Gently Paddling Through the Lakes District of the Charles River


The Lakes District of the Charles River is formed by Moody Street Dam in Waltham. It impedes the flow of the Charles, flooding the low lying areas to create a power supply for the mill that used to operate at the base of the dam. The power need for the dam has long passed, but the dam stays in place, helping to control downriver flooding.

The dam was our end point. We started several miles upstream at Newton Lower Falls.

Just downstream from Newton Lower Falls
Just downstream from Newton Lower Falls

After the recent rain, the river was perky, running fast and deep. The river gage in Waltham has risen a half foot to 1.6 feet.

There is a parking lot just off Washington Street that is empty on the weekends. It offers a few easy spots to slide into the Charles. The property owner discourages parking in the lot for this access during the week.

It’s a gentle peaceful stretch of the river. The quiet of the river gets punctuated by the whoosh-whack of golfers patrolling the Leo J. Martin Golf Course that lines both riverbanks.

After the golf course there is the series of massive intrusions. First, the Charles River passes under I-95 for the third and final time, making its run to Boston Harbor.

Charles River passing under I-95
Charles River passing under I-95

Then there is Recreation Road, a railroad bridge, a pedestrian bridge, a Mass Pike off ramp, the Mass Pike and Commonwealth Avenue.


After the bridges you run into river traffic at Charles River Canoe & Kayak. It sits in an old MDC police station on Commonwealth Avenue and has a wide variety of paddle craft to rent. 

In the Lakes section the water sits idle in many coves and inlets, spreading out between the higher ground in Newton, Weston and Waltham. At times, it’s hard to believe that you are only 12 miles from downtown Boston.

Charles River Canoe & Kayak
Charles River Canoe & Kayak

CRCK sits next to the Marriott hotel. This was the site of Norumbega Park, a recreation area and amusement park located in “Auburndale-on-the-Charles.” It was a popular “trolley” park, when the trolleys used to run up Commonwealth Avenue and stop at the nearby Riverside station. Norumbega Park opened in 1897 and closed for good on Labor Day weekend 1963. Hundreds of canoes would flood the Charles River on nice day. Like Revere Beach to the north of Boston, Norumbega Park went into sharp decline when automobiles overtook trolleys for transportation.

Off to the left is Norumbega Tower in Weston. In the late 1800s, Eben Horsford became obsessed with the idea that Vikings had set up settlements in this area. He found what he thought was the remains of a Viking fort and built the tower to commemorate the spot.

Further downstream we found a site where the landowners had placed various animal statutes along the river. A life-sized bison and Native American say hello. Further along the riverbank, we discovered his enormous turtle and alligator nestled in the low branches overhanging the slow moving river.


Off to the right, we went past The Cove Playground, taking in the opposite view we are used to having from the swings.

Eventually, you run into the industrial history of the Charles River. The old Waltham Watch factory towers above you on the right-hand bank. The multiple buildings of the industrial complex sit close to the river bank. I assume the factory took advantage of the river to help power its production and used the flow to help clean up after the manufacturing process.

The Waltham Watch Factory
The Waltham Watch Factory

The pilings in the water next to the Prospect Street Bridge are from the Nuttings-on-the-Charles Dance Hall, a popular jazz-era ballroom. The hall burned down in 1961.

Then we came to the Moody Street Bridge and the dam barricades the river just after the bridge.


We arrived at Moody Street at lunch time. Margarita’s has an outdoor dining area on the right bank of the river. This was an excellent stop for lunch.

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