Articles - Top Spring Whitewater Kayaking Destinations - Top Tips On Planning Your Whitewater Trip

Spring Kayaking Destinations
Spring Kayaking Destinations
Canoe & Kayak UK Editorial - Posted on 26 Feb 2013
Before we know it spring will have sprung, whitewater rivers will be thawing and it will be time to stow away the most excessive items of winter kayaking kit for their summer hibernation and to begin planning our exciting spring whitewater kayaking getaways.       

Spring is a great time of year to go whitewater kayaking, when rivers run in many of the lesser-known European boating destinations: if you’re prone to making the annual pilgrimage to the French Alps during the height of summer your one big trip, looking a little earlier in your calendar could be a great way to mix things up and tick of some new places and rivers to your kayaking scrapbook.
      
You don’t have to go as far as the mountain ranges of Europe for some whitewater action during lambing season, though: just as warm weather destinations are waking up from their months sleeping under the frost, winter locations closer to home, right here in the UK, are yet to go to bed for the hot dry days of the impending summer.
      
We’ve put together this guide to assist you with some ideas for places to go along with some handy planning tips to get your whitewater kayaking adventure off the ground. So close the curtains on the dwindling winter, grab all of your guidebooks off the shelf, fetch a beverage of your choosing and settle down to plan your spring whitewater kayaking holiday!  

ScotlandWhite water kayaker running a Scottish Whitewater River
Goes: October-April
Reliability: OK
Logistics: Easy
Guidebook: Scottish Whitewater, Scottish Canoe Association
 
Scotland is a staple in the winter kayaking diet of many UK boaters. What many don’t realise, though, is that a lot of the whitewater kayaking gems it offers still have water left at the beginning of spring. Don’t expect the same diverse range of rivers to have the fairly reliable levels associated with paddling in the Highlands in autumn and winter – although you certainly shouldn’t rule out the chance of a fantastically wet week - but going in March or April will almost certainly be warmer, sunnier and quieter.
      
With everything from bouncy grade 2/3 volume like the River Tay, to steeper, more technical creeks and as many slides and waterfalls as you like, Scotland is an absolutely cracking choice for a spring whitewater holiday.
Logistics really couldn’t be easier, with bunkhouses aplenty offering a huge range of self-catered accommodation. In springtime it’s most definitely not out of the question to save some pennies by going for the camping option, although beware: cold snaps, and even snow, are certainly not unheard of at this time of year!  
 
Ireland Whitewater Kayaking In Ireland Eire
Goes: October-April
Reliability: Good luck!
Logistics: Easy
Guidebook: Irish Whitewater, Seamus Mac Gearailt
 
A much over-looked destination amongst UK paddlers, Ireland most certainly has its fair share of great whitewater rivers. The only difficulty is catching them at the right level! March and April are amongst some of the best months to coincide mild weather with a good chance of rain, though, making Ireland a destination to keep on the shortlist of possible spring whitewater boating holidays.
      
There is a wide range of rivers representing grades 1-5 when you find them going, most of which are easily accessed by road. As a lot of the rivers tend to be on the short side, when longer springtime days coincide with good water levels, you really can pack a lot into an Irish boating holiday.
      
Logistics are really quite straight forward, with a direct ferry from Anglesey to Dublin. You can be at the rivers within a few hours of arriving in Ireland, although it might be worth thinking carefully about where you base yourself: options might be less limited and levels better if you head east. Alternatively loads of flights every day from all over the UK land in Dublin’s international airport, where car hire is readily available.
       The Irish White Water website is essential for planning any trip to Ireland: www.irishwhitewater.com
 

France/ Spain: The PyrénéesKayaking the whitewater rivers of the Pyranees
Goes: April (late) – May/June
Reliability: OK
Logistics: Easy
Guidebook: Whitewater Pyrénées, Patrick Santal*
*Make sure to buy the English translation if you can’t read French
 
While not nearly so well-trodden by kayakers as the neighbouring Alps, the absolutely breathtaking Pyrénées mountains that line the French/Spanish border are abundant with great whitewater. The area is an excellent alternative to the usual whitewater Meccas of Europe that runs fairly reliably through the spring, and the rivers are a couple of days’ drive at most from Calais, or a few hours’ from either Toulouse or Pau airport.
      
With all the whitewater rivers fed by snow-melt the Pyrénées levels should be a sure bet, which they are so long as the snow pack is up to scratch and the spring sun comes out at the right time. Choosing exactly when and specifically where to visit the region involves keeping an eye on the winter’s snow. On the Spanish side of the mountains the spring thaw begins around late April and continues into May, with the French side following on a month later, generally. If you time your visit for around May, in good years you should find rivers to paddle on both sides of the border, and will have the added benefit of experiencing the two quite distinct mountain cultures.

Whitewater kayaking wise there is everything to choose from: whether it’s big volume runs or steep and technical creeking with waterfalls aplenty and grades 2 through to 6, you’ll find it in this beautiful part of the world.   
        
France: The CévennesWhite Water Kayking in France
Goes: April-May
Reliability: Good luck!
Logistics: Easy
Guidebook: Kayak Cévennes, Henri Denis*
*Make sure to buy the edition containing the English translation if you can’t read French
 
The Cévennes mountain range in the central south of France is a rain-fed paddling destination that over the years has proved far more popular with domestic paddlers than it has with visiting foreigners, perhaps because it’s an awful long way away for anyone else to go only to find there’s no rain, as can sometimes be the case! If you are willing, though, to roll those dice and make the journey – having a ‘Plan B’ tucked up your sleeve might be advisable – and do find the rivers full of April showers, then you’re in for a real treat.

Reachable in either a long-haul drive down from Calais, or flight into one of the many surrounding airports (Montpellier, Grenoble and Lyon are all within half a days’ drive) the Cévennes is a logistically straight-forward trip with good road access to rivers and plenty of places to stay nearby. 

The region is home to some great little low volume technical runs that provide a lot of interest for the grade 3-4 whitewater paddler predominantly, although there is the odd pushier river thrown in if you’re willing to look. Nestled in between the spectacular Pyrénées and Alps ranges, the Cévennes is perhaps not so dramatic a landscapes as its larger siblings, but is nonetheless beautiful in its own way.
        
Italy: Val Sesia White water kayaing in Val sesia italy
Goes: (April)-May
Reliability: Good
Logistics: Easy
Guidebook: Whitewater South Alps, Peter Knowles & Ian Beecroft 
 
It’s probably fair to say that a trip to Northern Italy’s Val Sesia is the classic springtime whitewater pilgrimage made by UK boaters. A reliable, albeit short, season throughout late April to May sees paddlers from all over the world flock to this steep and slidey whitewater playground. The small valley is perfectly set up for paddlers, and becomes somewhat of a hub during the six or so weeks that you’re most likely to find rivers in condition. Val Sesia is host to numerous extreme events and other paddling-related festivals, and the facilities on offer in the Campertogno municipality, where most paddlers choose to base themselves, are perfect for paddling holidayers.    
      
You can drive to Val Sesia from the UK – most sane human beings would do it over two days – or alternatively many choose to fly to either Milan or Turin. Expect the paddling to be steep and technical, and make sure to pack your best boof: you’re going to need it for the countless drops and falls. The rivers of Val Sesia can provide a pretty stiff challenge for even the most experienced, although there are also options in the area for those in search of a slightly more relaxed trip than some of Val Sesia’s most difficult test pieces would provide. 
      
The biggest challenge that all who visit this area might face though – and one which we highly recommend – is making it through one of the delicious five course set menus offered by many local restaurants…
 
Slovenia Whitewater kayaking and rafting in Slovenia
Goes: April (late) - July
Reliability: Good
Logistics: Requires Planning
Guidebook: No English-language guidebook, read our online guide to the River Soca
 
A destination that is growing steadily in popularity, Slovenia’s Soca Valley enjoys a long season and offers a nice mix of predominantly grade 2/3 whitewater, with some harder sections thrown in, all against the truly magnificent back drop of the Julian Alps.
      
The best levels are normally achieved as a result of the snowmelt in May through to July, although you can sometimes be lucky on the months either side of this. Slovenia is undoubtedly worth the trip, just for the scenery and relaxed atmosphere you can soak up while paddling here, but the range of runs perhaps doesn’t warrant as many days to be allocated to paddling as some of the other springtime destinations. Three to five days will see you with everything ticked off, so unless you come armed with bikes and/or hiking boots etc. to fill days on a longer trip, you might decide that the drive is too far for the number if paddling days (without re-runs, of course) you’ll get in return. The solution for many is to fly, which is a perfectly viable option with airports an easy half-days’ drive in multiple directions. The Slovenian capital, Ljubljana, or the Italian city of Trieste are good options.
      
Even though the extra distance to Slovenia makes it less convenient, perhaps, than other destinations, it would take a cold and hardened soul to regret making the effort when bobbing down the crystal clear turquoise river under the gaze of the snow-capped Julian Alps.  
 
Corsica Whitewater kayaking adventures in Corsica
Goes: April
Reliability: Good luck!
Logistics: Requires Planning
Guidebook:
 
You’ll have to keep your fingers firmly crossed for water up until the day you leave for a paddling trip to Corsica, but get the timing right and you’re in for a good time. Steep creeking is the name of the game on this wild, rugged island, and the many excellent snow-fed runs keep boaters going back to Corsica time and time again despite the notoriously fickle levels. With a lot of gradient, and some demanding runs, Corsica – when it runs – can make for an adrenaline-packed trip.
      
There’s a strong paddler presence in Corsica’s short season, and even a week-long kayaking festival when levels allow for such things. You’ll find plenty of paddler-friendly amenities, and all of the rivers a fairly accessible from the road. In fact, logistics once on Corsica are a doddle, it’s just reaching the place that takes some thought. The drive down through France followed by a short ferry from somewhere like Nice makes for the most straight-forward option. There’s also short direct ferries to and from Northern Italy, so if you wanted to continue your adventure there, or find there’s no water on Corsica, you’re not too far away from a viable Plan B!
 
Greece
Goes: April-May
Reliability: OK
Logistics: Tricky
Guidebook: Greco Wild Rivers of Turkey & Greece
 
A comparatively little-considered whitewater paddling destination, Greece could prove to be quite an adventure! The logistics are made difficult by the nature of the rivers, which for the most part are remote, gorged-in multi-day affairs in the north of the country, away from the more densely-populated and touristy south. The level of the whitewater isn’t hugely difficult, although the rivers should be taken seriously because of their distance from civilisation.
      
None of the above is reason enough to make Greece not worth the effort, though. The paddling is spectacular, and the whitewater is certainly enough to hold interest. What makes a paddling holiday of this kind in Greece really special, though, is the element of wilderness exploration that is introduced to a paddle in the remote mountains of the north.

It’s a very long drive from the UK, so most would opt to fly into Athens and hire vehicles. If you have the appropriate level of financing for your trip, a vehicle with a driver will make paddling in the country far more straightforward. In contrast to many of the well–setup paddling hotspots further west in Europe, Greece may be a bit more of a test of your planning and organisational skills, but get it right your efforts will be richly rewarded with a different type of whitewater paddling holiday.  
 
Morocco
Goes: April-May
Reliability: OK
Logistics: Tricky
Guidebook:
 
If you’re looking for big adventure on a short trip, you should definitely consider Morocco. Relatively easy to get to – most people choose to fly to Marrakech – logistics on the ground can be more of a puzzle. Don’t be fooled by how densely packed the rivers of the High Atlas Mountains may appear on some maps: roads up here can be slow. Many choose to enlist the help of a driver/translator, but even then a reasonable expectation is to get one river for every day of driving around, with a day each end to get from where the planes land to where the rivers are. To improve your paddling days to driving days ratio, though, there are plenty of multi-day river options, that serve as a great introduction to expedition-style paddling.
      
The difficulty of whitewater on offer ranges greatly, and there is plenty to keep paddlers of most abilities entertained. Levels can sometimes be an issue, but it is hard to regret being in Morocco, a country of vibrant culture and stunning landscapes. There is plenty of exploring to be done even if the spring snowmelt lets you down, but if you’re really desperate to get some paddling in, the coast is a popular kayak surfing destination. [CK Stoppper] 
 

Handy Planning Tips

Transport and Logistics
Almost invariably, getting to the rivers with all your kit and an appropriate vehicle left at the appropriate take-out is the biggest challenge on any trip: paddling is the easy part! The most straightforward trips are those in which you can load up the car, drive to a paddling area and pitch a tent or check into a hostel/ bunkhouse. These are closely followed in convenience by those that allow you to fly in, pick up your rental car and then proceed as above. Things get more tricky where rivers are spread out, meaning you can’t base yourself in one central location; when the road network isn’t up to scratch or when you simply aren’t sure exactly where the rivers are, and don’t have clear enough mapping.
     
Essentially, though, planning logistics for your trip is a simple matter of choosing either one of these options then filling in the details…
 
Driving Pros
-      No hassle involving getting kit and/or kayaks to the airport and onto a plane.   
-      Vehicle is guaranteed to be suitable for your needs.
-      More flexibility.
-      A ferry requires one booking per car, a group going by plane requires everyone to be organised and make a booking.
 
Flying and Hiring Pros
-      No long drives at either end of the trip, meaning more days on the water.
-      Can work out cheaper if you find a good flight.
 
For destinations outside of Western Europe, the decision is made for you: you pretty much have to fly! If you do go down this route, here are some considerations:
 
-      Not all carriers take kayaks. Or they say they do then have a change of heart when you arrive at check-in. Always get confirmation that you can take your kayak in writing when you book.
-      When booking a hire vehicle, it’s a good idea to also get it in writing that your vehicle will come with a roof rack: many companies promise this but then sometimes fail to deliver. 
-      Particularly in countries with developing road networks, it can be safer and more convenient to hire a driver. This can be cheaper, too, if it means having just one vehicle as opposed to two.
-      Sometimes local rafting and kayaking companies can organise ground logistics – including vehicles and/or drivers who know where the rivers are for you. In some countries this works much better than using generic hire companies. 

For UK whitewater runs head to the Places to Paddle Section

To watch loads of great whitewater kayaking videos drop in to Canoe & Kayak UK TV now!

 

 

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