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Southern New Hampshire

Smith River

2 miles of class 3-4

The Smith is tight, bouldery and fun. It has very little play, but offers technical, easy creeking at around 400 cfs, and a very pushy challenge above 1,000 cfs. Try not to swim on this run, especially at high water, as the sharp boulders that compose the river bed are rather unforgiving. The Smith is flashy, but well worth the trip when it is running.

To reach the put-in take Route 104 east of its junction with Route 4 and turn right onto Murray Hill Road. Then turn left onto Smith River Road. This road parallels the entire run. Put in at the flatwater section just upstream of the first continuous rapids visibile from the road. To reach the takeout, continue downstream on Smith River Road and turn left after about two miles onto Cass Mill Road. The normal takeout is at the bridge on this road.

The rapid immediately upstream of the bridge is at an island, the right side being the toughest rapid on the run. Scout beforehand. When you take out, be discrete as the land all around is private, and a couple residences will have a good look at you changing. It is possible to continue this run another mile or so downstream with more class 3 rapids ending at a powerline cut. A different, and hairier option is to check out the class 5 section of the Smith off of Route 3A, a few miles downstream. As the Smith drops to meet the Pemigewassett, it flows over a few good ledges and the thirty-foot Profile Falls, which is runnable, but very difficult.

Winnepasaukee River

1.5 miles of class 3-4

The Suckee, as its known to local paddlers, is one of the few runs in the area that is usually paddleable for much of the winter. It sports some decent play and in Franklin has some heavier rapids. This is a river that has seen heavy industrial use. Most of the rapids are at old dam sites, so be wary of debris.

The takeout is just downstream of the Route 3 bridge in Franklin (within sight of an old railroad bridge). Scout the final rapid under the railroad bridge before you head to the put-in, as it is the most difficult on the run (class 4) and has the most pinning hazards.

To reach the put-in for this lower section continue east (upstream) on Route 3 for about a mile and then turn right onto Cross Mill Road. Put in at the bridge on Cross Mill Road. The rapids increase in difficulty in a gentle crescendo from beginning to end. Most rapids are easily boat-scoutable, but be careful at one rapid marked by old mill works on the right. Here the line is far left to avoid the Room of Doom sieve formed by the millworks remains. Also be careful as you approach the final rapid at the railroad bridge. Be sure not to pin on the pilings.

This section of the Suckee is runnable down to about 400 cfs, but a practical fun minimum is more like 600 cfs (on the Tilton USGS gage). A different two-mile section of the Suckee lies upstream of this one and runs from the Route 140 bridge to the Route 132 bridge in Tilton. This section is class 1-2, has a bit better play, and runs at similar levels to the lower section.

Contoocook River

2.5 miles of class 3+

The Contoocook, much like the lower Ashuelot, has a large drainage basin which contributes to a pretty long season. It is runnable for most of the spring and after rains during other months. The Took is home to agreeable downriver play at all levels and good retentive playspots at medium and high levels. It is runnable as low as six feet on the USGS Henniker gage, although most paddlers will look for seven feet on the gage to make the trip. At this low level, the Took has several technical class 3 rapids. Above eight feet on the gage several good playspots develop including a good playhole in the first rapid. Above nine and a half feet there is a very good wave (Rambo Wave) on the left about halfway through the final rapid (Freight Train). At this higher level, the Took is pushy and some consider it a big-water class 4.

Take out in the flatwater below freight train. To reach the takeout drive west on Route 202 toward Henniker. Turn onto Route 114 South to reach downtown Henniker, then in Henniker turn right onto Western Avenue. After about a half mile, bear left to stay on Western Avenue and you will start to see the river on the left. Western Avenue then crosses the river and within a half mile the road veers away from the river to the left. At this point, at the base of Freight Train, there is a dirt pullout on the right with a trail down to the river and the takeout. To reach the put-in proceed upstream on Western Avenue for about two miles to a spot where the river comes close to the road and is placid flatwater. Park in the dirt pullout here and put in to the bend at the downstream end of the flat section. This put-in is across private land so be discrete.

Upper Ashuelot River

4.5 miles of class 3-4

This section of the Ashuelot is a real delight. Fun ledges and bouldery rapids make for continuously enjoyable whitewater for the length of this run. The river has a close, intimate feel, and beautiful banks, though the road is never far away.

Start your run at an old bridge just upstream of Surprise Rapids for a start with a bit of a bang. The river eases off for a bit below Surprise, but after a mile or so enters more difficult rapids again for another mile. The two miles to Gilsum Gorge contain easier class 2 and 3 rapids. Route 10 crosses the river twice in this stretch. As the Surry Road bridge comes into view, take out to scout the gorge. This section is a solid class 4 at any level and should be approached with caution. DonÕt be swept in blind. Despite its difficulty, the gorge is beautiful from the water. The takeout is just past the gorge on the right off of Surry Road.

To reach the takeout, take Route 10 north of Keene for about eight miles. Then take a left onto Surry Road. The gorge is visible from the bridge over river. To reach the put-in continue upstream (north) on Route 10 a little more than four miles and park where there is a road on the left with a bridge over the river.

Look for at least 300 cfs inflow to Surry Mountain Reservoir to consider running the upper Ashuelot. When the river is running high (over 1,500 cfs) the river becomes one long continuous rollercoaster.

Lower Pemigewassett River, Bristol Section

1.5 miles of class 2-3

This section of the Pemi probably sees more traffic than any other. The combination of scheduled dam releases, a long season, and a good low-water playspot make the Bristol section of the Pemi irresistible to many. There are only a few rapids on the run, most of which are ledges and are best with 800+ cfs. Some of these develop good play features at these medium levels. At the takeout is the Pemi Hole, which is playable at a wide range of levels Ñ from 300 cfs when it is a hole, to around 1,000 cfs when it is more of a wave (best level is around 600 cfs). The dam is often releasing in the 300-500 cfs range for months at a time in the summer. Check the Pemi at Bristol USGS gage to find out how much water is coming into the dam. To find out what the predicted release from the Ayers Island Dam is, call (603) 634-FLOW. For more specific information on a release call the dispatcher at (603) 669-4000.

To reach the put-in take Route 104 east of Bristol and soon turn right onto New Hampton Road by a baseball field. Once on this road turn right then left and you should be at the base of the dam. To reach the takeout and the playhole, head back out onto Route 104 and go west towards Bristol. Turn left onto Merrimack Street and then left again onto Central Street. Cross over the river and then turn right onto Flood Plain Road. The takeout is about one-third of a mile down this road.

Other South-Central New Hampshire Options

  • Merrimack River, Manchester 293 Bridge Spot (park and play of class 2-3)
  • Blackwater River (2.5 miles of class 1-4) scheduled dam releases in April
  • North Branch Contoocook River (5 miles of class 5) late ice-out, ten feet minimum on took gage
  • Warner River (2.5 miles of class 3-4) medium-high water run
  • Upper Otter Brook (3 miles of class 3) ledgy, minimum 300 cfs inflow

For more information on this region see Bruce Lessels’ Classic Northeastern Whitewater Guide or the American Whitewater website. For water level information see the USGS website.

Last Updated: 10/21/12