Water levels on the Saco River
Water levels on the Saco River can vary quite a bit depending on which section you choose to paddle and the overall conditions of the season. As we get later into the summer months and early fall, river levels tend to be at the lowest point. Not to worry, however, there is plenty of good paddling around the Saco if you keep a few things in mind. Saco Bound to Weston’s & the Pig Farm trips are of the most consistent with regard to water levels. There are almost no rocks and a sandy river bottom with few obstructions. This segment holds water better and is perfect for tubing, families, and novice paddlers. Sure it’s slower late summer but still really fun!
Generally speaking, as you go higher up the Saco River Valley, (predominantly northwest) water levels will be lower. The river is steeper and rockier from Crawford Notch through Bartlett and North Conway. Now, there are many fun segments along this section but due to the characteristics of the river, it does not hold water as well as segments along the lower river valley. Even in late summer, there are many sections that you can “pick” your way down when the water is lower on the upper river. There may be some spots you have to drag your boat. Use caution if you have to get out of your boat and scramble across rocks. There is a risk of foot entrapment and wet rocks are obviously very slippery. When the water is sufficient, usually earlier in the paddling season the grade and features of the river make for some great whitewater paddling and fun
The most reliable water in our area is the section beginning at Saco Bound in Center Conway to Hiram, Maine, (42 miles). Even during the driest periods on record, this section has sufficient water to paddle. One of the driest summers in recent history occurred in 2001. On August 26th the Saco streamflow was measured at 97 cubic feet per second, (cfs) as recorded in Conway. On September 18, 2001 the river bottomed out at 79 cfs, one of the lowest readings since 1959 when the river was flowing at a mere 66 cfs. To put this into perspective, the average summer flow for this time is around 200 cfs. As Sunday, 8/19 the current flow is 290 cfs with a little rain in the forecast. So, currently the Saco running around average. If you begin your trip below the Redstone river access location in Conway and you’re paying attention, the places you may have to drag your boat should be few and far between if at all. Look for where the river is the darkest and don’t cut your inside corners too tight. Don’t overload your boat. Obviously, the more gear you take, the lower your boat sits in the water. The great thing about lower water conditions on the Saco is all the awesome beaches that are exposed, perfect for picnicking and camping where allowed. These conditions usually correlate with the lack of bugs which is appreciated after the last 2 seasons. Water temps are in the upper 60s and lower 70. The overall conditions for this time of year are excellent. The days are definitely shorter and the back to school ads are already quite prevalent. So grab the kids and get outside! Please always show respect for the environment and those around you. Be safe and have fun.