The Cold River

The Stats

6.45 miles
Flow Direction:
North West

Starting Elevation:

Ending Elevation:

Average Gradient:
107′ / mile

Rapid Type:
Continuous boulder rapids

River Grade:  A-


The Cold is arguably Vermont’s most egregious example of quality paddling ignored in favor of runs of more renown.  It doesn’t have any waterfalls and the gradient isn’t hair raising.  You probably won’t do any surfing or stern squirting.  What you will do is run classic class III and IV whitewater rapids for over six miles and walk away grinning from ear to ear.  The Cold is not to be missed.


From the take out travel up Cold River Road for ~5½ miles to Wilmouth Hill Road on the left.  Use the small pull off just before the bridge..  


From Route 7 in Rutland take Cold River Road (just across from the Aldi supermarket) heading east.  When you come to a T take a right.  Continue from here for 1 mile to the bridge across the river.  Park out of the way on the driveway leading to the gravel pit just before the bridge.   We have not had issues here but it is a private business drive so best to be friendly to anybody you come across. 


Online Gauge:


Flow Range:
1750 – 3750

Visual Gauge:
Ledge on river right 200 yards upstream from takeout bridge.

**Note this area is in a fairly constant state of flux, as such this gauge will likely change over time.  If you are unsure of the level you can drive upstream to the Brown Covered Bridge and view the rapids here.**


Flow Range:
Eddy behind but no flow going over: Low
Water just spilling over: Medium
Water covering entire ledge creating pour-over: Medium High
What ledge?:  High+

The Run

Description: S Gilbert | Photos: T Ratcliffe

Scott Gilbert runs the rapids below the Brown Covered Bridge on The Cold River, Vermont Whitewater Kayaking
Scott G in the runout of the Brown Covered Bridge rapid. Photo Taylor Ratcliffe - Check out more of his awesome shots here.

No Cold River post-run shuttle has ever occurred without the question “Why don’t we come here more often?”  The question is a reasonable one, as the Cold is perhaps the most underappreciated river in the state.  The whitewater is a blend of creeking and river running, with an excellent balance of challenge and fun.  At over six miles in length from the upper put in, the run allows boaters to settle into a nice sustained rhythm.   Solid class III paddlers will find enjoyment at lower levels, while those looking for more excitement will have a blast when the water is high.  Whatever you are looking for, the Cold will leave you wondering why you drove over so many times before.

The Cold takes a fairly high water event even for medium levels.  This is especially true since hurricane Irene widened the river bed in 2011.  The good news is that on those days you are unlikely to paddle most of the other area runs as the Clarendon and Big Branch are best paddled at more modest flows (Furnace Brook on the other hand is a good creek to combine with the Cold on a high water day).  Look for at least 1500 cfs on the Otter Creek at Rutland Gauge if levels are rising and 2000 cfs as a minimum if the trend is falling.  The upper limit is estimated at 3500-4000, but is only roughly established.  It may be possible to run this stretch at very high levels, and you can likely go lower than the minimum if you don’t mind a bit of boat abuse.

The Cold begins modestly enough.  Following Cold River road, the first several miles are cobbley, splashy boogie. A perfect way to get comfortable in your boat and warm up.   It ebbs and flows but never gets much harder than easy class III.  When the water is up, it will move quickly.  As things progress you will notice the gradient gradually steepen and the volume increase, thanks to a handful of small feeder streams.  After approximately two miles of this, the road will recede to the left and the river will begin to cut deeper into the valley and steepen yet again.  The mile from here down to the Brown Covered Bridge is fun class III and easy IV river running, and features several long boulder strewn rapids.  In particular a boulder garden formed by a landslide from river right serves up a handful of fun moves.  Be sure to keep an eye out for wood in here.

Scott Gilbert runs a rapid on the Cold River Rutland Vermont Whitewater Kayaking
Scott G in the goods below the North Branch confluence at a nice level. Photo Taylor Ratcliffe - Check out more of his awesome shots here.

Approaching the covered bridge you will come to a sharp corner, where the river flows into a wall on river right and then abruptly turns to the left.  The rapid after this turn can be hard to stop in, and has been the location of a river wide hemlock for several years.  This leads almost directly into another boulder rapid that continues down below the Brown Covered bridge.  If you are not enjoying the run at this point, here is a good takeout.

Scott G below a great boof on one of the last harder rapids before the valley opens up. Photo Taylor Ratcliffe - Check out more of his awesome shots here.

Below the covered bridge, the North Branch of the Cold enters on river right adding volume.  When you peek over your shoulder back up the North Branch, know that yes it has been explored, and no, it’s not worth it.  The next mile is the heart of the run, containing truly enjoyable class IV- river running with several distinct rapids.  When the water is up, there are a few holes to avoid, but the primary concern is to stay upright and online.  Wood does move around here regularly.  As of 2021 there was a sizeable log-jam at an island 1000’ below the confluence of the North Branch that required a portage.  We won’t spoil describing the rapids in detail.  Some may warrant a scout, others can be navigated without having to leave the boat, this will depend on both group comfort and water levels.

After four or five harder rapids tucked in the woods, the valley will subside and you will enter an open river plain.  This final mile is a cooldown rambling through a wide riverbed with smaller but still entertaining class III.  Takeout by scrambling up the river right bank below the Cold River Road bridge.  Downstream looks enticing but offers little in the way of additional whitewater and difficult access.  

Stepping Stones

Creek VT river guide coming soon
Not quite ready for The Cold? The Lower Mad is a great place to build confidence.
Creek VT river guide coming soon
If you like The Cold, then you're sure to enjoy Ball Mountain Brook
Guide to Mill River Clarendon Gorge Vermont Whitewater Kayaking
Looking to step it up? Head just 10 minutes south for The Clarendon Gorge.