East Branch Indian Brook

East Branch Indian Brook
Class: I - IV(V) Length: 27km
Location: Indian Brook Cape Breton Character: Rmote, Boulder Garden, Gorge
Gauge: Water Gauge Contributor: Lukas Dee


Indian Brook is probably one of the best whitewater rivers in Nova Scotia. Starting on top of the Cape Breton Highlands right below the Gisborne Flowage, the first 8.5 kilometers are very low volume and shallow. Walking down the river in places will likely be necessary. There is one small slide like drop in this section, otherwise no real rapids to speak of.  Eventually the river starts to drop, and from here on it won’t stop dropping for the next 17 kilometers. This stretch is incredibly continuous, with no real pools to speak of. Only rare large eddies and smaller class I rapids will give you a break. Everything else is steep and technical with almost everything being class II to III, and a tight class IV move thrown in here and there. After a steeper section of tight turns in the river, Indian Brook’s West Branch flows in from the right.  From here the river starts to change character a bit, but doesn’t stop dropping. The valley and river bed become wider, and the boulder gardens are replaced by gravel banks and long continuous wave trains. Anybody who has paddled alpine rivers will be reminded of that in this section. Between the wave trains the occasional larger drop and hydraulic will appear, challenging boat scouting skills as there will likely not be a place to stop before you’re in it. Due to it being so continuous yet less technical, this section of river will go by really fast, simply because of how fast you are moving. Even though this part won’t be the most challenging, stay focused as you will need to be on your A-game shortly. As the mountains around start closing in on the river again, the boulders and gravel banks are replaced by bedrock. The river becomes narrower and more channelised, and in no time you find yourself in the gorge. All the rapids here go wonderfully, but most need to be scouted due to blind corners or holes that should be avoided. One drop in this section hasn’t been run yet as it ends in a river wide recirculating hole where a swim could be fatal.  After yet another clean rapid, you’ll find yourself surrounded by rock walls on either side, and a horizon line dropping down into a pool that cannot be seen. You’ve found yourself at Great Falls, the biggest drop on the river. After Great Falls there is one more small rip and then 1.5 kilometers of flat but moving water to the take-out. 


Indian Brook has only been run once, therefore information is still limited. It doesn’t get much more remote than this, so very good whitewater rescue skills are essential to making a trip safe and successful. As there are no lakes or pools and the gradient is continuous, with enough rain or snow melt water levels can change rapidly. The gauge is also located at the bottom of the river, so any changes won’t be known until after they’ve already started to happen.


The East Branch of Indian Brook makes shuttling easy to understand. There is only ever one put-in and one take-out. Access is only available at the very top, and very bottom.


Google Map Link Driving up the highland road in the spring can be tricky due to snow conditions. The roads are not plowed all the way and can still have lots of snow in mid May. Driving up the cabot trail and turning up into the highlands just after the Wreck Cove General Store is the quickest route. The other option is to turn right just past TnT Outdoor Adventures outside of Baddeck. The put in is on Highland Rd. just below Gisborne Flowage


Google Map Link The take-out is located just off the Cabot Trail before crossing Indian Brook. There is a small dead end road where the old bridge used to be, which is great access and means less boat lugging. This road is upstream of the bridge on river right.  

Named Rapids

The Tease:

The Tease is a small slide like drop that breaks up the low volume scraping and walking during the first few kilometers. From satellite imagery it looks a lot bigger than it is in real life, hence the name. Scout or portage river right. There is only one main tongue that can be fun here. Enjoy it, it will be a while before the river picks up again.

Pasta Press:

As the river slowly starts to drop gradient, the first real horizon line will come into view. You’ll know you’re there because this is the first drop that cannot be boat scouted, as it is so blocked off with boulders. The best line seems to be moving right to left but all options are very tight, and rocky. Try not to let your boat come out the bottom looking like spaghetti, fusilli, or any other pasta like shape.


The next drop that shouldn’t be boat scouted is Flipper. This rapid is a tight maze of boulders where there is only one runnable slot at the bottom. The slot is where this rapid gets its name as water flows from left to right against a large rock and tries to push your downstream edge up, dropping the upstream edge.

The Boiling Pot:

The Boiling Pot is the only rapid in the gorge that stands out from the others, hence it being the one that gets its own name. This rapid has two drops in it. The first drop splits the flow in two as a large rock is directly in the middle of the river. Both sides look rowdy, but straight forward. The river bends to the right and then falls to the left over the second drop. The second drop is a very straight ledge that isn’t very big, but drops straight into a recirculating and boiling mess. Not keeping your bow dry means getting stuck in the hydraulic, that will almost certainly mean a swim, and a swim means getting boiled. Expert swift water rescue and safety skills are highly recommended if someone is running it. Scouting can be done on either side, but only river left will give you a proper view of the second ledge. Portaging can only be done on river left.

Great Falls:

A few more rapids later and the exit to the gorge will come into sight. This river wide horizon line drops vertically down into the big pool below. This is Great Falls. Somewhere between 20 and 30 feet tall (this is a guesstimate and will be updated once run) this beautiful waterfall is the final hurdle. Scouting is nearly impossible without climbing/roping out of the gorge on river right. A small trail and rope leads down and around to the pool below, and can be used to portage. (Better solutions are being worked on as portaging here is brutal). This drop has not been run yet, but from pictures and videos it looks like there is a very clean and straightforward tongue down the far right. Lots of updates to come on this one.


Indian Brook has a gauge! It is right at the bottom so a bit of guesswork is still needed to know what’s happening above the confluence of the East and West branch, but you will get a good idea of what’s happening in the gorge. A good level for a first time would be between 0.95m and 1.00m although this level will make the first 10-12 kilometers a slog. A good medium level is likely between 1.10m and 1.20m but that is only an estimate.

After more descents at different water levels this will be updated.