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.
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.
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.
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.)
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
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,
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: 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.
The put-in at Lincoln Woods parking area is the most common access point. Put on under the suspension bridge.
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.]
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.
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.
From longtime AW member Jim Sindelar:
I ran this yesterday (4/20/06).
The level during my run was just under 1 foot on the Kank. Bridge boaters gage. The rapids were definitely "white," not green flowing water. I would call it a delightful and exciting level on the low side of "medium," definitely not a scratchy low water run. Thus the meaning of the gage has continued to evolve and now seems to be back to the early days of the first gage when 1 foot meant a good medium level.
The strainer identified in the river left drop by the island requiring a portage in 2004 is no longer a problem. The trunk of the tree is still there, but has settled into the river deeply enough that with good control, a clear run is available.
8 years ago
by Mark Lacroix
by Matt Muir
There are two gages commonly used by paddlers. There is a painted boaters gauge on the downstream river right abutment of the Kancamaugus bridge near the Lincoln Woods put-in. A USGS gauge on the East Branch in Lincoln came online in 1994. Both gages have had changes in measurements over time. The USGS gage has been recalibrated several times due to changes in the riverbed cross-section. Further complicating correlations between the USGS gage and the visual paddlers gauge has been the work performed on the Kancamaugus bridge during the summer of 2001. The table below is the best guess as to paddling levels for both gages. This table will be updated as more information is collected.
Lincoln USGS Visual gauge Boating level
EB Gauge cfs @ Kanc bridge Interpretation
350 cfs – 450 cfs about .6’ to .9’ Scratchy low
450 cfs – 1120 cfs about .9’ to 1.5’ Low to medium
1120 cfs- 2500 cfs about 1.5’ to 1.9’ Medium
Over 2500 cfs greater than 1.9’ High
The painted paddlers gage on the Kancamaugus bridge has been there for decades and is a well-known paddling reference. However during the summer of 2001 work was performed on the bridge. Many rocks were disturbed and the channel leading up to the visual gage was partially reconstructed. Additionally some of the boulders washed down below the gauge and formed a small dam backing the water up to the painted gage. Recent reports (Spring 2004) suggest that the river may be scouring out the channel restoring the riverbed. The graph below shows the current best-guess regarding correlations between older (pre-2001) and current readings. The graph will be updated as more information is collected. Paddlers with either older (1994-2001) or current observations of gage correlations are requested to send them to the streamkeeper. Update Post-Hurricane Irene: The river channel next to the Paddlers' Gage was changed again and appears to be filled in slightly. Readings below 1' must be estimated. Readings about 1' appear to correspond to historical levels; however many rapids have changed making older descriptions less reliable at best.
*RR=rising rapidly RS=rising slowly S=steady FR=falling rapidly FS=falling slowly P=Peaking V=Valley between peaks
January ............ 0%....frozen.
April...............70%....Best chance mid to late April
May ................50%....Best chance in early May.
August...............5%....Just a trickle
September...........10%....Tropical storms and their remains
November............45%....Fall rains, dormant trees
December............30%....River starts freezing early to mid month.
Be aware this is averaged out over several years. The % chance refers to the probability of finding the river running on any given day. For instance a 5% probability for August means on average you can only expect 1-1/2 days of water. One year there could be 3 days in August with water, other years none. Spring levels are usually higher than fall levels. The river rises and falls rapidly because of the small steep watershed. An occasional summer storm could bring the river up for a day.
Permits are not required for this reach.
Interstate 93 to exit 32. State route 112 (Kancamaugus Highway) east for approximately 5-1/2 miles.
Take a left at the Lincoln Woods recreation center just after crossing over the East Branch Bridge (sometimes called the Wilderness Parking Area). There is a large parking lot here with bathrooms and a visitor center with information for the hikes out of this area.
Note: At the Lincoln Woods put-in, it will be necessary to have a White Mountain National Forest parking sticker . These can be purchased at the put in at the Lincoln Woods visitor center or the information center just off the exit for rt 112 (Kancamaugus Highway). They are also available at information centers off exits 23 and 28.
The put-in for the middle section is down a steep bank in front of the visitors center just under a suspension footbridge used for hikers next to the parking lot (44.0638,-71.5904).
For the upper section you can carry/drag your boat 3 miles up the Wilderness Trail (a former railroad bed) and put-in where the bridge crosses Franconia Brook near a National Forest wilderness campground. The walk (with an open boat on wheels) takes approximately two hours. Make sure you walk up along the north side of the river along the old railroad bed instead of the hilly road which follows the river's south edge.
Head back in the direction you came on route 112 towards Lincoln, go 2.5 miles to the entrance to Loon Mountain ski area. Take a left here and make your way to the lower parking lot under the bridge you just came over. To access the river above Loon Mtn Rapid, drive to the lower ski area parking lot on river left across the bridge from the Kancamagus (44.0567,-71.6340).
To access the river below Loon Mtn Rapid then park on river right in a picnic area located behind the steam locomotive.
The upper take-out is located behind the main shopping center in Lincoln off Dodgeville Rd (44.0473,-71.6596). Drive back into Lincoln. Turn left just after some stores and restaurants and just before the bigger shopping center. Proceed down towards the river and cross over the bridge that spans both channels. Take out on the river left channel under the bridge (half-way down the rapid).
Drive west thru Lincoln, under Interstate-93, and continue to a traffic light in Woodstock just past where it crosses over the Pemigewasset (approximately 3.2 miles). Turn left, then less then 1/4 mile take a left and park behind the Woodstock Fire Station. There is a small playground here with a porta-potty.
From the river, continue downstream past the South Mountain Bridge, after you pass under the high Interstate-93 bridge and then the railroad bridge take the river right channel. This channel will bring you back to the takeout just after the confluence with the main stem of the Pemigewassett river coming out of Franconia Notch.
Note: Do NOT take-out behind the IGA by the electrical substation any more. Although in use for decades, this take-out has been recently developed, is no longer secluded, and the homeowners association has barred boater from using it.
Lincoln Woods Put-In
Eighth Major Drop
Seventh Major Drop
Sixth Major Drop
Fifth Major Drop
Fourth Major Drop
Third Major Drop
Second Major Drop
First Major Drop
Typical Upper East Branch river character
Top East Branch of the Pemigewasset
Upper East Branch Put-in
East Branch Pemigewasset USGS Gage Rating Chart
East Branch Pemigewassett Gage Chart
Loon Mtn Rapids
Upper Pemi region
Joe running sneak at Mill Dam
Joe surfing below Potash
Dave at Potash
Loon Mtn Rapids @ 1.6'
Group at Hancock rapid
Nancy approaching Gov. Adams Rapid
Low water on East Branch
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Northeast boaters can celebrate that another beloved whitewater gem has been protected. Paddlers on the Winnipeseaukee River are now assured that the put-in on the Lower Winni in Northfield, NH will be forever protected thanks to the donation of a parcel from Gloria Blais in memory of her husband Roger. Gloria donated the land to the Town of Northfield for the purpose of assuring that future generations of boaters will have access to the river. Protecting river access to the Winni is part of an ongoing effort by AW in the northeast region to protect river access.
A hardy group of northeast boaters climbed into the natural river channel below a hydropower dam to participate in a flow study designed to assess whether whitewater flows should be restored to this dewatered river reach on the Connecticut River. While significant obstacles remain, this site has the potential for providing instruction, playboating, and a big water feature that that could be run throughout much of the year and provide a much needed boost to the local economy.
American Whitewater and Merrimack Valley Paddlers have reached an agreement to purchase a 10-acre parcel fronting on Contoocook River in Henniker, NH. The land serves as an important launch point for whitewater paddlers enjoying the popular section of the river that runs from Hillsborough to Henniker. This section of the Contoocook River contains rapids ranging in difficulty from Class II to Class IV.
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