Souhegan Watershed Association

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Merrimack River
Watershed Council
Merrimack Valley Paddlers

Souhegan Blue Water Canoe Trail

This guide is intended to help those interested in paddling on the Souhegan. If you have updates, changes, or recommendations to make it more correct or more helpful -- or if you observe a problem along the river, please contact George May at georgemay@comcast.net. Boaters should use their own judgement and good sense for boating any sections of the river, especially the whitewater sections. Boating with a companion is a good idea in case help is needed in an emergency. Wearing a PFD (personal flotation device or life jacket) is absolutely essential, for your own safety. By New Hampshire state law a PFD must be in the boat for each passenger.

The SWA sponsors several weekend canoe trips on various sections of the river in the spring and summer as part of our expanded canoe trip schedule on different rivers throughout the area. The whole schedule is listed back on our first page. These trips every weekend are all free. Everyone is welcome!

Several of these trips can be combined comfortably in one day. Trips 1, 2, and 3 can be done in a long day early in the spring. Trips 6 and 7 are usually combined and available into the summer. The putin at Trip 8 offers low water paddling all summer long. All the times offered here are approximate.


    The Souhegan begins at the confluence of the South Branch and West Branch in New Ipswich, NH. The South Branch drains Mt. Watatic in Ashburnham, MA. The northern section of the watershed drains Pack Monadnock Mountain. The Souhegan flows north and east to the Merrimack River in Merrimack, NH.

    The upper portion offers a good intermediate whitewater trip; farther down, the river has a mixture of smooth water and rapids. Riverbanks are usually unsettled except through Downtown Wilton and Milford.

    Although it may be possible to canoe the river upstream from the first trip, it is not recommended because there is a difficult gorge above the old power station below town. Some kamikaze MVP (Merrimack Valley Paddler) kayakers do run this gorge under the right conditions. The MVP has cleaned the debris left from the dam removal from the gorge. The MVP and SWA monitor the area and try to keep it clean. The MVP and NHAMC are responsible for this area’s being donated for public use by the Taft family of Greenville.

    Trip 1
    Greenville to Rte 31 bridge - 1 mile - approx 1.5 hours

      Description:Class 3
      Navigable:Late March to early April
      Scenery:Forested (lots of blooming Mountain Laurel if lucky enough to have navigable water in mid June)
      Map:Greenville 7.5 Quadrangle (42071-G7-TF-024)

    This is a popular early run for southern NH whitewater enthusiasts. There is a painted gauge on the side of the wall at the put in that is very hard to see until you are in your boat. A level below 1 will be scratchy; a level above 3 is very high. There is also a gauge on the left, downstream side of the Rte 31 bridge that is easier to see that roughly corresponds to the upper gauge. There is also a USGS automatic gauge that can be accessed at http://www.water.usgs.gov/rt-cgi/gen_tbl_pg. A stage level above 4 means the river is probably passable. The Merrimack Valley Paddlers kayakers closely monitor this stretch and you may be able to get the most reliable information at http://www.mvpclub.org.

    Put in at the site of the old hydroelectric plant on a short side road off NH 31S just south of of the Wilton/Greenville town line. There is a sign saying, “Souhegan River Access.” Parking is available on either side of the road. Carry several hundred yards down the access road. The put in is just downstream of the very difficult, narrow gorge where a dam was removed in the early ‘60s. The rapids are rocky, with several small ledges, and they generate considerable waves in high water. Eddies are small, and rapids are continuous. There are two play waves on river left just above and under the bridge at the take out.

    Trip 2
    Rte 31 bridge to Monadnock Water at Rte 101 - 3.5 miles - 2.5 hours

      Description:Class 2
      Navigable:High water (late March to early April)
      Scenery:Forested

    This section of the river is a very popular run for whitewater canoes. Trip 1 is more suitable for kayaks. Parking is along both sides of this busy road south of the bridge. A painted gauge is located on the left, downstream side of the bridge best viewed from the opposite side. A “minimum level” line is indicated. Above 3 is high and will require care to avoid fallen trees and strainers that are bound to be there. At the lower levels you may have to avoid fishermen that enjoy this popular trout stream. Put in on a beach on the left, downstream side of the bridge.

    There is an enjoyable playwave right below the bridge that boaters can enjoy while waiting for the shuttle to be set up. Below the bridge, the river follows the road closely for a while. The first drop is rocky, then the river becomes slightly easier, offering choices among the rocks.

    Where the river turns away from the road, a huge boulder sits in the river to the right. A sharp left turn shortly below concerns boaters, but the large rock on the right, known affectionately as Bump Rock, has a pillow that makes it easy to miss. There is a large tree across the river shortly downstream that may be passable on the right.

    At the large island, the left-hand channel is blocked by fallen trees. The right-hand channel has a ledge where a zig-zag course may be easier to plan after scouting. This ledge is the most popular playhole on the river.

    Below the island, the river becomes easier, splitting again in several places.

    Most parties take out on the left just above the Captain Clarke Bridge upstream of the Monadnock Water Company. Do not take out below the bridge on their land. They are not boater -- or river -- friendly. Walk out between the road and the fence upstream of the bridge on public land or the easier walk on the upstream side of the fence through John’s Cycles. They are friendly, but you may want to secure permission when you set shuttle if you’re concerned or have a large party. Shuttle parking here is off the road on the grass on the land in front of Monadnock Water. They have put up a no parking sign on the edge of their property that scares boaters, but the land between the sign and the road is public. Park in front of the sign off the road. Do not park on the triangle. Boaters may also take out a bit further downstream at the less convenient old NH 101 bridge.

    Trip 3
    Monadnock Water to Downtown Wilton - 1.5 miles - 1.5 hours

      Description:Class 3-3+
      Scenery:This section is called Trash Dump Rapids because the Wilton Recycling Center is on the right bank. But you may be too busy to notice.

    From Monadnock Water to the Rte 101 bridge is easy Class 2. Class 3 rapids begin at the bridge and are more difficult than those in Trip 1. Paddlers must dodge rocks in a very swift current. There is a sharp Class 4 drop over a ledge called The Horseshoe, which is easiest to run or to scout on the left. There is .25 mile of fast water to the first dam in Wilton. Accomplished boaters sometimes run this dam on the right, but it’s best to take an easy portage on the left. Continue through .25 mile of rocky Class III rapids to a bridge and the mouth of Stony Brook on the left. The second dam s just below. Take out above the dam on the right into the parking lot of Label Art. This marks the end of the whitewater sections of the river.

    From here, the river is dammed, diverted, and not worth boating until the bridge at the intersection of 101 and 101A, across from Granite Bank, known as Jones Crossing.

    Trip 4
    Jones Crossing to Boys and Girls Club - 3.5 miles - 2.5 hours

      Description:Quickwater up to Class 2
      Navigable:High water (late March to early April)
      Scenery:Forested, Rte 101A is seen in several places along the way.
      Map:Milford 15 Quadrangle (42071-G6-TF-024)

    Put in on the upstream, left side of the bridge at the Rte 101/101A intersection. If there is enough water at the put in, there is enough water for this section. This is a winding stream with a fast current and a few fallen trees to Milford. Take out on the left at the Boys and Girls Club off Rte 13 in Milford. Good parking here.

    To continue this trip, portage by car around the center of Milford. From the Boys and Girls Club, drive straight ahead at the stop sign where Rte 13 bears right into the Oval. Take the first right onto Souhegan Street and follow about a half mile to a dirt driveway just past the power station. This is private land that the owner allows boaters to use, so be courteous and don’t block any way.

    If the Souhegan St putin looks too rocky, here's an alternative: portage around the Oval to 101A/Elm St east toward Nashua; enter Kaley Park on the left next to the Milford Health Clinic. There are steps into the river.

    Trip 5
    Milford to Amherst Canoeport on Rte 122 - 2.5 miles - 1.5 hours

      Description:Quickwater up to Class 2
      Navigable:High water (spring)
      Scenery:Rural

    This section is all quickwater similar to Trip 4.

    Just below Kaley Park the river splits around an island. The left side that was blocked with trees is now open (July 2016).

    There is a small Class 2 wave beneath the high NH 101 bridge. This drop is best run on the right.

    Expect to find trees across the river in various places that may require portaging. There are also several trees just beyond the drive-in theatre. Take out on the left just before the Rte 122 bridge, across from the golf course.

    To drive to the take out, go to the north side of the Rte 122 bridge. There is a “Canoeport” sign and dirt road running parallel to 122 that leads to the parking area.

    Trip 6
    Rte 122 bridge to Amherst Canoeport at Boston Post Road - 2.25 miles - 1 hour

      Description:Quickwater, flatwater
      Navigable:Most of the year
      Scenery:Forested and golf course

    This section of the river and the next - as far as Severns Bridge-has enough water to be passable most of the summer.

    The main feature of this section is the golf course. Kids especially and golfers will enjoy picking up golf balls lost in the shallow water and along the banks. Some boaters carry a net to pick them up off the bottom.

    The river here has a sandy bottom and the river meanders all over the place. There is one oxbow on the right that is still passable when the water is high...but you probably won"t even notice it. Also, check out the unfortunate riprap erosion control along Brewsters Fields on the right.

    The take out is marked by a set of wooden steps leading up to the parking lot. But pass the steps and take out just around the corner to avoid hauling your boat up the steep, eroded bank. As all along the river, watch for poison ivy.

    To drive to the take out, take 101A east to the traffic light at the Timeless/Joey's Diner. Turn left. Turn left again in front of the white New England church. And turn left again. Take the left fork. This is Boston Post Road. Pass Souhegan High School and take a dirt driveway to the Amherst Canoeport parking lot on the right just before the bridge.

    Trip 7
    Amherst Canoeport at Boston Post Road to Seaverns Bridge - 2 miles - 1 hour

      Description:Quickwater, flatwater
      Navigable:Most of the year
      Scenery:Forested, rural
      Map:South Merrimack 15 Quadrangle (42071-G5-TF-024)

    This is a good place to put in to paddle both upstream and downstream when the water is low during the summer.

    This section of the river is a continuation of the last section. The river meanders around. There is often wildlife to be seen. When a few rocks begin to appear on the otherwise sandy riverbed, you’re approaching the take out at Seaverns Bridge. The take out is on the right just before the bridge up an eroded slope.

    To drive to the take out from Boston Post Rd, cross the bridge and take the next right onto Thorntons Ferry II. Follow to the stop sign and turn right. Cross Severns Bridge and turn right. However, if you are combining this section with Trip 6 from Rte 122, follow the directions to Boston Post Road, but at the fork, take the right. This is Severns Bridge Road. Follow a couple of miles to the bridge.

    Parking in the parking lot at the take out is possible for four wheel drive vehicles. Cars can park across (and off) the road.

    Trip 8
    Severns Bridge to Davidson Road - 2 miles - 1.5 hours

      Description:Class 3, quickwater, flatwater
      Navigable:High water in the spring/all summer
      Scenery:Forested, rural

    Although high water is necessary to get all the way to the next takeout, this is the most popular spot to put in and paddle both upstream and downstream and back to your car during the summer.

    About a mile after the putin the river takes a sharp right turn - this is where to turn around and paddle back upstream during the summer. During high water you can continue downstream over a Class 2 ledge best run on the right. There is a big, red barn on the steep right bank. The pool below is above two islands. Take out on the head of the right island to scout or carry. This is Indian Ledges.

    Run down between the two islands and eddy on the right on the ledge. From here it’s an easy carry around the more shallow rapid ahead. If there is enough water, the rest of the rapid may be attempted, but expect to hit a rock or two. Staying center, left may be best.

    One may take out or put in here from the end of Davidson Road, which is off Amherst Rd.

    Trip9
    Davidson Road to Weston Park - 2 miles - 1.5 hours

      Description:Flatwater
      Navigable:All year
      Scenery:Forested, rural
    From here it is mostly smoothwater to Turkey Hill Bridge.

    Take out on the right into the parking lot just before the bridge. This is Weston Park, a public access created with the support of the SWA.

    Check out the unfortunate mess on river-left being done by the landowner to control erosion

    Trip 10
    Weston Park at Turkey Hill Bridge to Wildcat Falls - 1.5 miles - 1 hour

      Description:Flatwater
      Navigable:All year
      Scenery:Forested, rural

    There is a small rapid after about 0.5 mile. Otherwise this is a huge meander all the way to the falls. The falls should not be attempted by most boaters. The take out is at a clearing on the right. There is a small power line overhead.

    To drive to the take out, go to the Merrimack DPW Garage on Turkey Hill Road. Drive all the way in alongside the furthest ballfield. Park under the powerline.

    This marks the furthest practical place to go on the river. However, if you wish to either see Wildcat Falls (and it’s worth it) or to portage around, take out on the left side of the river. This is the Wildcat Falls Conservation Area in Merrimack. There are trails all through along the river. The opposite bank is an unattractive jumble of cottages.

    Put in below the falls and there are several interesting Class 3 rapids in the short stretch under the Everett Turnpike bridge.

    The Merrimack Village Dam at DW Highway was removed in 2008; however, shallow, sharp rocks preclude running this rapid. Take out on the right next to the gas station. It is not practical to portage further. There are only 200 yards of flatwater from the dam to the Merrimack River. Baboosic Brook enters on river left just before emptying into the Merrimack.


    Web pages by Richard Hart.
    Send comments and contributions to me at RichHart@gmail.com.

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