The Swift River watershed encompasses 114 square miles of territory, much of which is totally diverse topographically. The stream rises high on the flank of Mt. Kancamagus , originating in springs and upswellings in its high valley head. From this point, at about 3200 feet in altitude, the Swift courses some 24.5 miles and drops nearly 3000 feet by the time the flowage reaches the Saco River in Conway Village. The flowage basin is typical of waterways cut through glacially-scoured terrain, particularly noticeable by the presence of great amounts of outwash sands, gravels, small stones, and colluvial boulders present in many areas of the river's watershed. The river exhibits high flow in steeper terrain near its origin, and again at a point about seven miles from its mouth, where the flowage squeezes between the high ridgelines of Mt. Chocorua to the south, and The Moat Mountains and Table Mtn. to the north. Anglers try to get their trout below the latter area, although native stock has long been fished out, and the river now depends upon annual stocking of game fish. The "swifter" portions of the river also see increased usage for kayak and canoe runs, particularly during high spring run-off, or, immediatly after heavy storm flows of the early warm season.
There are 19 permanent and 17 temporary-flow tributaries along the length of the Swift River watercourse, and many of these provide very suitable river-walk environments, especially the streams draining into the river from the north. Here, there are fewer trails and footpaths (or flanking Forest Service roads) than are found on the south side of the valley. Most of the "permanent" tributaries are of good size, particularly in their lower reaches, and many possess large numbers of boulders and large stones in their watercourses, a great help for those planning to ascend them. Wildlife viewing along the Swift and its tributaries is a fun and interesting activity as well, especially if you are lucky enough to witness a moose munching submerged vegetation along a more placid part of the river. Ducks (especially mergansers and mallards), songbirds, and several species of hawks are also frequently seen in this area. The birds of prey have it well here, since they can find many good roosting spots in the many large old pines and hemlocks from which to observe the passage of the multitudes of squirrels, chipmunks, voles, mice, and other small mammals which they might enjoy. These perches are excellent observation posts for them since they give them long views up and down the openings created by the stream flow itself.
The best way to appreciate the Swift River,and its environs, is to leave your vehicle at a Forest Service parking area, and then just move along by the side of the river course, much of which is highly walkable when the river flow is of low velocity. Find a large stone to set up a lunch spot, or, locate your own island way back upstream to claim for yourself for a sunny afternoon. Above all, listen to the river rush by, and let it wash out your complications and your difficulties from your mind.