Monday, September 20, 2021

Paddling from Hartland Dam to Quechee Gorge, Vermont

A Paddle to Quechee Gorge, Vermont

Flood Risk Management. US Army Corp of Engineers. Flood Control Dam

North Hartland Lake, Hartland, Vt.

The one-mile-long 165 feet deep Quechee Gorge is a narrow gorge on the Ottauquechee River. The Gorge is the deepest gorge in Vermont. For most visitors, its breathtaking views are generally from the US Route 4 bridge. 

For those wishing for a unique point of view, the bridge and Gorge can be experienced below the bridge from the Ottauquechee River where the River takes a left turn as it empties into North Hartland Lake.

The paddling put-in to obtain this view is four miles downstream at the North Hartland Beach located at the North Hartland Lake flood control dam in Hartland, Vermont.

The North Hartland Dam

The North Hartland Dam is a wonder to see. The earthen dam was constructed between 1958-1961 by the United States Army Corps of Engineers, with a height of 182 feet, and a length of 1,640 feet at its crest. It impounds the Ottauquechee River for flood control and stormwater management for the Connecticut River area.

The reservoir the dam creates, North Hartland Lake, has a normal water surface of 215 acres. It has been estimated that North Hartland Dam has prevented over $180 million in damages along the Connecticut River since its construction in 1961.

The recreation of the area includes fishing, swimming, and boating in the summer, and winter sports such as snowmobiling, cross country skiing, and snowshoeing.

In mid-September, Jim, Dundee and I arrived at the North Hartland Beach put-in, and the automobile access road was gated. We thus put our kayaks on carts, and walked about ¼ mile downhill to the beach. This downhill trek meant, upon our return, we pulled our carts uphill for ¼ mile. This quest to paddle to Quechee Gorge from the Hartland Dam includes some huffing and puffing upon return.

As we pulled our kayaks to the put-in we were met by Heather, a Park Ranger. She very graciously welcomed us, gave us suggestions of things we might see, and instructed us on the rules of the park. Heather used my camera for our picture and a brief video of us pulling the kayaks on the carts. Most importantly, was that at 3:30 pm, the exit gate closes for vehicles. Just be aware.

Our Paddle Upstream to Quechee Gorge

The weather was sunny and a comfortable 70 degrees. There was a slight breeze facing us during our 1 ½ hour meandering paddle upstream to the Gorge. A perfect day for chatting, seeing wildlife, and experiencing the beautiful green mountain forests of Vermont. Please note, this trip offered little opportunity for putting ashore, as we were encased by mountains, forest, and marsh for the entire 4-mile paddle to the Gorge.

We saw eagles, great blue herons, ducks, turtles, extensive signs of beaver chews and lodges.


 Shortly before reaching the Quechee Gorge, we began to hear the sound of waterfalls. After that we entered what indeed was a deep water gorge, and we were immediately surrounded by rock ledges of the mountainside. Through the clear rushing water was seen the quick drop off of the ledges, and we knew we were at the Gorge.
Eagle Nest


We learned of this destination from our friends Outdoor Recreation for Seniors (ORFS), of which we are members. They told us we could swim and have lunch on the rocks by the Gorge. HOWEVER, they warned us the area was quartzite rock and we SHOULD WEAR WATER SHOES WITH TREADS BECAUSE THE quartzite is a hard, non-foliated metamorphic rock, with many sections AX-BLADE SHARP and VERY SLIPPERY.

This warning should not be taken lightly. In the video, you will see how cautiously we walk around this area. I had thick kayaking boots, BUT when I return, I will store my hiking boots in my kayak to wear in this area.

This area is where the Ottauquechee River makes a left-hand turn and drops over the falls, we have an amazing majestic one-mile view of the Route 4 Bridge crowning Quechee Gorge.

Return Paddle

We spent a half-hour having lunch and gingerly walking over the quartzite rocks. Thereafter we put-in, and paddled back to Hartland Dam.

Our trip downstream was rather speedy, as the wind was now at our backs and the slight current was downstream with us. The trip took 2 ½ hours upstream, but a quick 1 hour back. We paused paddling once, as we spied a huge eagle’s nest high in a pine tree way above the river.

Certainly, a gorgeous day with wonderful friends in a unique area of Vermont – Quechee Gorge.


Directions from New London, NH

I-89N to exit toward Lebanon/ White River Junction. Go .5 mi to the I-91 N exit toward WRJ. Go .1 mi to exit 11 for US-5 South. Keep left at the fork. Follow signs for Hartland/Windsor/US 5 S. Go 4 miles to Clay Hill Rd. IT IS BEFORE UNDERPASS. Turn right. Go 1.1 mi. Turn right onto N. Hartland Dam Rd. There will soon be a FORK IN THE ROAD, leading to dam and beach.


U.S. Army Corps of Engineers

Outdoor Recreation for Seniors (ORFS) 

" Everyone must do something. I believe I will go outdoors with family and friends"


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