Racing the Hudson’s Rapids—and Not-So-Rapids

Whitewater Derby photograph by John Sullivan

White-water rafting on the Hudson River has begun, with water levels measured at the North Creek USGS gage about 5.4 feet on April 23. Though this provides a truly exhilarating trip, it’s far below the record of nearly 14 feet set on April 28, 2011. Recent hot weather and rain sent torrents of runoff into the 700-square-mile watershed that streams toward the gage. Since levels fluctuate considerably, the river’s flow gets a boost from dam releases on the Indian River near Indian Lake most mornings. For a list of local rafting outfitters visit the Gore Mountain Region Chamber of Commerce.

The Hudson’s appeal for white-water paddling is not limited to riding in an eight-person self-bailing raft, of course. For many canoeists and kayakers the 57-year-old Hudson River Whitewater Derby is an annual ritual.

Always the first weekend in May, Saturday features a slalom course in North River, with upstream, downstream and reverse gates that really test abilities to ferry across strong current and strike through churning waves. Spectating from numerous pull-offs along Route 28 gives a sense of just how hard it is to navigate the course and the river itself. Sunday’s downriver race starts in North Creek and heads about eight miles to the bridge at Riparius, relying on natural obstacles like ledges and boulders to make this contest unpredictable, challenging and fun.

That sense of keeping it fun—and attracting paddlers who don’t feel ready for dancing through brackets in Class III rapids—inspired event organizers to create the Not-So-Whitewater Race this year. The event covers 2.5 miles of fast water, beginning downriver of the slalom course and ending near the railroad station in North Creek. Start time is after the slalom event ends, usually early afternoon. You can register the day of the event for this contest as well as the slalom and downriver races

All of North Creek celebrates May 2-4 during the Adirondack Adventure Festival. There are guided hikes, free hour-long raft rides from the riverfront in town, a crafts fair, kids’ fishing activities and live music in many locations. North Country Wild Care, a non-profit group dedicated to rehabilitating injured and orphaned wild animals, will have live birds of prey in the Kellogg Building at Riverfront Park both days.

Correction: An earlier version of this article incorrectly named North River as the location of the USGS gage, rather than North Creek.

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