Articles - A Whitewater River Guide to the River Etive

Kayakers inspecting Right Angle (Big Man Falls) on the River Etive
Kayakers inspecting Right Angle (Big Man Falls) on the River Etive
Canoe & Kayak UK Editorial - Posted on 01 Aug 2011
Flowing through the beautiful, rugged Glen Etive, under the impressive shadow of Buachaille Etive Mor, one of Scotland’s best known and best known Munros, the River Etive is rightfully considered one of the absolute classic Scottish whitewater kayaking runs.

In fact along side the Orchy and the Findhorn it is probably one of the bestknown whitewater rivers in all of Scotland. With its rapids bearing emotive names like Triple Drop, Ski Jump, The Letter Box, Crack of Doom, Crack of Dawn, Rockslide and Big Man Falls, the Etive’s smooth boulder gardens, tight constrictions and sweet granite bed-rock slides it provide a stiff challenge to those braving its crystal clear waters…

The Etive itself has three sections that are regularly paddles, the upper, the middle and the lower, with the majority of the quality whitewater situated in the middle section. It also has a series of ultra-steep tributaries that cascade in to it along its length, and these can add a whole head of adventure and adrenaline (and bruises) to a big day out in the glen.

Upper Section 2 (5)
The upper section is fairly easy, with one fall to portage and a good option for groups with less experienced members. The put in is by the Kingshouse Hotel, obvious from the main road. It does need a fair amount of water in the river though, if the Etive’s not high then it’ll be a bump and scrape.

Lower Section (Dalness) 2 (4)
The lower section offers similar easy water, but one nasty fall at Dalness, which can be run, but is usually portaged. Again this a good option if your group is less experienced or you feel the water level is a bit too high on the middle section.
Whitewater kayaker running Right Angle Falls (Big Man Falls) on the River Etive, Scotland
Middle Etive 4 (5)
The Middle section will go in nearly all water conditions. In low water some of it can be a bit scrappy and it high it becomes a fast and furious run with the odd big hole to punch. From the moment you launch the middle section the action begins immediately as you line yourself up for the first rapid, Triple Drop. From then on you are contained between the river’s high granite walls as you negotiate your way down its excellent drops.

Dynamic paddling will be rewarded and even if it all goes wrong and you find yourself swimming the river is pool drop in nature, so there’s always a moment of calm at the end of each drop to deal with any carnage. Inspection is easy throughout and the road that runs through the glen is never very far away if you want to pull the plug for any reason. Safety is also easy to set-up and you may want to consider this on a few of the drops.

If you can take your eyes off the crashing whitewater action for a minute you’ll be greeted with a stunning view of the valley full of dark, sombre looking mountains. From start to finish you’ll revel in a thrill packed rollercoaster ride of a run until you successfully reach the penultimate challenge, a small but tricky dog-leg rapid leads you into a diminutive pool above the lip of Big Man Falls. Or Eas an Fhir Mhóir to give it its true Gaelic name, an impressive 16-foot waterfall, also commonly known as Right Angle Falls.

Whatever name you choose to call it, it won’t help dispel the butterflies in your stomach as you wait in the eddy above! The fall itself drops cleanly in to a natural amphitheatre, where, as you slide out of the pool and over the sloping lip, you will enjoy a fleeting feeling of freefall, before you crash deep below the churning waters below. Keeping a good control on your edges on re-surfacing is a good idea as many a kayaker has found themselves pushed over and against the sidewalls below the falls resulting in a swim.

After the you’ve taken a moment to, collect and flotsam and jetsam and calm down from the adrenaline pumping through your veins it’s a short but technical paddle down to the last tricky rapid with a small fall at the bottom. Take out opposite, or if you crave more adrenaline. Cross the river a bit lower down and head up the Allt a Chaoruinn, a tributary that flows in to the Etive from the river left bank.

Useful Info:
Scottish Canoe Association -
river levels -
Refreshments - The Clachaig Inn - The Kingshouse Hotel -

Check out our River Guide to the Etive and many more whitewater trips in our Places to Paddle section

To add some extra spice to your visit check out our guides to the various fast, fun and furious tributeries in Glen Etive

Have you paddled the Etive? Share your stories in the CKUK Forum


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