New Haven River
1 mile of class 4
The New Haven flows out of Bristol Gap and down to the Otter Creek plain. On the way it drops through a rugged valley over a mile’s worth of ledges and boulders. This section provides fun and technical class four water at low or medium levels or a wild, thumping class five torrent at high water.
From Bristol, Vermont drive east on Route 17/116 and then turn right onto Lincoln Road. Put in from a dirt pullout at a calm section of river just above the major rapids, approximately one mile upstream of the Route 17/116 bridge.
Boulder gardens and small ledges provide a warm-up to a section of short consecutive slides. Run these on the left at low water and the right when high. A boulder garden ensues, ending at a pool which marks the top of a fifteen-foot waterfall known as Toaster. The remains of an old crib dam also signal the scout for this drop. Be wary of the flat shelf of rock extending from river left in the landing pool. It has been the cause of at least one unfortunate and serious back injury. Otherwise this waterfall is one of the easiest in the east. A long pool leads to a couple more boulder gardens and ledges including a couple of sticky holes on river right (one dubbed Playpen). Take out just below the Route 116 bridge on the left. While changing, try not to show your butt to the faithful denizens of the church there.
The whole run is roadside along Lincoln Road east of the town of Bristol. It is worth the trip if the USGS gage looks like it will stay above 250 cfs. It runs most days in the spring and comes up with decent rain in other months. The section of river just downstream is an easier, but equally agreeable alternative run, especially if the upper section is too high.
Lower Mad River
1.5 miles of class 2-4
The Mad River is an old favorite for many Vermont paddlers. This section is mostly easy class 2 through a couple of small gorges and farmlands with some small-scale but enjoyable eddyline play. It is runnable at a wide range of levels, even as bony as 250 cfs on the USGS gage. In the middle of the run is a five-foot ledge, known as Horseshoe for its configuration on river right. Take a look at the drop at all levels and portage if you’re not excited by what you see. At high water it is definitely a monstrosity. At low water it’s a fun creeky drop without much pinning potential. In fact it’s possible to sub out for several seconds if you run if right (or wrong, depending on what you’re going for).
To reach the put in from I-89 take exit 9 and drive south from the exit on Center Road to Route 2. Turn left (east) onto Route 2 and then turn right (south) onto Route 100b. Cross the Winooski and drive for a couple miles. Then turn left onto Moretown Common Road. Put in below the hydro dam off of this road. Go back out onto 100B heading towards I-89. After about one mile turn left and cross over the Mad. Turn right onto Lovers Lane and park by the river.
Otter Creek, Middlebury Falls
park and huck/play of class 4
At the end of a popular thirty-mile flatwater paddle on Otter Creek is the center of Middlebury and Middlebury Falls. Middlebury Falls is a fantastic playground for intermediate and advanced whitewater paddlers.
Located just downstream (north) of the Route 125/30 bridge in the center of town, it is a high profile, easy access destination. To find parking, cross to the west (river left) side of the bridge and turn right (north) onto Mill Street. There is public parking along the river here. This is your takeout.
To put in and run the Falls walk back up Mill street and continue across the main road onto Bakery Lane, making sure to scout the 18-foot falls on the way of course. Put in from an alley off of here. A crowd will usually gather to view your efforts from the bridge. Proceed downstream, under the bridge and boof!
The river right side of the Falls is usually safer, although in some places and at some levels the landing is still only three or four feet deep so boof well! The lip is great for freewheels if you are practiced in the art. If you’re not practiced, get your experience somewhere else first.
The Falls are runnable as low as 150 cfs on the USGS stream gage for Otter Creek at Middlebury. Directly downstream of the Falls is a small ledge that makes an excellent left throwing cartwheel hole at medium levels. Very short boats will be able to play here as low as maybe 400 cfs, but longer boats will need more clearance and a higher flow.
It is possible to put in just to play this spot without running the Falls. When the river really starts cranking, the Falls and ledge hole start to get a bit scary, and most paddlers will want to pass on this endeavor. But fear not! Above three feet on the gage (1,200 cfs), a good wave forms just downstream by the footbridge. This wave has good eddy access, allows spins and blunts, and is right by the parking area.
Otter Creek, Gorge Run
2 miles of class 2-3
This is a good beginner or intermediate paddle that does not require all that much water to run (probably a minimum of 400 cfs on the Otter Creek at the Middlebury USGS gage). This section of Otter Creek is flanked by the Dog Team Hydro Dam at the upstream end and the Huntington Falls Dam at the downstream end. The run starts out in a nice gorge with a couple of class 2 rapids and a class 3 drop near the downstream end of the gorge. Soon after this the New Haven River enters on river right. The rest of the run to the takeout bridge consists of easy class 2 rapids and quickwater.
To reach the put in drive north out of Middlebury on Route 7. About 1.5 miles north of Happy Valley Road (which is on the right) turn left onto an unmarked dirt road which leads to the Dog Team Hydro Dam parking lot. Carry down the stairs to the river to put in. To reach the takeout head back out to Route 7 and continue north. After about 2.6 miles turn left onto Campground Road. At the end of Campground Road turn left onto Pearson Road. There is a dirt pullout on the left just before you cross over the river. Park here for the takeout.
There is plenty of water for this run all spring, and often times for some of the summer and fall. All the farmland upstream makes for questionable water quality, but the pastoral setting makes up for this.
West River, Ball Mountain Dam Run
2.5 miles of class 3
Most paddlers only ever experience the West during one of two recreational release weekends (at the end of April and the end of September) scheduled by the Army Corps of Engineers. These weekends are fraught with urban weekend warriors (read: absolute zoo) and are a far cry from a quiet day on the river. If you have the chance, paddle the West on a non-release weekend. If you are desperate for whitewater, however, have no other options, and enjoy bumper boats, paddle it on a release weekend.
All that aside, the West is a beautiful river nestled in a stunning Green Mountain's valley. The rapids are class 3 for the most part and are reminiscent of the Deerfield dryway, but a bit easier and more wide-open. The hardest rapid, named The Dumplings, is near the end of the run and may warrant a scout if the rest of the river had you scared, but it is only a class 3+. There is some decent downriver play on this section of the river, but nothing stunning.
Paddlers run the West as low as 500 cfs (USGS gage West River at Jamaica) and as high as it goes, but most scheduled releases (medium water) are around 1,500 cfs.
To reach the takeout at Jamaica State Park head west on Route 30. About three miles after the junction with Route 100, you’ll come into Jamaica. Turn right onto Depot Street, cross Ball Mountain Brook and then start looking for parking. The State Park is just after the bridge over the West and the takeout is at the bridge. To get to the put in, head back out onto Route 30 and continue west. Less than two miles later turn right onto Ball Mountain Lane. This road will lead you to the frighteningly enormous Ball Mountain Dam. Park, change, and hike about a half mile of switchbacks down the face of the dam to the river.
See the American Whitewater website for release dates. Note that an easier class 1-2 section, which is good for novices, begins at the takeout for the Ball Mountain Section and ends at the Townshend Dam, five miles downstream.
Other Green Mountain Options
- Little River (2 miles of class 2-3) 200 cfs minimum, dam releases in low water seasons
- North Branch Winooski (2.5 miles of class 4) 600 cfs minimum, high water
- Ridley Brook (2 miles of class 4-5 east of Camel's Hump) flashy, high water
- North Branch Lamoille (3 miles of class 3-4) medium to high water
- Upper Huntington (6 miles of class 2-3) requires a bit more water than the lower section
- Lower Huntington (1.5 miles of class 3-5) runnable at same levels as New Haven River
- Gihon River (1 mile of class 3-4+ in Johnson) medium-high water
- Winooski River, Hugo Wave (park and play of class 3 below Middlesex Dam) 2,000 cfs minimum
- West Branch Waterbury River, Bingham Falls (park and huck of class 4) lower falls always runnable
- Hancock Brook, Teacups (park and huck in class 4-5 near Worcester) medium-high water
- Joiner Brook, The Potholes (park and huck in class 4-5 in Bolton) runs all spring
- Lamoille River, Johnson Section (park and huck in class 4-5) 300 cfs minimum
- Big Branch of Otter Creek (2.5 miles of class 5) 300 cfs minimum on Walloomsac gage
- East Branch Middlebury River, Gorge Run (3 miles of class 5+) crux is not portageable
- West Branch of the Deerfield River (3 miles of class 4-5) 300 cfs minimum on Walloomsuc gage
- Roaring Branch of Batten Kill (4 miles of class 4-4+)
- Mendon Brook (2+ miles of class 4) bouldery, flashy, a few eddies
- Mettawee River (3 miles of flatwater and class 3-5) runnable above 3.6 feet at Granville, New York)
- Winhall River (4.5 miles of class 3 on West River tributary) early spring run
- Ball Mountain Brook (3.5 miles of class 3-4 on West River tributary) early spring run
- Wardsboro Brook (4.5 miles of class 3 on West River tributary) early spring run
- Upper West River, Londonderry Section (class 1-3).
For more information on this region see Bruce Lessels’ Classic Northeastern Whitewater Guide or the American Whitewater website. Also consult Greg Hanlon’s Steep Creeks of New England. For water level information see the USGS website.