Editor’s note: This article was originally published in 2019. As we enter the summer of 2020, each state in New England has its own set of parameters regarding visitors within its borders. Before making plans, please be sure to visit the following web sites, with information regarding quarantine and other possible limitations required of your plans.
New Hampshire: www.visitnh.gov/covid19
Rhode Island: www.reopeningri.com
From whitewater to flat water to swimming holes, lakes and streams, New England is a water playground in the summer months.
Make safety a priority. Then make fun your destination.
You don’t need to travel to the north country to get your river fix on. In 1989, Zoar Outdoor pioneered whitewater rafting trips on the Deerfield River in Massachusetts. The company has since expanded to the West River in Vermont, the Millers River and the Concord River in Massachusetts and the Great Falls section on the Connecticut River in Connecticut.
Zoar also serves up kayak trips, ziplining and other adventure packages.
Northern New England has a vast number of bodies of water that will satiate your thirst for hydro fun. One of the most popular recreational river destinations in all of the north country, the Saco River’s mostly gentle 136 miles of twists and turns draws thousands of people each summer weekend to its banks that stretch from New Hampshire to Maine.
Originating on Mount Washington and Saco Lake in Crawford Notch, N.H., the river flows south-southeast, crossing into Maine and ultimately dumping into the Atlantic Ocean at Saco Bay. Most rafting and canoeing on the river takes place between Swan’s Falls, the former Appalachian Mountain Club area now maintained by the Saco River Recreation Council, to Brownfield, Maine.
Known for its relaxing current, the Saco River has become extremely popular among families for canoeing and kayaking, camping or simply floating for miles upon leisurely miles in tubes, complete with drink holders and head rests.
Families have been enjoying the Saco for generations, drawn back year after year to all it offers, including majestic views of the White Mountains, its clear water and sandy beaches, wilderness camping within the White Mountain National Forest, various hiking trails and rock climbing sites.
The most popular entry point to the river for recreationalists is at Swan’s Falls in Fryeburg, where the Swan’s Falls Campground offers tent sites perfect as a jumping off point for day trips and multi-day canoe and kayak excursions. Also located here is Saco River Canoe & Kayak, offering rentals as well as pick up and delivery service for canoes, kayaks and tubes.
In Conway, N.H., Saco Bound offers canoe, kayak, tube and stand-up paddleboard rentals along with private access to the river, no shuttles required.
If you’re seeking faster-flowing waters, Maine’s three other rivers — the Kennebec, Dead and Penobscot — will deliver.
The whitewater rafting season begins May 1 and stretches into mid-October. With daily hydropower dam releases, Maine is unique in New England for being able to guarantee water levels. Trips are scheduled daily.
On the Kennebec River, a 12-mile run begins on Indian Pond and roars through several miles of Class 4 rapids to Kennebec Gorge. The last part of the run offers opportunities to swim and enjoy the scenery, including the Dead stream falls.
On the Dead River, a 16-mile run produces the longest stretch of continuous whitewater in the East with Class 4 and 5 rapids, depending on the water level. There are a limited number of big-water releases on the Dead River, so book your spot early as space is limited. September is a popular time for the Dead River Run, as both the water and foliage are in peak form.
The Penobscot River starts with two miles of Class 5 rapids to the “Cribworks.” The next 12 miles of the run offer surprises at every bend with Class 3 and 4 rapids throughout.
In Vermont, both the Winooski and West rivers are popular destinations for recreationalists.
The second-longest river in Vermont, the Winooski is the largest tributary watershed to Lake Champlain, flowing for 90 miles through the heart of the Green Mountains from Cabot to Colchester. The river is home to the Friends of the Winooski’s annual Onion River Race and Ramble. In southern Vermont, the West River flows for 50 miles with sections of both Class 3 and 4 rapids. The river starts in Mount Holly in Rutland County and eventually dumps into the Connecticut River, flowing through the picturesque towns of Weston, Londonderry, Jamaica, Townshend, Brookline, Newfane, Dummerston and Brattleboro along the way.
In Downeast Maine, Roque Bluffs State Park offers visitors a choice of freshwater paddling in Simpson Pond or a saltwater experience in Englishman Bay. The park has a beach and walking trails, and kayak rentals are available on Simpson Pond. Cobscook Bay State Park is a great starting point for exploring the bay of the same name. There’s abundant wildlife and beautiful scenery as well as an interesting ecological history. Lamoine State Park gives access to Bar Harbor and the many small islands and lighthouses in the vicinity.
Away from the coast, the interior of Maine offers numerous choices of large-acreage state parks accessing rivers, lakes and ponds. Androscoggin Riverlands, the newest of the parks, has 12 miles of frontage on the Androscoggin River, including a number of islands with picnic spots.
Donnell Pond Public Lands encompasses 14,000 acres with lakes, secluded ponds and beautiful views. There are a number of launching sites on several of the lakes. This area also offers water-access campsites. Deboullie Public Lands, in the northernmost part of Maine just 30 miles from the Canadian border, offers paddlers the opportunity to explore 17 classic north woods ponds ranging in size from very small to over 300 acres. There are seven launch sites around the property.
For paddlers looking for more adventure or a backcountry experience, the Allagash Wilderness Waterway has one of the country’s foremost canoe trips. This 92-mile waterway winds through lakes, rivers and ponds in the heart of Maine’s northern woodlands. There are campsites along the way for extended trips as well as points of entry and exit for day trips.
If you live near Boston and can’t get out of the city, try a kayak sea tour around Boston Harbor and Spectacle Island. Learn kayaking safety and skill development while enjoying the wonderful scenery and learning local history. The Concord, Sudbury and Charles rivers, while not wilderness experiences, all offer beauty and solitude, abundant bird species and aquatic flora and fauna.