White water activities

The South Alps is a superb area for white water activities. The water is bigger volume than the UK with a mixture of wider larger volume rivers and smaller creek type rivers. The water, being snow melt is cold, but the higher air temperatures and sun shine make for a very pleasant experience with wonderful scenery.

The white water activities offered comprise kayaking ; open canoeing ; rafting in large paddle rafts on the bigger rivers or special mini-rafts on the smaller rivers, hot dogs – one or two person inflatable boats – and hydro-speeds – a French invention which is basically swimming in the water protected by a full wet suit with a toboggan- like float to protect and support the body and propelled by flippers.

We discovered the South Alps through paddling some 20 years ago; kept coming back and still regularly paddle the rivers referred to below. Thomas, our son aged 15, started paddling here when he was 8 and has now paddled almost all of the sections referred to, including the Durance and Ubaye Gorges.

If you are independent paddlers then White Water South Alps by Peter Knowles, available in most kayaking shops, through Amazon or through www.riverspublishing.demon.co.uk is a “must read”. It provides sensible advice as well as providing good river descriptions. Also contains essential information on get ins and get outs and maps of the rivers.

If you are looking for river guiding ; white water or rodeo instruction in English or equipment hire see below.

Great accomodation, ideal for kayaking is available with storage for your gear(including kayaks) is available in Argenitere, Vallouise and Briancon

Our bases

All our bases are superbly situated for the rivers.

Briancon – has on its doorstep, the Guisane; the Claree and the Durance flows through it

Vallouise – is at the confluence of the Gyr, the Onde and the Gyronde.

L’Argentiere – is where the slalom site is based; and is the get out for the Gyronde, the Durance Gorge and the start of the middle section of the Durance.

The Guil and the Lower Durance are a short drive from each of these bases. The Ubaye is a longer drive, some 1 -1.5 hours away but still makes for an excellent days’ paddle.


Set out below is a summary of a number of the most popular sections of the rivers. Much of the basic information is extracted from White Water South Alps which is an essential buy. The grades are indicative and very much depend on water conditions. Make sure that you ask locally about river levels and if in doubt choose an easier trip Timings are problematic; these are based on times required for a larger group and of course do not take account of “epics”. Do make sure you leave plenty of time. Small experienced groups can normally travel much faster than this.

In the Notes as well as notes on the rivers, we have indicated notable “other activities “which are close by. These are described in more detail elsewhere in this site.

Name of Run

Grade/Distance /Time



Easy 20 km mountain bike route from Nevache to Briancon. Drive to road end for wonderful mountain scenery and visit Alpine village of Nevache .

Middle – Nevache to Pamplinet

4 /4km/1 hour

Superb scenery; best in early season. Start in lovely alpine meadow.

Lower- Pamplinet to La Vachette

3/12km/2 hours

Great intermediate route, but trees a hazard in high water.


Easy 35 km mountain bike ride from Col du Lauteret to Briancon. Take the opportunity to visit the Alpine Gardens.

Upper –

Le Casset to Chantmerle

3 (4-)/11km/2 hours

Very cold turquoise water at the start! A non stop alpine paddle.

One grade 4 rapid at Les Guilbertes which catches out many groups and leads to long swims in high water

Children (and some adults!) will have great fun at the Adventure Park , paint ball or the karting circuit at Villeneuve, just up the valley from Chantmerle and on the trampolines and other activities around the ski lifts of Chantmerle.

Monetier has a thermal springs pool.


Chantmerle to Briancon

4/6km/2 hours ( One portage around a weir which is well signposted)

Fast, steep, continuous run in a wooded gorge. One of the best sections in the region. Safety in high water is difficult. Also early season watch out for trees.


Briancon Gorge

Le Fontenil to Briancon Canoe Club


Lovely run which passes right through Briancon. The Bridge you pass under signals the end of the mountain bike ride from Nevache. The Canoe Club is very close to the Briancon Swimming Pool and Ice Rink.

Upper Durance

Briancon to Prelles


Straightforward and great introductory paddle in fast flowing water. Good one for the younger paddlers.

Durance Gorge

Prelles to L’Argentiere

4(5)//8km /2-3 hours


Challenging run in a committing and spectacular gorge, but with long and difficult portage; make sure you have good footwear, a number of throw lines, first aid kit and spare paddles.

Water level is dependent on barrage release. If too much water at the start then seriously reconsider.

The Durance Gorge via ferata goes over the last section of this run.

L’Argentiere slalom site


Big bouncy fast flowing water. Some good waves for play boats.

Small lake to practice rolling/flat water techniques.

Easy access to L’Argentiere rock climbing, canyon and via ferata as well as a good finishing point for mountain bike rides from the Fournel valley and the Gyronde valley.

Middle Durance

L’Argentiere to

St Crepin /St Clement

2/12 to 19 kms/2-3 hours

Easy water but fast flowing. Good easy Canadian Canoe trip. Good place to practice rescue techniques. Starting point for the “log rafters” in May.

Section from St Crepin to St Clement v slow moving.

Great climbing section above St Crepin.

Lower Durance

St Clement to Rabioux (or add in with Lower Guil)

2/ 4km/1- 2 hours

Easy water – good for beginners.

Nice play waves at St Clement

Rabioux good place for lunch. Normally done together with the next section. Beware – in big water if people capsize in the Rabioux wave, it is important to get them out before the first corner or else a long swim ensues.

Lower Durance

Rabioux to Embrun

3/12km/2 hours

Superb Alpine section of big water paddling.

Rabioux play wave normally only works later in the season.

Embrun – La Reve – play wave normally excellent early season

Lower Durance is an interesting challenge in an Open Canadian

Embrun has a Plan d’Eau, which is good to practice swimming/rolling and also at the far end at the CNA base (a public base, despite it looking like a private club) you can hire sailing dinghies and windsurfers and enrol in courses.


.Consider driving up the end of the road and taking a walk in this fantastic Alpine valley. You can mountain bike up both sides of this river so a good way of conducting an inspection.

Camp-site above Villard to Vallouise


Fantastic alpine river, especially in early season. Beware of fallen trees in early season. A natural slalom course. Consider walking higher up from the campsite for an extra km of paddling at a higher grade. Consider portaging the barrage and continuing down the Gyronde for longer paddle.


Consider driving up into the Ailefroide valley for mountain walking, mountain biking back to Vallouise and rock climbing.

St Antoine to Vallouise

4-5/3km/20 mins

A short blast in fast flowing freezing glacial water. An excellent late afternoon run in August; followed by a taste of the local beer in the Alphand micro brewery bar. Get out is 200m from the Vallouise Gites!


There is an easy mountain bike ride along the side of the Gyronde.

Vallouise to Les Vigneaux

3/ km/1 hour

Because of the need to portage around barrages this section is not that often paddled. Some of it has been canalised. However, in higher water levels there is some good water and we feel that it is far more satisfying to do this with the Onde, than break the Onde and the Gyronde into two sections. Make sure that you get out well above the road bridge at Les Vigneaux

Les Vigneaux to L’Argentiere

3 plus/6km/2 hours

One weir

Grade 4-5 if you start just after the portage

Different starting points for different ability levels. In big water this is a first rate section.

Above les Vigneaux there is a via ferata.


Upper- Abries to Aiguilles

3/4-5km/1 hour

High Alpine valley. Consider this section when water levels are high

Upper -Aiguilles to Chateau Queyras

3-4/ 7km/2 hours

This section is excellent when water levels are high. If they are; try this section first before embarking on the middle Guil.

Chateau Queyras Gorge

4 plus/1km/half an hour

(so long as no epics)

Spectacular sheer sided gorge. Now there is a via ferata criss-crossing it. In high water it is very impressive. The Chateau is well worth a visit

Guardian Angel Gorge

4-5/2.5km/2-3 hours

Very committing; bank support limited lots of drops and inspections required. Excellent water. Beware of doing this in high water.

Middle – Triple Step to Maison du Roi – the Barrage

4-5/9km/3- 4 hours

Superb class 4 section. A couple of class 4-5 rapids which may need to be properly scouted and portaged. In early season the water has a lot of power and many groups get caught out by this.

Many split this up into two; with the dividing line being the Tunnel. Easy for bank support.

Lower – Eygliers Bridge to St Clement

2-3/7km/1.5 hours

A great easy alpine river which can be combined with the trip on the Durance to Rabioux. The river passes under the old fortified town of Mont Dauphin , which is well worth a visit


Upper – la Lauziere to Jausiers

3/13km/2.5 hours

Small volume and especially good in early season. You can access this via the Col du Vars.

Les Thuiles to Fresquiere

3-4/5km/1.5 hours

The start has quite a good 3-4 rapid. Make sure you check the get out as it leads into a class 4-5 rapid

Fresquiere to le Martinet

5/2.5km/1 hour

A powerful section; big water; enormous stoppers. The first rapid has changed a lot as a result of a landslide in recent years and has some very jagged rocks so this section is not really to be recommended.

Ubaye Race Course Le Martinet to Le Lauzet

4/8km/2-3 hours

A classic white water section. Big water but normally distinct rapids with collecting pools. In high water there is less chance for rest; the stoppers become enormous and the river deserves a class 4 plus rating. This is a really good section in rafts and hot dogs. A fantastic finish through a mini Ubaye gorge.

Ubaye Gorge – Le Lauzet to the Lake

5/4km/2-3 hours

(possible portages depending on water levels)

An infamous gorge that kayakers love to talk about. A test piece of the region. In high flows it is especially serious. In lower flows during August it becomes more pool drop and rapids can be scouted, protected and portaged. Thomas did this section a couple of times last summer whilst on a kayaking course.

When to come?

April – very much the start of the season. The rivers start to rise but the flows are dependent on the weather. The Durance Gorge can be flowing at this time of year.

May – The season generally starts in May and the last week in May being a English holiday time is especially popular. The water flows at this time of year depend on the snow levels. If it has been a big snow year, the levels at this time can be too high for intermediate paddlers and care needs to be taken. Don’t assume that the levels will be the same as last year! If they are too high, consider trying some of the other activities

June to mid July – normally the best time of the year for paddling; good water levels and excellent weather as well as outside the main holiday season.

Mid-July to end August – water levels are dependent on the snow levels and whether there is any rain, normally thunderstorms at this time of year. . The Gyr and the Gyronde normally hold up well. This may well be a time to consider paddling some of the gorges.

September/October – although water levels are generally low, they can come up if it rains and the Durance gorge normally runs in September/October

River Guiding/ Instruction

We can recommend Thomas Bankes who is an English speaking operator who knows the area very well. For more information contact him or have a look at his website.

Equipment hire

The problem with the Alps is that you might want both a creek boat and a play boat whilst you are out here and you might have problems transporting both. Alternatively you might be flying in or coming by train and it may be more convenient to rent a boat.
Contact us if you are interessed in hiring and we will find the best place for your needs.

Rafting/Hot dogs

There are lots of operators in the region; some focus on the Durance or specific rivers; others move around more. If you can let us know your needs we are more than happy to arrange a raft guide for you. We can recommend Thomas Bankes who is an English speaking operator who knows the area very well. For more information contact him or have a look at his website.

Other possibilities

If you are thinking of a warm up on the way over then consider stopping of at St Pierre de Boeuf; about an hour south of Lyon and some 3 – 4 hours from Briancon. It is great class 3 water; warm because it is fed from the power stations (but unlike Nottingham we have never been ill); If you are keen on play boating try the wave at Lyon on the Rhone . The Verdon is also another good trip worth adding on to a visit to this area. For details of how to get to these sites and likely water levels see www.playak.com or see www.yucc.org.uk/jay/hawaii-sur-rhone/guide/level.html

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