Pemigewasset, East Branch - Franconia Falls to Woodstock.

Pemigewasset, East Branch, New Hampshire, US


Franconia Falls to Woodstock.

Usual Difficulty IV (varies with level)
Length 8.92 Miles
Avg. Gradient 81 fpm
Max Gradient 210 fpm

Joe surfing below Potash

Joe surfing below Potash
Photo of Joe Damboise by Mark Lacroix
@ 1.6 bridge gauge

Gauge Information

Name Range Difficulty Updated Level
usgs-01074520 300 - 3000 cfs III 01h16m 248 cfs (too low)

River Description

The East Branch of the Pemigewasset is a natural flow river best run in late April and May with the snowmelt from the high peaks of the White Mountains.

The river gets its start in the mountainous federally designated wilderness area upstream from the put-in. As a result the water is clean, clear, and usually cold when the river is running. Don't be fooled if the water looks too low; local river lore states that if it looks like there's enough water then it's probably too much!!!

This river is a classic New England run. Continuous whitewater, a few more difficult rapids, and lots of technical moves required. Many boaters consider this river one of the best regularly run rivers in New England.

With the exception of a few bigger rapids on either side of Loon Mountain, the entire run is similar in character. (Although some purists claim that the upper section, reachable only by walking upstream is the best.) The river is relatively wide (85') for a New England river. It is strewn with car (and larger) sized boulders. These boulders create extreme turbulence during high water. The rapids are continuous and at high water all blend all together for a long class IV-V run. Any swim at high levels may result in the loss of one's boat as it is quickly swept many miles downstream. Be aware because of the nature of this river, boulders (even large ones) move and shift every spring changing the river character.

The Upper East Branch of the Pemigewasset run starts below Franconia Falls at the confluence of Franconia Brook and the North Fork of the Pemigewasset. To reach it you must walk/carry/drag your boat up the Wilderness Trail three miles along the river. The upper section is a bit more technical and unforgiving then the lower sections. Additionally the riverbed is more wide open, requiring a bit more water to paddle.

If a long walk just to paddle a beautiful river doesn't appeal to you, then start your run (as most do) on the middle section of the East Branch at the Lincoln Woods Parking Area (sometimes called the Wilderness Parking area.) This section benefits from the added water coming in from the Hancock Branch just below the put-in.

The lower East Branch (starting at Loon Mountain) holds its water a little longer than the upper (ie, it can be paddled at slightly lower levels). The river bed narrows somewhat allowing for less choice of passages. You will notice a lot more civilization in this section. Condos, ski area base lodges, and parking lots are found along much of the run; even a hidden sewage treatment lagoon located between the takeouts. Still, the river is pretty, seems secluded in most spots, and has a few nice swimming holes. During late spring weekends the scenery basking in the sun on warm days is especially nice.

Scouting the Rapids

Loon Mountain Rapid is the only section where scouting is required. The rapids immediately above and below Loon Mountain require more caution for the boater new to the river, as does the fourth major drop in the upper section. The rest of the river can be easily boat-scouted. Indeed, given the large number of drops and the changing nature of the river each year, it is impossible for one to know what is coming and each run is always a new experience.

Strainers, obstructions, and other hazards.

Culvert Rapid, a short distance above Loon Mountain has a large steel pipe (culbert) in the middle of the channel at the bottom. It's easly avoided as long as you know it's there.  Hurricane Irene left most of Culvert Rapid unchanged except for the bottom which is more cluttered and technical.

At the bottom of Loon Mt. Rapid there is a large curved steel plate in the center of the right main channel of the river. The upstream end appears to be into the riverbed and the downstream end is up on a rock, so it just looks like a pour-over from upstream. From downstream you can see it is a large curved plate similar to the culvert plating in Culvert Rapid, but not a full section and not sticking up as much. It is located about 10 to 20 yards downstream of rapid section shown in the photo on the AW site description of Loon Mt. Rapid, at the last drop just before the left "sneak" route rejoins the main flow.

Three new strainers in Potash Rapid, above Loon Mountain - (04/04)

Since the beginning of April 2004, three strainers have fallen into the lower part of Potash Rapid (about 1.1 miles downstream of the Lincoln Woods put-in) on the E Branch Pemi. Two of the strainers, a Birch and an Evergreen, fell some time the week before 4/25 and the third, a tall dead Spruce, fell some time the week before 5/9. The branches of the dead Spruce can be seen sticking up well above the river as you approach that part of the rapid. Some of the branches of the dead Spruce stick down into the water and are close enough together that it is not possible to get a boat through. The trunk is far enough above the water that it looks possible to duck under it before the first branch, but the other two strainers are just downstream and stick out quite a bit beyond that. At low levels, portaging or lining on the left side of the channel is advised. At medium and high levels, it might be possible to maneuver around the strainer to the left, but scouting first is advised as rocks choke the left side of the channel.

(Thanks to Tommy T. and Norm R. for the above info.)


Fast rises/falls, flash flood potential

Note that the steep mountainous watershed causes the river to rise and fall rapidly. During periods of heavy rain the river can rise especially fast. This may catch old hands by surprise who expect a few hours of delay before any rain takes noticable effect.

An example is shown below (taken from the USGS Lincoln Gage). Note that in the space of only 15 minutes the flow increased by over 500 CFS; the increase over a two hour period was almost 2000 cfs, peaking at almost 3000 CFS before dropping back over the subsequent four hours. The Woodstock gage several miles downstream showed the same pattern of increase/decrease delayed by 20 minutes.

Date                    CFS      Level
2000.05.13 23:45:00     1190     2.85
2000.05.13 24:00:00     1160     2.82 <<< Flash flood starts
2000.05.14 00:15:00     1680     3.22 <<< 15 min 500 cfs increase
2000.05.14 00:30:00     1900     3.38
2000.05.14 00:45:00     2150     3.56
2000.05.14 01:00:00     2340     3.68
2000.05.14 01:15:00     2720     3.92 <<< Next hour 1000 cfs increase

2000.05.14 02:00:00     2860     4.01

2000.05.14 02:45:00     2910     4.03 <<< Peak

2000.05.14 03:00:00     2560     3.82
2000.05.14 04:00:00     2500     3.79
2000.05.14 05:00:00     2170     3.57
2000.05.14 06:00:00     2180     3.58
2000.05.14 07:00:00     1960     3.43 <<< Drops off over four hours


Technical info

Put in elevation........ 1410'
Lincoln Woods elevation. 1178'
Loon Mountain elevation.  943'
Upper takeout elevation.  817
Lower takeout elevation.  688'
Total drop..............  722'
Average drop/mile.......   81'...Including Loon Mtn rapids
Distance................  8.9 miles
Upper East Branch
  Mile 0-1 drop.........   93'...Starting just below Franconia Falls
  Mile 1-2 drop.........   55'
  Mile 2-3 drop.........   74'...Ending at Lincoln Woods Parking Area
Middle East Branch
  Mile 3-4 drop.........   63'...Includes Hancock
  Mile 4-5 drop.........   95'...Includes Potash
  Mile 5-5.4 drop.......   69'[173 ft/mi] Incl Culvert & Loon Mtn Rpds
Lower East Branch
  Mile 5.4-6.4 drop.....   89'...Includes Gov Adams
  Mile 6-4-7.4 drop.....   67'...Includes Mill Dam
  Mile 7.4-8.4 drop.....   84'...Incl South Mtn Rapid & Lincoln Bypass
  Mile 8.4-8.9 drop.....   15'[30 ft/mi]
Upper section width avg (not measured)
Middle section width avg 85'
Lower section width avg.55'
River geology...........Medium and large granite boulders, some ledges,
                        smaller boulders near lower section take out,
                        some ledge
River water quality.....Excellent, crystal clear upper and middle
                        sections; some degradation on lower section
                        after Lincoln sewage treatment plant (between
                        first & second takeout) at lower water levels.
Scenery.................Excellent mountain and forest scenery on Upper
                        & Middle sections. Good mountain scenery, ski
                        area, and condos line the banks most of the
                        lower section. Some old dam remains on lower
                        section with log cribbing and some rebarr.
Wildlife................Occasional deer, moose, tourist

Food, lodging, gas, etc.

Food: McDonalds, pizza and sub shops and more expensive eating establisments located in Lincoln.
Lodging: Many hotels and motels located in Lincoln and Woodstock.
Campgrounds: Hancock campground, located just before the put in on route 112, is run by the National Forest Service is open year round has nice wooded tent and small camper sites with picnic tables, modern outhouses, pump water, no electricity. Lost River Campground located 4 miles west of exit 32 on route 112 is a familly campground with all the amenities. Wooded sites with electricity, water available at sites. Sites for tents and campers of any size. Open early May until Columbus day.
Gas: There are several gas stations in town at the exit but it is expensive. The further south on 93 you get gas the less expensive it is. Exit 20 in Tilton (40 miles south) has the cheapest gas in the region.
Etc. Franconia Notch 6 miles further up interstate 93 has many hiking and biking trails, scenic areas such as the Basin, Flume, Cannon Mtn Arial Tramway. Rock climbing on Cannon Mountain. There are several outdoor shops in Lincoln. Outback Kayak located at the Mill marketplace on route 112 has paddling equipment.


Map of the Upper Pemigewasset Region

Upper Pemi Region
Map by Mark Lacroix


StreamTeam Status: Not Verified
Last Updated: 2014-05-22 18:31:14


Stream team editor

Rapid Summary

Mile Rapid Name Class Features (Legend)
0.0Upper Put InPutin Photo
0.1Alternate (opposite) side put-inPutin Access Photo
0.2Typical River CharacterPhoto
0.3First Major DropIVPhoto
0.5Second Major DropIVPhoto
0.7Third Major DropIVPhoto
1.1Fourth Major DropIV+Photo
1.5Fifth Major DropIVPhoto
2.0Sixth Major DropIII+Photo
2.2Seventh Major DropIVPhoto
2.5Eighth Major DropIVPortage Hazard Photo
3.0Lincoln Woods Put-inN/APutin Photo
3.4Unnamed RapidIV
3.6Unnamed RapidIV
5.1Upper Loon RapidIV
5.4Loon Mtn. RapidIVAccess Portage Hazard Photo
5.7Governor AdamsIVPhoto
5.8Unnamed RapidIV
6.1Unnamed RapidIV
6.2Unnamed RapidIV
6.5Unnamed RapidIV
6.9Mill DamIV+Portage Hazard Photo
7.4South Mountain RapidIVPlayspot
7.8Unnamed RapidIV
8.2Unnamed RapidIV

Rapid Descriptions

Upper Put In

Upper East Branch Put-in

Upper East Branch Put-in
Photo of Bridge across Franconia Brook by Skip Morris taken 10/07/05 @ 1.4

The put-in for the Upper East Branch is a long three mile walk/carry/drag up an old railroad bed. Put on where a bridge crosses Franconia Brook.

Alternate (opposite) side put-in

Top East Branch of the Pemigewasset

Top East Branch of the Pemigewasset
Photo of Confluence of Franconia Brook
and the North Fork of the Pemigewasset
by Skip Morris taken 09/30/05 @ 1.4

An old logging/maintenance road follows the river on the other (south) side. Put in here at the confluence of Franconia Brook and the North Fork of the Pemigewasset (the opposite bank from the boaters in this picture) where a gravel bar allows easy access thru the woods.

Typical River Character

Typical Upper East Branch river character

Typical Upper East Branch river character
Photo of Typical Upper East Branch river character. by Skip Morris taken 09/30/05 @ 1.4

The Upper East Branch is a big wider and more open then the middle or lower sections requiring more water.

First Major Drop (Class IV, Mile 0.3)

First Major Drop

First Major Drop
Photo by Skip Morris taken 09/30/05 @ 1.4

The first major drop is a wide, technical medium length rapid. There are multiple routes thru the rapid. It can be easily boat scouted.

Second Major Drop (Class IV, Mile 0.5)

Second Major Drop

Second Major Drop
Photo of Pat Taft by Skip Morris taken 09/30/05 @ 1.4

The river narrows a bit at the second major drop.

Third Major Drop (Class IV, Mile 0.7)

Third Major Drop

Third Major Drop
Photo by Skip Morris taken 09/30/05 @ 1.4

The third major drop is a longish technical rapid requiring good river reading skills and quick reactions.

Fourth Major Drop (Class IV+, Mile 1.1)

Fourth Major Drop

Fourth Major Drop
Photo by Skip Morris taken 09/30/05 @ 1.4

The fourth major drop is a series of big holes and rocks. The easiest route is far right thru the biggest section. This drop can be easily seen and scouted from the railroad trail on the way in.

Fifth Major Drop (Class IV, Mile 1.5)

Fifth Major Drop

Fifth Major Drop
Photo of J. Michael Cummings by Skip Morris taken 09/30/05 @ 1.4

The fifth major drop is a very long rapid full or waves, holes, and rocks. Open boaters in particular may have trouble here as they quickly fill up and find no easy place to stop and empty.

Sixth Major Drop (Class III+, Mile 2.0)

Sixth Major Drop

Sixth Major Drop
Photo of J. Michael Cummings by Skip Morris taken 09/30/05 @ 1.4

The sixth major drop is a longish technical rapid.

Seventh Major Drop (Class IV, Mile 2.2)

Seventh Major Drop

Seventh Major Drop
Photo of J. Michael Cummings by Skip Morris taken 09/30/05 @ 1.4

At the seventh major drop the river again narrows a big resulting in bigger waves and holes.

Eighth Major Drop (Class IV, Mile 2.5)

Eighth Major Drop

Eighth Major Drop
Photo by Skip Morris taken 09/30/05 @ 1.4

At the eighth major drop the river splits; the majority of the current flows left thru a steep narrow channel (currently blocked by a strainer). A small amount of current goes right. A manditory portage is currently required here.

Lincoln Woods Put-in (Class N/A, Mile 3.0)

Lincoln Woods Put-In

Lincoln Woods Put-In
Photo of Lincoln Woods Put-In by Skip Morris taken 09/30/05 @ 1.4

The put-in at Lincoln Woods parking area is the most common access point. Put on under the suspension bridge.

Hancock (Class IV, Mile 3.2)

Group at Hancock rapid

Group at Hancock rapid
Photo of Nancy, Joe, Farmer by Mark Lacroix taken 04/13/02 @ 1.6 bridge gauge

Once you pass Hancock campground on your right you will notice a large granite ledge on river left just before and after the confluence of Hancock branch. The river drops over two boulder strewn slides (above and below confluence) with lots of grabby holes.

Unnamed Rapid (Class IV, Mile 3.4)
Shortly after Hancock, the channel narrows again on the left.  There are several large holes at the bottom.

Unnamed Rapid (Class IV, Mile 3.6)
The third difficult drop near the beginning of the Lincoln Woods section. Again watch for large holes where the channel narrows.

Potash (Class IV, Mile 4.1)

Dave at Potash

Dave at Potash
Photo of Dave Rotundi by Mark Lacroix taken 04/13/02 @ 1.6 bridge gauge

Another boulder strewn stairstep rapid. This rapid is just downstream from a large Mack truck sized boulder next to the first home you come up to on river right.

Culvert (Class IV, Mile 4.9)
After passing a series of condos on your left, the river splits around an island, at low levels the left channel is too scratchy to be much fun. The right channel is narrow (25 feet) but steep. Many holes force the paddler to dart around the narrow channel. Just before the river joins up with its other half you will notice the remains of a dam on river right. There are also two large culvets in the river bed that must be avoided. Be aware fo another culvert downstream in the middle of the channel, as of September 2001, the openning of this culvert was facing downstream but high water could once again turn this culvert into a more dangerous position.

Upper Loon Rapid (Class IV, Mile 5.1)
Just before reaching Loon Mountain Ski Area, and shortly after the end of Culvert Rapid in a longish, pushy, technical rapid.  The river is wide open here and there are multiple channels and routes.  The huge number of large boulders and holes require constant maneuvering.  This is the longest difficult stretch on the river.  Go left at the bottom and take out to scout Loon Mountain Rapid.

Loon Mtn. Rapid (Class IV, Mile 5.4)

Loon Mtn Rapids @ 1.6'

Loon Mtn Rapids @ 1.6'
Photo by Mark Lacroix taken 04/13/02 @ 1.6 bridge gauge

Update: Post-Hurricane Irene this is a different rapid. The upper section is easier; at the bottom the left is more technical and pushy.  [Prior description: At the bridge to Loon Mountain ski area, the river drops over the most difficult rapid on the Pemi. This rapid has changed over the past several years, a flood in 1994 undermined the bridge abutments. The bridge abutments were repaired and the riverbed was filled with blasted rock just downstream of the abutments. This changed the rapid considerably leaving no good channel to run until the river scoured out a couple of channels over the past few years. The far left channel is easiest; it starts just past the bridge and is mostly a clean stair step drop onto the head of a rock island that splits the river. At this point you can maneuver to river right and complete the drop through a myriad of sharp pinning boulders that require lots of maneuvering or you can stay in the river left channel at higher water levels for an easier run. The right channel at the top of the rapid is more difficult because of the precise lines required to run it successfully. The usual route threads a pushy course along the left side of the channel bouncing thru some big waves. At higher water you can also thread your way down a narrow chute towards the right side of the channel. Scout this rapid carefully before you run.]

Governor Adams (Class IV, Mile 5.7)

Nancy approaching Gov. Adams Rapid

Nancy approaching Gov. Adams Rapid
Photo of Nancy Damboise by Mark Lacroix taken 04/13/02 @ 1.6 bridge gauge

The river drops over the rubble left over from a dilapidated dam. There only seem to be boulders and some concrete in this drop but be aware that there could be rebar or spikes. Holes and pinning rocks are the greatest hazard here. Post-Hurricane Irene Update: This rapid is now more technical and difficult, especially at the bottom.

Unnamed Rapid (Class IV, Mile 5.8)
The channel narrows again along the right. Watch for holes and pinning rocks.

Unnamed Rapid (Class IV, Mile 6.1)
Look for this rapid near where the Loon Ski area snowmaking intake is.

Unnamed Rapid (Class IV, Mile 6.2)
The river opens up for this steep rapid.

Unnamed Rapid (Class IV, Mile 6.5)
Another nice class IV after a short class II stretch.

Mill Dam (Class IV+, Mile 6.9)

Joe running sneak at Mill Dam

Joe running sneak at Mill Dam
Photo of Joe Damboise by Mark Lacroix taken 04/13/02 @ 1.6 bridge gauge

Once you view the USGS gauging building on your right, take out on river left on a gravel beach and scout the next drop. The rapid funnels through a cut in the log cribbing of an old delapitated dam then slides over a smooth ledge with two river wide hydraulics. At low water the upper hydraulic is worse, while at high water the lower one is. These hydraulics can hold boats and boaters for sometime and most people choose to walk around this rapid. There is a sneak route on the far left and another just to the left of the holes. The far left requires a paddler to scrape over ledge halfway down if the water is medium or lower. The usual route would be to run the tightrope just left of the holes and right of the shallow ledge. You can easily get off line here and end up in one of the holes.

South Mountain Rapid (Class IV, Mile 7.4)
After Mill dam the river widens and can be a little scratchy at low levels. Most of the water in the river then channels to the left and is only about 25' wide at this point. Rapids pick up to the South Mountain bridge crossing. After the bridge the river drops over a constricted boulder pile that requires precise manuevering. At the base of the drop a nice series of surfing waves form with a convinient eddy on river left at medium levels.

Unnamed Rapid (Class IV, Mile 7.8)
Another nice class IV.

Unnamed Rapid (Class IV, Mile 8.2)
Good view of this rapid from the I-93 bridges.  At medium or high levels the waves can get quite big here due to the large gradient.

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