East Branch Saco, New Hampshire, US
|Usual Difficulty||IV-V (for normal flows)|
|Avg. Gradient||119 fpm|
|Max Gradient||300 fpm|
The East Branch of the Saco is a II-V stream emptying into the Saco north of North Conway. There are four distinct sections of the river.
The uppermost section is a shortish mostly flatwater run starting all the way into the woods at the trailhead. It's an easy put-in close to the trailhead with a lazy current. Wildlife is abundant. The run ends with two short class III rapids before coming to a bridge where the road crosses over the river.
The most challenging section begins at the bottom of the class II section where the national forest road crosses over the river. This section starts with a runnable small dam followed by a couple class III drops. It then switches to continuous class IV punctuated by many class V drops. The river gradient of this section averages an astounding 273 feet per mile. As a fortunate safety feature the National Forest East Branch trail follows along river left for the majority of the run. The trail provides an easy take-out should one be necessary. Approximately one-half mile before the bottom of this section the trail turns left into the woods, crosses over to Slippery Brook (the main tributary of the East Branch Saco river), follows Slippery Brook along river right for a quarter mile, then crosses the brook to reach the trailhead and parking area for the Class IV put-in. To take-out at the bottom of this section, pull off on river left immediately above where Slippery Brook joins the main channel coming in from the left. Then drag/carry your boat thru the woods along the brook (river-right) two-tenths of a mile to where the East Branch trail crosses the brook to the trailhead and class IV put-in. Avoid crossing the brook until you reach the trail since the woods on the river-left side of Slippery Brook are thick and rocky.
The two lower sections are the most commonly run parts of the river. When they're up, it's a busy five-and-a-half miles of solid class III-IV rapids; even at low levels. This middle section has a number of drops similar to the harder rapids on the lower section but generally narrower and with a higher gradient of 119 feet per mile. Paddlers in larger boats will have to react quickly to avoid being hung up in the tight areas. Put on at the trail-head of the National Forest East Branch Trail and paddle down Slippery Brook for 0.2 miles where the brook joins the main channel. The river then turns off into the forest with steep hills, thick woods, and no trails before swinging back and passing under the Town Hall Road bridge at the lower put-in. Be sure of your skills since it is not an easy walk out. (And if you must walk out, stay close to the river since it's the most direct route and the easiest way to avoid getting lost.) As you approach the bottom of the section be aware of a bad hole in river-center immediately upstream of the Town Hall Road bridge. This was the site of a fatality during very-high water in 2006.
This is the most commonly run section. The gradient for this last section averages 78 feet per mile. There are a number of good rapids easily scoutable from the road.
Slippery Brook is the main tributary of the East Branch Saco high in the mountains. It is often confused with the upper section of the East Branch Saco since it follows along the National Forest Road the same as the main channel does downstream. Boaters paddle both sections, but be aware that Slippery Brook is significantly more difficult and dangerous then the East Branch Saco river proper. This section has not been verified by AW Streamkeepers.
|Mile||Rapid Name||Class||Features (Legend)|
|0.0||Class II Put In|
|0.5||Class II Section||I|
|1.2||Class V Put In|
|1.5||Class V Section|
|3.1||Class IV (Upper) Put In|
|3.2||First drop on Slippery Brook.|
|3.2||Class V Takeout|
|3.3||Confluence of the two channels|
|6.5||Class IV (Lower) Put In|
|7.7||Rapid on lower section.||IV|
|8.7||Route 302 Takeout and Gage|
The class II put in is located at the far end of the National Forest Road (coord 44 11.397, -71 07.795). From Route 302, turn onto Town Hall Road. Follow it up all the way into and past the National Forest Gate (3.35 miles), turn left 2.5 miles furthur on. You'll immediately pass over Slippery Brook (the main tributary of the river). Continue on another 3.35 miles (9.2 total), passing over the river, then to the end of the road and trailhead. The put-in is a short walk down the trail.
The Class V Putin/Class II takeout is where the road passes over the river (coord 44 10.631, -71 07.093). From Rt 302/16, drive up Town Hall Road 5.85 miles, turn left towards the Class II put-in, immediately cross over Slippery Brook, then drive another two miles to where the river crosses under the road. There is parking past the bridge.
The (Upper) Class IV putin is at the trailhead of the East Branch Trail (coord 44 09.282, -71 06.404). Travel past the National Forest gate 1.65 miles and put in on Slippery Brook. The brook (which is class IV here) joins the main channel 0.2 miles downstream. (Slippery Book follows along the main road several miles upstream.)
Take out on river left at the confluence just upstream where Slippery Brook joins the main channel (coord 44 09.176, -71 06.661) , walk upstream between the two channels 0.2 miles to the East Branch Trail, cross the brook to the trailhead and road.
Once the two channels join the gradient softens a bit and there is more water (coord 44 09.166, -71 06.646).
The lower put in is on Town Hall Road, two miles from Route 302 where the road crosses over the river (coord 44 07.300, -71 07.800). There is parking for a few cars on the far (river left) side of the bridge.
The gage is located on the downstream left side of the center bridge abutment (44 06.008, -71 09.141). There is limited parking here; a better place to park and take-out is by the town offices and police station (a short distance upstream along Town Hall Road, coord 44 06.137, -71 08.831).