Boating in the Backcountry

Yesterday, the North Branch of the Pisgataquog, and of course that means a day of boating. The river was in New Hampshire about an hour and half’s drive northish from Boston, MA.–just far enough in the middle of nowhere to let you forget that cities exist. I’m quickly realizing that narrow, winding, tree-strewn, country backyard creeks is the theme of New England boating. The other theme is canoers in the fold, and plenty of them, which adds a bit of unfamiliar intrigue to my boating experiences.

Jim hitting one of the drops on the North Branch

I joined the Appalachian Mountain Club for this adventure, along with some buddies I met on the first trip down the Pemi and Winnie as well as the Little Suncook. Overall, we were a team of 16 split into two groups of eight each. For such a small river, that still almost seemed like overcrowding, yet it worked.

Putting In

The put-in for the North Branch was right at the bottom of the dam. You could get to it from the top by walking with boat in tow or take the fun route of sledding down the hill in your boat. My group was the first to put on, so we plopped our boats into the water and went on, following our canoe leader.

The River

Chris going through the first major drop on the North Branch. By the way, old dam.

North Branch is a fantastic example of New England’s former love of damming every river they saw. Four of the Five notable rapids were actually old mill dams at one point, their existence noted now only by the boaters who use them. For the most part, the rapids were pretty straight forward-go down, avoid the hole(s) on the side, and watch for off-side curler waves that’ll flip you. While my lines were about as beautiful as a hairless cat, they worked, and I had a decent run. A couple rapids surprised us with their hidden rocks and windy routes, and a couple people from each group swam. Overall, though, the North Branch was a fun, longer run.

Oh yeah, see that last adjective? It was looooonger! New England, at least the Ma, NH, VT regions got the short straw of river lengths, and to play on a river longer than three miles was a treat in itself.

Leader Craig chilling in one of the several calm sections of the North Branch

North Branch’s bigger rapids dotted an otherwise calm river. A lot of long patches of slow-moving water made up about half of our trip. You know what, I was actually pretty content with that. North Branch’s calm spots ran behind a lot of old-style farms and country side. The already beautiful scenery was enhanced with fiery red maples, golden paper birches, and sun-yellow oaks, and I felt like I had hopped right into a Thomas Kinkade painting. Autumn is definitely the time to catch this river’s release.

The Takeout

Three takeouts exist for the North Branch. If you just want the action, use the first one, which is right above a bridge after Turnover rapid (guess why rapid’s named that). It’s at about 4 miles from the put-in.

If you’d like more scenery, which I actually recommend of you’re doing an autumn run, continue for another mile until you pass under a dirt road a quarter mile past a main road. This take out is on river left at a pebble shore in a grassy field. We took out here–and waited an hour for the guy with the car key in the second group to catch up (suggestion: don’t do that if it’s friggin’ cold outside).


North Branch of the Pisgat is not single most exciting river in the world, but it is beautiful,

Scott styling Buzzels rapid on the North Branch

scenic, and great for socializing during the calm patches. It’s also a pretty good river for if you want to try your first class IV rapids for none of them are particularly difficult or consequential, not to mention the long stretches of easy to calm your nerves if you do swim. While I would not paddle North Branch every weekend, I definitely look forward to it next year when the leaves are ablaze and autumn is in the air.



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