The lower Swift is the most sought after spring river in NH for intermediate to advanced boaters. The Swift drains the southeastern slopes of the White Mountains. The river is narrow only averaging 50 feet in most locations. You can put-in below the class V Lower falls in a relatively calm pool below. The first rapid after this is class IV then it calms down to class I-II water up to the Gorge (1.8 miles). From here on down the Swift once again calms down to class II until Staircase. After Staircase the river gradually gets steeper and more continous as you make your way downstream. It eventually builds up to a mostly continuous class III-IV with a few more difficult class IV's. This whole section looks and feels a lot like the Upper Yough in Maryland with blind obstructed drops through holes and pinning rocks. Most drops can be boat scouted but a couple should be looked at and carried if you feel uncomfortable, notably Lower Falls, Cabin Gorge, and Staircase. The Kancamagus highway parallels this entire section making for easy exit and entry points along the way. See also the Middle and Upper Swift.
Put in elevation.......885'
Take out elevation.....508'
Average drop/mile......70'......Including Lower falls
1st mile drop..........92'......Includes Upper falls and Blackberry
2nd mile drop..........23'......Includes Upper Cabin Gorge
3rd mile drop..........49'......Includes Lower Cabin Gorge and Staircase
4th mile drop..........75'......Includes Screaming Left Turn
5th mile drop..........101'.....Includes Race Course and House Rock
5.35 mile drop.........37'
River width average....50'
River geology..........large granite boulders, some ledges at falls
River water quality....Excellent, crystal clear
Scenery................Excellent mountain and forest scenery.
Wildlife...............Some deer, moose, perrigrine falcons, tourist
From Interstate 93.
Interstate 93 to exit 32. State route 112 (Kancamaugus Highway) east for approximately 28 miles.
Approximately 7 miles pass Bear notch road look for the pull off for Lower Falls Scenic area.
From NH route 16.
Take a left on NH route 112 (Kancamaugus Highway), head west for approximately 7 miles to Lower Falls Scenic area.
Bathroom facilites located here may not be available before early May.
Head east towards Conway on the Kancamaugus highway for 5.5 miles.
Park off the road shoulder at a sign that reads "Darby Field....". There is a road that leads up to a hotel and condominiums across from the sign.
Note: At the put-in it will be necessary to have a White Mountain National Forest parking sticker . These can be purchased at the information center just off exit 32 on Interstate 93 on the west end of rt 112 (Kancamaugus Highway). Or at the National Forest Service information center at the intersection of NH routes 112 and 16 on the east end of the Kancamaugus highway. It is also possible to buy a day pass from the self service kiosk located at the Lower Falls recreation area.
Curious to hear what people think - the boaters gauge - which thankfully has been freshly painted... seems like it has changed. Currently a foot "feels" like a foot and a half. We suspect that the level - at least in terms of the boater gauge appears lower than it really is within a few inches and so far - at the lower end of the boatable levels (1-2')
Several parties have run from the cabin gorge, just downstream of Hobbs Brook confluence to the Darby Field sign. Although there are some differences, most are subtle and are minor changes to lines.
Upstream of the cabin gorge, there used to be a log with a small US flag on it. The log is gone but it is a good historical reference to the following: The river did a large S-turn into the eddy just above cabin gorge. After Irene, at a little over a foot on the paddler gauge- there is a new slightly bumpy line down the right side of this, at higher level it goes pretty smoothly. Gorge is the same. Curious to hear what people think about things, I think one of the really big rocks moved a bit to the left, the big one just upstream of the gauge in the middle that the typical line went around either side. It felt tighter on river left along the wall...
We ran the typical line down the center and left of center in the staircase. The bottom has shifted a little but the line still goes. Center seems like it has a slightly wider tongue at the very bottom.
The steep reach, just above house rock which is just upstream from some wide ledge holes, and a takeout/swimming hole ledge is a little different. There has always been a hole on river right, then a dark colored rock in the middle. There is a new rock now to the left as well. So two tongues - between the hole and the dark rock or the two rocks.
The debris on the sides is amazing, how high and how much. Where Hobbs brook comes in, there is a little pull off where we put in, there are huge piles.
No wood of consequence, but if we get another round of high water, and the debris piles start breaking up, it could get ugly.
From Darby Field down - about a mile or so downstream - past the class II rapid, the river widened and filled in with cobblestones, it gets braided and shallow in spots, loads of wood, but it is passable. It will continue to evolve with higher flows, including some movement in the downed trees and wood piles along the sides.
USGS Gage 01064485 reads 5.35' higher than painted gage in Cabin Gorge 50 yds upstream.
The visual gauge is painted on the gorge wall (also known as Cabin gorge) in the Lower Section; you have to stop along the Kancamagus to look at it. It is located about 1 mile below the Albany covered bridge. Look for cabins across the river as the river drops below the view from the road; park carefully along the narrow shoulder and look up against the cliff on river left.
3/4' .....minimum scratchy level
1.75......Low to medium
3' .......very high
In the summer of 2009 a new USGS gage was installed on the river right bank just downstream of the visual gage. The gage was part of a 2 year project and it was discontinued in 2011. Daily average flow data for this period is available at: USGS 01064485 SWIFT RIVER 0.5 MI BL HOBBS BR, NR CONWAY, NH Stage data is not available.
*RR=rising rapidly, RS=rising slowly, S=steady, FR=falling rapidly, FS=falling slowly, P=peaking, V=valley (transition falling to rising).
Estimated chance (%) of finding the river runnable.
January ............. 0%....frozen.
April................65%....Best chance mid to late April
May .................35%....Best chance in early May.
August................3%....Just a trickle
September.............8%....Tropical storms and their remains
November.............30%....Fall rains, dormant trees
December.............20%....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 3% probability for August means on average you can only expect 1 day of water. One year there could be 2 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.
We have no additional detail on this route.
Use the map below to calculate how
to arrive to the main town from your zipcode.
Saco USGS vs Swift Cabin Gorge
Reading the Gauge
Top of Lower Falls
Lower Falls (right line)
Skip on the Swift
Lower Falls (Swift)
Descending the Staircase, Swift River (in it)
Swift River Gorge (start)
Descending the Staircase, Swift River (approach)
Swift River Gorge (finish)
If someone gets hurt on a river, or you read about a whitewater-related injury, please report it to
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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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