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Whitewater Kayaking Down The Pemi River


Modified: January 3, 2024

by Lindsey Maki



Whitewater kayaking is an exhilarating adventure sport that allows you to navigate the untamed rapids of rivers, basking in the beauty of nature while challenging yourself physically and mentally. One such remarkable destination for whitewater kayaking is the Pemi River in the stunning state of New Hampshire. The Pemi River offers a thrilling experience for kayakers of all skill levels, with its diverse range of rapids and breathtaking scenery.


As you embark on your whitewater kayaking journey down the Pemi River, you will be surrounded by the lush greenery of the White Mountains and the tranquil serenity of the wilderness. The river flows through captivating gorges and calming stretches, providing a perfect blend of excitement and beauty. Whether you’re a seasoned paddler or a beginner seeking an adrenaline rush, the Pemi River offers something for everyone.


One of the reasons the Pemi River is a popular choice among kayakers is its accessibility. Located in central New Hampshire, it is easily reachable from major cities like Boston and Concord. The river’s proximity to various camping grounds and outdoor recreation areas adds to its appeal, offering an opportunity to combine kayaking with camping and exploring nature.


Before you set off on your whitewater kayaking adventure, it’s essential to understand the different difficulty levels the Pemi River presents. The river boasts a range of rapids, from gentle Class I to challenging Class V, ensuring there’s a suitable challenge for every skill level. This makes it an ideal destination for both beginners who want to learn and experienced paddlers looking for a thrilling ride.


In the next sections, we will delve into the specific details of whitewater kayaking on the Pemi River, including safety precautions, required gear, the best time to visit, and the stunning wildlife and scenic views you can expect along the way. So, grab your paddle and get ready to embark on an unforgettable adventure down the Pemi River!


Overview of Whitewater Kayaking

Whitewater kayaking is a thrilling water sport that involves navigating fast-moving rivers and rapids using a kayak. Unlike traditional kayaking, whitewater kayaking requires specialized skills and equipment to handle the turbulent water conditions. It is a perfect blend of adventure, adrenaline, and appreciation for the natural environment.


When it comes to whitewater kayaking, it’s all about the rapids. Rapids are sections of a river where the water becomes turbulent, creating waves, eddies, and challenging obstacles. These rapids are classified based on difficulty levels, ranging from Class I (easy) to Class VI (extremely hazardous and not recommended for kayaking). Each class represents a different level of skill, experience, and technical capability required to navigate.


Whitewater kayaks are designed to maneuver through rapids swiftly and with precision. These kayaks are shorter, more maneuverable, and typically made of durable materials that can withstand the rough conditions. They feature a cockpit with a snug fit and adjustable footrests for stability and control. Paddles used in whitewater kayaking are shorter and wider for better control and power.


As a whitewater kayaker, you’ll need to learn and master essential techniques such as eddy turns, ferries, and bracing to effectively navigate through rapids. Eddy turns involve using the water’s current to move from the fast-flowing main current into calmer eddies, while ferries enable you to cross the river diagonally. Bracing is a crucial skill that helps you maintain balance and prevent capsizing when confronted with powerful waves.


Whitewater kayaking offers a unique combination of physical exertion, mental focus, and connection with nature. It requires a good level of fitness, as paddling against the current and maneuvering through rapids can be physically demanding. Additionally, the sport offers an immersive experience in the outdoors, allowing you to appreciate the breathtaking beauty of rivers, canyons, and the surrounding landscapes.


While whitewater kayaking can be an exhilarating adventure, it’s important to prioritize safety at all times. It is highly recommended to wear a properly fitted personal flotation device (PFD) or life jacket, a helmet, and appropriate clothing that protects against the elements. You should also have a solid understanding of river rescue techniques and be prepared for unforeseen circumstances.


Whether you’re a beginner looking to learn the basics or an experienced kayaker seeking more challenging rapids, whitewater kayaking on the Pemi River promises an unforgettable experience. In the next sections, we’ll explore the specific features of the Pemi River and the different difficulty levels it offers for whitewater kayakers.


Location of the Pemi River

The Pemi River, also known as the Pemigewasset River, is a scenic waterway located in the beautiful state of New Hampshire, in the northeastern region of the United States. It flows through the heart of the White Mountains, offering kayakers the perfect setting for an adventurous journey surrounded by stunning natural landscapes.


The river originates from the Franconia Range, a subrange of the White Mountains, and winds its way through rugged canyons, serene forests, and picturesque valleys. It is approximately 65 miles (105 kilometers) long, providing ample opportunities for exploration and excitement along its course.


The Pemi River is a tributary of the Merrimack River, one of the longest rivers in New England. It joins the Merrimack near the town of Franklin, creating a seamless connection between river systems and allowing kayakers to extend their paddling adventures if they desire.


The Pemi River is easily accessible from major cities in the region, making it a favored destination for outdoor enthusiasts. It is located within a few hours’ drive from Boston, Massachusetts, and Portland, Maine, making it a convenient choice for day trips or weekend getaways.


The river flows through several picturesque towns, including Lincoln, Woodstock, and Plymouth, offering plenty of options for accommodations, dining, and other recreational activities. These towns serve as ideal base camps for kayakers, providing easy access to the river as well as nearby trails, campgrounds, and other attractions.


The Pemi River has gained recognition for its unique combination of thrilling whitewater rapids and serene stretches, providing a diverse range of paddling experiences. Depending on the section of the river you choose to explore, you can find everything from exciting Class III and IV rapids to calm, gentle waters that allow for a more relaxed and scenic journey.


Overall, the location of the Pemi River in the stunning White Mountains region of New Hampshire makes it a prime destination for whitewater kayaking. The tranquil beauty of the surrounding landscapes coupled with the exhilarating rapids of the river creates an unforgettable and immersive experience for kayakers of all skill levels.


Difficulty Levels of the Pemi River

The Pemi River offers a variety of difficulty levels, making it suitable for kayakers of different skill levels and experience. From gentle meandering sections to challenging rapids, the Pemi River has something to offer to paddlers seeking different levels of adventure.


One of the characteristics that make the Pemi River an appealing destination for whitewater kayaking is its diverse range of rapids. The river features several sections with various difficulty ratings, classified according to the International Scale of River Difficulty.


The lower sections of the Pemi River tend to provide a more beginner-friendly experience, with primarily Class I and Class II rapids. These rapids are characterized by gentle waves, small obstacles, and clear channels, making them ideal for novice paddlers or those looking for a more relaxed and scenic journey. These sections offer an opportunity to master basic kayaking techniques and gain confidence on the water.


For those seeking a more exhilarating experience, the middle sections of the Pemi River feature a mix of Class II and Class III rapids. Class II rapids have moderate waves and slightly more complex maneuvers, while Class III rapids present higher waves, stronger currents, and more challenging maneuvering requirements. These sections provide a balanced blend of excitement and skill development.


Experienced kayakers looking for an adrenaline rush will find their match in the upper sections of the Pemi River. Here, you’ll encounter Class IV rapids that require advanced paddling skills, precise navigation, and quick decision-making. These rapids feature larger waves, powerful currents, and technical challenges that demand a higher level of expertise and experience.


It’s important to note that whitewater kayaking can be inherently risky, and the difficulty of rapids can vary depending on factors such as water levels, weather conditions, and personal skill level. It is always recommended to assess your abilities and choose sections of the river that are within your skill range.


If you are new to whitewater kayaking or unsure of your skills, joining a guided tour or hiring a local kayaking instructor can enhance your safety and enjoyment on the Pemi River. They can provide valuable guidance, share their knowledge of the river, and ensure you have the necessary skills to navigate the rapids safely.


Whether you’re a beginner, intermediate, or advanced kayaker, the Pemi River offers a wide range of difficulty levels to satisfy your thirst for adventure. It’s important to choose sections that align with your skills and comfort level, while always being mindful of safety and the dynamic nature of the river.


Safety Precautions for Whitewater Kayaking

Whitewater kayaking is an exciting and invigorating adventure sport, but it is essential to prioritize safety when venturing out onto the rapids of the Pemi River. By following some key safety precautions, you can ensure a fun and secure experience on the water.


First and foremost, wearing a properly fitted personal flotation device (PFD) or life jacket is of utmost importance. A PFD will keep you afloat in case of a capsize or other emergency situations, ensuring your safety throughout your kayaking journey.


Additionally, it is crucial to wear a helmet designed specifically for whitewater kayaking. Kayaking helmets provide protection against potential head injuries caused by collision with rocks or being swept against hard surfaces.


Before embarking on your kayaking trip, it’s crucial to thoroughly assess the conditions of the river. Check the water levels, weather forecast, and any potential hazards or warnings in the area. Be aware that water levels can rise or fall rapidly, impacting the difficulty and safety of the rapids.


Familiarize yourself with the International Scale of River Difficulty, which classifies rapids based on their level of challenge. Choose sections of the river that align with your skill level and experience. Avoid tackling rapids that are beyond your capabilities, especially if you’re a novice or unfamiliar with the specific river.


Having a solid understanding of self-rescue and river rescue techniques is crucial for whitewater kayakers. This includes essential skills such as the ability to perform an Eskimo roll or wet exit, as well as maneuvering in eddies and using throw bags for rescue purposes. Taking a whitewater kayaking course or paddling with experienced kayakers can help you develop and refine these important skills.


Always paddle with a buddy or in a group whenever possible. Not only does this add to the enjoyment of the experience, but it also ensures there is someone to assist you in case of emergencies or accidents. Communication devices such as waterproof radios or whistles should also be carried to signal for help if needed.


It is essential to be mindful and respectful of the natural environment while kayaking. Avoid disturbing or damaging the riverbed, vegetation, or wildlife. Practice Leave No Trace principles by disposing of any waste properly and minimizing your impact on the surroundings.


Lastly, it is recommended to have a first aid kit with you, including basic medical supplies and any required medications. Being prepared for minor injuries or medical issues can provide peace of mind and quick assistance if needed.


Remember that safety should always be the top priority when whitewater kayaking. By taking necessary precautions, understanding your limitations, and being aware of the current conditions, you can enjoy a thrilling and secure adventure on the rapids of the Pemi River.


Required Gear for Whitewater Kayaking on the Pemi River

When embarking on a whitewater kayaking adventure on the Pemi River, it is crucial to have the right gear to ensure your safety, comfort, and enjoyment on the water. Here are the essential equipment and gear you’ll need for your kayaking journey:

  • Whitewater Kayak: The most important piece of equipment is, of course, a whitewater kayak. These kayaks are specifically designed for navigating rapids, with features such as a shorter length, durable construction, and a snug cockpit. Ensure your kayak is suitable for your skill level and properly sized for your body.
  • Paddle: A high-quality paddle is essential for propelling and maneuvering your kayak. Whitewater kayak paddles are typically shorter in length compared to touring or recreational paddles. They are designed to provide better control and power in fast-moving water.
  • Personal Flotation Device (PFD) or Life Jacket: Wearing a properly fitted PFD is mandatory while kayaking. A PFD provides buoyancy and keeps you afloat in case of a capsize or other emergencies. Ensure your PFD is approved by relevant safety standards and comfortable to wear.
  • Whitewater Helmet: Protect your head from potential impacts by wearing a whitewater kayaking helmet. Rapids can be unpredictable, and a helmet can help reduce the risk of head injuries caused by collision with rocks or submerged obstacles.
  • Spray Skirt: A spray skirt is a key component of a whitewater kayak. It is a waterproof cover that seals the cockpit, preventing water from entering the boat. A properly fitted spray skirt keeps you dry and enhances your control of the kayak.
  • Wetsuit or Drysuit: Depending on the water and air temperature, you may need to wear a wetsuit or drysuit to stay warm. Wetsuits provide insulation and are suitable for kayaking in moderate temperatures, while drysuits offer full waterproof protection in colder conditions.
  • Protective Clothing and Footwear: Dress appropriately for the weather conditions, choosing quick-drying and moisture-wicking materials. Avoid cotton as it retains moisture and can make you feel cold. Wear sturdy, closed-toe shoes or neoprene booties that provide traction and protect your feet from rocks and debris.
  • Safety Equipment: Carry necessary safety equipment such as a whistle or waterproof radio to signal for help if needed. A throw bag can also be useful for river rescues or assisting fellow kayakers. Additionally, a knife can come in handy for emergency situations, like cutting yourself free from tangled ropes.

It is important to invest in high-quality equipment that meets safety standards and is suitable for the specific conditions of the Pemi River. Regularly inspect your gear for any signs of wear and tear, and replace or repair as needed to ensure optimal performance.


Remember, each individual’s gear requirements may vary based on factors such as skill level, preferences, and water conditions. It is always recommended to consult with experienced kayakers or paddling instructors to ensure you have the right gear and equipment for your whitewater kayaking adventure.


Local Guides and Kayaking Tours

If you’re new to whitewater kayaking or simply want to explore the Pemi River with the guidance of experts, local guides and kayaking tours are an excellent option. These professionals have an in-depth knowledge of the Pemi River and can enhance your experience by providing valuable insights, ensuring your safety, and taking you to the best spots along the river.


Local guides are intimately familiar with the Pemi River’s characteristics, including its various sections, difficulty levels, and potential hazards. They can assess your skill level and preferences and customize the kayaking experience accordingly, helping you choose sections of the river that are suitable for your abilities.


Guided kayaking tours offer both instructional and recreational opportunities. Beginners can take advantage of the guided instruction, where knowledgeable instructors teach the essentials of kayaking and provide hands-on training. You’ll learn paddling techniques, safety procedures, and how to navigate through rapids effectively.


For experienced paddlers, guided tours offer the chance to explore new sections of the river and discover hidden gems. Guides can share valuable insights about the area’s history, wildlife, and flora, enriching your kayaking adventure with a deeper understanding of the Pemi River ecosystem.


One of the advantages of joining a guided tour is the convenience and peace of mind they offer. Guides will take care of logistics, providing the necessary equipment and ensuring its proper fit. They will also have the knowledge to assess the river conditions, such as water levels and any potential changes that may affect the rapids’ difficulty.


When selecting a kayaking tour or guide, it’s essential to do some research and choose reputable companies or individuals with extensive experience in whitewater kayaking and knowledge of the Pemi River. Read customer reviews, inquire about their certifications or affiliations, and ask for references if necessary.


Consider the types of tours or programs offered by the guides. Some may provide introductory courses for beginners, while others focus on advanced kayaking techniques or multi-day expeditions. Choose a tour that aligns with your goals and preferences, whether you’re seeking a thrilling adventure or a more relaxed and scenic paddling experience.


By embarking on a guided kayaking tour, you can maximize your enjoyment and safety on the Pemi River. You’ll have the opportunity to learn from experienced professionals, gain confidence in your kayaking skills, and discover the hidden wonders of this stunning waterway.


Whether you choose to paddle on your own or with a guided tour, always remember to adhere to safety protocols, respect the environment, and have fun exploring the Pemi River’s incredible whitewater kayaking opportunities.


Best Time to Kayak Down the Pemi River

The Pemi River offers stunning whitewater kayaking opportunities throughout the year, but the best time to paddle down the river depends on your skill level, preferences, and the type of experience you’re seeking. Here are some factors to consider when planning your kayaking adventure on the Pemi River:


Water Levels: Water levels play a crucial role in determining the difficulty and overall experience of kayaking on the Pemi River. Spring, during the snowmelt and rainfall, typically brings higher water levels, resulting in more powerful rapids and faster currents. This period is favored by experienced kayakers seeking a thrilling adventure. On the other hand, late summer and early fall usually offer lower water levels, providing a gentler and more laid-back kayaking experience. Beginners may find these periods more suitable for learning and building their skills.


Weather Conditions: The weather in New Hampshire can vary significantly throughout the year, and it’s essential to consider the climate when planning your kayaking trip. The summer months, from June to August, offer warmer temperatures and longer days, ideal for enjoying the water and the surrounding natural beauty. However, summer is also a popular time for outdoor activities, which means the river may be more crowded. Spring and fall provide milder weather, but it’s important to check the forecast for any potential storms or adverse weather conditions that could affect your safety and enjoyment on the river.


Crowd Levels: If you prefer a quieter and more serene kayaking experience, consider visiting the Pemi River during weekdays or outside of peak tourist seasons. Avoid holiday weekends and popular vacation periods when the river may be more crowded with recreational boaters, tubers, and other kayakers. Opting for early morning or late afternoon sessions can also help you find more solitude and tranquility on the water.


Foliage Season: The Pemi River is located in a region renowned for its stunning fall foliage. If you’re looking to combine kayaking with the beauty of autumn colors, consider visiting during late September to mid-October. Paddling through the vibrant hues of red, orange, and yellow foliage can create a truly memorable and picturesque experience.


Personal Skill Level: Ultimately, the best time to kayak down the Pemi River depends on your own skill level and comfort on the water. If you’re a beginner or still gaining confidence in your kayaking abilities, it may be beneficial to choose a time when the water levels are lower and the rapids are less challenging. This will allow you to focus on honing your skills and enjoying the experience without feeling overwhelmed.


It’s important to note that the Pemi River is a dynamic environment, and conditions can change quickly. Always check the local river reports and weather forecasts before heading out, as well as any safety advisories or closures. Monitor water levels and adjust your plans accordingly to ensure a safe and enjoyable kayaking experience on the Pemi River.


Remember, the best time to kayak down the Pemi River is ultimately a personal choice. Consider your preferences, skill level, and the specific experiences you seek, and then plan your adventure accordingly. Regardless of when you choose to paddle, you’re sure to be captivated by the beauty and excitement of this remarkable waterway.


Wildlife and Scenic Views Along the Pemi River

One of the most enchanting aspects of kayaking down the Pemi River is the opportunity to immerse yourself in the breathtaking beauty of nature and witness the diverse wildlife that call this river corridor home. As you navigate through the rapids and gentle stretches, you’ll be treated to stunning scenic views and encounters with a variety of wildlife.


The Pemi River flows through the heart of the White Mountains, providing paddlers with an awe-inspiring backdrop of towering forests, rugged cliffs, and pristine wilderness. As you paddle downstream, take a moment to appreciate the panoramic views and ever-changing colors of the surrounding landscapes.


Along the riverbanks, you may spot a myriad of wildlife species that inhabit the region. Keep your eyes peeled for majestic bald eagles soaring overhead, their white heads and impressive wingspans making for a remarkable sight. Ospreys, with their distinct call and impressive hunting skills, are often seen perched on trees or diving into the water to catch fish.


The Pemi River is also home to a rich diversity of aquatic life. Depending on the time of year and water conditions, you may encounter various species of fish, including trout, smallmouth bass, and pickerel. Watch as they gracefully navigate the currents, creating a serene and harmonious scene.


As you paddle further, be on the lookout for the quiet and elusive river otters. These playful creatures can be seen swimming gracefully in the water or sunbathing on rocks along the river’s edge. Their curious and agile nature is a joy to observe.


You may also spot other mammals such as beavers building their intricate lodges or muskrats busily foraging near the riverbanks. Keep a keen eye for raccoons cautiously peering out from hidden nooks and crannies, and if you’re lucky, you may even come across a shy deer taking a drink from the river.


On the quieter stretches of the river, take a moment to appreciate the vibrant flora that surrounds you. Lush green trees, delicate wildflowers, and vibrant mosses line the riverbanks, creating a picturesque and serene ambiance. Capture the beauty with your eyes and camera, and savor the tranquility of the moment.


Remember to respect the wildlife and their habitats by observing from a distance and avoiding any disturbance. Keep noise levels to a minimum and follow Leave No Trace principles by refraining from littering and leaving the natural environment as you found it.


Exploring the Pemi River by kayak allows you to connect with the natural world on a deeper level. It provides a unique opportunity to witness the harmony and wonder of wildlife and scenery that thrive along the river’s course. Sit back, paddle gently, and embrace the opportunity to be a part of this remarkable ecosystem.



Whitewater kayaking on the Pemi River is an electrifying adventure that combines the thrill of navigating rapids with the serenity of being immersed in nature. Whether you’re a seasoned kayaker or a beginner looking to explore this invigorating water sport, the Pemi River offers a range of experiences suited to different skill levels and preferences.


From the tranquil stretches adorned with stunning scenery to the challenging rapids that get your heart racing, the Pemi River has something for everyone. The location of the river in the picturesque White Mountains of New Hampshire adds to its allure, providing a backdrop of breathtaking landscapes that truly enhance your kayaking adventure.


While paddling down the river, you’ll have the chance to witness the vibrant wildlife that calls the Pemi River its home. Keep your eyes peeled for majestic bald eagles, playful river otters, and a variety of fish and mammals that thrive in the river’s ecosystem. The diverse flora and fauna create a captivating experience that adds to the magic of your journey.


As with any adventure sport, prioritizing safety is of the utmost importance when whitewater kayaking. Equipping yourself with the necessary gear, adhering to safety measures, and being mindful of the ever-changing river conditions will ensure a secure and enjoyable experience. Consider joining a guided tour or hiring a local instructor to enhance your knowledge and safety on the river.


The best time to kayak down the Pemi River depends on various factors such as water levels, weather conditions, and personal preferences. Consider your skill level, desired level of adventure, and the natural beauty you wish to witness when planning your kayaking trip. Be sure to choose a time that aligns with your comfort level and provides the experience you’re seeking.


Whitewater kayaking on the Pemi River is an opportunity to connect with nature, challenge yourself, and create unforgettable memories. So grab your kayak, paddle, and gear, and embark on an adventure down the rapids of the magnificent Pemi River. Brace yourself for an exhilarating and awe-inspiring experience that will leave you with a yearning to return again and again.