Whether you crave tumultuous rapids or a quiet paddle, a river getaway is the perfect antidote to a humid day in summer. Grab a canoe, kayak, raft, or tube and then float or zip down one of these waterways. It’s time to stop sweating and jump in.
It was 1976 when intrepid outdoorsman Wayne Hockemeyer and a group of friends braved the tumultuous Kennebec River in a 20-foot raft. Before this, the Kennebec was known solely for its fishing and the logs that went hurtling down it to the mills below. When the Legislature that summer passed a law prohibiting transportation of logs and pulpwood down the state’s rivers, Hockemeyer opened Northern Outdoors, a white-water rafting outfit that offers rides on this fast-moving river as it makes its way down through a deep gorge. www.northernoutdoors.com
It’s a long drive on logging roads to reach the Spencer Rips put-in on the Dead River, but once there, be prepared for a glorious run on the longest stretch of continuous whitewater in New England. The river churns along 16 miles of almost nonstop Class III and IV rapids, enhanced by a half-dozen dam releases from May through October. There are no bridges, roads, or other signs of civilization until the end — just a rip-roaring ride through big water on rapids with names like Minefield, Humpty Dumpty, and Big Poplar Falls.
The 14-mile stretch of the West Branch of the Penobscot River from Ripogenus Gorge to Baxter State Park is a turbulent waterway that drops over 70 feet per mile through a narrow, granite-walled canyon. Within moments of leaving the put-in, you’ll cruise over your first set of rapids, the Exterminator, with Baxter Mountain looming in the background. Next up is Troublemaker and then Cribworks, the most ferocious rapid of them all. Your day will swiftly become an exhilarating blur of running over these steep falls, screaming with your crew as the raft bends, twists, and turns backwards with every succeeding drop.
Saco River, N.H.
When your legs are weary from days of arduous hiking in the Whites, let your arms take over and canoe down the Saco River. The narrow waterway weaves from Crawford Notch in the heart of the White Mountains all the way through southeastern Maine, before emptying into the Atlantic at the city of Saco, south of Portland. In Conway, there are any number of access points and canoeing options along the river, from a 3-mile trip to a three-day, 40-mile canoe-camping journey to Hiram, Maine. Rent canoes with Saco Bound Outfitters and you can paddle for three hours to the put-out at Pigs Farm. Many paddlers will stop along the sandy shores to picnic and swim. www.sacobound.com
Lamoille River, Vt.
This quiet water paddle is ideal for families as it leads through the farmland outside of Stowe on a 6-mile canoe jaunt. You’ll snake your way slowly through the tall fields of corn, seeing many more cows than humans. The slight scent of manure wafting in the air reminds you of your sylvan surroundings. Near the end of the paddle, Vermont’s highest peak, 4,393-foot Mount Mansfield, comes into view. Bert’s Boats offers canoe rentals and shuttles to the Lamoille. www.bertsboats.com/local_ tours.htm
West River, Vt.
The state’s best white-water run can be a zoo on the two days a year (the end of April and September) when the Army Corps of Engineers releases the waters of the Ball Mountain Dam. The rest of the year, it can get a little dry, but it’s still a scenic white-water kayaking run though the Green Mountains. The upper reaches should be attempted only by experienced paddlers with solid Class III skills. Soon the stream widens and slows down as you head toward the Connecticut River
, allowing novice kayakers to do their thing. Good swimming holes and fishing are found at various points all along the West, including Jamaica State Park, about 2 1/2 miles downriver from the dam.
Ipswich River, Topsfield
Snaking through the largest wildlife sanctuary in the Massachusetts Audubon Society, the Ipswich River is a bird lover’s delight. Foote Brothers Canoe Rentals will drive you to the Salem Road put-in to begin a 7-mile jaunt back to the rental outpost. Ipswich is one of those narrow, serpentine rivers that was designed with a canoe in mind. Its glassy waters are broken only by the occasional tree limb jutting up into the air. Snowy egrets usually stand tall in the marsh and the iridescent blue-green head of the common grackle searches for food on the banks. footebrotherscanoes.com/aboutbros.html
If you spend time enjoying theater in Williamstown or art at Mass MoCA in North Adams during the summer, you’ll notice the cars with kayaks on their roofs. Due east of the well-traveled Mohawk Trail (Route 2), the Deerfield offers the best whitewater in Massachusetts. Dam releases by New England Power Co.
cause rapids to tumble down two stretches of the river — the exhilarating Class III and IV run in the Dryway and the Class I to III rapids of the Fife Brook section farther south that lead to the deep pools of Zoar Gap. Zoar Outdoors in Charlemont offers rafting trips all summer. Then dry off and try Zoar’s new zipline. www.zoaroutdoor.com
Farmington River, Conn.
For those of you who love the Lazy River ride at water parks, here’s a lazy river created by Mother Nature. The tranquil waters on the Lower Farmington are home to a 2 1/2-mile stretch of river that’s ideal for tubing. Farmington River Tubing provides tubes, life jackets, and a shuttle bus from the take-out back to the starting point. Grab a tube, jump in, and float at a relaxed pace as the water follows the sinuous route. Like amusement parks, the ride ends far too quickly, so you might want to do it all over again (at half price). www.visitconnecticut.com/farmingtonrivertubing
Housatonic River, Conn.
In the northwest corner of the state, the Litchfield Hills are where highways are replaced by country roads with covered bridges and leading to pre-Revolutionary War towns. On the Housatonic, flatwater canoers can put in at Falls Village and paddle 14 miles north to Ashley Falls, Mass. White-water kayakers can put in at Power Plant Park, just below Great Falls in Falls Village, and travel 10-12 miles south on Class I, II, and III rapids under the West Cornwall covered bridge to the take-out at Housatonic Meadows State Park. This stretch is part of a 9-mile trout management area, with three miles reserved for fly-fishing. Brown and rainbow trout are plentiful in the summer.
Stephen Jermanok, author of Outside magazine’s Adventure Guide to New England, can be reached at www.activetravels.com.
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