Photo: Zoar Outdoors

Boston’s Best Place To Paddle Whitewater 

Head west to the dynamic Deerfield River to learn paddling’s most exciting discipline.

There’s closer whitewater to Boston than you might think. If you want to go rafting, or learn to paddle rapids in a whitewater kayak or canoe, the ever-dynamic Deerfield River is only a 2.5-hour drive west from downtown. Stalwart outfitters offer guided raft, inflatable kayak and SUP trips, along with rentals and kayak lessons from some of the country’s best whitewater instructors. The beauty of the area is its variety, from a 17-mile section serving up tranquil, scenic flats to easy Class I-II whitewater and a harder and splashier Class III-IV section offering some of the East’s best whitewater. Go on your own or guided, and for the day or a long three-day weekend (running multiple sections), staying at any number of local hotels, lodges or campgrounds.  

Orient Yourself

Of the Deerfield’s two main sections, the 3-mile Monroe Bridge Section (aka the Dryway) is the more technical option. It offers exciting Class III-IV boating for intermediates and experts and can draw sizable crowds on water-release days. Starting out easier and then getting progressively harder as you paddle downstream, you’ll negotiate such rapids as Class III Factory and Boof Rock and the Class II+ Upper Play Zone before careening through Class IV Split Hair (otherwise known as Initiation), Class III Pinball and Class IV Rodeo. The crux of the run is Class IV Dragon's Tooth Rapid, but still save up for Class IV Dunbar Brook and Labyrinth. The water in this section is usually bypassed by a diversion canal that runs down to the reservoir behind Fife Brook Dam (hence the nickname 'Dryway').

But from that dam to No. 4 Dam, there’s a more mellow 17 miles that offer paddlers and rafters an easier trip. This Class I-II Fife Brook section is the river’s longest undammed stretch, ideal for beginners and aspiring intermediates, with a 700-cfs water release on most Wednesday to Sunday mornings from April to October (see details below). The first 5 miles down to Zoar Gap feature many splashy rapids, making it great for rafting (prepare to get wet in Class II Freight Train and Pinball). Not up for paddling it yourself? Try a raft trip from one of many outfitters in the Charlemont area.

Water Releases

Ten hydroelectric dams exist along the 73-mile Deerfield, earning it its nickname, “The Hardest Working River.” Most report their daily-release forecasts through Waterline, an online and phone-based release reporting system. Fife Brook releases over 106 days from the second week in April to the second week in October, starting between 9:30 a.m. and noon, as well as on unscheduled days to meet peak-power demands. There are 32 releases on the Monroe Bridge (Dryway) section from the end of May until early October, scheduled for the following morning hours, Friday to Sunday: fours hours on Fridays beginning at 11 a.m.; five hours on Saturdays at 10 a.m.; and four hours on Sunday releases at 10 a.m. More info: h2oline.com

Go Guided

Multiple outfitters, including Crab Apple Whitewater, Zoar Outdoors, and Berkshire Whitewater, guide river trips on various sections of the Deerfield—utilizing 25 miles of dam-controlled river—that vary in price, distance, and duration. Most trips have a minimum age of 7, and all include riverside snacks or lunch. Running the Deerfield since 1989, Crab Apple is one of the mainstays, whose base camp sits along the river’s historic Mohawk Trail (where it also offers raft trips on several other local rivers). Berkshire East is a four-season resort (with a ski area come winter) with lodging options and other activities like mountain biking. Zoar Outdoor is also a long-running outfitter, with a store, accommodations, plus world-class paddling instructors (and a nice online resource for gauging when to paddle each section’s best “bubble,” based on water releases). 

 

Photo: Zoar Outdoors

Take a Lesson

Zoar Outdoor’s paddling instructors aim to produce self-sufficient kayakers and canoeists who’ll become long-term members of the paddling community. Its many clinics are designed for adults, kids, and families, emphasizing the joy of paddling as a lifetime pursuit through everything from river games to gradual skills progression. Sign up for a day-long or multi-day program. 

Camping

Don’t like a roof overhead after your day on the water? A variety of camping options exist in the area including sites at Berkshire East, Zoar Outdoor, Foolhardy Hill, Country Aire, Mohawk State Park, and elsewhere. Sign up early to reserve a spot.

Events

Every August, boaters from across the Northeast gather in Charlemont for Deerfield Fest, which celebrates the historic settlement with hydropower utilities for secured water releases more than 20 years ago. The event serves as American Whitewater’s biggest fundraiser in the Northeast and includes live music, vendors, demos, paddling clinics, beer tents and a silent auction.

Get Involved

The Deerfield was one of the country’s first major dam-relicensing victories for American Whitewater and remains one of its most impressive and valuable to the paddling community. The nonprofit organization advocated for recreational river use with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), ensuring regular and predictable water releases for various sections of the Deerfield. Now, the Deerfield River Watershed Association is dedicated to its continued stewardship, protection, and restoration by engaging in volunteer-assisted monitoring of water quality, river cleanup days, school programs, grants, maintenance of the Mohawk Trail, plus other protective measures. Its newest project includes seeking National Wild and Scenic River designation for the waterway. More info: deerfieldriver.org

All articles are for general informational purposes.  Each individual’s needs, preferences, goals and abilities may vary.  Be sure to obtain all appropriate training, expert supervision and/or medical advice before engaging in strenuous or potentially hazardous activity.