Rapids On Fire

If Ryan McCall, director at-large for the Vermont Paddlers Association, has any advice for paddlers looking to run Vermont’s creeks and rivers this spring, it’s this: Hope for rain.

Spring flows are dependent on two factors: snow melt and spring rains. This year, Vermont missed out on a snowy winter, meaning that precipitation will have to supply the conditions.

“Hopefully we’ll have a wet spring,” McCall says, “We’ve been running higher than our usual state average by a magnitude of about five inches for the past several years. There’s a pretty good chance we’ll be boating.”

Rain can be localized so sometimes it can be sunny in the valleys and raining enough in the mountains to get the rivers running hard. McCall and his buddies rely on a word-of-mouth network around the state to let each other know what’s running. In addition to the emails and texts that start flying when conditions are right, McCall checks charts from water gauges from the USGS on all the rivers around the state, available at waterdata.usgs.gov. These readings can be compared with river descriptions and advice from the American Whitewater Association (americanwhitewater.org). During the thaws and the rains, a number of rivers have predictable flows. Here are some of McCall’s favorites for this spring.


Mad River

McCall says this river has more boatable days per year than any other river in the state and is still runable even when low where it wanders north towards the Winooski River. After putting in near the Sugarbush Access Road, enjoy Class I and II rapids between Warren and Waitsfield during normal flows. For more of a challenge, look for the rapid known as “Butternut” near Butternut Hill Road. Take out when you get to Waitsfield.


Gihon River

Flowing from Whitcomb Island Rd. in Hyde Park to Johnson, Vt. the Gihon’s two sections — an upper and a lower— offer solid Class IV and V waters for strong paddlers. The upper portion starts with a 25-foot dam followed by several Class IV ledges and rapids, culminating with Mustang, a three-stage rapid that shoots through a narrow gorge. A mile of calm flatwater separates the upper from the lower portion, where the daring can tackle a two-stage rapid called Bed-Head. Paddlers use the gauge on the nearby Lamoille River (check the waterdata.usgs.gov site) to know when to run. Water levels on the Gihon rise and lower faster than the Lamoille, so when water is going up or down on the Lamoille, you can bet the Gihon is already ahead.


New Haven River

Another consistent favorite, the “Ledges” on the New Haven in Bristol is a popular for an after-work paddle. From the put-in on the side of Lincoln Road, negotiate boulder gardens before shooting over the ledges. More Class II boulder rapids follow before culminating with The Toaster, a dramatic 15-foot drop. Pull out is shortly after the final big drop. The New Haven is the site of the New Haven Ledges Race, scheduled this month for April 16


Wells River

This mile-long stretch near Groton and Wells River Village features four Class IV and V rapids in quick succession with lots of features to keep your attention in between steep drops and narrow chutes. Thorough scouting and careful picking lines will be needed to avoid damage to injury to craft or self. Put in is on Old Farm Road in Wells River, Vt. Take out is a mile downriver before the lower dam.


Mississquoi River

The Mississquoi River in northern Vermont is a source for big river fun. Thanks to an agreement with dam operators on the river, when water levels get high following a rainstorm, paddlers can anticipate releases. The Sheldon Spring Rapids deliver solid Class IV and V rapids that can be pushed to un-runable levels. From after the dam in Sheldon Springs, paddlers keep their eye out for Tetanus Shot and Big Shot – the two largest rapids to negotiate early in the run. The take out is just about a mile downriver.

Evan Johnson

Evan Johnson is the staff writer for Vermont Sports Magazine. The native Vermonter enjoys steep and deep skiing and wandering all over the state by Subaru. Find him on Twitter at @evanisathome.