Average Gradient
190.00 ft/mi (35.98 m/km)
3.50 mi (5.63 km)
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Kayaking on New Hampshire's Sawyer River is so good, local diehard paddlers have named their children after it. Really.

For 4 miles, the Sawyer River tumbles over boulders and down granite slides, dropping at an average rate of 190 feet per mile. It's a Class V paddler's paradise: continuous read-and-run boulder gardens, blind corners, beautiful scenery, and one or two standout rapids that add an extra touch of difficulty.

But the flows are hard to catch. The gauge on the Saco River is only a loose correlation, and paddlers often get skunked. What's more, the gate at the start of the Sawyer River Road is usually closed in the spring and fall, exactly when the river is most likely running. This means paddlers will have to "earn their boofs" most of the time, hiking up the river as far as they want to paddle. To start the shuttle, park at the Fourth Iron Campground. This is your takeout. To reach the put-in, return back over the bridge and follow the dirt road on your left to the parking area about 3.5 miles up.

If the gate is closed, many people choose to start at House Rapid, located about halfway to the usual put-in. This cuts out 1.5 miles of Class III to IV warm up, but it saves the best of the run with less of a hike.

House Rapid is the biggest of the run, and one of the only runs that has a specific line. Scout from the right if you're seriously considering running this Class V+ drop. Otherwise, portage on the left or the right. Paddlers begin on the right and stay there, running several small ledges and slides leading up to a massive horizon. The river drops steeply over a bedrock slide, crashes into a boulder, and drops steeply again over another bedrock slide. The boulder is slightly undercut, so be sure to scout carefully.

Below House Rapid the river's gradient picks up significantly, averaging over 220 feet per mile for the next 2 miles. You'll careen around corners where boulder gardens wait, forming slots, boofs, and chutes. When in doubt, scout. The Sawyer is known to collect wood in inconvenient places.

The river begins to gorge up a bit about half a mile below House Rapid. Death Star, Class IV+, is right around the corner. Scout on the right or left. Several ledges form a busy lead-in to a pinch at the top of a slide. The boulder on the right side of the pinch is undercut, as is the river right wall at the bottom. The hole is not to be underestimated.

For the next 1.5 miles you will be eddy hopping, boofing, and if you haven't run it before, scouting. There are several rapids here, all of which blend together, and most of which can be boat scouted. Again, if you're in doubt, scout.

Take out on the right before the iron railroad bridge over the river. If the gate's open, load up and run it again!

Logistics + Planning

Preferable season(s)


Parking Pass

Not Required


Classic Continuous Rapids, Beautiful scenery, Wilderness Feel


Often requires a hike in, difficult to catch with water

Put-in location (lat, long coordinates)

Sawyer River Road

Take-out location (lat, long coordinates)

Rt. 302

Overall difficulty


Route Characteristics: Character

Steep Creek

Suitable for



Nearby Lodging + Camping


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