The East Branch of the Saco is a II-V stream emptying into the Saco north of North Conway. There are four distinct sections of the river.
The uppermost section is a shortish mostly flatwater run starting all the way into the woods at the trailhead. It's an easy put-in close to the trailhead with a lazy current. Wildlife is abundant. The run ends with two short class III rapids before coming to a bridge where the road crosses over the river.
Warning: As of 3-Nov-2018 the Upper and Middle Sections of this river is full of strainers requiring constant vigilance and frequent portaging. They start roughly 1-mile downstream of the put-in bridge, and continue all the way to the town hall bridge put-in for the lower. The Lower at this time was mostly clear.
The most challenging section begins at the bottom of the class II section where the national forest road crosses over the river. This section starts with a runnable small dam followed by a couple class III drops. It then switches to continuous class IV punctuated by many class V drops. The river gradient of this section averages an astounding 273 feet per mile. As a fortunate safety feature the National Forest East Branch trail follows along river left for the majority of the run. The trail provides an easy take-out should one be necessary. Approximately one-half mile before the bottom of this section the trail turns left into the woods, crosses over to Slippery Brook (the main tributary of the East Branch Saco river), follows Slippery Brook along river right for a quarter mile, then crosses the brook to reach the trailhead and parking area for the Class IV put-in. To take-out at the bottom of this section, pull off on river left immediately above where Slippery Brook joins the main channel coming in from the left. Then drag/carry your boat thru the woods along the brook (river-right) two-tenths of a mile to where the East Branch trail crosses the brook to the trailhead and class IV put-in. Avoid crossing the brook until you reach the trail since the woods on the river-left side of Slippery Brook are thick and rocky.
The two lower sections are the most commonly run parts of the river. When they're up, it's a busy five-and-a-half miles of solid class III-IV rapids; even at low levels. This middle section has a number of drops similar to the harder rapids on the lower section but generally narrower and with a higher gradient of 119 feet per mile. Paddlers in larger boats will have to react quickly to avoid being hung up in the tight areas. Put on at the trail-head of the National Forest East Branch Trail and paddle down Slippery Brook for 0.2 miles where the brook joins the main channel. The river then turns off into the forest with steep hills, thick woods, and no trails before swinging back and passing under the Town Hall Road bridge at the lower put-in. Be sure of your skills since it is not an easy walk out. (And if you must walk out, stay close to the river since it's the most direct route and the easiest way to avoid getting lost.) As you approach the bottom of the section be aware of a bad hole in river-center immediately upstream of the Town Hall Road bridge. This was the site of a fatality during very-high water in 2006.
This is the most commonly run section. The gradient for this last section averages 78 feet per mile. There are a number of good rapids easily scoutable from the road.
Slippery Brook is the main tributary of the East Branch Saco high in the mountains. It is often confused with the upper section of the East Branch Saco since it follows along the National Forest Road the same as the main channel does downstream. Boaters paddle both sections, but be aware that Slippery Brook is significantly more difficult and dangerous then the East Branch Saco river proper. This section has not been verified by AW Streamkeepers.
User observations incidate that the following guidelines be used to interpret the Saco gaugeGuage is Rising = 4.5 or higher is runnable Gauge is Falling = 5.5 and under is too low Solid Bet = 6.0 seems to be a sweet spot
The class II put in is located at the far end of the National Forest Road (coord 44 11.397, -71 07.795). From Route 302, turn onto Town Hall Road. Follow it up all the way into and past the National Forest Gate (3.35 miles), turn left 2.5 miles furthur on. You'll immediately pass over Slippery Brook (the main tributary of the river). Continue on another 3.35 miles (9.2 total), passing over the river, then to the end of the road and trailhead. The put-in is a short walk down the trail.
The Class V Putin/Class II takeout is where the road passes over the river (coord 44 10.631, -71 07.093). From Rt 302/16, drive up Town Hall Road 5.85 miles, turn left towards the Class II put-in, immediately cross over Slippery Brook, then drive another two miles to where the river crosses under the road. There is parking past the bridge.
The (Upper) Class IV putin is at the trailhead of the East Branch Trail (coord 44 09.282, -71 06.404). Travel past the National Forest gate 1.65 miles and put in on Slippery Brook. The brook (which is class IV here) joins the main channel 0.2 miles downstream. (Slippery Book follows along the main road several miles upstream.)
Take out on river left at the confluence just upstream where Slippery Brook joins the main channel (coord 44 09.176, -71 06.661) , walk upstream between the two channels 0.2 miles to the East Branch Trail, cross the brook to the trailhead and road.
Once the two channels join the gradient softens a bit and there is more water (coord 44 09.166, -71 06.646).
The lower put in is on Town Hall Road, two miles from Route 302 where the road crosses over the river (coord 44 07.300, -71 07.800). There is parking for a few cars on the far (river left) side of the bridge.
The gage is located on the downstream left side of the center bridge abutment (44 06.008, -71 09.141). There is limited parking here; a better place to park and take-out is by the town offices and police station (a short distance upstream along Town Hall Road, coord 44 06.137, -71 08.831).
8 years ago
by Mark Lacroix
A paddlers' gauge is painted on the downstream river left side of the center bridge abutment on the Route 302/16 bridge near the takeout.
Runs only during periods of high runoff when other rivers are too high.
*RR=rising rapidly, RS=rising slowly, S=steady, FR=falling rapidly, FS=falling slowly, P=peaking, V=valley (transition falling to rising).
Permits are not required for this reach.
Take-Out: Follow routes 16/302 north of North Conway & Intervale to the Route 302 bridge where the river passes under the road just upstream of the confluence with the Saco. The gage is here on the downstream-left side of the river-center abutment.
Alternate Take-Outs: Drive up Town Hall Road approximately one-third mile to Intervale Resort Loop Road. Take off either by the bridge going over the river or behind the Police Station & Town Offices where there is easy parking.
Lower Put-In: Drive up Town Hall Road and put on where the river passes under the road.
Middle Put-In: Continue up Town Hall Road to the trail-head of the National Forest East Branch Trail approximately two miles past the entrance gate. Put on in the woods a few feet up the trail.
Upper [Class V] Put-In: Drive up Town Hall Road approximately three miles past the National Forest entrance gate and the Middle Put In. Slippery Brook will appear on the left along the road. Turn left, crossing over Slippery Brook, then up over the hills and back down again. Put on where the road crosses the river.
Upper Upper [Class II] Put-In: Drive into the National Forest past the Middle Put-In. Turn left, driving past the Class V put in. Follow the road all the way to the end and the trail-head. Put on a short way up the trail.
Slippery Brook Put-In: Drive into the National Forest past the trail-head and Middle Put In. Slippery Brook appears on the left, following the road for several miles. Put on/take out anywhere along the road.
East Branch Saco at Medium
Class V Takeout
Takeout and Gage
Lower Section Rapid
Class IV (Lower) Put In
Confluence of the Main Channel with Tributary
First drop on the upper IV section
Class IV (Upper) Put In
Mel does an easier part of the Class V section.
Open Boaters running the East Branch Saco
Class V Put In
Class II Section
East Branch Saco Class II Put In
If someone gets hurt on a river, or you read about a whitewater-related injury, please report it to
American Whitewater. Don't worry about multiple submissions from other witnesses, as our safety
editors will turn multiple witness reports into a single unified accident report.
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.
Log into the American Whitewater website and you can contribute to river descriptions,
flow and access tips, and maps associated with runs you've done. You can even add new
runs to the inventory!