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Paddling through history: Kayaking in Concord

A group of canoers on the Sudbury River in Concord.Katie Hunt

The town of Concord, is home to not one, but three great rivers: the Assabet, the Sudbury, and (of course) the Concord River.

My traveling companion and I decided to explore these historic waterways one glorious afternoon last year. We drove to the South Bridge Boat House (496 Main St., Concord, 978-369-9438,, where they rent kayaks and canoes by the hour, from April 1 to Nov. 1.

We parked on the side of the road and sauntered into the little old boat house that was built in 1892. The wooden walls hold a lot of history. Since 1947, the Rohan family has rented out kayaks and canoes to the public, and even to some celebrities. (They count Larry Bird, Bill Walton, Kurt Russell, and Goldie Hawn among their most memorable customers.)


Kayaks cost $18 per hour. We each grabbed a lifejacket and paddle, and strolled down to the water’s edge, where a young man greeted us and waited patiently as we climbed into our vessels. Once we were in, he pushed us off the shore and into the water.

As soon as a kayak grinds its way off the gritty, rocky shoreline and slides into the water with a muted splash, there is a sense of exhilaration and then serenity. It’s like floating, weightlessly, along the shiny surface of a tranquil stream.

The boat house is situated on the Sudbury, and from there, kayakers can access all three rivers. We navigated our way north, leisurely paddling past historical mansions and beautifully landscaped backyards.

The water was calm and still, and it didn’t take much effort to propel ourselves up the river. (No wonder, because the Sudbury flows northward. We discovered this on our way back, when we had to paddle against the gentle current.)

We enjoyed a short break from the sunshine when we passed beneath the Elm Street Bridge, a beautiful three-arch stone structure made of granite block. The keystone of the center arch is engraved with “1874” for the year it was built. It was cool and shady under there.


The river curved to the right, and I paused to look at a vast meadow dotted with yellow and purple flowers. Our kayaks glided past turtles perched on rocks. A line of Canada geese swam by my kayak, keeping in single-file formation.

Along the river’s edge stood a great blue heron, perfectly motionless, waiting to pounce on the next fish to wander into its strike zone.

After we traveled underneath the Nashawtuc Bridge we got a glimpse of Concord Academy’s campus. Between the tree branches and shrubs that line the riverbank we could see the immaculately groomed fields of the esteemed prep school.

Soon we had reached the point where the Sudbury River meets the Assabet and Concord rivers. On my left I noticed a rock outcropping and a boulder of significant size with words engraved on the side. We paddled over to investigate. Upon closer inspection, we could see block-like, capital letters that said:


This, I later learned, is a historic landmark known as Egg Rock, and those words were inscribed in 1885 to commemorate the 250th anniversary of the town of Concord.

Musketaquid was what the Native Americans called this area and the rivers that flow through it. According to Henry David Thoreau, Musketaquid meant “meadow river” or “grass-ground river.” Thoreau was fascinated by the place, and he wrote about it in his first book, “A Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers,” published in 1849. (Thoreau once had a boat that he called Musketaquid, which he sold to Nathaniel Hawthorne.)


We continued northward and paddled up the Concord. On our right was a grassy meadow known as Old Calf Pasture. Just ahead were the Old Manse (former stamping grounds of Thoreau, Hawthorne, and Ralph Waldo Emerson) and the Old North Bridge, site of the “shot heard ’round the world.”

On our return trip to the boat house, we paddled against the current, which wasn’t too difficult. Thoreau himself said it best: “Concord River is remarkable for the gentleness of its current, which is scarcely perceptible.” That’s what makes it a great waterway for beginner paddlers.

The South Bridge Boat House has a fleet of 110 kayaks and canoes to choose from (there are single and double kayaks, and canoes that can fit up to eight people) and life jackets for all sizes, from infant to adult. Children and dogs are welcome; they recommend that kids under the age of 14 are accompanied by an adult. The South Bridge Boat House is open 9 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. on weekends and 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. on weekdays. Canoe and kayak rentals cost $18 an hour on weekends and holidays, and $15 an hour on weekdays. Just remember to bring sunglasses, sunscreen, a waterproof container for your smartphone, and water. The current may be easy, but you’ll still get thirsty.


Emily Sweeney can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @emilysweeney.