New England Nirvana: 5 Top Paddles Near Zoar Outdoor Center


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Whether you’re looking for a Class I float or Class IV thrills–, you’ll hit nirvana in the Northeast around Charlemont, Mass., just a two hour’s drive from Boston. With releases on the Deerfield River and rain feeding other nearby waterways, the watery wonderland offers something for paddlers of all strokes.

Visit in the fall when autumn’s blazing colors reflect off the river and you might not want to leave. For information, gear and guided trips, contact Zoar Outdoor, owned by former U.S. Slalom Team member Bruce Lessels who authored the quintessential guidebook to the region. As reported in, following are five favorite waterways to put on your hit list. For release details, visit

Zoar Gap
First on the list is none other than Zoar Gap
From Fife Brook Dam in Florida, Mass., to the Number 4 dam in Buckland, the Deerfield River flows unimpeded for 17 miles as one of the most popular whitewater runs in the Northeast. Perfect for kayakers, canoeists and rafters, the run starts out with easy surfing waves, large eddies and playful splashes before such Class II rapids as Hangover Helper and Freight Train. En route you’ll pass the stone walls of historic old mill sites as well as an old railroad bridge leading to the entrance of the Hoosac Tunnel, at one time the nation’s longest tunnel at 25,000 feet.

But keep your eye on the water as up next comes Class III Zoar Gap (scout from river right; and watch out for O.S. Rock), a raucous rapid five miles downstream from the dam, and mile-and-a-half-long Class II Pinball, riddled with boulders and eddies. Take out at numerous spots from here on out, or run as much as 12 more miles, where you’re likely to see such birds as red tail hawks, ospreys, bald eagles and blue herons. For a milder whitewater run, put-in in Charlemont at the Shunpike rest area for six miles of easy Class I-II water. Note: the next day’s release level is available after 5 p.m. each day, and it takes water about two hours to reach Zoar Gap from the dam.

Staff Post
Staff Post
Paddlers writing about all things paddling.


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