The Wonalancet is one of those mountain streams that rarely comes up, but when it does it provides a delightful run on what is probably the best Class III river in all of New Hampshire. The river drains Mount Wonalancet and Mount Chocorua on the southern edge of the White Mountains (on the opposite sides of those mountains from the Mad and Swift Rivers). It flows through Hemenway State Forest and some very peaceful and lovely wilderness landscapes. Eventually it empties into the Bearcamp, and from there into the Saco. It is only runnable during the spring snow melt and periods of high runoff, rising and falling quickly, usually in a day or two. As a result, it is seldom run, which is a shame. If you are lucky enough to catch it up, be on the lookout for the numerous strainers that are common on rarely run rivers such as this.
Officially, this river is listed on most maps as the Swift River. However, to avoid confusion with the better-known Swift River to the north, the paddling community refers to it by the name of its upstream section, the "Wonalancet". So don't be confused by any signs referring to the "Swift River."
There are multiple put-in and take-out's on the river, allowing paddlers the flexibility of tailoring their trip to paddler ability, interest, water level and time. The run can be as short as 2-1/2 miles or as long as 5-1/2 miles.
At a level of 0.3 (medium low) the river is an easy technical Class III. The numerous drops require good paddling skills to stay in your boat and avoid the rocks. However, a swim at this level is forgiving. At a level of 1.0 most of the rocks disappear; however, the river still has plenty of eddies and is not yet pushy. The many strainers add to the challenge of the river, requiring good setting and eddy-turn skills. At a level of 2.0 the river becomes pushy, paddlers must pay attention and be ready to react quickly to rocks, holes, and strainers. At higher levels a swim could be dangerous due to the numerous strainers across and in the water.
The upper section (starting at the second Route 113A bridge), which is the (official) Wonalancet River, is about half the width and water volume as the lower sections since it is above several of the main feeder streams. In terms of difficulty the upper section is similar to the lower; it starts out with a set of busy class III rapids then settles down to continuous class II rapids with the occasional class III drop. This upper section requires approximately half-a-foot more water then the lower sections (as measured on the paddlers gage).
The middle section (officially the Swift River) begins where the Wonalancet merges with Paugus Brook just upstream of the first Route 113A bridge north of Tamworth. Put on at the Fowler's Mill Road bridge (also known as Chocorua Mountain Road), a narrow wooden bridge that crosses over the bottom of the upper section. A longish delightful class III rapid is encountered immediately starting where Paugus Brook flows into the Wonalancet. Below the rapid is the first Route 113A bridge; the gauge is here, on the river right bridge abutment. Individuals wishing a short warm-up time before running the rapids may put in by the gage (ie, below the first Class III rapid).
The next half-mile is continuous Class II with several easy Class III sections as the river enters the state forest.
The most challenging area is the Forest Run Rapids in the middle of the section. This is also a great spot to scout if you are unsure of river conditions since if this section is boatable the entire run will be as well. Stop by the state forest pull off, and walk to hiking bridge leading to the fire tower where it passes over the river. There are handy trails from the bridge leading both up and downriver.
Below Forest Run are three more longish class III rapids before reaching the Short Run Take-out. In between the major class III rapids the river is continuous class II with an occasional class III spot.
The lower section (below the Short Run Take-out), is a mixture of class II and III rapids. Close to town of Tamworth the river settles down to a gentler Class II. As the river approaches the town, Tamworth Falls, an abrupt class III drop appears. The drop is blind so scout it before running it for strainers. Below Tamworth Falls are more class II/III rapids that end as the river enters the town.
Take out at the paved public parking lot jsut past the Tamworth Inn in the town of Tamworth.
The upper section (the actual Wonalancet) is boatable as well. Put on here in the town of Wonalancet where the river (a small brook at this point) crosses under a road branching off route 113A (43.9085N/71.3510W). This section is 3.8 miles long and has a gradient mile-by-mile of 100 (0.8 mi.), 140, 100, 20, and is reported to be a Class IV steep creek. Boaters who have run this section report it as being full of strainers as well. If you run this section, please provide feedback to the streamkeeper.
Paugus Brook, which flows into the Wonalancet at the lower put-in's is likewise boatable. Primairly class II with one short but exciting class III section half-way down. This class III area is narrow with tight turns and frequently collects strainers so be aware. Paugus Brook runs 1 mile down to the Wonalancet, with a drop of 55 feet.
For a relaxing trip, you can run the river from the take-out in Tamworth all the way down to the Bearcamp River along route 25 (43.8277N/71.2421W). This quickwater section is 3.3 miles long. A convenient put-in/take-out is located after the first mile, where the river goes under Route 113 (43.8471N/71.2654W). Past Route 113 there are several small dams requiring portages plus numerous strainers as well as the occasional beaver dam.
The upper put-in is reached about a mile up the road from the lower put-in's. There is only parking for about 3 cars.
The first quarter mile is very busy. It's a set of fairly continuous class III rapids. The river is narrow here; about half the width and half the water volume of the lower sections since it's above several of the main feeder streams.
The rest of the upper section is one-half mile of continuous class II rapids with an occasional class III drop or ledge.
This put-on is by a dirt road with a narrow wooden bridge over the river. I'ts just upstream of the lower put-in. There is very little parking, however it has the advantage of being above a very nice rapid that you would otherwise miss. It's also hidden from the road allowing more privacy for boaters getting ready for the run.
This rapid is a tight, busy 200 yards of continuous class III features. Paugus Brook flows into the river just past the start of the rapid; almost doubling the river width and water volume. The National Forest trail crosses over the river as well providing a nice view of boaters paddling the rapid. The rapid ends at the lower put-in.
Driving north along Route 113A, this put-in is 3.25 road miles north of Tamworth where the road first crosses over the river. The gage is located here on the river-right bridge abutment.
Below the first Route 113A bridge the river features continuous class II rapids with occasional class III drops or short sections. The river is wider here then the upper section, providing more of a river feel then that of a creek. At levels over one foot it starts to become pushy as well.
The Forest Run section of the river is the most changelling. Three-quarters mile of continuous class III rapids and drops. There is a slight break in the action one-third of the way down where the State Forest trail bridge crosses over the river. The bottom of the rapid is visible from the road about a quarter-mile south of the trailhead pull-off/parking; this is an excellent spot to scout the river if you are unsure of the water level or difficulity. If there is enough water here then the entire run from the lower put-in to Tamworth will be boatable. Additionally the rapids here are characteristic of the most difficult sections of the river and will allow the paddler to gage overall river conditions to their ability level.<br><br>
To scout the bottom of Forest Run, drive along Route 113A, one-quarter mile south of the State Forest trail-head pull off. There is a small pull off here where
you can walk down to the bottom of the rapid.
One-third of the way thru Forest Run, the river takes a short break where the State Forest trail crosses over the river. There is easy access to the river from here with trails leading along the side.
After Forest Run, the next three-quarters mile has three significant class III rapids, each in their own quarter-mile. The first is an easy III switchback around the rocks.
S-Turn is a pushy, technical, right-to-left move thru the rocks and over a ledge, followed by a quick right. This drop frequently collects strainers due to the large rocks in the channel. This is also one of the more difficult sections of the river.
A short class III rapid ends at the short run take-out up a steep bank. Generally boaters only use this take-out during mid-week trips that have limited time.
The early take-out is 1.4 road miles north of the intersection of routes 113/113A in Tamworth. There is a small pull-off here.
After the Short Run take-out the river is a mixture of class II and III rapids. As the river approaches the town of Tamworth it settles down to continuous class II.
As the river approaches the town there is an abrupt 3 foot ledge drop. The drop is blind and frequently has strainers in it, be sure to stop and scout. It can be sneaked around on the left.
Below the drop is several hundred yards of class II/III rapids that end at the bridge leading into town.
Take off at a public paved parking area near the Tamworth Inn.
The Tamworth Inn is now the Tamworth distillery. The take-out parking lot is next door.
8 years ago
by Mark Lacroix
11 years ago
by Drew Kmiec
There is no USGS gauge; use the nearby Bearcamp gauge as a guide. When that river is running, the Wonalancet usually is as well. Note, however, that this river drains high elevations so this is not always true in colder weather.
There is also a painted paddlers' gauge on the bridge abutment at the put-in. Readings are:
2.5 = High
1.0 = Medium
0.3 = Medium Low
0.0 = Low
< 0 = Too Low
The upper section (above the gage) requires an extra half-a-foot of water to be boatable.
Permits are not required for this reach.
From the north or south, drive along Route 113 to the town of Tamworth and the intersection of routes 113 and 113A. Drive thru to the end of the downtown area; the take-out is a public parking area on the left just past the Tamworth Inn.
From Tamworth and the intersection of routes 113/113A, drive north along Route 113A about one-and-a-half miles. There is a small pull-off on the left with a climb up a steep bank from the river.
Best place to scout the river is either from the State Forest Trail. The trail head is well marked with a pull-off about two-and-a-half miles up route 113A from Tamworth. Walk into the river where the bridge crosses over the Forest Run rapid. There is also good access to the bottom of Forest Run a quarter-mile south along the road by another roadside pull-off.
The first Route 113A bridge is about three miles from the Route 113/113A intersection in Tamworth.
From the first Route 113A bridge, drive a very short distance up Route 113A, turn right on a dirt road, and put in where the river runs under the road at 43.89466N/71.29681W.
Pass over the river at the first Route 113A bridge; continue north along Route 113A about another mile to the second bridge over the river. There is parking for only about three cars here on the left.
From the middle put-in on Fowler's Mill Road (also known as Chocorua Mountain Road) approximately 1-1.5 miles where it crosses Paugus Brook at 43.9080N/71.2895W.
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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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