Swift - 3. Lower Falls to Darby Field sign

Swift, New Hampshire, US


3. Lower Falls to Darby Field sign (Lower Swift)

Usual Difficulty IV(V) (for normal flows)
Length 5.35 Miles
Avg. Gradient 84 fpm
Max Gradient 123 fpm

Lower Falls (Swift)

Lower Falls (Swift)
Photo of Mike Jones

Gauge Information

Name Range Difficulty Updated Level
Swift #5, Cabin Gorge as a function of USGS Saco
virtual-45943 0.40 - 4.00 ft IV(V) 00h30m 0.0833646 ft (too low)

River Description

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.

Technical info

Put in elevation.......885'
Take out elevation.....508'
Total drop.............377'
Average drop/mile......70'......Including Lower falls
Distance...............5.35 miles
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


Put in

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.

Take out

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.

StreamTeam Status: Not Verified
Last Updated: 2018-05-02 14:36:39


Rapid Summary

Mile Rapid Name Class Features (Legend)
0.0Lower Falls5.0Putin Portage Waterfall
0.2Blackberry rapidIV
1.8Cabin GorgeIV+Photo
3.5Screaming Left TurnIV
4.0Race courseIV
4.5House RockIV

Rapid Descriptions

Lower Falls (Class 5.0)
Just pass the picnic tables from the parking lot for the put in, scout Lower falls and decide wheter to run it or put in below. The entrance rapid starts out well above the falls, carry up as far as you like for a warm up. Lower falls is a series of 6' to 8' ledges that run parallel to the river from the center with the ledges dropping off from left to right. You must scout this drop. It is necessary to run a route through a series of blind drops. A far left route leads the paddler over a more gradual slide. But the approach requires you to punch two large stickey holes. The slide itself contains numerous holes and boulders along its path. The other route (the usual one) requires a precise drop over the 8' ledge between a boulder and some shallow water. Take a sharp left after this drop paddle hard to launch over the next ledge over a stickey hole at the bottom of the drop. Below lies a fairly large calm pool for an esier put in for the lower section.

Blackberry rapid (Class IV, Mile 0.2)
Blackberry rapid probably would not be as difficult if it were located further downstream but it is located shortly after the put in. The rapid is long (1/3 mile)and does not let up until you approach the Albany covered bridge. The main difficulty here is a miriad of pinning rocks. There are some holes and a few play spots along the way.

Cabin Gorge (Class IV+, Mile 1.8)

Swift River Gorge (finish)

Swift River Gorge (finish)
Photo of Ginger Cox by Mike Gatewood @ 2.75

At levels above 2' this should be considered a class V. About a mile below the covered bridge you will come up to some cabins on river left. Take out below the last cabin and scout the drop below. The entrance rapid requires a boof move off a rock on river right at low water levels. After two ledge drops catch an eddy on river left then make a move downriver to eddy out behind a rock in the center of the river. From this point make your way to river right then then take the slot move through the center of the river. This rapid is fairly long (about 60 yards) and drops about 20 to 25 feet in that distance.

Staircase (Class IV, Mile 2.2)

Descending the Staircase, Swift River (in it)

Descending the Staircase, Swift River (in it)
Photo of Ginger Cox by Mike Gatewood @ 2.75

At high water this one should also be considered a class V. There is a sneak route on the far left. The main route requires a boater to remain upright and on course through two large channel wide holes that contain some boulders that could change your course or cause you to bounce back into the hole. There is a fairly clean line that would allow a boater to paddle straight and hard to punch the holes and avoid the rocks but you must scout this line since it is not obvious from above. There is another route on river right that is a little easier but more technical. A boater must manuever around boulder consticting drops. The run is very short only about 80 feet but it drops about 15 to 20 feet in this distance.

User Comments

Users can submit comments.
October 17 2011 (2583 days ago)
DarronLaughland (151096)
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')
October 17 2011 (2583 days ago)
DarronLaughland (151096)
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.
May 3 2010 (3115 days ago)
jmike247 (151789)
USGS Gage 01064485 reads 5.35' higher than painted gage in Cabin Gorge 50 yds upstream.

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