Deerfield, Dryway–The Ocoee of the Northeast

Rocking the hole everyone hit at Dragon’s Tooth

Since I moved here eight months ago, everyone has been telling me about the Deerfield, Dryway section. Like the Ocoee for Southeasterners., the Deerfield in Mass. is where most New Englanders learn to boat. After finally getting on it last weekend, I was not disappointed. The Deerfield’s rapids were very similar in style to the Ocoee–some big water, wave trains, surf and fun technical moves–while also being beautiful in its forested seclusion and clean water. So here’s the long-awaited post to the Deerfield, Dryway.

The River

The Dryway section of the Deerfield is 3 miles of class III whitewater with potential for class IV at higher waters. It’s actually part of a much longer river with another section called the Fife, a class II section that’s great for beginning paddlers. As a dam-release river, the Deerfield runs most weekends during the summer, another reason many people from around the area love it.

BONUS: American Whitewater runs a festival here every summer called Deerfield Fest  to raise money. Lots of people seem to really like the event (with a gathering of gear, fun folks, whitewater and camping, I can’t imagine why…), and with it coming up this June 30, yours truly will be making her way over there as well. Head over and enjoy some beer, live entertainment, and the river!

The Rapids

Bottom section of Dragon’s Tooth

The main note here is that the rapids have changed a lot since Hurricane Irene paid the Northeast a visit last year. To many, the rapids have become easier–particularly Dragon’s Tooth and Labyrinth, but that does not negate the need to boat scout if you’ve not run it since Irene. Another bonus, the put in kind of rocks; it’s a simple set of stairs leading to the water below the dam. After hauling creek boats through hikes and trails, I admit I enjoyed taking my playboat down these stairs! 

Getting some surf on Disapointment Wave.

The first rapid is called Disappointment Wave. Apparently it has improved since the hurricane, but as I suck at surfing, you’ll just have to try for yourself to determine whether the name still holds true. A little ways down from Disappointment Wave is the first major rapid, called Split Hair. This rapid has a big rock river center, and either side of it can be run. From that, just watch out for holes, the big pourover being on river left. Above the big rock is a small eddy that services a fun wave on river right. Split Hair is a good example of an Ocoee-style rapid. You can make it easy with a straight-forward line or eddy hop, surf, etc. to increase the rapid’s difficulty. SO FUN!

The next couple miles are much the same as before, surfing and eddy hopping opportunities in some boulder gardens. Just be wary of the holes and rocks for some of these rapids make for long swims. After a little bit, Dragon’s Tooth pops up, a narrowish passage of water on river right of the island. You can get out and scout, but the main thing to note is start river left to avoid to big holes (or go for the Death Slot scary ferry between the two holes) then boogie on back toward river right to avoid a hole in the center. Or play in the hole, either one’s good. After that, catch an eddy and take funny pictures of your friends as they paddle it.

The Deerfield above the dam, through some pretty wildflowers. Had to post the picture.

Labyrinth is the last big rapid and has become much easier since Hurricane Irene (or so I’ve been told). What used to be an almost river-wide hole has dwindled to a river left, easy to avoid hole. Pass it and follow the river flow, play a minute, then eddy out to the takeout on river right. Then run another lap or two.

I can’t say enough about the Deerfield, Dryway. It’s not hard, loads of fun, and beautiful. Beware, it can quickly become crowded with other boaters and especially with rafters, but plenty of eddies allow you to wait out the crowds between rapids. I’m very happy to have the opportunity to run a river like this one and with weekend dam-releases, you can bet I’ll see you on the river!

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7 responses to “Deerfield, Dryway–The Ocoee of the Northeast

  1. Pingback: Fife Brook–An AMC NY Trip | Earthy Journalist·

  2. Pingback: Good Playboat for a Small Woman | Earthy Journalist·

  3. Pingback: West Fest | Earthy Journalist·

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