Ardèche (river)

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The Pont d'Arc over the Ardèche River.
Origin Massif Central
44°42′00″N 4°02′41″E / 44.7°N 4.04473°E / 44.7; 4.04473 (Ardeche)
Mouth Rhône River
44°15′52″N 4°38′53″E / 44.26444°N 4.64806°E / 44.26444; 4.64806 (Rhône-Durance)Coordinates: 44°15′52″N 4°38′53″E / 44.26444°N 4.64806°E / 44.26444; 4.64806 (Rhône-Durance)
Basin countries France
Length 125 km
Avg. discharge 65 m³/s
Basin area 2,430 km²

The Ardèche (Occitan: Ardecha) is a 125 km long river in south-central France, a right-bank tributary of the River Rhône. Its source is in the Massif Central, near the village of Astet. It flows into the Rhône near Pont-Saint-Esprit, north-west of Orange. The river gives its name to the French department of Ardèche.

The valley of the Ardèche is very scenic, in particular a 30 km section known as the Ardèche Gorges. The walls of the river here are limestone cliffs up to 300m high. A kayak and camping trip down the gorge is not technically difficult and is very popular in the summer. The most famous feature is a natural 60m stone arch spanning the river known as the Pont d'Arc (arch bridge).


The source of the river lies at 1467 m above sea level in the Vivarais, near the Col de la Chavade, in the forest of Mazan in the commune of Astet. After the towns of Aubenas and Ruoms, it collects the Chassezac and the Beaume river, subsequently plunging into its famous gorge below Vallon-Pont-d’Arc. It flows into the Rhône (river) at Pont-Saint-Esprit.

Towns and Communes along the river[edit]

Ardèche River near Aubenas
Part of the Ardèche River
Ardèche River Panorama

The Ardèche flows through the following departments and communes:[1]


The most important tributaries and subtributaries to the Ardèche River include:

Left tributary
Right tributary


The river has an average discharge of 65 m3/s (2,300 cu ft/s) but experiences severe floods, called "coups de l'Ardèche" (Blows of the Ardèche), in spring and autumn and periods of very low water in summer. During flood events in 1827, 1890, and 1924, it reached 7,800 m3/s (280,000 cu ft/s) and the water level rose to a record 21.4 m (70 ft) in the gorge.

Despite its low number of kilometres traveled (120) the flow of the Ardèche (65 m3/s) is relatively high - higher than the Gardon (32 m3/s), the Cèze (22 m3/s), the Hérault (44 m3/s), or the Agout (55 m3/s) - major rivers south of the Massif Central but much longer.

Rates of flow of the Ardèche at Saint-Martin d'Ardèche[edit]

The inter-annual average flow of the Ardèche was observed and calculated over a period of 26 years at Saint-Martin d'Ardèche. It amounted to 63.4 m3/s for a surface basin of 2,240 km2 - i.e. the vast majority of its watershed (2,430 km2). The river has seasonal fluctuations: a typical flow around the Cevennes, with high water in autumn and winter being double the normal, brings the average monthly flow at the first peak of 93 m3 in October then, after falling to 76 m3 in December, a new peak occurs from 96 to 102 m3 in January–March (with a maximum in January). A rapid decline in flow rate follows ending in a dry period in July–August resulting in a decrease of the average monthly rate to the level of 12 m3 in July.[2] (see bar chart below)

The VCN3 (minimum flow) can drop to 2.5 m3 in a dry year.

Floods can be extremely important (usually following storms in the Cevennes). The Qix 2 and Qix 5 are respectively 1800 and 2600 m3/s which is high. QIX 10 is 3100 m3/s while QIX 20 and QIX 50 respectively rise to 3600 and 4300 m3/s.

The maximum instantaneous flow recorded in Saint-Martin d'Ardèche has been 4500 m3/s (two-thirds of the average flow of the Danube), while the maximum recorded daily rate was 2506 m3/s.

The Runoff curve number flowing into the catchment of the river is 897 millimetres annually which is very high. The specific flow (Qs) reaches 28.3 litres per second per square kilometre of the catchment.

Rocks in Ardèche
Mean monthly discharge (in m3/s)
Hydrological station : Saint-Martin-d'Ardèche (data calculated over 54 years)

View of the Ardèche
Sunset over the Ardèche

Flows of Waterways in the Ardèche catchment[edit]

Bridge on the Ardèche
Waterway Location Flows in m3 per second Side
Module VCN3
(low water)
QIX 2 QIX 5 QIX 10 QIX 20 QIX 50
Ardèche Meyras 3.52 0.090 150 230 280 330 - 4.09 360 157 1,092 102
Ardèche Pont-de-Labeaume 16.30 0.550 400 590 710 830 980 7.00 1660 531 1,840 280
Ardèche Vogüé 26.00 1.100 730 1100 1400 1600 1900 7.81 2200 890 1294 636
Ligne Labeaume 2.07 0.002 170 300 390 480 - 4.14 622 162 586 112
Beaume Saint-Alban-Auriolles 7.56 0.230 270 430 540 640 - 5.73 683 348 994 241
Chassezac Chambonas 15.50 0.820 550 900 1100 1300 1600 - 1800 878 965 507
- from Borne Saint-Laurent-les-Bains 2.69 0.075 110 180 230 270 330 - 694 174 1357 63
- from Altier Altier 3.44 0.130 120 210 270 330 400 3.12 960 190 1056 103
Ardèche Saint-Martin-d'Ardèche 64.30 2.700 1800 2600 3100 3600 4300 8.12 4500 2510 908 2,240

Voice server[edit]

The prefecture of Ardèche has provided a voice server since June 2005 whose objective is to regularly disseminate information messages to allow monitoring of any significant event that might trigger a civil security crisis or standby alert. Precise information on the evolution of any flood is provided.


The Ardèche receives water from the Loire river via the "La Palisse" flood barrier and the Lake d'Issarlès. Effectively, the water is collected to feed the EDF hydroelectric plant at Montpezat-sous-Bauzon and is subsequently piped into the Fontaulière river, a tributary of the Ardèche, near the town of Aubenas.


Several ancient inscriptions about a college of nautes (Boatmen) in associated rivers have been discovered in the Gard. It is possible that the two rivers concerned are the Ardèche and the Ouvèze.[3]

The identification of these two rivers is still pending. However, if it does involve the Ardèche river, the spellings Hentica (from 950), then Ardesca (in the Charta Vetus) have been attested.

Protected areas[edit]

The Ardèche near Aubenas
The Ardèche at Vogüé

The Ardèche is protected along almost all of its course. These protected areas are:

  • The sources of the Ardèche: Astet and Mayres, ZNIEFF type I
  • The Upper valley of the Ardèche, between Thueyts and Ucel: ZNIEFF type I
  • The Riparian forest and floodplain of the Ardèche, between Ucel and Vogüé: ZNIEFF type I
  • The Middle Valley of the Ardèche and its Tributaries: Natura 2000 site
  • The National Nature Reserve of the Gorges de l'Ardèche
  • The lower valley of the Ardèche: ZNIEFF type I.

Tourist attractions[edit]

Lions painting in the Chauvet cave

The Gorges de l’Ardèche (Ardèche Gorge) is located between the villages of Vallon-Pont-d'Arc and Saint-Martin-d'Ardèche. The road along the north rim of the gorge (the Corniche) offers spectacular views into the gorge and over the river.

A natural stone bridge across the river near the town of Vallon-Pont-d'Arc which forms the natural entrance to the Gorges de l'Ardèche.

This limestone cave, which is named after its discoverer, is located in the Gorges de l'Ardèche. It contains early Stone Age cave paintings of great variety and expressiveness. Since the cave is not open to the public, photographs of cave paintings are displayed in an exhibition in Vallon-Pont d'Arc.


  1. ^ Google Maps
  2. ^ Page on characteristic flows - The Ardèche at Saint-Martin-d’Ardèche (French)
  3. ^ CIL XII, 3316 and 2317; 4107 (French)

External links[edit]