Quechee Gorge in East Central Vermont

October 04, 2022

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Photographer: Patti Weeks  

Summary Author: Patti Weeks 

The Quechee Gorge is a 165-feet deep (50 m), 1-mile long (1.6 km) narrow chasm on the Ottauquechee River. As Vermont’s deepest gorge, it is nicknamed by locals as “Vermont’s Grand Canyon.” It was formed following the retreat of the massive Pleistocene Laurentide Ice Sheet, which covered all of present-day Canada and much of the northern United States, between 95,000 to 20,000 years ago.

When the ice sheet began its retreat about 18,000 years ago, the Ottauquechee River re-emerged and began to flow east again, but was redirected from the Connecticut River to the newly-formed narrow Glacial Lake Hitchcock, which ran nearly 200 miles (320 km) from what is now northern Vermont to central Connecticut. A glacial terminal moraine (near present day Hartford, Connecticut) called the Rocky Hill Dam, blocked the flow of the Connecticut River for approximately 4,000 years, during which the Ottauquechee River filled the lake with 170 feet (52 m) of sand, mud and silt. When the dam eventually broke, the river made a sharp turn to the south, rapidly cutting through the soft mud. Geologist Frederick Larsen estimated that this initial erosion occurred in less than a week. The river has been slowly carving through the hard Devonian age schist and quartzite bedrock, the Gile Mountain Formation, ever since — for the past 13,000 years.

Now, the Quechee Gorge is a tourist attraction. The Ottauquechee River is also rated as a Class III+(V) whitewater river for 3.7 miles (6.0 km). According to a report by American Whitewater, the water level was low (<30 cfs) most of this past summer. Bottom photo shows whitewater details. Even at its best whitewater level, however, there is a challenging rapid area called “Well Enough.” After a thorough scouting, you might need to leave “well enough” alone and just portage. The second photo, focusing nearly straight down into the gorge from the bridge, shows some large rocks that could make rafting navigation challenging, whether the water covers them or not. Photos taken on July 19, 2022.


Quechee Gorge, Vermont Coordinates: 43.6374, -72.4085

Related Links:

Verdon River Gorge

Ottauquechee River Water Level