3 miles of class 4
Draining the steep southern slopes of the great Mount Moosilauke, the Asquam is a delightful treat for creek boaters. At medium levels, the upper Asquam is perhaps the best class 4 creek run around. The reaches upstream and downstream of the normal whitewater run consist of an unconsolidated bouldery cobbly mess. BUT! About a quarter mile upstream of the Breezy Point Road bridge, at the confluence of two branches of the Asquam and one major tributary, the river cleans up beautifully to smoothly sculpted granitic ledges and continues in this vein until the take out three miles later. Put in wherever you can near this confluence or just upstream; try to be discrete as the adjacent land is privately owned.
Several fun class 4 ledges with brief pools mark the next quarter mile to Breezy Point Bridge. Takeout just upstream of the bridge to scout the drop underneath the bridge. It is undercut to the right and can be rather unforgiving, depending on the level. Groups desiring a less continuous start can park at the bridge and put in downstream. Continue downstream to find fun class 4 ledges interspersed with easy class 3 bouldery sections. Scout all drops you can’t see from above as logs do tend to collect in some of the tighter ones. In several places the valley walls close in, forming small but beautiful granite gorges with wonderful pool drop ledges. There are far too many to describe in detail, but none are very difficult, nor do they drop more than a few feet at a time.
The entire run is paralleled closely by the road, even though it is usually out of sight. The last rapid is just upstream of the Route 118 bridge. This run is very flashy due to its steep basin, but runs reliably with snowmelt and big rainstorms. The USGS gage on the lower Asquam is very far downstream and does not mirror the conditions in the upper basin very well. If the gage is holding above 1,200 cfs for a couple days, however, it’s likely that the upper Asquam is in. Likewise, if the gage shows a spike above 2,000 no matter how flashy, it should be running at least briefly. A good visual cue to the level is if the bouldery section just upstream of the last drop looks boatable. If it looks just barely so, hurry up so you don’t miss the water! If the cobbly sections have enough water, all the ledges will be fine as the bedrock funnels the water into the proper places. Likewise, even at very high levels almost all the drops remain rather safe.
The Upper Asquam is much flashier than the other nearby creeks of similar size, like Pond Brook and the South Branch of the Asquam. If you find that it has dropped by the time you arrived, head to one of those other two. If you are talking about the Asquam and no one knows what you are talking about, consider the fact that most people (and all maps and guides) know this river as the Baker. Asquamchumakee was the name used by the native peoples for the river before they were slaughtered by General Baker.
South Branch Asquamchumakee
2.5 miles of class 4-5
Entering the main Asquam near the town of West Rumney, the South Branch of the Asquamchumakee has the technical boulder gardens that the Upper Asquam and Pond Brook lack. It also has a number of fun ledges, including one seventeen-footer.
To reach the put in turn south onto Route 118 from Route 25 about five miles west of Rumney. Then turn right onto Hearse House Road. The first stream you come to is the put-in. To reach the take-out, continue on Hearse House Road and at its end turn right onto Blockford Woods Road. At the end of that turn right onto North Dorchester Road (just after the crossing over Rocky Brook, an alternate put in at higher levels). After less than a mile you’ll cross the South Branch Asquam again. After a little while turn left onto Rowentown Road. The takeout is at the bridge here.
From the Hearse House Road put in, the stream starts off rather flat, meandering through the forest with an occasional rapid or ledge. One rapid in particular deserves a scout, where an old mill works appears on river right. The runout of this rapid is very narrow and collects wood. Scout on the right. More rapids continue to the confluence with Rocky Brook. Immediately downstream of here is the largest rapid on the run. Stop and scout. At all but the lowest runnable levels this rapid deserves respect, as a technical approach with sticky holes leads to a seventeen-foot waterfall. If the rest of the run is very low, this won’t be so tough, but with normal flows it should be considered class 5.
The next mile and a half is composed primarily of fun boat-scoutable class 4 boulder gardens. Finally, the river drops through a rather narrow section carved into dark bedrock with a few big holes at the ledges there. This section fans out downstream into two wide five-foot ledges. These are the last big rapids. The takeout bridge is not far downstream.
The South Branch Asquam holds water rather well due to its swampy headwaters and comes up more easily than Pond Brook. It is usually good even when the online gage for the Lower Asquam (Baker) has dropped as low as 800 cfs.
2 miles of class 4-4+
A close cousin of the Upper Asquam, Pond Brook parallels the eastern end of Route 25A on its way to join the Asquam in Wentworth. While the Upper Asquam is made up primarily of smaller ledges, however, Pond Brook has slides. The upper parts of Pond Brook are rather flat, but the lower 1.5 miles drop quite steeply.
Put-in at an old bridge over the stream easily visible from a roadside pullout just east of a section of 25A that parallels a big meadow. A good gage for the run is a footbridge over the stream in this meadow. If the stream is at or above the footbridge, expect a good run. If, however, the stream is well below the footbridge, there is probably not enough water for a good run. Of course, confirm this at the put in and below.
The river below the put-in drops over a few small ledges which provide a good warm-up. A small bridge marks the beginning of an innocuously chaucy rapid. This part of the stream is only about a hundred yards long and is only class 3, but is very good at collecting strainers and pinning kayaks. Be very careful here. At the end of this section, the road appears again obviously on the left. There is a more challenging ledge drop below. Run hard left. Scout if you’re unsure. A short flat section follows and then the stream picks up steam as it narrows, turns away from the road and begins to drop in earnest. The first significant drop is a big hole (in a narrow spot with no sneak) that greets you as you begin to descend. The next big drop tends to cause pitons on the right so eddy hop on the left. Then the stream courses through some narrow class 3-4, slows to a moving pool at a right turn, and then drops over a bouldery ledgy number that goes best far right. Be sure to eddy out ASAP as the biggest drop is immediately downstream. Scout on the left. This twenty-foot, two-tiered, twisting slide is easier than it looks, but still class 4+. The river left wall at the bottom is not undercut, but the hole at the base can be grabby. The next half mile, split in the middle by a power line cut, contains some wonderfully continuous class 4 boating with great ledges, mini-slides, and holes. Scout as your comfort level determines. Below this, as the stream enters a brief meandering flat section prepare for the grand finale. A 10-foot slide, best run center or right, leads to three small, sticky ledges then a ten foot ledge with a slide at the run-out. Scout this class 4+ on the right after the first slide. This is the takeout, so make the most of these drops. Be respectful here as the land is all private. If you prefer a less intrusive takeout, paddle some class two out to the Asquam and take out at the baseball field there. To reach the take-out from the put-in, continue east on 25A to Wentworth. Turn right onto Route 25 and then take your first right to the private takeout, or continue a bit to the ball-field.
Pond Brook takes a significant melt or rain event to come up due to a flood control structure at its head. As such it is slower to come up than neighboring streams like the Upper Asquam and Halls Brook, but it also stays up longer. During a big melt, catch it after these others have already spiked. It runs for one or two weeks worth of days in the spring (usually in April), and sometimes after a big hurricane. If the USGS gage on the Asquam (Baker) is staying above 1,000 cfs for a few days, or if it spikes well over 2,000 cfs for a day or more, this run should be in.
Moosilauke Brook (a.k.a. Lower Lost River)
3 miles of class 3-5
Just downstream of the junction of Route 118 and Route 112, the Lost River and Jackman Brook join to form Moosilauke Brook. For the next two miles, Moosilauke Brook drops between impressive boulders and over some big ledges. The whole run is roadside along Route 112, allowing boaters to scout crux sections beforehand and to bail as necessary. Difficulty is on par with Pond Brook or the South Branch of the Asquam.
Put in at the Route 118 bridge over the Lost River. Steep, constricted sections alternate with calmer class 3 respites. Scout when the river drops out of sight as some constrictions collect logs. Be especially careful about a mile into the run at a big drop near a footbridge over the river. Part of the gorge below must be portaged. This section of river (behind Govonni's Italian restaurant, as seen from the road) has a runnable twelve-foot waterfall followed closely by a very scary feature known as Agassiz Basin, Indian Leap, or Toilet Bowl. Have an impeccable safety net in place if you choose to run the first waterfall, as flushing through the Toilet Bowl would probably result in the scariest or last experience of your life (though at low-water rumor has it that a crazed local jumped through the Bowl and lived).
Portage this and put-in below for more fun and complex class 4-5 ledges which after about another half mile peter out into class 3. A bridge over the run (at the parking spot for Ritchie Smith Cabin) marks a takeout. This is a good location for a visual check on the level. For more class 2 and 3 proceed another mile down to the Route 3 bridge near the confluence with the Pemigewasset.
Moosilauke Brook runs for a couple of weeks a year, primarily in the spring. It is less flashy than some of the neighboring runs (Upper Asquam, Cascade Brook, Glover Brook, Hancock Branch), and often stays up for a couple days after a significant melt or rain event. If the East Branch Pemi gage breaks 1500 cfs, chances are Moosilauke Brook is running.
East Branch of the Pemigewasett River
6 miles of class 3-4
This is the classic, bouldery White Mountain run. In low-water it's a technical labor of love, and in high-water, a rollercoaster of big waves and holes.
Put in at the foot-suspension bridge at the WMNF Ranger station just east of the Kancamangus Highway bridge. About 2.5 miles and countless class 3-4 rapids later you’ll arrive at the Loon Mountain bridge. Scout Loon Mountain rapids; they are the remains of a dam and can be a bit trashy at some levels. Below here the river continues in the class 3-4 vein to another old broken dam, signaled by a lot of stonework on river right. Approach this with caution as an enormous hole forms at high water that will beat you. Portage left. More class 3 rapids continue until the river approaches Lincoln and the rapids decrease to class 2-3 mostly.
To reach the takeout by road, drive south a short bit on Route 3 from North Woodstock and park at the playground behind the fire station on the left. Be sure you can recognize the takeout from the river.
The section of river above Loon Mountain requires 450 cfs or more on the East Branch USGS gage. Below Loon Mountain as little as 300 cfs is necessary. Above 1000 cfs feels like more of a medium level, and as you approach 4000 cfs the river starts to feel high. Floodstage runs are superlative as you can hear the boulders rumble along the river bottom as you paddle. The headwaters of the East Branch hold more excellent whitewater. Upstream of the normal East Branch put in are at least nine miles of continuous class 3-4 whitewater starting with a small bit of class 5 on the North Fork of the East Branch (just downstream of Thoreau Falls). Check a map for best access to this upper section. The East Branch just upstream of the put in is accessible by hiking on the wilderness trail. A flat three-mile hike easily adds three miles of class 3-4 whitewater onto the beginning of an East Branch run.
Upper Pemigewasett River
3 miles of class 5
This stream flows south out of Franconia Notch, draining a very steep basin. The lower section contains some of the most dramatic scenery of any river in the region, flowing through a deep and spectacular gorge. The 200 feet per mile gradient only begins to suggest what lies downstream. Big granite ledges, slides, and boulders will impress any paddler. Several boulder sieves plus difficult scouts and portages are the unruly progeny of the steep valley walls. Do not attempt this run unless you are comfortable running class 5.
Park at the Basin exit on I-93 in Franconia Notch. From here follow the signs to “The Basin” and put in just upstream for a good warm-up rush. Below here the river has a few more good warm up drops in the first mile of paddling, bringing you under the I-93 bridge. Below here the stream starts to drop in earnest. A bike path is close on river right just after I-93, and is the easiest way to access the trail network and scouting opportunities downstream at The Pool. If you choose to forego this chance, be on your toes through the next few drops and pull over when a covered bridge is in sight. This is the entrance to the big drops at The Pool. Scout here if you haven’t already — the terrain is difficult. After you run this section, soak up the scenery from The Pool before you dive back into the tough rapids that follow downstream. You are halfway through. More big boulder gardens and some ledges mark the next mile of paddling and they gradually diminish as you approach the takeout.
The takeout is at the parking lot behind the Indian Head Hotel on Route 3. Be sure you can recognize it from the river and be courteous, as this is private land.
This run is good for a few weeks of paddling usually in April, or after very heavy rains. Look for the East Branch Pemi gage to be holding above 1,500 cfs for a very low water run on the Upper Pemi. More water is desireable, however, as the boulder gardens clean up significantly.
Upper Swift River
4 miles of class 1-3
This is a great beginner run of gradually increasing difficulty that runs through absolutely beautiful country. Put in off of the Kancamangus at Bear Notch Road. Take out just upstream of Rocky Gorge. Be careful in your approach to the takeout to avoid being swept over the falls. This section runs when the lower section is running at a medium level: primarily during snowmelt in April, but also with very significant rain. Catching this run on a warm, blue-sky day is truly awesome.
Lower Swift River
7 miles of class 3-5
Paddle this river! You will not regret it. For seven miles the Swift drops alongside the Kancamangus Highway amid big boulders, granite ledges and beautiful forests.
Put in at Rocky Gorge for a beefy wake-up dropping over a big ledge. About a mile or so of class 3 and 4 bouldery rapids bring you to Lower Falls. This is another section of big ledges. Scout on the right. Downstream of here are many more class 4 rapids including The Gorge and Staircase, which some paddlers may want to look at depending on the level. There are many big holes, especially at higher levels, and swims can be long and rescues protracted. So try not to swim, no doy. A good takeout is just after Big Rock which is a very big… uh, rock. It’s obviously visible from the road and there is parking nearby. There is a good playhole here at some levels — enjoy it if you have any energy left.
For the Whites, the Swift is a high volume creek, but, like many of its smaller brethren, it is rather flashy. Nevertheless, it runs predictably when the snow is melting in the Whites and also after heavy rains (basically a few weeks in April and a few days here and there throughout the rest of the year). Watch the USGS online Saco gage for an idea of what’s going on in that area. A reading of about 1,500 cfs usually correlates with a low level on the Lower Swift. Keep in mind though, that the Swift is going to rise and drop more quickly, and earlier, than this gage does.
7 miles of class 3-5
This is a fantastic White Mountain run. It is completely roadside (along Route 16 south of Pinkam Notch) and completely engaging.
For the longest and most difficult run put in below Glen Ellis Falls. Here the river dashes over many complex and closely spaced, serious class 5 ledges, with boulders and sieves abounding. Most paddlers willing to tackle this upper section will still make a few portages, however, and few paddlers will actually want to tackle this first section at all. This section lasts for about a mile (but it feels far longer) and then begins to let up a bit at the USGS gauging station where the intensity drops to class 4-5 (most creekers will put in here). Eddies and respites remain small, however, as the river continues to drop over ledges and big boulder gardens. The river enters a short gorge section with more fun class 4 ledge drops about a quarter mile upstream of the Route 16 bridge. Below here the difficulty drops to class 3, mainly for the remaining distance to Jackson (four miles). Less experienced groups will only want to run this lower section, while more experienced groups may want to skip it altogether. Take out for the lower section wherever the run stops looking fun for your group.
Look for a stage reading of about 1.8 feet on the online USGS gage as a minimum level for the upper section. Above 2.5 feet the upper section begins to get pushy, while the lower section becomes enjoyable. This run is very flashy and difficult to catch at the right level (especially the upper section), often fluctuating out of the runnable range in a few hours. It is runnable at many points in the early spring and often again in the late fall.
1.5 miles of class 5
This tiny stream on the north side of the Ossipee Range drops over many large ledges on its way to the Bearcamp River in South Tamworth. For a fluid run look for the Bearcamp gage to be rising or holding steady with at least a few hundred cfs.
The takeout is where the brook enters the Bearcamp just downstream of the Route 25 bridge in South Tamworth. To reach the put in, turn off Route 25 onto Bemis Mountain Road and drive up until you reach a small bridge over the stream. Park here. You’ll want to spend a bit of time scouting the beginning drops, as they are the most continuous on the brook and may present a bit of a challenge as there is no warm-up. These give a good idea of the level of the stream. If the stream is looking low but runnable, get a move on, as it drops quickly. Most of the drops are not very technically difficult but are shallow and large holes will develop at higher levels. One particularly sticky section is in a mini-gorge about halfway through the short run. Carry as much speed through here as you can. A few more drops lead to a tougher one right before the confluence with the Bearcamp.
Cold Brook is fluidly runnable for only about a week’s worth of days each year and basically only in the early spring. If you don’t mind walking the flatter parts between big drops, however, you can bounce down the drops with not much water at all. This is possible for several weeks in the spring and after significant rain in other months.
Other White Mountain Options
- Halls Brook (2 miles of class 4-5 in Rumney, NH) flashy
- Fowler River (5 miles of class 3-5 in Bristol, NH) Smith 750 cfs minimum, flat middle section
- Brackett Brook (park and huck of class 5+ in Gilmans Corner, NH along Route 25A) flashy
- Upper Mad River (6 miles of class 3+ in Waterville Valley, NH)
- Lower Mad River Gorge (1.5 miles of class 2-3 in Campton Village, NH)
- Ammonusuc River, Falls Section (5+ miles of class 2-5 in Bretton Woods, NH)
- Ammonusuc River, Lower Section (13 miles of class 2-4 from Twin Mountain to Littleton, NH)
- Gale River (4 miles of class 2-4 in Franconia, NH)
- Hancock Branch of the Pemigewasset River (4 miles of class 3-5 off the Kangamangus Highway)
- Cascade Brook (1.5 miles of class 5 in Franconia Notch) hike access, amazing granite creek
- Glover Brook (2 miles of class 5 in Woodstock, NH) hike access, tight, no trail alongside
- Upper Saco River (7 miles of class 2-4 in Bartlett, NH)
- Sawyer River (3 miles of class 5 on a Saco River tributary) hike, bouldery, steep, run when it looks low
- Dry River (2.5 miles of class 4-5 on a Saco tributary) hike access
- Rocky Branch of the Saco (3 miles of class 4-5 in Glen, NH)
- Peabody River (12 miles of class 3-5 from Wildcat Mountain to Gorham, NH)
- West Branch Peabody River (4 miles of class 5+ in the Great Gulf Wilderness) remote, hike access
- Sabbaday Brook (park and huck of class 5 on a Swift River tributary) short hike
- Lower Beebe River, Gorge Section (1 mile of class 5 in Campton Hollow, NH).
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.