Adventure comes in many shapes and sizes. Whether you take to the skies and free fall back to earth, or hurtle down a mountainside on skis, there are many ways to get the adrenaline pumping. For anyone visiting New Hampshire however, the number one thrill has got to be white water kayaking on the Pemi River.

The Pemigewasset River (frequently shortened to ‘The Pemi River’) flows for 65 miles, meandering south from Profile Lake in Franconia Notch State Park. The river gushes through New Hampshire’s White Mountains, before eventually merging with the Winnipesaukee River to form the Merrimack River. Crashing over waterfalls and pummeling through gorges, the Pemi River offers fantastic white water kayaking opportunities for experts and beginners alike.

Geography lesson over, let’s take a look at just why the Pemi is the number one adventure destination in New Hampshire. And, don’t worry if like me, you’ve never tried white water kayaking before, we’ll also look at the easiest ways to get started.

White Water Kayaking 101

When I tried this adrenaline-fueled sport for the first time, I had no idea what I was doing, which almost ended in trouble more than once. Without knowing the basics, it’s all too easy to end up out of your depth, and in waters that you can’t handle. With that in mind, here’s a brief rundown of what you need to know.

When to go?

The age-old question with several answers. In summer months the water level can be fairly low, which means you can expect to have to carry your kayak over some rocky sections. More popular times are spring and fall, though it’s best to dress for cold weather. If you’re in the area for a while, a couple of days after a heavy summer rainfall can be ideal.

The International Scale of River Difficulty

It’s well worth knowing the varying grades of difficulty, otherwise you’ll soon end up in sections beyond your skill. There are 6 grades (or classes);

  • Class 1 (Easy): Fast moving water with few obstructions and small waves.
  • Class 2 (Novice): Wide, clear channels that are easily anticipated and avoided if required. Little training needed.
  • Class 3 (Intermediate): More complex features, faster moving waters and tighter channels. Scouting and group assistance is advisable for inexperienced paddlers.
  • Class 4 (Advanced): Dangerous and powerful rapids, full of features requiring skill and complex maneuvers to navigate. Not for the uninitiated.
  • Class 5 (Expert): Long, violent stretches of rapids and falls that cannot be avoided. Many years of experience, proper equipment and group assistance is essential.
  • Class 6 (Extreme): Rarely ever attempted, these stretches are thoroughly unpredictable and dangerous, with no margin for error. They should only ever be attempted by teams of experts at favorable water levels.

Each class can be further categorized with either – or +, for example a class 2+ stretch is more difficult than a normal class 2. The grades may change depending on water levels and other factors, so be sure to ask an expert before taking to the water!

Now you know the basics, let’s take a look at what the Pemi has to offer.

Three Fantastic Stretches

The Pemi River offers several excellent stretches of varying grades to suit all types of paddlers. From fast and furious cascades, to wide, slow paced meanders, surrounded by breathtaking mountain scenery. Here’s a selection of some of the best.

Woodstock to Campton (Class 1)

While fairly long, weighing in at around 11.25 miles, this is an easy going stretch that is great for beginner and novice paddlers. Give yourself 3 to 5 hours to fully enjoy the stunning scenery as you paddle onwards. You’ll encounter some fast-flowing rapids, but nothing too strenuous. Water levels of between 3 and 6 feet are ideal, with anything over that offering a more challenging paddle.

Lincoln – Woodstock (Class 2+)

An excellent stretch for more experienced paddlers and brave beginners, the rapids offer a challenge, but there are several eddies to relax in. Stretching for 4.25 miles there are numerous sections to enjoy, making this ideal for a day on the water.

Pemi River North Fork and East Branch (Class 4 – 5)

For advanced paddlers, the North Fork and East Branch of the river offer some thrilling, highly challenging stretches. The 9-mile, class 4 stretch between Franconia Falls and the Woodstock Highway takes in narrow channels, roaring rapids and several cascades. It’s not for the faint hearted, but experienced teams will love it!

First-Time Paddler?

Don’t worry if you’ve never tried white water kayaking before, it’s not all death defying leaps through crashing cascades. The first two stretches mentioned above are actually quite relaxing, even for a newbie like myself. For beginners, the Pemi River is a great place to learn, and with a number of places to hire a kayak and learn the basics, you can jump straight in.

Ski Fanatics offer beginners the chance to Paddle the Pemi with their all-inclusive kayak rentals. Including a shuttle to the drop off point and back at the end of the day, kayak rental and all the safety gear, it’s the easiest way to give it a go. They run 2, self-guided trips, and give you plenty of time to enjoy the river to its fullest, on class 1 or 2 stretches between Woodstock and Campton.

Try it Yourself!

If you’re heading to New Hampshire, it’s well worth giving it a go. There’s a wealth of camping spots to choose from, or head for either Woodstock, Campton or Thornton, all of which house several hotels. I recommend the Woodstock Inn, which offers great food, craft beers brewed on site and excellent accommodation. Set in the heart of the White Mountains, it’s a great base for exploring the river and surrounding areas.

So, give it a go and discover a new rush! Just be sure to do your research first and if in doubt, ask an expert.