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11 Top Places To Kayak, Canoe, And SUP Board In New England

It is hard to find a more charming and picturesque slice of the world than New England in the autumn. As the summer heat begins to fade, the crowds and mosquitos disappear and give way to cooler weather and marvelous fall foliage. But regardless of whether you plan to visit New England in the autumn, the summer, or even in the spring, there are tons of amazing places to explore within this Northeastern piece of America with a paddle in hand.

Composed of six states, New England has a lot of diversity. Some states are known for their epic and rugged coastlines along the Atlantic, while Vermont is completely landlocked and is instead known for its rambling rivers and iconic lakes. As you travel through New England you will quickly notice that you are constantly passing either a wide lazy river, pristine lake, or historic and breathtaking strip of coastline. There are so many incredible places to kayak, canoe, and SUP board in New England, but some are truly exceptional and should be on every traveling paddler’s radar.

New England paddling destinations worthy of a bucket list include Maine’s Acadia National Park as well as Cape Cod, and Nantucket in Massachusetts. There are historically significant and beautiful areas to paddle in New England including Mystic, Connecticut, and Newport and Watch Hill, Rhode Island. New Hampshire has the Saco River, and Vermont has the famous Lake Champlain which is fantastic for kayaking, canoeing, and SUP boarding.

1. Acadia National Park, ME

It doesn’t get more New England than Acadia National Park. Perhaps this is why it is the most popular national park in the Northeastern United States. Acadia has everything that makes New England a great paddling destination. For one, it has exceptional coves with charming lighthouses and homes, as well as Bar Harbor, a fishing town seemingly untouched by time, apart from all the tourists.

There is also a great variety of paddling here. You can embark on a challenging open water paddle, or venture into more protected bays and coves thanks to the unique landscape of this area and its multiple islands and peninsulas. There is even the serene and tranquil Jordan Lake, which is perfect for grinning paddlers or those looking to peacefully soak up a warm summer day or the stunning foliage this area exhibits in the fall.

2. Thimble Islands, CT

It doesn’t get much more southern New England than Connecticut’s Thimble Islands. Located a short drive from New Haven and just southeast of Branford sits a charming and elegant archipelago in the subdued Long Island Sound. There are more than 100 islands in this chain, some of which are inhabited only by birds while others have multi-million-dollar mansions on them.

There are ferry boats and tours you can take to view some of these islands, but kayaking or SUP boarding among these islands can be a wildly fun island-hopping adventure. There are many bird species to see, as well as nearby New England eateries to grab some fresh seafood after a long day of paddling. The Long Island Sound is often tranquil, making it a perfect spot for SUP boarders and beginner paddlers who prefer not to go out in choppy conditions.

3. Lake Champlain, VT

Lake Champlain is famous for its size and its beauty. It is nestled between Vermont and New York and even borders Canada. Vermont has some incredible launch points for kayak, canoe, SUP board, and other boat enthusiasts.

This lake has a rich and ancient history. Lake Champlain is home to the oldest fossil reef in the entire world, dating back 450 million years or longer. The lake is manmade and has also been the setting of other important history, including battles in the American Revolution.

Paddling along the 107-mile-long lake is a humbling and magical experience.

Lake Champlain stretches along much of the Vermont border, and there are some great towns to stay, including Burlington, if you would like to take an extended trip to this lake region. Larger towns like this have no shortage of activities, including equipment rentals and boat tours.

4. Saco River, NH

The Saco River in New Hampshire is a truly quintessential New England River. It is not as grand as other rivers like the Connecticut River, but what it lacks in size it makes up for in charm. The Saco River passes through many pastoral and wild areas of New Hampshire, making for great sightseeing and fall foliage viewing in the fall.

This river also has some diversity. There are stretches where it is calm, and other sections have some fun rapids for more experienced paddlers. In the summer months you can enjoy sandy beaches along its banks, and even make the most of rope swings that are sprinkled along this river that stretches from Southern Maine through New Hampshire into the Atlantic Ocean.

5. Newport’s South Coast, RI

Newport Rhode Island is one of New England’s top tourist destinations. It is famous for its gigantic mansions that you can tour or gaze at from the other side of its gates. The mansions are not the only fancy thing about this area, as it is also known for its exceptional yachting and high-end shopping. But you don’t need to be a millionaire to enjoy Newport, especially if you have a paddle.

Newport’s south coast is a well-protected and stunning area that is perfect for day paddlers who want to get an authentic taste of this famous yachting town. Paddle into protected coves, or pass famous sailing clubs and lighthouses on your journey through this area of Newport.

It is also home to protected wetlands, so you are likely to see lots of sea birds and other native species while you kayak or SUP board through these waters.

6. Mason Island, Mystic, CT

Across the border from Newport into Connecticut is the equally famous and historically important town of Mystic. Mystic Seaport is a well-preserved throwback to the late 1700s and early 1800s when this Connecticut town was one of the pinnacles of the American Maritime enterprise. You can see a replica of this important time and even a replica of the famous Amistad. After all this boat history, you are bound to want to hit the water, and luckily Mystic has some of the best paddling in all of New England.

While the Mystic River and its shoreline offer plenty of paddling opportunities, arguably the best paddle in this region is a trip around Mason Island. This quaint New England island has endless inlets to explore, as well as some beaches, and even a restaurant or two once you’ve worked up an appetite paddling.

Mason Island has ample places to launch your boat from as you explore the surrounding area and even paddle over to historic Mystic Harbor. It has all of the New England charm and history you could hope for in a paddling trip.

7. Waquoit Bay, Cape Cod, MA

Cape Cod is one of the truly magical jewels of New England. On a map, it is hard to imagine a more perfectly shaped cape than this crescent-moon piece of land jetting out from mainland Massachusetts. It is one of the top summer vacation destinations in the Northeast, and it is no surprise that it also has some exceptional paddling.

Arguably the best place to kayak, canoe, or SUP board in this New England paradise is Waquoit Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve, located in Southern Cape Cod near the town of Falmouth, is an exceptional and well-protected area that is wonderful for kayaking, canoeing and SUP boarding. Even in the summer months, this area is not nearly as crowded as other parts of Cape Cod. Instead, this area offers a much more naturalistic approach to this cape, and rewards paddlers with stunning tranquility and fantastic wildlife viewing opportunities. This area makes for a great location for those looking for a paddling vacation on Cape Cod, as nearby Woods Hole caters to the eco-friendly aquatic adventurer, and you can even take a ferry to Martha’s Vineyard from here, where more great day paddling awaits.

8. Casco Bay, Portland, ME

If you want to travel through the natural splendor of New England and its craggy shoreline but also want to paddle by an urban landscape, consider taking a trip to the ornate and thoroughly enjoyable city of Portland Maine. Camps Bay is the main bay east of Portland, and it can be a real adventure to paddle around it on a pleasant day. The inner bay has several sounds that are well-protected by lots of small islands, some of which are lots of fun to explore.

There are more than 350 islands in total in this bay, as well as multiple lighthouses and forts. It is a real choose-your-own-adventure to embark on a New England paddling trip on this body of water. Best of all, Portland is a wonderful place to make a base camp. It has a lively food scene with lobster and shellfish restaurants abound, as well as great shopping and nighttime activities. This is perhaps the ideal New England paddling destination for those who love nature but also like a bit of culture and city life.

9. Napatree Point, RI

Napatree Point in Rhode Island is a little-known gem that has been a haven for many boaters in southern New England. Not only does it offer a fantastic anchorage for larger boats, but this point is a long stretch of protected beach that is ideal for paddlers and beachgoers alike.

Napatree Point is located within walking distance of one of the jewels of Rhode Island, Watch Hill. Watch Hill is a wealthy town that has all the New England charm from the movies, from little seafood shacks to high-end galleries, and even some great surfing beaches. It’s no wonder celebrities like Taylor Swift own property here.

But Napatree Point is just far enough away from this busy tourist area to feel at one with nature. The point offers protected paddling for beginners, and the sandy beach is a great place to launch a kayak. Napatree Point is also a bird preserve, so there are tons of different migrating bird species to gaze at while you paddle in the clean Atlantic waters.

10. Head of The Harbor, Nantucket Island, MA

No trip to New England is truly complete without visiting one of its world-famous islands. None of these fable islands is more remote and seaworthy than Nantucket. Nantucket is a small island with a huge history and plenty of charm and beauty to back up its storied reputation. It has cedar-shingled homes abound, little boutiques, fishermen, as well as elegant homes sprinkled throughout this 48-square-mile island.

A trip to Nantucket should be on any New England bucket list, as it is the pinnacle of New England island life, and paddling along this island can be a wonderful way to see it. Perhaps the best place to paddle in Nantucket is Head of the Harbor. Head of the Harbor is a very well-protected bay within the island of Nantucket and offers great kayak and SUP boarding opportunities. You can even view Nantucket Lighthouse while paddling these waters. Nantucket can have some unpredictable seas since it is very exposed, but this spot is well-positioned and reliably safe for day paddling excursions.

11. Upper Connecticut River, VT and NH

A New England paddling guide is never complete without mentioning the Connecticut River, the most important river in this region. This river begins in New Hampshire before traveling through Vermont, Massachusetts, and ultimately ends in southern Connecticut as it empties into the Long Island Sound.

Each state has some fantastic launch points along this vast river, but the most pristine and naturally beautiful reside in the north in both Vermont and New Hampshire. The Northern Connecticut River is less industrial and has many more places of natural beauty. While parts of this section of the river can run fast, others are tranquil and fun to paddle at a leisurely pace. There are many small towns and protected state parks along the Connecticut River Byway, a 500-mile stunning stretch of road that curves along the river between the mountains. Stopping along this road on a road trip can be one of the most rewarding ways to paddle this landmark New England river.

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