Saco - Crawford Notch to Bartlett (along Hwy 302)

Saco, New Hampshire, US


Crawford Notch to Bartlett (along Hwy 302)

Usual Difficulty III-IV (varies with level)
Length 6.2 Miles
Avg. Gradient 49 fpm
Max Gradient 78 fpm

Saco River

Saco River
Photo by Mark L taken 04/27/03 @ 1.7'

Gauge Information

Name Range Difficulty Updated Level
usgs-010642505 650 - 5500 cfs III-IV 00h24m 120 cfs (too low)

River Description

The Saco runs through the highest mountains in the northeastern US. It cuts through a steep valley called Crawford Notch (a NH state park). Outside of the sustain spring melt off the Saco rises and falls rapidly due to steep terrain in its headwaters. If snow is not present it will be necessary to catch the river during or shortly after a heavy rainfall.
This section starts out at the base of an impressive gorge. This gorge is runable at certain levels but should be scouted. Below the river is consistant class III at low levels. At higher levels this section should be considered class IV due to its consistant gradient. Further down river the consistant gradient turns to more of a pool drop nature with the pools getting larger as one heads down. There is a couple of portions in this lower section where the difficulty increases namely Sawyers rock and Tweedledum Tweedledee rapid. Both these rapids are visible from route 302 when there is no foliage on the trees (mid Oct. thru mid May).

Technical info

Put in elevation........958'
Take out elevation......657'
Total drop..............301'
Average drop/mile.......49'
1st mile................78'
2nd mile................43'
3rd mile................47'
4th mile................40'
5th mile................35'
6th mile................50'
6.2 mile................8' (40' average)
Distance................6.2 miles
River width average.....35'
River geology...........Granite ledge, small to medium boulders
River water quality.....Excellent, clarity: excellent.
Scenery.................Good to excellent mountain scenery, a few homes and 
                        camps on the lower reaches, route 302 occasionally 
                        visible on river right. 
Wildlife................occasional deer, moose, perrigrine falcons, hawks. 


Put in

Interstate 95 to Spaulding turnpike (NH rt 16).
North through Conway up to the intersection 302/16 in Glenn (approximately 75 miles).
Go straight through the intersection and continue on route 302.
Approximately 12 miles look for a small parking area next to a grey house on the right about a mile past the Sawyer River crossing.
Or continue another mile past an area where route 302 crosses Nancy Brook just after the Notchland inn
Note: putting in here requires you to run or portage the class IV gorge just downstream.

Take out

Head back to the town of Bartlett on route 302.
Take a left at the blinking light.
Approximately .3 miles to the bridge. Take out located across the bridge on upstream river left. The gauge is located on river right downstream side of bridge.

StreamTeam Status: Not Verified
Last Updated: 2009-11-02 02:03:51


Rapid Summary

Mile Rapid Name Class Features (Legend)
1.7Sawyer RockIIIPhoto
1.8Tweedledum TweedledeeIII+

Rapid Descriptions

Rowans (Class III, Mile 0.2)

Rowans Rapid

Rowans Rapid
Photo of Sharon and Corinne by Mark L taken 04/27/03 @ 1.7'

Shortly below the gorge is a series of short but intense drops one after another. Most are short less than 50 yards long but blend together in a long complicated rapid in high water. The rapids become a little easier after the first railroad bridge crossing.

Sawyer Rock (Class III, Mile 1.7)

Sharon at Sawyer's Rock

Sharon at Sawyer's Rock
Photo of Sharon Lacroix by Mark L taken 04/27/03 @ 1.7'

Fairly straighforward but look out for ledge hole at the bottom that can have a rather strong backwash. The rapid can be identified by a smooth ledge rock (Sawyer's) on river right as the river turns to the left. The boulder strewn drop above Sawyer's rock requires a little skill to navigate. This is a popular swimming hole in the summer.

Tweedledum Tweedledee (Class III+, Mile 1.8)
Shortly after Sawyer's Rock rapid comes the biggest drop on this portion of the Saco. The river splits around a mid stream island the right channel is usually not passible except under high water conditions. The left channel drops steeply and contains much turbulance amoung the waves and holes. The best route is just right of center skirting the largest holes on river left formed by the Tweedledum and Tweedledee boulders.

Scouting Group
Photo of Vicky, Buffer, Steve, and Terry at Tweedledum Tweedledee by Kate Hartland taken 5/12/07 @ 1.1'

User Comments

Users can submit comments.
October 4 2011 (2361 days ago)
jacquese (151921)
Great post Mike. Carl F and I ran it from just below where you put in and found the run in great
shape. We ran the river on Saturday Oct 1 at 1.0 on the bridge gage. T-dee / Tdum seemed a little
wider on river right. This made the move down the right side a bit more forgiving than before.
Steve Jacques, Bartlett, NH
October 1 2011 (2364 days ago)
jmike247 (151789)
9/30/11 Post T.S. Irene Condition at .9 ft on bridge painted gage- Paddled from Davis Path to River
St. and noted the following: (1) Large tree nearly all the way across river about 100 yds.
downstream of Davis Path put-in, just able to get by on river left. (2) There is a tree along river
left blocking the small eddy right at the top of the gorge entrance. It is not blocking the river
but don't plan on stopping there to scout. The larger eddy at the beach before the left turn well
above the gorge is clear. (3) There are branches/roots extending half way across river from river
left at the last drop in lower section of gorge. Also looks like there may be a log just below the
surface at this drop. Runable on right, but hazard if on left or capsized/swimming. The narrow
upper section was clear but I believe should always be scouted before running. (4) Many sections of
the river have minor changes with rock bars that have built up due to significant bank erosion in
some areas. (5) Tweedle Dum-Tweedle Dee is best run just right of center now, as medium size
boulders have been deposited along river right near end of the rapid. (6) The rapid in the right
hand turn after the last railroad bridge has been filled in on the right and scooped out around the
large rocks on the left, which now are more in the center. Should be interesting at higher levels.
(7) The class 2 section below this last big rapid has changed significantly in that a couple old
channels have been closed by rock bars and new ones dredged out. Not any harder, just different. A
lot of trees along banks, but none blocking river. (8) We were pleasantly surprised to find so few
strainers. It appears that the flood level was so high that the trees were pushed parallel to the
river and most are high on the river bank. Mike Cummings Glen, NH
September 5 2011 (2390 days ago)
Mark LacroixDetails
On August 28th, 2011 Hurricane Irene struck New England. The resulting floods caused extensive
damage throughout the region, the worst in over 100 years. More than half the rivers in Vermont and
northern New Hampshire recorded their highest flow levels ever. Many roads, guardrails, power
lines, bridges, trees and other debris now litter several rivers throughout the region. River beds
have been scoured and changed course, many new strainers make navigation problematic at best and
downright dangerous at worse. Please realize that the river description you see here may not match
current situation after the floods. Use common sense and when in doubt scout especially on blind
drops. Also, if you run this river in the next year or so please comment on its navigability, even
if there are no problems this will be very helpful. Please report any new strainers or changes to
the rapids that will impact future boating. Thank you,
May 3 2010 (2881 days ago)
jmike247 (151789)
USGS Gage 010642505 reads 3.0' higher than painted gage on bridge 20 yds upstream

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