Paddling quiet waterways provides the ultimate liquid escape.
A FOGLIKE MIST RISES FROM COLD WATER heating in the early morning sun. The bow parts the water with a liquid susurrus, followed by the dip of the paddle. The lake’s mineral smell mingles with the resinous scent of pines. Crows raise a ruckus somewhere out of sight, high in the trees. A kingfisher skims the rippling sheet of reflected sky in front of the boat. For some of us, this is the very soul of a New England summer.
With hundreds of lakes, reservoirs and rivers to choose from, paddlers in this region are fortunate indeed. But with so many options, the problem becomes figuring out where to go, what to expect and where to put in. These six spots are easy to reach, close to scenic towns with places to stay or camp, yet offer the experience of a more remote setting.
Lake McDonough, Barkhamsted
Wooded coves and inlets provide seclusion in this 446-acre lake in northwestern Connecticut. Although motorboats share the waters, they stick to a 10-mph speed limit. With stocked trout and three swimming beaches, the lake draws anglers and families. A wheelchair-accessible fishing pier and other all-access facilities are available. Early September and early June offer the most peaceful paddling, as well as opportunities to spot black bear, water birds and other wildlife.
Metropolitan District, Hartford, 860-379-3036, themdc.com/lakemcdonough.htm
CANOE AND KAYAK RENTALS: Main Stream Canoes and Kayaks, New Hart¬ford, 860-693-6791, mainstreamcanoe.com
Prong Pond, Greenville and Beaver Cove
Probe boggy outlets in search of moose in this mountain-ringed pond just five miles northeast of downtown Greenville, a peaceful alternative to bustling Moosehead Lake. Only a few cottages dot the nine-mile shoreline. The pond is popular with fly fishers, who favor canoes to avoid crunching propellers against the pond’s big rocks. From mid-September to mid-October, moose roam in search of mates, the mosquitoes are gone, and fall foliage lights up the slopes.
Moosehead Lake Region Chamber of Commerce, Greenville, 207-695-2702, 888-876-2778, mooseheadlake.org
CANOE AND KAYAK RENTALS: Northwoods Outfitters, Greenville, 207-695-3288, 866-223-1380, maineoutfitter.com
Upper Spectacle Pond, Otis and Sandisfield
On some days, a paddle’s rhythmic dip is the only human sound in this wooded mountain pond on the southeastern edge of the Berkshires. In summer, songbirds dart among overhanging branches, and turtles sun themselves on rocks. Motorboats are scarce. Go in June for blooming mountain laurel, or in October for fiery foliage.
Tolland State Forest, East Otis, 413-269-6002, mass.gov/dcr/parks/western/toll.htm
CANOE AND KAYAK RENTALS: Expeditions, a Butternut Outdoor Sports Store, Great Barrington, 413-528-2000, ext. 271, expeditionssportsshop.com
May Pond, Washington
At dawn and dusk, a slow glide across the still water of May Pond can smooth away almost any worry. Pillsbury State Park spreads out around this tranquil, granite-rimmed lake lined with 41 primitive campsites. Motorboats are forbidden, and moose, beaver and waterfowl abound. Loons whoop it up come nightfall. September and early June are the quietest times to visit.
Pillsbury State Park, Washington, 603-863-2860, nhstateparks.org
CANOE AND KAYAK RENTALS: Available in the park.
Wood River and Alton Pond, Hopkinton and Richmond
In the southwestern corner of the state, Wood River flows 16 miles to a tranquil wooded pond. While not prohibited, motorboats are uncommon, and there is little development. Dams upstream require portaging, and many paddlers prefer the southernmost six miles between Hope Valley and Alton, with only one portage and lovely rural views. Ride high water in April to avoid downed trees. If you postpone your paddling until early summer, you’ll have to dodge a few snags—the water level drops at this time—but you’ll be rewarded with views of blooming mountain laurel. For more information, pick up the Wood-Pawcatuck Watershed Association’s detailed guidebook,
The Wood-Pawcatuck River Guide.Wood-Pawcatuck Watershed Association, Hope Valley, 401-539-9017, wpwa.org
KAYAK RENTALS: Ure Outfitters, Hope Valley, 401-539-4050, ureoutfitters.com
Lake Willoughby, Westmore
This 300-foot-deep lake in Willoughby State Forest fills a glacier-carved cleft between mountains in the remote Northeast Kingdom. Despite the presence of motorboats and some cottages, the 1,692-acre lake has wildness to spare. A beach at the lake’s northeast shore offers boating access and swimming.
Barton Area Chamber of Commerce, 802-525-1137, bartonareachamber.com
CANOE AND KAYAK RENTALS: East Burke Sports, East Burke, 802-626-3215, eastburkesports.com