With the memories of summer pleasures fading quickly amid the crush of school schedules, families can still find relaxation and adventure in a fall kayak excursion.
Think Indian Summer, which some Native Americans were said to believe their god Cautantowwit sent on warm winds from his Southwestern court. But even on crisp days, the water temperature stays warm through September because the ocean takes much longer to cool.
Here are 11 great places to try. The trips mostly follow the shoreline and include interesting routes, easy put ins, and available parking. Most are an hour or two from Boston, with a couple of favorites farther afield.
1. MARBLEHEAD HARBOR
Paddlers can ogle some of the region’s most beautiful yachts in this popular harbor where sailors have to wait up to 15 years for a mooring, according to a town website. Kayakers don’t have that problem. Boats’ names and home ports are fun to read, and the harbor is protected from the Atlantic Ocean by Marblehead Neck.
Head to Crowninshield Island (3.6 miles round trip), a five-acre gem owned by the Trustees of Reservations, for a beach picnic and trail hike, exploring tidal-pool life. Migrating birds rest and feed along the shore, while striped bass chase baitfish through the shallows. You hug the shore except for the short crossing to Crowninshield. A longer, seven-mile loop through the harbor, with a crossing at Marblehead Light, is another route.
Launch from Riverhead Beach at the harbor’s inner end. It has a launch ramp, restrooms, and parking restrictions ease up after Labor Day. If you don’t have a kayak, rentals are available nearby at Little Harbor Boathouse www.littleharborboathouse.com.
For more information: www.thetrustees.org.
2. PLUM ISLAND SOUND, NEWBURYPORT
This is one of the longer trips (7 miles) noted here and perhaps the one requiring the greatest commitment, as you need to spot a car at the other end. You travel south along the inside of the Parker River National Wildlife Refuge barrier beach to Pavilion Beach in Ipswich. Best timing on this trip is to start at high tide to catch the outgoing tide south.
Sandpipers, ruddy turnstones, and lesser yellowlegs come in for landings on the salt pannes. Peak bird migration runs Aug. 1-Oct. 31, and kids will enjoy Mass Audubon’s Joppa Flats Education Center on the Plum Island Turnpike.
Launch from the Plum Island Bridge on the Plum Island Turnpike, Newburyport. Rentals are available at Plum Island Kayak www.plumislandkayak.com/plum/kayak_rentals.php.
3. WAQUOIT BAY, CAPE COD
Waquoit Bay is a narrow, shallow bay on the south side of Cape Cod, near Falmouth. Unique here is access to the 355-acre, state-owned Washburn Island, the only noncommercial place on the Cape where you can legally camp on the water. The estuary is rich in wildlife from quahogs to osprey. Paddle up the Childs and Seapit rivers to the bay. The large undeveloped land to your right is Washburn Island, accessible by boat only. Options include a stop at Dead Neck Beach (we still have a glass bowl full of jingle shells collected here), or paddle into surrounding ponds such as Sage Lot Hamblin, or Eel. Shallow water assures warm-water swimming through September.
Launch from White’s Landing on Route 28 toward Falmouth, just west of the Edwards Boatyard. Rentals at Cape Cod Kayak www.capecodkayak.com/index.htm.
For more information: www.waquoitbayreserve.org .
4. CHARLES RIVER, BOSTON
One of the best ways to paddle the Charles River is to take a shuttled river trip with Charles River Canoe & Kayak outfitters www.paddleboston.com/main.php who will also rent you kayaks. The trips start at Nahanton Park in Newton and take you upriver so you can float back down with the current.
CRCK general manager Mark Jacobsen recommends the shorter (10-mile) trip that starts at Charles River Park on South Street in Needham. This trip is entirely flat water, with noticeable current in some sections. At mile 7, you pass under Spring Street and can take out at Riverdale Park on the left for lunch on the grass or at a local restaurant (Riverside Pizza and the Olde Irish Alehouse are across the street). All CRCK locations stay open through Columbus Day.
For more information: www.paddleboston.com.
5. GRAFTON POND, N.H.
Of the many scenic, quiet bodies of water in New England, Grafton Pond stands out. It is in the Enfield/Canaan region in western New Hampshire, about a 2.5-hour drive from Boston. A small pond at 1.5 miles long, it has so many peninsulas and islands that one can explore for hours, following the heavily wooded shoreline, looking for critters. Since it is within the Grafton Pond Reservation, no gas-powered motorboats are allowed, and electric trawlers cannot be larger than six horsepower.
Kayakers can paddle in silence around two dozen islands, the stark gray summit of Mount Cardigan as backdrop. In leaf season, gold and red showers of turning leaves emerge from behind the pine trees, and loons cry their haunting call.
Grafton Pond is 2.2 miles south of Enfield Center off Route 4A.
For more information: www.friendsofgraftonpond.blogspot.com.
6. YORK RIVER, MAINE
This trip gives the family a protected paddle on a scenic, historic tidal river not far from Boston (about an hour and 20 minutes) yet on the Maine coast. The best approach to paddling here is to go up with the flow and return on the ebb. We like to start at the Wiggly Bridge (one of the smallest suspension bridges in the United States) inland from York Harbor, for less current.
We’ve been as far as the juncture of the York River and Smelt Brook, a total distance of nine miles up and back. You pass John Hancock’s warehouse; the Sewall Bridge, a National Engineering Landmark; and the River House estate built by the B.F. Goodrich family. In September, kingfishers drop with a chatter from the tall trees patrolling for fish.
For more information: www.yorkrivers.org.
7. NEW CASTLE, N.H.
New Castle is not only one of New England’s oldest settlements but also the only town in New Hampshire entirely on islands. The busy working waterfront, historic houses, forts, lighthouses, parks, beaches, hotels, and yacht clubs keep younger paddlers visually engaged.
The view looks as it might have in the 18th century, with old fish houses, wharves, the graceful Wentworth-Gardner House built in 1760 at water’s edge, and the slim North Church tower in the distance. You can paddle in comfort in protected waters to the west of New Castle Island, past Portsmouth Harbor Light (which is featured on the current US Postal Service stamps) into Little Harbor for a picnic at Frost Point, then explore Witch Creek and Fairhill Swamp at high tide.
Launch from Peirce’s Island boat ramp, just south of Strawbery Banke in Portsmouth’s historic district. Kayak’s can be rented from nearby Portsmouth Kayak Adventures.
For more information: www.portsmouthkayak.com.
8. FREEPORT, MAINE
Recompence Shore Campground on Wolfe’s Neck Farm, five miles from the front doors of L.L. Bean in Freeport, is a roomy (600 acres), family-friendly spot from which to paddle this beautiful and quiet western corner of Casco Bay. The working saltwater farm sits on more than four miles of shoreline and rental kayaks are available. The rocky shore is accessible in several places by stairs with kayak ramps and at Hayload Point by a short walking path.
Circle Googins island, a protected osprey habitat; paddle along Wolfe’s Neck and into the Harraseeket River; or up the Little River. Beware, the water runs out at low tide!
The campground (pet friendly) has 130 campsites, half are waterfront, open until the end of October. Hiking, biking, barn animal visits, grazing cattle, October hayrides, and pumpkin picking entertain the family on shore. The foliage pops with the ocean as backdrop, and peak is
Sept. 15-Oct. 15.
For more information: www.freeportcamping.com.
9. HELL’S HALF ACRE, MAINE
This state-owned island is in the Deer Isle archipelago off Stonington, by far our family’s favorite place to paddle. The islands are close together, and pink granite rock rears up into fantastic looking animals. The beaches are gradual, made of crushed shell, so wading is easy, if a little cold. Picking mussels or hailing down a boat for fresh lobster (tuck some cash into your pfd) is a treat. You’ll often see seals or dolphins, making any kid’s day in a kayak.
Hell’s Half Acre, unnamed on the charts, is probably the most visited island in the Stonington area because it is only a mile from shore. The Maine Island Trail Association has worked very hard to keep it pristine.
Camp, rent kayaks, and launch from Old Quarry Ocean Adventures on Webb Cove in Stonington.
For more information: www.oldquarry.com.
10. SQUAM LAKE, N.H.
Fiercely protected for more than a century by the Squam Lakes Association, this lake in Holderness has long stretches of shoreline that retain their natural beauty (structures do not intrude on the landscape), intimate coves and bays to duck into, a splendid view of the Squam Mountain range, and of course the cabin where “On Golden Pond’’ was filmed. It has a resident population of about a dozen loon pairs, monitored carefully by the Loon Chick Watch; and personal watercraft are not allowed.
Moon and Bowman islands and shoreside Chamberlain Reynolds Memorial Forest are available to the public for a fee to visit and camp (reduced for SLA members).
Launch from SLA headquarters on US 3 (Daniel Webster Highway) about 1.5 miles east of Holderness, $5 daily parking fee for nonmembers. The group also rents kayaks and canoes. It is open weekends through Columbus Day.
For more information: www.squamlakes.org.
11. MIDDLE SARANAC LAKE, N.Y.
The three joining Saranac lakes are the jewels in the crown of the Adirondacks in upper New York state. Middle Saranac is the most secluded because of more difficult access, which is great for families seeking quiet and undeveloped shoreline.
Explore the bog in Hungry Bay, and if conditions are calm, paddle east to Bull Rush Bay, along the Saranac River, and through the lock, self-operated in the off season after Labor Day, to Lower Saranac Lake.
The backdrop is an arc of mountains, ranging from dozens of small but scenic summits to the mountains known as the Adirondack High Peaks. Chances are you’ll see bald eagles, great blue herons, hawks, deer, and dragonflies.
Launch at the South Creek Boat Launch on Middle Saranac Lake, off Route 3, 10 miles west of the village of Saranac Lake. Rentals are available at Adirondack Lakes & Trails Outfitters in Saranac Lake.
The Wild Center in nearby Tupper Lake should not be missed.
For more information: www.adk.com.
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