Warner - Melvin Mills to Warner

Warner, New Hampshire, US


Melvin Mills to Warner

Usual Difficulty IV (for normal flows)
Length 3.7 Miles
Avg. Gradient 86 fpm
Max Gradient 118 fpm

Sluice Dam on the Warner

Sluice Dam on the Warner
Photo of Rand Currier by Mark Lacroix taken 11/01/03 @ 778 cfs/2.8 bridge

Gauge Information

Name Range Difficulty Updated Level
Warner at Laing Bridge Lane
virtual-219143 1.20 - 4.40 ft IV 01h12m 2.4262 ft (running)
usgs-01086000 4.60 - 7.50 ft IV 01h12m 5.9 ft (running)

River Description

The Warner is a popular river located in central NH about a 20 minute drive northwest of Concord. It has a huge watershed resulting in a long season that starts in March and can last thru the end of May (or longer). The large wetlands in the headwaters also sometimes delay the effects of rain as well as extending the length of time the river is running.

This river is not what you think of in a typical New England whitewater river. It is drop-pool for much of the run with flatwater paddling between each of the major whitewater sections. The water is also darker then typical New England streams since much of the upper parts of the river pass thru wetlands. The geology is likewise a bit different; the rocks are sharp and solid, not the usual collection of loose piles of stones.

This is a highly technical river, narrow and shallow in the whitewater sections. The upper two-thirds of the run is mostly class III difficulty mixed in with several surfing waves and some class II sections. As you approach the gorge the pace quickens. Pinball Rapid is class IV at medium and higher levels, as are the Sluice Dam and Bridge Abutment sections immediately after. These however are just a warmup for the gorge.

One-and-a-half miles below the put-in is the Warner Gorge. The gorge is a wonderful series of tight drops one-immediately-after-the-other packed into a short-but-intense quarter mile. This section is the main event and the primary reason this river is so popular!!! Scouting is recommended for the first-timer; the gorge is easily reachable from the road. Just park at the Upper Take-out and walk upstream along an old road bed.

Immediately below the gorge is the Upper Takeout, followed by a 15 minute flatwater paddle to a runnable dam (closed boats only, too shallow for open boats), and then more flatwater paddling to reach a long, enjoyable class III rapid just above the middle takeout. [Note 4/25/07: The cable stretched across the top of the runnable dam has been removed by the owner (Thanks Pete!!!). It will be replaced during the summer months only.]

Beyond the last class III rapid is another 30 minute quickwater/flatwater paddle to the Waterloo takeout located by the old railroad station and a covered bridge. Starting just below the covered bridge is the final class IV section formed by the remains of another old mill and dam.

A typical run to the gorge takes an hour-and-a-half. The lower sections (Middle, Waterloo takeouts) add about 30 minutes each, the bottom section adds another 15 minutes. At medium or high river levels the lower sections are well worth the extra flatwater paddling.

Technical info

Put in elevation........635'
Take out elevation......492'
Total drop..............143'
Average drop/mile.......60'
Distance................2.4 miles
River width average.....25'
River geology...........schists small boulders some ledge
River water quality.....Good, clarity neutral to good.
Scenery.................Old overgrown mill and dam ruins; a number of
                        old bridge abutments from roads and railroads.
Wildlife................Deer, merganzers, hawks. 


Gas/Convenience Stores..Several just off I-89 exit 9 interchange.
Nearest Restrooms.......McDonalds, just off I-89 exit 9.
Camping.................Many in region; none very close by.
Restaurants/Pizza/etc...Follow 103 north of I-89 into downtown Warner.

Regional Weather

Go here for a NOAA weather forecast.

Regional Map - Rivers of the lower Contoocook region

Rivers of the lower Contoocook region
Map by Mark Lacroix


StreamTeam Status: Not Verified
Last Updated: 2016-04-10 22:41:33


Rapid Summary

Mile Rapid Name Class Features (Legend)
0.5Melvin MillsIIIPhoto
0.6Surfing HoleII+Playspot Photo
0.8Second Class IIIIIIPhoto
1.0Third Class IIIIIIPhoto
1.1Play WavePlayspot Photo
1.2Pinball (Upper Half)III+Photo
1.3Pinball RapidIVPhoto
1.5Sluice DamIVPortage Hazard Photo
1.5Bridge AbutmentsIVAccess Hazard Photo
1.5GageAccess Photo
1.6Gorge Drop 1IVPhoto
1.7Gorge Drop 2AIVPhoto
1.7Gorge Drop 2BIIIPhoto
1.7Gorge Drop 3AIVPhoto
1.7Gorge Drop 3BIII+Photo
1.7Gorge Drop 4AIVPhoto
1.8Gorge Drop 4BIVPhoto
1.9Upper Take-OutTakeout Photo
2.3Swain Lowell DamIII+Portage Hazard Photo
3.2Last Class IIIIIIPhoto
3.7Hidden HoleIII+Hazard Playspot Photo
3.7Middle Take-OutTakeout Access Photo
4.5Typical River Character in Lower Section.IPhoto
5.2Waterloo Take-OutTakeout Access Photo
5.2Waterloo FallsIV+Portage Hazard Waterfall Photo
5.2Bottom Class IVIVPhoto
5.5Bottom Take-OutTakeout Photo

Rapid Descriptions

Melvin Mills (Class III, Mile 0.5)

First Drop on the Warner

First Drop on the Warner
Photo of Butch Mixon by Mark Lacroix taken 11/01/03 @ 778 cfs/2.8 bridge

One-half mile below the put in, Melvin Mills starts upstream of a bridge then tumbles past a house built up on the remains of an old mill building. There is a short class III drop here into a large pool. Look out for debris on the river right side of this drop. There are a few more class II-III rapids for the next mile or so.

Surfing Hole (Class II+, Mile 0.6)

Warner Play Hole

Warner Play Hole
Photo of Skip Morris by Will K's wife Charlotte taken 04/23/17

At the top of the pool a nice surfing wave forms at low and medium levels.

Second Class III (Class III, Mile 0.8)

Second Class III

Second Class III
Photo by Skip Morris taken 11/11/03 @ 450 cfs

The second class III has a nice ledge in it with a hole on river right.

Third Class III (Class III, Mile 1.0)

Third Class III

Third Class III
Photo of MVP Boaters by Skip Morris taken 11/11/03 @ 450 cfs

The third class III begins as the river flows away from the main road again.

Play Wave

Play hole above Pinball

Play hole above Pinball
Photo of Pat Taft by Skip Morris taken 11/07/06

There is a nice set of surfing waves in between the Third Class III and Pinball Rapids.

Pinball (Upper Half) (Class III+, Mile 1.2)

Upper half of Pinball

Upper half of Pinball
Photo of Skip Morris by Will K's wife Charlotte taken 04/23/17

A long technical rapid with lots of rocks and holes to avoid. The rapid starts out mildly just as the river turns away from the road and passes the first set of old bridge abutments.

Pinball Rapid (Class IV, Mile 1.3)

Bottom of Pinball Rapid

Bottom of Pinball Rapid
Photo by Tom Todd taken 05/09/04 @ 5.5 usgs

The last bit of Pinball is the most difficult. The route gets steeper and very fast with large rocks in the middle of the fastest channels. At high levels this section becomes very fluid and pushy. Some paddlers however consider it easier at higher levels since you can paddle over the rocks.

Sluice Dam (Class IV, Mile 1.5)

Doing the dam at higher water

Doing the dam at higher water
Photo of Skip Morris by Walt Andry taken 11/07/06

Shortly after Pinball look for a horizon line with a bridge and small buildings on river left. Scout this drop to find the best line. Here, there is the remains of an old mill/dam, there is also evidence here of a newer, yet still abandoned small scale hydro electric project. (NH Dept Environmental Services Dam Bureau ID 243.29, owned by Warner River Hydro). There is a concrete bypass on the far left that leads under a culvert then into the small hydro building. There is another steep narrow concrete sluice (4' wide)on the left. If you run the sluice turn your paddle parallel to the boat to avoid loosing it (or your arms) from the vertical concrete sidewalls. The sluice then drops into a hole and a trashy runout.

Note: As of 2005, there is an extra board in the sluice diverting some of the water to the side channel and making the sluice higher and steeper. A run over the dam instead of the sluice is recommended at all except high levels to avoid bottoming out and damaging one's boat. A portage is recommended for open boats and low and medium levels. Update 3/07: The board in the sluice has mostly been worn away by the river, however the board could be replaced by the dam owner at any time.

Bridge Abutments (Class IV, Mile 1.5)

Bridge Abutment Left Channel

Bridge Abutment Left Channel
Photo by Skip Morris taken 11/11/03 @ 450 cfs

Either channel thru the bridge abutments provides a good run, however the left channel is more turbulant and washes up against a large rock on the bottom and requires quick maneuvering to avoid. Warning 4/22/07: There is a large log blocking both channels; extreme caution is recommended.


Paddlers Gage

Paddlers Gage
Photo of Paddler's Gage by Skip Morris taken 01/05/05

The paddler's gage is painted on the river right abutment of the Laing Bridge Lane bridge.

Gorge Drop 1 (Class IV, Mile 1.6)

Going thru the Meltdown Hole...

Going thru the Meltdown Hole...
Photo of MVP Boater by Skip Morris taken 11/11/03 @ 450 cfs

The Gorge is a longish rapid with anywhere from four-to-seven more-or-less distinct drops (depending upon water level and how you count). You can recognize the start of the gorge by the long rock wall on river left that used to be the base of an old and long gone mill building. The first drop is known as the Meltdown Hole, if you hug the right bank by the rock you will dive deep and pop up several feet downstream.

At medium and higher levels this drop can be paddled along the left or center as well. Be aware the center route runs from left-to-right and tends to flip boats not lined up correctly.

There is a nice large pool/eddy at the bottom of the drop where you can pick up the pieces. The pool immediately leads up to the next drop. Several more drops continue for the next 1/4 mile.

Gorge Drop 2A (Class IV, Mile 1.7)

Gorge Drop 2A at low water.

Gorge Drop 2A at low water.
Photo by Skip Morris taken 11/11/03 @ 450 cfs

The second major drop in the gorge can easily be boat scouted since it's steepness slows down the upstream current enough to approach the edge, while not being so steep you can't see what you're getting in to.

There is a small eddy along the right just below the initial drop, however it's difficult to enter since the drop curves to the left and momentum brings the boater into the second half (2B) of this section.

Gorge Drop 2B (Class III, Mile 1.7)

Drop 2B in the Warner Gorge

Drop 2B in the Warner Gorge
Photo of Joe Fiala by Skip Morris taken 07/04/06 @ 930cfs (2.6)

Drop 2B is formed about a dozen yards below 2A where the channel narrows and passes over a ledge. It's not as steep as the prior sections but the speed forms a good set of waves. A large eddy to the right is immediately below the drop where one can stop, pick up the pieces, and scout the next section. At higher levels drop 2B washes out a bit and the entire 2A/2B section blends together into one continuous set of waves.

Gorge Drop 3A (Class IV, Mile 1.7)

Drop 3A in the Warner Gorge

Drop 3A in the Warner Gorge
Photo of MVP Boater by Skip Morris taken 07/15/06 @ 575cfs (2.2)

Drop 3A is very similar in character to 2A. An abrupt steep drop that can be easily boat scouted. There is a large eddy to the right below the drop, however at medium and higher levels the area between sections 3A and 3B becomes a continuous set of waves and holes where momentum tends to carry boaters directly from 3A into drop 3B.

Gorge Drop 3B (Class III+, Mile 1.7)

Drop 3B in the Warner Gorge

Drop 3B in the Warner Gorge
Photo of Joe Fiala by Skip Morris taken 07/04/06 @ 930cfs (2.6)

At Drop 3B, the channel curves to the left. The smoothest route is far left however it's difficult to get there since the channel guides the boater to the right side and over the steepest part of the drop. Water volume is not as high since some of the water is diverted thru sieves below the eddy between sections 3A and 3B. Below this drop are eddys on both sides of the channel where once can scout drop 4.

Gorge Drop 4A (Class IV, Mile 1.7)

Gorge Drop 4A

Gorge Drop 4A
Photo by Skip Morris taken 11/11/03 @ 450 cfs

After the first series of abrupt drops the river character changes for the last part of the gorge. Instead of distinct and well-defined drops, Gorge Drop 4 stretches out as a longish, technical, rocky and pushy rapid that demands superior river reading skills and quick reactions. At lower levels there is a large eddy between the upper and lower halves of this section.

At higher levels the two halves blur into one continuous and quick rapid. Open boats in particular find themselves quickly swept down this rapid teetering on the edge of disaster.

Gorge Drop 4B (Class IV, Mile 1.8)

Gorge Drop 4B

Gorge Drop 4B
Photo of MVP Boaters by Skip Morris taken 11/11/03 @ 450 cfs

The bottom part of Drop 4 in the gorge is primarily defined by a large bridge abutment in the center of the channel. Either side of the abutment is a fine run, however getting to the right above the abutment is tricky since the channel usually pushes to the left. Below the abutment the left side is full of rocks and river debris so a paddler must quickly move the right.

Upper Take-Out

Upper Take Out

Upper Take Out
Photo of Upper (just below the gorge) take out taken 01/05/05

The Upper Take-out is located just below the Gorge. Park anywhere along the flat stretch and paddle almost up to your car.

Swain Lowell Dam (Class III+, Mile 2.3)

Doing the Dam

Doing the Dam
Photo of Julie Smith by Skip Morris taken 07/15/06 @ 575cfs (2.2)

Halfway between the gorge and the last class III rapid there is an old hydro dam (NH Dept Environmental Services Dam Bureau ID 243.07). At medium and higher levels closed boats will enjoy the trip over the edge paddling left of center. Open boats are advised to only paddle this drop at medium or higher levels or risk damage to the boat. The dam can be easily portaged on the right. At high levels closed and open boats can paddle over the rocks along the far right. At very high levels a dangerous hydraulic forms at the base of the dam. Warning: During the warm summer months (the swimming season), a cable will extend across the top of the dam. It is provided by the dam owner as an important safety line for the many people including children who walk across the dam crest to swim and boat there. The cable will normally be taken down after each Labor Day. Since the cable (if present) extends across at helmet height it presents a hazard for paddlers At least one paddler snagged her helmet in the cable as she miss-judged the distance when dropping over the lip of the dam. It is recommended that paddlers take turns with a partner lifting the cable up high out of harms way as one paddles over the dam.

Drawing showing pool below and eroded (now filled) cavity.
This dam, originally built in 1905 has recently been undergoing renovation and restoration. The current owner reinforced the weakened and eroded base of the dam with 250 tons concrete in 2001. It is his intent to maintain the area as a retreat and local summer swimming hole. According to the owner, immediately beyond the base of the dam the river bed drops off in a pool approximately five feet deep before becoming shallower again a short distance downstream of the dam. On the river left edge the old turbine has been recently excavated and is visible just below a new concrete platform. This turbine connected to gears and a shaft that extended up into the small mill building above. When in operation it generated only 50 horsepower.

Last Class III (Class III, Mile 3.2)

Last Class III

Last Class III
Photo of MVP Boaters by Skip Morris taken 11/03/05 @ 1020cfs (3.0)

After about a mile-and-a-quarter of flatwater, you'll come to the last Class III which brings you to the second take-out. The longest on the river (at almost 1/2 mile), the rapid starts just past a curve in the river where it passes under the main road twice. Just above the bottom of the rapid you'll reach an old railroad bridge and the middle takeout. At medium and higher levels this rapid is a blast and well worth the long flatwater paddle to reach.

Hidden Hole (Class III+, Mile 3.7)

Hole at bottom of Last Class III in high water

Hole at bottom of Last Class III in high water
Photo by Skip Morris taken 11/07/06

Near the bottom of the last class III (immediately above the bridge and take-out), be on the lookout for a hidden hole that extends almost completely across the river. Stay river-left for the cleanest route. The Middle Takeout is located here.

Middle Take-Out

Middle Takeout

Middle Takeout
Photo by Skip Morris taken 01/05/05

The middle take-out is by an old bridge found near the end of the last class III rapid (and immediately below the hole). Road access is easy from either side of the river, however the only parking is on the side road on river left. The class III rapids continue for another hundred yards or so beyond the takeout.

Typical River Character in Lower Section. (Class I, Mile 4.5)

Lower Section in High Water

Lower Section in High Water
Photo of Lower Class I Section by Skip Morris taken 11/07/06

In between the middle and lower takeouts is a 30 minute paddle thru flatwater, quickwater, and a couple class I rapids. Portaging and/or dragging over a tree or two is usually required since the current flow is never strong enough to wash away strainers. At medium and higher levels the few class I rapids in this section wash out.

Waterloo Take-Out

Lower Takeout

Lower Takeout
Photo by Skip Morris taken 01/05/05

The Waterloo Take-out is by a covered bridge. Take-out on river left along the old railroad bed.

Waterloo Falls (Class IV+, Mile 5.2)

Waterloo Falls

Waterloo Falls
Photo of Waterloo Falls by Skip Morris taken 11/07/06

Just below the covered bridge at the Waterloo Takeout is the remains of another old mill dam plus one more difficult rapid. The falls are abrupt and full of debris from the mill so take care. The cleanest route is along the right. At high water hydraulics form at the base of the dam as well. Stay well away from the channel along the left edge as this flows into the remains of an old hydro building (with no safety grate). The falls can be easily portaged from the island in the middle of the channel.

Bottom Class IV (Class IV, Mile 5.2)

Bottom Class IV

Bottom Class IV
Photo of Bottom Class IV by Skip Morris taken 11/07/06

At the base of Waterloo Falls is a longish class IV rapid. Run the falls along the right; the rapid is pushy at technical at lower levels. At high levels big waves and holes form.

Bottom Take-Out

Bottom Take-out

Bottom Take-out
Photo of Bottom Take-out by Skip Morris taken 11/07/06

Take out just below the Bottom Class IV along river-right. It is a steap 8 foot climb up the bank to the edge of the road.

User Comments

Users can submit comments.
April 7 2015 (1319 days ago)
clinton begleyDetails
4/07/2015 - there is a log spanning across the river 100-200 feet downstream of the private dam
before the gorge. Exercise caution.
April 7 2015 (1319 days ago)
sreesenh (156831)
At Bridge Abutment (mile 1.5) the right channel is completely blocked with downed trees. The left
channel is partially blocked but still runnable at the far left. Updated 4/07/2015 This has been
cleared - C. Begley

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