Hideaway in France - gîte complex in the Pyrénées near Carcassonne
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for holidays in the foothills
of the Pyrénées
Pyrenees White Water Sports and Canoeing
Please note that white water rafting is only available from 1st July to 31st August (inclusive) each year. This is because there is an arrangement with EDF at that time to allow a controlled amount of water out of the dam at a particular time each morning for the watersports companies to use. This period includes all of our 'mid' and 'high' seasons and often some 'low' season days at the start of July and end of August - please check our Seasons page for dates.
Two large rivers run from the Eastern Pyrenees to the sea - The Ariege river runs from Andorra to Toulouse, then joins the Garonne which flows to the Atlantic at Bordeaux. The Aude river starts its journey at the mountain lake of Matemale, and flows past Carcassonne and Narbonne into the Mediterranean.
In total, nearly 400km of these rivers are navigable by canoe in the area shown on the map above, but the five key areas shown are the main ones used by the white water rafting and canoeing watersports clubs.
White Water and Canoeing on the Ariege
Ussat-les-bains (30 mins)
The Ariege evasion team are based in the valley above Tarascon and offer a 'do it yourself' canoeing trip. They provide you with canoes (seating 1,2 or 3 people) at the watersports centre, then you travel down the river for about 90 minutes at your own speed (without need for a guide), and are met at the bottom by a minibus and taken back to the centre. Their website provides more details.
Foix (30 mins)
The departmental canoe school based in Foix offers a range of canoeing and white water descents, all of which
are accompanied by a qualified guide. They have the full range of equipment from inflatable rafts
(suitable for between 4 and 8 people), smaller
individual inflatables and canoes / kayaks for 1,2 or 3 people. Again, see their
for more details.
Le Vernet (30 mins)
The Ariege has levelled out by the time it reaches Le Vernet, and becomes a more calm, gentle river. This is more of a flat water experience for all the family to enjoy the fun of rafting and canoeing, but without the risks of the white water higher up.
White Water and Canoeing on the Aude
The Aude river is managed very differently tothe Ariege, in the there is a reservoir aboove Axat and the electricity company release water at the same time each day during July and August. All of the white water companies know this and the descents are timed to leave when this water is passing through the gorges. For this reason, rafting on the Aude is more reliable (especially during times of low rainfall) but there is a fixed schedule of what types of trip can be done at what time of day - typically the 'advanced' descents are in the afternoon when the water is released.
Quillan (40 mins) descents of the defile de Pierre Lys
The most popular section of the Aude river is that around Quillan, which provides the excitement of white water, without the danger of the near vertical gorge sections further up. The town of Quillan is built either side of the Aude and in the centre of the town there is a 600m national canoeing slalom course which is set up all year round.
The 'La forge' centre at Quillan offers guided white water rafting trips or canoeing outings lasting from 75 minutes upwards. There is more information about their watersports on the La forge site (in French only).
Alet (40 mins)
Like Le Vernet, Alet is further down the Aude river and provides a gentler canoeing or kayaking experience. Trips of 2-3 hours are available, with or without a guide. We have often used 'Alet eau vive' as they are an experienced team that are used to dealing with families. The same group run white water descents both at Alet les bains and in the defile de Pierre Lys above Quillan. Alet eau vive.
Canyoning is the French name for the sport of swimming, climbing, sliding or walking down steep fast-flowing mountain streams or rivers, armed only with a wet suit! Canyoning typically involves jumping into and swimming across superb mountain rock pools, sliding down waterfalls and getting very very wet! An easy introduction to canyoning is offered by many of the local teams, at about €30 per person. For the more advanced, there are 'sporting canyonning trips' and custom day or even weekend trips.