Chasing Whitewater in the Adirondacks

The best time to go rafting in the Adirondacks is spring, though really it depends on the type of experience you are after! Spring is the best time for HUGE water, but you have to be ready to be a bit chilly – meaning plan to wear a wetsuit. Summer is awesome for surfing and relaxing in between rapids, and fall is great for foliage and wildlife. I love it all.

KC Gandee

My first whitewater experience was rafting on the New River in West Virginia when it was near flood stage. I was awed by the power of the water, and stoked by the pummeling I received sitting in the front of the raft. I was also impressed by the guide; he was completely calm in the face of what appeared to be total chaos.

I'm a snowboard coach in the winter, and through coaching met a whole sub-culture of adventurers who introduced me to whitewater as a great alternative to snowboarding – and a much more fun off-season job than landscaping.

I've paddled up and down the east coast from North Carolina to Maine. Although I love kayaking and SUP on whitewater, I think rafting is my favorite because I can share it directly with my friends. And it helps that the 'Dacks are so close. It's a totally different world with different trees and soil, different people and different pace – even from Vermont. Everything is just so epic – the people, the terrain, the rivers. I love it! I call my fellow guides my "summer family" and I miss them all winter long.

I got into guiding after riding along in rafts for years before I finally decided I should just go for it myself and maybe get a paycheck for doing something that I love. With the support of my amazing wife, I asked around about the company that had the most fun and found Whitewater Challengers, and have been guiding with them for three years now.

The Top 5 Things I Love About Whitewater Guiding in the Adirondacks:

  1. The history. I love the stories about the 'Dacks over the last several hundred years and sharing them with paddlers.
  2. The water. It's so clean and clear. It's unbelievable that it's the same river that flows by Manhattan.
  3. The spring flows. Snowmelt and rain make the spring EPIC on the water. The Narrows rapid in the Hudson Gorge is so powerful in the spring and so fun!
  4. Surfing at summer levels. When the water levels start to fall and the temps warm up, we can guide the rafts into river features called "holes" where the water pours into the boat, spins it and bounces it around. It's super fun.
  5. The community. Guides, guests, friends...everyone is so friendly and welcoming. The summer family has love for all!

One of my favorite memories of rafting in the Adirondacks occurred in 2012, when my wife Courtney and I piloted a raft down the Hudson, just the two of us (we call this R2). We decided we wanted to surf in the very first feature on the river, a hole known as the "Alarm Clock." We made a plan and then dropped in. Unfortunately, nothing that happened after that went according to the plan and Courtney was ejected from the raft. I got her back in pretty quickly and we laughed about it for the rest of the day.

My most white-knuckle experience on the river happened last fall during my annual college roommate adventure trip – or Mancation. We rafted the Gauley River in West Virginia after a night of torrential rainstorms, and the river was running at a ridiculous level. We kept moving downriver and noticed that the tributaries had become torrents as they merged with the river. When you hear your guide/long time buddy's voice tremble a little, you tend to get a little gripped yourself. When we arrived at the infamous "Pillow Rock" rapid, the namesake rock was underwater. Pillow is normally 5-8' out of the water depending on the level. We made it through, but I was nervous! I don't recommend this trip for amateurs.

As far as whitewater rafting in the Adirondacks goes, my suggestion for which river to explore is for everyone to just raft them all! Each river is a different experience and if you enjoy the outdoors, you'll like each for a different reason. Truthfully, the accessibility of the rivers in the Adirondacks for so many urban areas is what makes it so awesome to go rafting up here. The Hudson is 30 minutes from I-87.

If my ideal rafting trip was a salsa, it would be Peach Mango


The first thing I ask my clients to do is to tell me what they want their trip to be like, and I'll do my best to make it happen. We can go mild, say a Peach Mango Salsa, and focus on scenery, history and still get some splashes. We can be medium like a Southwest Corn or Black Bean Salsa and hit the waves head on with speed and get pretty radical, or we can go full-on Nuclear Ghost Pepper Salsa and drop holes sideways, surf, spin and maybe even flip. Tell me what kind of trip you want, then we'll work together to make it happen!

My Favorite Whitewater Rafting Spots in the Adirondacks (in no particular order):

  • Favorite whitewater event is Moosefest Whitewater Festival
  • Hudson River
  • East Branch of the Sacandaga
  • Moose River
  • Black River (outside Adirondacks, but still awesome)
About the Author …
KC Gandee
I’m from Rutland Vermont, but I love whitewater rafting in the Adirondacks. It’s so close – and the rapids are so intense.
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