Places to Paddle
As spring arrives, quiet waters await
New Hampshire’s waterways are beacons for quiet exploration. From kayaks and canoes to stand-up paddleboards, our ponds, lakes, rivers and the sea are all places to work out the upper body and feed the soul. Mindful multitasking awaits in terms of photography, flora and fauna identification, fishing and al fresco dining.
Life vests, food, water and binoculars are musts for time spent on the water, as well as dressing appropriately for the weather. A waterproof dry bag to stow gear is helpful, as is a painter line, which is essentially a rope attached to the bow (front) of the craft to tie down when you stop for lunch.
For those looking to try it for the first time, there are many outfitters and clubs that provide lessons and rentals and welcome new paddlers.
Then it’s time to find a place to paddle.
The far reaches of northern Pittsburg are something of a paddler’s flatwater paradise with its opportunities for spotting both winged and legged wildlife. It’s easy to put in off Route 3 in waterways such as Lake Francis and lovely Second Connecticut Lake, but a little dirt road driving yields less-traveled options, including the question-mark-shaped, 60-acre East Inlet. This attractive body of water is located about two miles off Route 3 in the Nature Conservancy’s Norton Pool and Moose Pasture Natural Area, between the Second and Third Connecticut Lakes. Blue heron, moose and otter are known to frequent the northern boreal forest waters.
A portion of the 740-mile long Northern Forest Canoe Trail also passes through the Great North Woods. This pleasant 8- to 10-mile winding paddle through the Umbagog National Wildlife Refuge is rife with possibilities of seeing eagles and osprey. It begins on the lower Magalloway River, passes a 750-acre floating heath bog called the Floating Islands, enters the labyrinth of Umbagog Lake and allows passage into the Androscoggin River near some chained logs that are remnants of the logging industry’s heyday.
Huddled between the central New Hampshire towns of Enfield and Grafton, gorgeous Grafton Pond seems much bigger than its 300-plus acres of islands, coves and marshy blind alleys. Part of the Mascoma River watershed that feeds into the iconic Connecticut River, much of the surrounding forest was once paper company land, and has since been protected by the Society for the Protection of New Hampshire Forests. The unspoiled pond is nearly devoid of development, save for some hidden homes in a western cove, and is prime real estate for nesting loons and other watchable wildlife that may be on its conifer-laden shores.
The White Mountain National Forest contains paddling places such as Long Pond in Benton, which is ringed by hills and the bare top of Mount Moosilauke. A relatively small body of water, thin and about 1 mile long, the pond boasts a handful of rocky, spruce-covered islands for exploration. There’s also a dam, constructed by the Civilian Conservation Corps in 1933. The quiet water is a nice spot to relax, and it’s also family-friendly since the boat ramp, picnic tables, fire grates and bathroom are a part of the Long Pond Day Use Area.
New Hampshire state parks are another go-to resource. These locations provide canoeing and kayaking, plus a myriad of other activities including hiking and camping. Sometimes they have rentals as well, a boon to those dabbling about for the first time. A relatively short haul from the state’s largest urban areas, Pawtuckaway Lake in Nottingham’s Pawtuckaway State Park (pictured above) is a popular spot for all kinds of boaters. That may turn some people off — and windy days can hamper an outing — but the large lake has many islands to explore and contains some quiet spots in its northern edges, such as Fundy Cove. The eastern shoreline is developed, while southern end options such as Neal’s Cove and Mountain Cove invite exploration.
Danbury Bog is an under-the-radar prize. Reached off Route 104, the Danbury Bog Wildlife Management Area, managed by New Hampshire Fish and Game, is a 224-acre property where paddlers are more inclined to see beaver, deer, turtles and countless ducks than another boat. When in bloom, water lilies dot the way, and pickerelweed stands tall. Along the way, you’ll pass bird boxes on the winding journey. They are there to supplement the natural habitat where waterfowl such as wood ducks and hooded mergansers like to nest.
Nestled away in the southwestern corner of the state, 100-acre Willard Pond sits in the shadows of Bald Mountain and Goodhue Hill in the nearly 1,700 acres of land protected by New Hampshire Audubon’s largest property, the dePierrefeu-Willard Pond Wildlife Sanctuary in Antrim. No boats with motors are allowed on this pristine pond. The Willard Pond Road ramp is the gateway into the tranquil waterway with mossy rocks sprinkled along the shore, and a forest of maple, birch, beech and other species surrounds the pond. Loons, hooded mergansers and wood ducks are known to frequent this wonderful spot that’s sprinkled with lovely marshy inlets.
An estuary, where fresh water meets salt water, is an excellent gateway to the ocean, and Great Bay is the estuarine place to go. With about 4,500 acres of wetlands and tidal waters, the bay is home to everything from horseshoe crabs underneath to snowy egrets flying high above. Rugged salt marsh cordgrass graces the shoreline and provides a maze-like feel to area tributaries. The pine and oak forests provide limbs for great blue herons, red-tailed hawks and the like to rest. The mud flats — seen during low tide — are burrowing grounds for the snails and crabs. With such a vast area, plan trips accordingly due to weather and tides.
And always bring binoculars.