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Eric Adsit | 07.26.2016

The Northeast is a special place for whitewater paddlers. The fickle nature of many of the rivers coupled with a shorter season than other whitewater destinations can make it difficult and even frustrating to catch a river before the water recedes once again. But when there is water, there is no place I'd rather be. Between big pool drop rivers in New York, tiny roadside creeks in Vermont, non-stop boulder bashes in New Hamphire, and big water wave trains in Maine, the Northeast is full of classics, new and old.

The True Classics

To become a classic, a river needs to strike the right balance between accessibility, difficulty, ease of access, and availability of appropriate flows. All of these rivers have found their own balance, each posing a unique challenge and beautiful experience on the river.

  • The Bottom Moose is the nation's first success story in paddlers negotiating with power companies to secure recreational releases. That alone makes it a classic, but adding in the huge drops, Class V whitewater, and an annual festival brings the Moose to another level.
  • With runnable flows ranging from 500 to over 15,000 cfs, the Black River is New York's most reliable river. Featuring waves that only get bigger with more water and complex pool drop rapids, the Black is the perfect training ground for playboaters and high volume river runners.
  • For those looking for a step up, the Stone Valley section of the Raquette River offers a shorter, more action-packed experience, dropping almost twice as steeply the Moose. With releases in July, August and early September, the Raquette is the ultimate summer playground for Class V kayakers. There's even a hiking trail on either side of the river, so you can bite off as much or as little as you want!
  • With 17 miles of Class III and IV whitewater through a scenic gorge, the Hudson Gorge provides a great escape into nature. High flows during the spring will elevate the difficulty of the rapids, and its proximity to New York City makes it accessible to a broad audience.
  • Running over 200 days a year on natural flow, the New Haven Ledges are a staple in the Vermont paddling community. They offer everything a Class IV+ paddler could ask for including slides, ledges, boulder gardens, chutes, and even a waterfall. Even when the water is too low, the falls makes for a great swimming hole.
  • Making up the namesake forks of The Forks, Maine, the Kennebec and Dead are two of the most popular rivers in the northeast. Both have reliable dam release seasons, commercial rafting, and continuous Class III+ whitewater.

Off The Beaten Path

While the classics achieve the perfect balance, many other quality rivers lie just off the beaten path because they lack one or more of the balancing features. These are the rivers on the tip of locals' tongues that see less traffic for one reason or another.

  • Tucked away in the center of the Green Mountain spine, the Middlebury Gorge is well known among local paddlers as a beautiful but demanding endeavor with unreal scenery and high consequences for a mistake.
  • Difficult to catch with water, and even more so while the Forest Service gate is open, the Sawyer River would be a classic by any standard if it ran more frequently. Four miles of Class IV-V boulder gardens is hard to beat, even if you have to hike the whole shuttle.
  • Short, sweet, and rarely run Brokeback Gorge is a committing journey culminating in a must-run 45-foot waterfall. If you're up for the challenge and you have a guide, it's not to be missed.
  • Vermont's Green River was only recently found, a surprising fact considering all the other rivers nearby. With occasional dam releases in the fall and spring, several Class V rapids, and a unique feel, this river is worth the trip to Northern Vermont.


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