Articles - 5 Great White Water Open Canoe Trips This Winter

White Water Canoeing Trips
White Water Canoeing Trips
Canoe & Kayak UK Editorial - Posted on 06 Jan 2014
Paddling an open canoe on white water rivers is a challenging and fun thing to do. Whether you enjoy sharing the thrill of paddling rapids with tandem partner, or take them on solo here’s a guide to five of our favourite open canoe white water adventures...

1. The River Tees  (Middle Section - Barnard Castle to Winston Bridge)White Water Open Canoeing on the River Tees
This section of the Tees begins in the scenic town of Barnard Castle. The put on is visible at the road bridge, where there is ample parking. The get out is again easy at Winston Bridge. The river here has carved through the limestone valley and creates some dramatic scenery and, most importantly, some really fun grade 3 white water. Just below Barnard Castle you’ll pass a mill, which marks a river-wide reef style drop. Further down you will arrive at Abbey Rapids, a good grade three rapid, ideal to run and to play on multiple times.

The white water continues through the limestone gorge with some ‘on-the-fly’ waves and stoppers to keep you entertained. Once out of the gorge you’ll come to Whorlton Falls, which can be easily portaged if necessary. After this drop the Tees offers one of it’s most playful sections. Although relatively short, the paddle between Whorlton and Winston offers superb fun for the white water canoe paddling connoisseur. Bends, rapids, weirs and playful spots litter the river every few hundred meters. In lower water levels this section is a brilliant training ground for those wanting to develop their white water open boating skills. When it has rained for a bit it becomes a challenging lead in with several tough decisions to be made. The get-out at Winston Bridge is really easy too, what more could you ask for?

2. The River Dee (Chain Bridge to Town Falls)
To get to the put in just above the Chain Bridge Hotel, and below the Horse Shoe Weir park in Llangollen and paddle up the canal, or use car park just above the weir.White Water Open Canoeing on the River Dee - Afon Dee
The take out is river right at the Mile End Mill (car parking fee) site or carry on down Town Falls and take out river left just after Town Weir

The section above, from Corwen, is also a great river trip for anyone who wants to enjoy a few rapids and enjoy the stunning Dee Valley and a good warm up for the shorter, but action packed section below. The river begins in a wide catchment area, which gives you splendid views of the fields, before ducking away into a deeper valley.  The A5 road follows the river most of the way, however there a few if any access points. The wide nature of the river continues seven miles down to Glyndyfrdwy. From here on in enjoyable grade 2 rapids lead you though the valley as it narrows up slightly all the way down to Horseshoe Weir (portage on river left).

The next section of the River Dee is steeped in paddling tradition and folklore and can rightly lay claim to being one the birthplaces of white water paddling in Britain. In the early years keen white water paddlers would compete to prove their river skills at slalom races and the Dee is still home to some big slalom and wild water racing competitions. For many years it was linked with the famous Dr Mike Jones Memorial Rally. It is on the rapids of the Dee that many open canoe paddlers have had their first taste of white water and, occasionally, swimming!
The usual seal launch to get in will splash away any cobwebs and the run starts off with some easy warm-up rapids, but get in the swing of things quickly because not far downstream lies the famous Serpent's Tail rapid. This is great fun for experienced canoeists, and pretty easy really, but it has unseated many a paddler in its time. You can easily inspect and set safety cover easily from the left hand bank. The usual line is to start right and then move diagonally across to the middle-center to punch the wave hole at the bottom.
After the excitement of the Tail things get mellower with lots of great eddy lines and river features to practice your single-bladed skills on. The site at Mile End Mill has some fun stoppers and waves for those that like to play. This is a common take out for open canoeists and it’s probably time to take out and enjoy a butty and a brew in the café or maybe pay a visit to the onsite canoe shop. A little further downstream lies Town Falls and this will only really appeal if you are an adrenaline addicted expert.

3. The Middle Dart  - The Loop (Newbridge to River Dart Country Park)Whitewater Open Canoeing on the River Dart - pic by Barrie Foster
Put-in at New Bridge where there is a large car park. Please don't use the section of the car park reserved for non-paddlers. Carry your boat down the steps and put in from the ledge. The rake out is on river right, just past the pump house, complete with Archimedes screw, at the River Dart Country Park.

You’d be hard-pressed to improve upon the Middle, or as it’s far more commonly known, the Loop section of the River Dart in Devon as perfect example of a grade 3 run. It is ideal for beginner and club open canoe trips, yet still holds plenty of sport for the expert. Set to a backdrop of stunning Dartmoor scenery, the Loop starts of gently and continues to delight for it’s six and a half kilometres to the take out, throwing up plenty of boulder gardens, play waves and ‘pool drop’ style rapids that you are able to get out and look at, walk if necessary, or run multiple times if desired!  

Notable highlights include drops such as ‘The Washing Machine,’ ‘Lovers’ Leap,’ ‘Triple Drop,’ and ‘Spin Dryer.’ All of these present an option to walk if you don’t feel ready, and all provide an excellent, fun, challenges in an open canoe.
And the Loop is by no means a one-hit wonder in the Dartmoor area, either, with the likes of the Tavy, Walkham and the Lower Dart there’s plenty to keep the white water open boater occupied all weekend without having to paddle the same river twice. 

4. The River Usk (The section from Talybont to Llangynidr)White Water Canoeing on the River usk - Afon Usk
The Usk has some brilliant sections for running in open canoes and is a reliable water source, with some playful features for open boating in all water levels, never rising above grade 2 or 3. The multiple sections offer plenty of potential for turning a short section into an all day affair. The Usk is conveniently situated in South Wales, which makes it within easy reach of many kayakers from all over the Southwest.

From the put on the river is very wide and a gentle float with the odd shingle grade 2 rapid to keep you interested. The river is a popular choice for clubs and introduction to moving water for canoe paddlers, so it is seldom that you will be the only paddler on the water. The wooded banks creep up on you as you reach the main attraction: Mill Falls. This ledge rapid has several lines and can be inspected river right. It offers great potential for practicing your whitewater skills, with several jets and drops to choose from. After the spurt of excitement it is a very short paddle down to the get out bridge.

5. The River Wye (Ross On Wye to Symonds Yat)White Water open Canoeing on the River Wye - Symonds Yat
The wonderful River Wye is part of British paddling heritage, and is possibly the most popular river for open canoe trips in the whole of the UK. It’s meandering and occasionally tumbling waters, flowing through idyllic countryside and spectacular wooded valleys are a delight to explore by canoe. It’s the perfect setting for a river trip and thousands of people take their first paddle stokes in a hired canoe every summer.

  For this section get in at the rowing club by the Riverside Inn or there is parking in a lay by near Wilton Bridge and the river can be accessed easily from here. This is the quintessential section of the Wye and as it flows through the steep sided wooded valley as it nears Symonds Yat it is simply breathtakingly beautiful. It is also the most popular section with canoe hire customers, so if you are planning on visiting in the summer months be prepared to share the river with a lot of other people. If you want a quieter trip then winter and autumn are also lovely times of year for a trip and generally better for more water, meaning better rapids too. Parking at the take out at Symonds Yat East can be limited at peak times and you will have to pay a fee. There is alternative parking, also for a fee, on the opposite bank at the caravan park just before the Ye Olde Ferrie Inn.

The river offers some gentle challenges in this section with a few fast flowing sections and of course the fun of Symonds Yat Rapids at the end. Keep an eye out for Goodrich Castle, built in the 12th century, now a ruin, but still an impressive sight. Soon you’ll pass a three-arch stone bridge that carries the nearby road across the river. This is Kerne Bridge and a popular starting point for many trips and a good alternative if you want a shorter day on the water. There is a purpose built launching point on river left. There’s also a good pub a short stroll across the road should you need refreshment or a spot of lunch. The river has more of a wooded feel from here on in but still flows in meanders interspersed with the odd shallow and faster flowing section of water.

A shingle island in the middle of the river signals the approach of Lower Lydbrook and the popular Courtfield Arms. The river flows fast on the right of the island and it’s fun, but watch out for the trees towards the bottom.

Onwards you float passing Welsh Bicknor, its Youth Hostel and the neighbouring church beside it, and not long after passing under the arches of a disused railway bridge. The valley sides start to get closer now as you paddle onwards in to the wonderful Wye Valley Gorge. The river now bends back round a right-hand bend, and you will now pass Collwell Rocks well known amongst bird watchers as a nesting place of Peregrine falcons, you’ll also see now on your left, high above you, the famous Symonds Yat Rock an impressive natural landmark of the area. Take your time on this section and it’s well worth hopping out for a tea break and to take a few pictures. An iron road bridge signals that the end of your journey is not far off. This is Huntsham Bridge, which links Symonds Yat East and West by road.

As you get closer you will see the houses of Symonds Yat West appearing on the valley side. All to soon you’ll reach the caravan site or Ye Olde Ferrie Inn and your river trips end if you’ve opted to park there. If, however, you’ve parked on the Symonds Yat East side than continue down until you reach the steep concrete steps on river left. With both options if your trip is ending at Symonds Yat then you may want to continue downstream a short while and then take on the fun challenge of Yat Rapids to the right of the central island. Once you’ve arrived at the bottom, one way or another, it’s easy to then carry your boat back up on river left back to the awaiting Saracen’s Head pub!

For more great canoe trip ideas point your bow to our Places to Paddle section right now!


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