5 of my favourite white water rivers to paddle in Scotland

Welcome to the third article in my little series on my favourite UK white water rivers to paddle! In my previous articles, I discussed my favourite English and Welsh rivers and this article is going to focus on my favourite white water rivers in Scotland.

I have nowhere near the same number of paddling days in Scotland as I do in England and Wales and consequently do not have the range of experience to draw from. I have however very much enjoyed every kayaking trip I’ve had to Scotland and there are a few rivers which I would strongly recommend paddling! As always, please do leave a comment to share your favourite Scottish rivers.

1. The Orchy

The middle Orchy is one of my all-time favourite river sections and I have had several excellent paddling days here at both lower and higher levels. Paddling the Orchy occupies a similar place in my mind as paddling the upper Mawddach in North Wales. This section is long enough to feel like a proper river trip whilst having plenty of white water on it to keep things interesting.

Photo: Tom Clare

A grade 3/4 river with two more significant grade 5 rapids, this section has plenty of opportunities to challenge yourself. Something I enjoy about the Orchy is that almost every rapid can be easily scouted (and portaged if needs be). This makes it a great river if you have a mixed group where other rivers might not work so well. You can also re-run particular rapids and work on improving certain lines or moves.

Scouting the grade 5 on the Orchy. Photo: Del

One thing to note is that the Orchy goes up a grade in higher water! I would class most of the rapids as 3+ in lower water but at high flows, they become grade 4/4+. Some of the holes can become quite munchy! All good fun though, as long as your roll is solid! On the other hand, the grade 5 rapids at much higher levels look more like a portage than a rapid.

The Falls of Orchy with water! Photo: Del

2. The Etive

The Etive is an incredibly scenic river which is as beautiful as it is fun to paddle! An excellent pool drop river, the middle section of the Etive is certainly a Scottish classic. It starts with a triple step rapid, which at lower levels is the perfect rapid to lap and practice fine-tuning your boof stroke on. At higher levels, these drops become a little spicier and the holes that form on each step can get very sticky.

Winter day on the Etive. Photo: Del

Most of the rapids after triple step follow a similar pattern; easy to scout, fun to lap at lower levels whilst getting more challenging / stickier at higher levels. There is one portage to note about halfway down the river but this in itself is quite fun as you get to seal launch from height back into the gorge below.

Photo: Tom Clare

The most iconic rapid of the river is the waterfall at right angle, often referred to as Right Angle Falls. The waterfall itself is relatively straightforward but the right-angled rapid that leads into it has tripped many paddlers up. It is worth scouting beforehand and make sure to have someone ready with a camera and/or throwline ready for when you paddle it. It’s not a trip to the Etive if at least half the group don’t update their profile picture to them running this waterfall afterwards.

Excellent waterfall practice! Photo: Tom Clare

The Etive can take a great deal of water and depending on how much water it has will vary how challenging the kayaking is. My general advice is you meet some locals at the get on and they decide not to get on – that’s probably not a bad decision to follow!

3. The Coe

The lower Coe is a relatively short section of kayaking and yet it is a river that I just couldn’t get out of my head after the first time of paddling it. The Coe is stunning and in particular, the gorge section on this river is magical. Saying that, at high levels, it is also quite intense! After a relatively straightforward entry paddle (plus a portage quite early on), you reach the gorge. You can scout it from above but once you go down, it is quite committing. I’d recommend staying upright. Before you know it, you are at the bottom of the gorge and ready to paddle the rest of the river. There are some other rapids on this section but the gorge is the highlight of the river.

Scouting the Coe! Photo: Del

4. The Tummel

The Tummel sections are great fun! The added bonus is that as it is a river that runs based on dam release, you know it will run in the summer months! The upper and lower Tummel are both excellent sections of paddling and whilst each section has its own more challenging rapids, most of the kayaking is gentle grade 2-3 fun.

Photo: Del

The most challenging (but that means fun) rapid is the Linn of Tummel which is a double drop rapid at the end of the Lower section. This rapid is worth running a couple of times before you get out. If this isn’t already the greatest way to end this section of kayaking, the pool below makes for a very nice wild swimming spot. On a hot Summer’s day (yes, Scottish can get those too), a little swim here to end a day of paddling is ideal!

5. The Roy

It felt clear to me that the previously mentioned rivers deserved their spot in the top 5 but this last spot was hard to choose. Many other excellent rivers could have taken this last place but in the end, I settled on the river Roy, specifically the Roy Gorge. I chose the Roy Gorge because paddling this section was not only fun but reminds you why kayaking is classed as an adventure sport.

Get on for the Roy Gorge

The river starts off with a few fun rapids and is generally more open but it soon starts to gorge up. There is something magical about paddling white water in a gorge. The Roy Gorge is particularly spectacular in terms of its incredible geology. I spend most of the river staring at the rock formations in awe. The white water rapids are excellent, however, there are some significant hazards (and portages) to be aware of. It is a section of river that I am more comfortable paddling in a smaller group and preferably with someone who has paddled it more recently.

Once the gorge opens up, it is also worth paddling the lower section of the Roy that follows. A nice gentle grade 2 paddle out that brings you down to Roy Bridge.

The end

This brings me to the end of this final article in my trilogy of articles on my favourite white water rivers to paddle in the UK. Please do add a comment with your favourite Scottish rivers to paddle below. I would be very happy to take on more suggestions for any future Scottish paddling adventures!

Additionally, the relatively new Scottish guidebook is excellent if you want to read more in-depth guides to any Scottish rivers.

Etive in sunshine! Photo: Del

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