Drôme, sweet Drôme!
Hidden between the Vercors mountains and Provence, the Drôme is one of the rare French rivers which can be paddled all year long. From Die to the Rhône valley, the river offers 60 Km of easy and scenic paddling through vineyards and mountains. In Spring, many beautiful tributaries attract paddlers from Europe’s four corners.
Par Paul Villecourt / outdoor-reporter.com
Topo guide : Drôme and tributaries.
The descriptions contained in this topo are given for information only. Rivers are changing all the time. The author is not responsible for the possible description mistakes.
The Drôme is an easy river where canoe rentals are available with or without river guide (be careful anyway). Drôme tributaries should be run only by experienced paddlers.
- Access: Motorway A7, exit “Gap / Crest” at Loriol (coming from the South) or at Valence Sud (coming from the North). Crest is 30 km from Valence, Die 60 km.
- Description: Superb and very open landscapes, between Vercors and Drôme provençale. The Drôme can be paddled without obstacles between Die and Crest (40 Km of class 2, passages in small 3 depending on the water level) all year long. The 5 to 7 km upstream from Die can also be paddled in spring (class 2) in a sublime mountain landscape (from Pont-de-Quart).
Between Crest and Livron where the Drôme joins the Rhône: 25 km of class 2.
After Crest, a very wild and little frequented run. There is a risk of logjams and trees across the river, and a few troublesome structures (riffles, fish passes) to be spotted. All this implies a very vigilant navigation, reserved for experienced paddlers, even if the run is theoretically in class 2. Note also that you cross the “national reserve of the Ramières”. It is not forbidden to navigate but please respect the tranquillity of the birds (no bivouac allowed).
- Average annual flow of the Drôme: 17 m3/sec. Ideal water level: 12 to 35 m3/sec. Summer level: less than 5 m3/sec. Very touristic in summer (river with canoe rentals, but only sit on tops).
- Access: 15 minutes from Die, near Châtillon-en-Diois. From Châtillon-en-Diois, go up the Col de Menée road to the village of Menée. Take the road to Archiane (dead end). Put in 300 metres below the village of Archiane.
- Description: Tributary of the Bez (itself a tributary of the Drôme). One of the most beautiful rivers in France! A little jewel with a very Alpine style and therefore rather reserved for white water kayakers. It is only navigable in the spring, when the snow melts in the Vercors. Sometimes navigable after the autumn rains. Fascinating scenery.
Water level scale at Menée, near a small power station. 50 cm: lower limit of navigability for the upper part. 65/70 cm: ideal level. 80 cm: it’s pushy! The road follows the river along its entire length.
- Archiane / Menée (upper Archiane): 3.5 km of incredible class 4 running at a surprising pace. A pure marvel! About 100 metres of negative elevation. The first 300 metres are badly paved. An easy dam but to be checked above 75 cm on the scale.
- Menée / Mensac: 3.5 km of class 3. Lots of branches. Still pretty but less Alpine. 2 dams (presence of iron bars in the 2nd: caution). Stoppers possible at high water. Possibility to continue on the Bez to the campsite of Chatillon-en-Diois.
- Access and description: Located near Châtillon-en-Diois. This river is often paddled right after the Archiane. The upstream part of the confluence (Gorges des Gas) is rarely navigated because all the water comes from the Archiane. From Mensac (Archiane confluence), 5 km of class 2/3 to Châtillon then 5 km of class 2 to the Drôme. First part pleasant, nice landscape. Beware of branches. Second part less interesting but nice scenery.
- Access: Left bank tributary flowing into the Drôme 6 km upstream from Saillans (Vercheny). Enter the gorges at the Pont d’Espenel and follow St-Nazaire-le-Désert.
- Description: Superb class 3 (4) river in a magnificent setting. Caution: the water supply of this river is not like the tributaries on the right bank of the Drôme (the Roanne can be too low while the other rivers are navigable and vice versa).
- St-Nazaire-le-Désert up to the unrunable, 100 metres before the Gorges bridge (bridge located 300 metres before the small road that climbs towards Rimon-et-Savel), a place that is easy to spot: obviously, it is steep and it’s dangerous! Get out in time and be careful! Section of 14 Km. Class 2/3. First part easy in an open landscape. Then superb easy gorges (beware of branches).
- Gorges bridge to the Drôme (part more often paddled): 7 Km of class 3/3+. A rather sporty start (rocks) for 3 km then a calmer descent in an exceptional setting.
- Access and description: Tributary of the Drôme which joins the Drôme on the right bank at Mirabel-et-Blacons (5 km upstream from Crest). We no longer recommend its navigation: too many trees across the river, too many dams make navigation dangerous, not to mention the private properties (non-state-owned river) which make portages complicated.