I heard from several boaters that running the Mattawamkeag River usually becomes favorable around the end of the whitewater paddling season.
Due to a huge watershed the river stays high and runnable long after the smaller streams dry up. We had such a dry spell in the early spring of this year, so some friends and I decided to check out this river. After contacting several seasoned boaters about the features to see if it’s within our skill level, five of us decided to go for it.
There are three major rapids on the Mattawamkeag that can provide a medium to high challenge for paddlers. The rapids are very easily scouted from the road and scouting should be done, as different water levels change the rapids. A fun spot can become boring or dangerous depending on the water level.
After the picturesque drive, you can put in at Mattawamkeag Wilderness Park Campground. This is a private campground, so be prepared to pay a modest fee. After a short section of flat and busy water we arrived in the Slewgundy Heaters Gorge. It’s well worth “pulling” into eddies to see the rock walls and prepare for the first feature, the Heaters rapid.
Dotted with easily avoidable holes and nice play spots, it’s well worth spending some time here. The second and most challenging feature is Upper Gordon Falls. The quiet flat section quickly transitions into busy water and it quickly turns into a bit of a battle with the rushing water to hit the falls at the desired spot.
The huge waves of the falls are classified class III-IV and easily flip kayaks or canoes. For those who prefer the thrill of watching other boaters getting flipped, there is a relatively easy portage on river left and a great vantage point to watch the descending boaters.
Several members of our group negotiated the water with success and stayed upright. Even after getting flipped there was plenty of time and deep enough water to roll up (or rescue a swimmer if it came to that).
The final feature is Lower Gordon Falls, which provide a good cool down after the adrenaline rush of the upper section.
The takeout is on the left a short way after Lower Gordon. Because the whitewater section of the Mattawamkeag river is a short run, some people take out after Upper Gordon Falls and walk up to run it again, sometimes several times, or set up a shuttle for a second run of the entire whitewater section.