Our Kayak Journey Down the Entire Charles River

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Early in the summer, I picked up a new double kayak. My first thought was to put in by the Newton Marriott with The Boy and explore that section of the Charles River together. Then my brain jumped ahead and thought about how much of the Charles River we could paddle together.

The plan was hatched.

Over the summer we paddled about 60 miles of the Charles River over the course of 10 days. Most days were about three to four hours on the river. (The big exception was the first leg in Milford which took significantly longer to overcome the shallow water and obstructions.) The kayak was big enough, and the kids small enough, that I could take The Boy and The Girl down the river. I left her behind on some sections of the river that would be tricky with portages or rapids.

From Milford, we passed through Bellingham, Medway, Franklin, Millis, Medfield, Dover, Sherborn, Natick, Wellesley, Needham, Dedham, Newton, Waltham, Watertown, Cambridge, and Boston.

See the map below and more about each leg of the journey.

Charles River Journey
Charles River Journey

Behind the scenes, Mrs. Doug made the journey possible. She trucked me and the kids to the put ins and picked us up at the end of the segment.

The segments in river order:

Starting in Milford, through Box Pond and the Bellingham Meadows


Our starting point was in Milford, outside 495. The Charles River’s headwaters start at Echo Lake in Hopkinton. However, the first 20 miles are not navigable in any meaningful way. Our Milford starting point seems to be about as far upstream as you can start. Even at that point was going was difficult. We ended at the Caryville Dam in Bellingham. More…

Medway and its Dams and Paddling from Populatic Pond


This section of the river was memorable for its obstructions. The obstructions started before we could even get in the river. The old abandoned factory downstream from the Caryville Dam had fenced off the property, leaving the put in on the other side. After finally getting into the river we encountered numerous beaver dams and two man-made dams. More … and More….

Forest Road in Millis, Though Area F, to Route 27 in Medfield

Doug The Boy The Girl and Our Red Kayak

This was a great stretch of river. It was especially notable because we were paddling just after the rainy days of June, leaving the river wide and bloated. More…

Route 27 Through Rocky Narrows and Broadmoor To Natick


This is one of the prettiest sections of the Charles River and about as back-to-nature as you can get inside 128. Most of the riverbanks in this section are subject to some type of protection or part of a park. More….

Natick Dam Through Elm Bank and Charles River Village to Needham


In this section, surburbia intrudes. Houses back right up to the river so at times you feel like you are paddling in someone’s backyard. But it is a nice paddle. More…

Needham, through the Dedham Loop, to Newton


We took a shortcut. The Long Ditch slices off a loop as the river wanders through Dedham. We have been paddled the outside of the loop before and will do it again. The Charles River Canoe and Kayak center at Nahanton Park will rent a boat to you and truck you upstream to paddle this section. More…

Paddling with the Kids in Hemlock Gorge

128 Road Signs in the Distance

This is an interesting section to paddle, but it is chopped up with some big portages. More…

Newton Lower Falls, Through the Lakes District, to the Moody Street Dam in Waltham


This section is the mostly highly used section of the river, other than the basin. Credit the river traffic to the popular Charles River Canoe and Kayak location on Commonwealth Ave next to the Newton Marriott. More…

From Moody Street in Waltham to Brighton


This is an industrial section of the river. One of the first big industrial factories sits at the starting point, harnessing the power of the Charles River.  More…

The Last Stretch, from Brighton to the Ocean


This section of the Charles River is unlike the rest of the river. Maybe people wonder where the river starts because they expect to see this broad plain of water up stream. In the rest of the river you can paddle from riverbank to riverbank with just a few strokes, or less. More…

After all of that, the Charles River ends at the dam behind the Boston Garden.

Charles River Dam

We decided to go a bit further and went through the locks into Boston Harbor. Clearly, the kayak was not made for ocean waves, but we managed to go past the U.S.S. Constitution and the Boston waterfront to Fort Point Channel. There was new kayak/canoe dock paid for by P&G Gillette.
Fort Point Channel dock

And so our journey down the Charles River has ended. I’m sure we will be back paddling through some of those sections. It’s a great river to enjoy. However, there are some sections that I’m unlikely to paddle again.

Then, there are lots of other rivers nearby. I wonder what we will paddle next summer……



charles river mcadowIf you are interested in exploring the Charles River, I highly recommend a book by Ron McAdow: The Charles River: Exploring Nature and History on Foot and by Canoe.  It provides a comprehensive description of the entire river. It highlights the best places to access the river and details the portage routes. McAdow describes the physical environment bordering the river as it passes through town after town. There are snippets of history as your pass meaningful places on the river, or places that were meaningful at one time or another. McAdow dives deep into the flora and fauna you are likely to pass while paddling.

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