs on the USGS online gage. The river splits around an island with more of the water going left. A class 2 ledge here leads to a long flatwater section above the rapid at the takeout bridge.
If the White River is between 1500 cfs and about 10,000 cfs, the best playspot is not on the regular run but about a mile upstream at an old broken dam. To get here continue upstream from the regular put-in about 1.5 miles. After you cross under the railroad tracks there will be a dirt pullout on the left at the base of a hill. Park here and walk upstream a couple hundred yards on a trail by the river. Put in and play! The river right side is better at lower levels (1,500 to 5,000 cfs) with a decent wave or retentive hole. Above 5,000 cfs a very good playhole starts to come in on river left. This spot is ideal at about 8,000 cfs and begins to flatten out at 9,000 cfs. Due to the fact that these spots are formed by a broken dam, there are some bits of debris on the river bed. It is rare that anyone has a close encounter, but be wary. More often boaters are seen fighting to roll in the tricky currents caused by the debris when washing out of the playspot. The eddies are pretty good on either side of the spot, but they can get powerfully-swirly at higher levels, especially on the right. If you paddle the White, try not to gulp too much water. The water may look super-clean but it’s really just diluted cow poop.
Mascoma River, Racecourse Run
3 miles of class 2-3+
The easier of the two sections begins at the outlet of Mascoma Lake and is rated class 2-3. This part of the river has been home to slalom races for decades, and is the site of a yearly race run by Ledyard. The river starts out with easy riffles and class 2 rapids for about a mile. The river splits around a small island just before a sharp right turn and then enters the current racecourse. Here the river bends back and forth and flows under two old railroad bridges amid class 2-3 rapids, some with good eddy lines. Another half mile or so of easy water interspersed with class 2-3 rapids leads to another split in the river. Here most of the current flows right through an area that tends to collect strainers. Be careful. Proceed downstream another mile or so through more similar rapids. When a covered bridge comes into sight, eddy out. Less experienced parties may choose to take out here as the final half mile is more difficult class 3. Some paddlers, conversely, will choose only to run this lower section because of the better action. Amid class three rapids paddlers will pass under the covered bridge, then a low railroad bridge. The next railroad bridge (at a right turn) marks the beginning of excelsior rapid, the hardest rapid on the run and site of the old racecourse. At the bottom of excelsior is a good playhole. This spot is good between 250 and 550 cfs, though at the lower end short boats will have more fun and at the upper end longer boats will.
The takeout is just ahead on the left beyond the next railroad bridge. Be careful approaching the takeout as a very regularly shaped low-head dam is immediately downstream. The put-in is at the boat launch at the outlet of Mascoma Lake on Route 4A. The take out is on Bank Street Extension just east of Liberty Lane. Park on the street at the warehouses there. The actual river takeout is at the bike path bridge behind the warehouses. There have been access issues parking here in the past, so don’t press the issue. If necessary, park at the covered bridge on river right and run back to your car.
A low end for most runs is 250 cfs on the online USGS gage (Mascoma River at Mascoma). Bankside trees start to be a real hazard at about 2,000 cfs. Due to the moderating effect of Mascoma Lake, the river does not come up easily. Once it comes up, however, it stays there for a long time, sometimes for weeks. It is one of the least flashy rivers in the region, usually runnning for many weeks in the spring, and again in the fall when the drawdown of the lake starts. Check the website for information about the fall drawdown.
Ottauquechee River, Quechee Gorge
1 mile of class 3-5
Before the lower Ottauquechee became littered with dams it was perhaps the best creek run in the Upper Valley, with big drops stretching over several miles. Now all that remains for most paddlers is Quechee Gorge, which is nevertheless a very enjoyable short run with both good playing and creeking characteristics. The whole run is about one mile long, and can be seen almost in its entirety from the Route 4 bridge.
The Gorge has a very long season, usually runnable almost every day from November to June (though ice can be a problem in cold winters) and after heavy rains in the summer and early fall. It has been run as low as 100 cfs, but most paddlers will want to look for 200 cfs and up on the online USGS stream gage. The gage is a few miles downstream of the Gorge (and downstream of another dam) and gives a decent picture of about how much water is coming down the river, but not a precise reading.
In many ways the Gorge has a split personality. It can have a very intimate, creeky class 3 feel at low water, and a powerful, voluminous feel at high water. It has many agreeable play features at various levels, but also has a very intimidating class 5 drop, Well Enough. This drop is located just downstream of the Route 4 bridge. Before you put on be sure to look from the bridge to determine where on river right to eddy out and scout. This drop can be snuck on the far right in high water, but at normal levels there is no sneak. The river funnels to the left and through a couple of holes while dropping about 15 vertical feet. There is significant pinning potential here, as most of the water goes through a sieve, and many paddlers choose to leave Well Enough alone.
The best low water playspot on the run is a right-throwing hole, Leaf-Peeper, just upstream of the Route 4 bridge. It is best at about 380 cfs, and has a rather narrow window. There is also a play wave downstream of Well Enough that has poor eddy access but is fun for spud boats as low as 300 cfs and gets better for longer boats up to about 1,500 cfs. At high water there are many good one-shot play features. Due to the fact that a dam controls the flow in the gorge, levels can fluctuate significantly while you are there. Expect it. As this is one of the few sections of river that is semi-reliably ice-free in the winter please paddle with caution under these conditions. Check from the bridge to make sure that the takeout is not iced in. Do not paddle the gorge when there is still ice on the upper pond and the river is rising rapidly; the ice cover on the pond could slough off and chase you down the gorge. The sheer gorge walls make escape from the run impossible except at either end. Be especially careful at the put in when conditions are slick. To access the gorge, park on the west side of the Route 4 bridge and take the trail north to the dam at the put in. Carry down the ledge there to the water. The take out is where the river begins to bend left at the end of the gorge. Take out on the left and hike back up to the road. There have at times been confrontations with the operators of the dam at the put in regarding access there. Please keep a low profile and be very respectful. Legal boating in the gorge could easily be discontinued.
Hartlands (Connecticut River at Hartland, Vermont)
park and play of class 2-3
Known to non-boaters as Sumner’s Falls and to most boaters as Hartlands, this spot provides a variety of play opportunities at almost all levels. The Hartlands’ waves and holes form on a series of ledges that span the Connecticut River at one of its few gradient drops that remains un-harnessed for hydro-power. The combination of a huge upstream catch basin and daily dam releases has caused the “Hartlands Wave” to become a mainstay of summertime boating in northern New England. Flow at Hartlands fluctuates significantly both seasonally and daily due to the influx of water from the White River, the Mascoma River, the Ottaqueechee River, and Wilder Dam on the Connecticut. The gage nearest Hartlands (USGS gage: Connecticut River at West Lebanon, New Hampshire) is about eight miles upstream. It is downstream of Wilder Dam and the White River, and upstream of the Mascoma and Ottauquechee Rivers. Water level conditions recorded at the gage take about three hours to reach Hartlands. The scheduled Wilder release times and amounts on any given day are available via their flow-phone, (888) 356-3663, and waterline website, but the recorded release information can be unreliable. These releases from Wilder take about four hours to get to Hartlands. Use the Wilder phone recording or waterline website to determine if there will be a release and approximately when, and then use the USGS gages to check as the time for your planned play session draws near. In the summer the Wilder Dam releases usually will follow the same patterns of time and volume for several days on end, so it’s possible to plan in advance.
To paddle Hartlands, put in at the top, paddle downstream and play, then when you’re done, paddle back up the huge eddy on river right, and you’re back at the Vermont put-in. To get back to the New Hampshire put-in, ferry across the top of the rapid. At very low levels (less than 1,000 cfs) Hartlands has little in the way of surf-friendly playspots. However, eddy-lines abound, and there are a few pourovers for a bit of cartwheel practice. One in particular is located at the very bottom of the rapid in the far river left channel. It throws right. From 1,000 cfs to about 3,000 cfs the “Hartlands Wave” is beginning to come in, but it is more of a hole. It is located along the main drag, just left of the island. Spins and low angle ends are possible. The eddy at this spot is very large and friendly at this level. As the level rises this spot becomes more of a wave and is best from about 3,500 cfs to 6,000 cfs. The wave is wide enough for two boaters, with surfers right good for front surfing and an occasional spin or blunt, and surfers left better for ends and blunts if you have a light touch. The wave is accessible from eddies on both sides. As the level rises (7,000 to 9,000 cfs) the wave begins to flatten and the eddy begins to wash. It gets much more tiring waiting for the wave and the surfing less rewarding, but easier for beginners to catch and stay on the wave.
Other spots, however, begin to pop up above 6,000 cfs. Rinse-and-Spin is a big, fast, dynamic, hole that is on the river right half of Hartlands, about halfway between the island and the takeout beach. Above 13,000 cfs the Upper Left Wave begins to be surfable, but washes out by 20,000 cfs. Also at 13,000 cfs the Lower Left Wave starts to come in. This is a glassy diagonal wave. At very high levels (above 20,000 cfs) Hartlands is huge, but really good play is hit or miss. There is usually something worthwhile to surf, especially if you are patient and flexible. There are some great one-shot waves and holes, but beware floating debris.
To get to Hartlands drive south on Route 5 for 6.6 miles from the I-91 White River Junction exit. A dirt road on the left leads to the parking area and beach. If you drive over I-91 you’ve gone a bit too far. This access works from May to October as the gate is open. However, in the colder months the gate is locked and paddlers must either park at the gate and walk quarter mile to the river or access Hartlands from Plainfields. For the Plainfields access drive south from West Lebanon on Route 12a. After a couple miles turn right onto River Road. After a few more miles, when Hartlands is just visible on the right, park at a dirt pullout and paddle.
Lower Ashuelot River
3.5 miles of class 3
The lower Ashuelot is runnable at a wide range of levels. At high water it is one of the best big water runs around, and at low water it provides a good technical challenge. Good class 3 rapids alternate with old dams, most of which are runnable (scout them all your first time down, however). It is also home to great playspot known affectionately as the Ash-hole. Just be careful about who you tell that you’re “going to get some play in the Ash-hole”, as some may get the wrong idea.
To reach the river, take Route 119 east of Brattleboro across the Connecticut and south to Hinsdale, New Hampshire. To reach the takeout turn right onto Depot Street in Hinsdale. The takeout is at the bridge. To reach the put in get back onto Route 119 and head east from Hinsdale to the next town upstream, Ashuelot. Put in at the covered bridge over the Ashuelot in Ashuelot. The river builds gradually from easier to more difficult rapids. The Ash-hole is located at the first broken dam, right near the beginning of the run.
To run the Ashuelot look for levels on the USGS online gage for the Ashuelot at Hinsdale to be above 500 cfs. This minimum level is pretty bony. Above 1000 cfs the river gets more watery and less rocky. The Ashuelot is runnable for much of the spring and after good rains in other months. The playspot is works at the whole range. Be wary of relict industrial debris on this entire run, especially at the dams.
2 miles of class 3-4
When this flashy sucker is running it is a real treat. It is the most ledgy of the medium sized West River tributaries and as such has fantastic play at the right levels. Put in at the covered bridge on Williamsville Road. Below you will find two miles of delightful class 3-4 paddling peppered with several excellent rodeo holes. Be wary of strainers on this small stream. The normal takeout is at the Route 30 bridge.
There is no really reliable way to know if the Rock is running, but a good guess can be made based on the levels of the Saxtons (Vermont), Green (Massachusetts), North (Massachusetts), and Wallomsac (Vermont) Rivers. Look for minimum rising levels of 300 cfs, 200 cfs, 400 cfs, and 400 cfs and respectively on these USGS gages.
To get to the put-in take Route 30 northwest of Brattleboro. About two miles past West Dummerston turn left onto Williamsville Road. Follow this road about three miles up the Rock to the covered bridge put in. When this little gem is running it’s a very good bet that you can continue your run the extra two miles down to the Dummerston Ledges section on the West River for some great big-wave surfing.
Lower West River, Dummerston Ledges
park and play of class 1-2
Historically overshadowed by the popular Jamaica section upstream, the Dummerston Ledges have lived in quiet anonymity until recently. With the explosion of rodeo kayaking, however, this great spot has gained the reputation it deserves: as the best playboating on the West River.
Ideal levels for the Dummerston Ledges are above 1,800 cfs, but they can be played as low as 500 cfs. Above 1,800 fantastic waves form, allowing all kinds of rodeo wave moves. The water level at the Ledges is controlled by the dam upstream in Townshend, and the Ball Mountain Dam further upstream in Jamaica. A release from Townshend Dam (such as on a release weekend) typically takes about eight hours to reach the Ledges. Annual releases in May and September bring the ledges into a good playable range, but usually they require significant snowmelt or rain for ideal levels.
To reach the Ledges take Route 30 northwest of Brattleboro and follow it to West Dummerston. The best section of river is just upstream and downstream of the West River covered bridge just north of West Dummerston.
Other Connecticut Corridor Options
- Jacob’s Brook (6 miles of class 3-5 in Orford, NH) boulders, big ledges, high water
- Grant’s Brook (3 miles of class 3-5 in Lyme, NH)
- Oliverian Brook (park and huck of class 4-5 in Haverhill, NH) pretty wide runnable range
- Hewes Brook (1.5 miles of class 3-5 in Lyme, NH) flashy high water
- Williams River, Brockaway Mills Run (2 miles of class 3-4) 400 cfs minimum, flashy
- Lower Saxtons River (2 miles of class 3-5) 100 cfs minimum, a few big drops and a wide runnable range
- East Putney Brook ( miles of class 5 north of Putney, VT) big drops, medium-high water
- Chase Brook ( miles of class 4 north of Putney, VT) natural waterpark, high-water
- Joes Brook (10 miles of class 2-4 in East Barnet, VT) medium-high water, boulders and ledges
- Waits River (10 miles of class 2-3 west of Bradford, VT) medium-high water, cobbly
- Connecticut River at Bellows Falls (park and play in class 3) big wave at spring levels
- First Branch White River (class 3) high water ledge run
- Connecticut River, Ryegate to Wells River (4 miles of class 1) distinct powerful eddies
- Nulhegan River Gorge (2 miles of class 3-5 in North Stratford, VT)
- Wild Ammonusuc River (4 miles of class 2-4 along Route 112) flashy, bouldery.