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Exploring the Charles River

Posted Jul 29 2010 3:00am
On summer evenings and on weekends I kayak the Charles River, exploring its twists and turns through the western suburbs of Boston.

This section of the river is secluded, quiet, and filled with natural wonders. Here are a few of my favorite spots. Note that I paddle upstream first when I'm fresh, then enjoy the boost of the downstream current when I'm tired.

South Natick to Rocky Narrows - 5 miles/10 miles round trip
I put in my kayak just above the South Natick Dam and paddle upstream under Sargent's bridge, a beautiful oriental footbridge spanning the Charles. I continue past the praying woman statue, which Sargent placed on the south side of the river. For the next 3 miles, the river winds near the Audubon Broadmoor preserve, the Peters Reservation, and a few hidden houses. This section of the river is filled with Herons, Kingfishers, and Wood Ducks. I pass under the Farm Road Bridge and paddle to a narrow canyon in the river, Rocky Narrows, near King Phillip's overlook. When my daughter was young, we used an Old Town Pack single person canoe to paddle from the Farm Road Bridge to the Rocky Narrows Reservation. The entire length is tree lined, filled with muskrats, swallows, snapping turtles, and enormous carp.

Dover to South Natick - 5 miles/10 miles round trip
I put in my kayak at Redwing Bay in Dover. The 29 acre Charles River Peninsula reserve is a hidden gem on Fisher Street near the Cochrane Dam with a great boat launch and walking trails, filled with purple martins, hawks, and milkweed. This section of the Charles is laden with hidden coves and can be very challenging to navigate. It's anything but a straight line through Dover and Wellesley. I pass under the Central Street railroad bridge and along a wider, slower portion of the river going by fields, farms, and estates. I cross Charles River Street and enter Elm Bank Reservation, winding past the intersection of Fuller Brook and Waban Brook (the drainage from Lake Waban where my wife and I walk every morning ) which run under an impressive stone bridge built in 1877.

Waltham to Wellesley - 6 miles/12 miles round trip
I put in at Charles River Canoe and Kayak and paddle upstream, quickly passing the freeway overpasses of 128 and entering the isolation of the Leo J. Martin Memorial Golf Course. Once I pass the Park Street bridge, the Charles is surrounded by meadows and secluded woodland, filled with water birds, fish, and muskrats. I paddle through the shallows (about 3 inches deep this time of year) all the way to Wellesley, then turn around at the Cordingly Dam. I retrace my steps and paddle back to my starting point, then continue for 3 miles along the "Lakes" area of the Charles, passing islands (E island, Fox island), the Forest Grove Park, the old Waltham Watch factory, and the Prospect Street Bridge. I turn around at the Moody Street Dam and return to my car. The only downside of the "Lakes" area is that powerboats are permitted. At times, their noise, wakes, and occasionally intoxicated skippers makes kayaking a bit challenging. Once this summer I had to leap from my kayak into the Charles to avoid a powerboat collision!

The Charles River is 80 miles long from its source in Hopkinton (same place the Boston Marathon starts) to the sea. The less traveled upper Charles from Medfield to Waltham is my paddling sanctuary.

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