Kayaking map: New River low water bridges in purple and regular bridges in red. Area of Heritage Estates.
At normal river stages, the New River is a great pleasure to play in, float with tubes, and kayak, but it is important to be able to identify the conditions that occasionally make it dangerous.
Three interrelated attributes combine to make New River occasionally dangerous – 1) low water bridges, 2) river levels, and 3) channel shape.
1.) Low water bridges: There are a number of low water bridges both up and down stream of Heritage Estates. At low water, under 2.5 feet on the local gauge, you can kayak or float under them. As the water level approaches the bridge deck, and even when the water is flowing over the bridge they become extremely dangerous. A person can hit their head or the brush that piles up under the bridge can entangle and drown a person who goes under.
Remember that even when the water is going over the bridge, there is a powerful suction from the flow going under the bridge. Getting sucked under the bridge at that stage can easily be fatal. Watch water levels closely around low water bridges. If levels at all approach or cover the bridge, portage or use stretches without low water bridges.
The best local kayak trips without any low water bridges start from: 1) Daniel Daughters Bridge/Heritage Estates (going three or two hours to Elk Shoals beach on Boggs Road), 2) The low water bridge at the Reno/Glendale School road crossing on Boggs Road (going four hours down to public access at the Rt. 88 bridge near Zaloos Canoes), 3) The Rt 88 public access (going two hours down to the New River State Park Wagoner Access – but don’t miss the state park access behind the right side of an island!). These are KAYAK times. Tube float times are MUCH longer (maybe 4 times longer).
What is a low water bridge?
2.) River levels: River levels at Heritage Estates are recorded on the state’s gauge at the Route 88 crossing by Zaloo’s Canoes (the red #2 triangle on the kayaking map). So Heritage Estates is about 8 hours ahead of the gauge.
A river level under 1.75 feet is TOO LOW to kayak. You will be dragging your kayak a lot. And canoes probably can’t be used under about 2.2 feet. Stay away from low bridges over about 2.5 feet on the gauge. It can also be dangerous to go on the rest of the river when it gets even more high (maybe over 3.5 feet – see channel shape below).
Website to check New River river level gauge. On this page look for the second graph, which expresses the recent history of the river near Jefferson in feet. Recall that Heritage Estates is at least 8 hours ahead of the present gauge reading.
If the river has been too high and then steadily declines for several days and gets to about 3 feet water, condition will clear and you can have a nice float – if you stay totally away from low water bridges at this level (see map). Kayaking at levels (over perhaps 3.5 feet on the gauge?) when the whole river becomes dangerous is a third concern.
3) The river channel shape matters: When water is high it is brown and turbulent. In this case ugly water is also dangerous water. Because the New River is steep, and runs on bedrock, it flushes all of its silt out of the channel. This means two things. 1) there are very few islands or sand bars. The whole river runs on the same rock bottom, and although there are deep spots, most shallow spots disappear during high water levels. That means danger. 2) Plus the channel is for the most part vertical-walled. So when the river is high there is a shortage of places that you can find shallow or slow water to recover from a spill. At the 4 foot stage you are basically kayaking or canoeing in a walled culvert full of fast moving water. That is for experts only…