Paddling Through Rocky Narrows and Broadmoor with the Kids

The section of the Charles River running through Rocky Narrows and past the Broadmoor Sanctuary promised to be idyllic. This stretch of the river is mostly bordered by protected land.

kayaking with the kids on the Charles River

Route 27 provides a small parking area for a half dozen cars and a pebbled path down to the river next to the bridge. Rain came down heavily in the previous 48 hours so there was some obvious flow to the river.

The Route 27 bridge is a standard steel and concrete bridge, leaving a rather ugly overhead to start the trip. Just downstream is a railroad bridge. Although it looks abandoned, Conrail uses it occasionally. I have been surprised by a locomotive on the tracks while mountain biking in the area.

We had the treat of watching a model airplane fly overhead. The kids were fascinated by the replica and had no concept of the plane’s size. It could have been 6 inches or 6 feet. There is a popular landing strip next Rocky Narrows. I usually see a great replica or stunt model on a nice weekend day.

Towering up to the left is King Philip’s Lookout in Sherborn Town Forest. This is a 100 feet of bedrock that pushes the river to the right into a marsh. A bit further downstream, the river passes though the twin towers of Rocky Narrows. The granite on the left and right squeezes the river together and adds a quickening, although still gentle, pace to the downstream flow.

Off to the right we saw construction fencing that cut off the backside of Medfield State Hospital from the river. I know there is a great bike trail over there. I’ll have to go back and see what construction is happening over there.

Off to the left is the Rocky Narrows Reservation owned by the Trustees of the Reservation. It’s 227 acres bracket the Sherborn Town Forest resulting in almost 400 acres of protected land on the riverfront. There is a good landing spot marked with a Rocky Narrows sign. It’s a great place to pull out for a picnic and go for a hike. Since we had just started the day, we kept paddling.

The right bank of the river in Dover has a few houses but they are well set back from the river. The Farm Road bridge is another great landing spot, but we keep paddling.

Peters Reservation is on the right bank of the river. Peters Reservation is named for the family who originally purchased the property as a family retreat. The trails and understory plantings were laid out by the landscape architect Fletcher Steele. The property is currently owned by The Trustees of Reservations. The reservation is located across Farm Street from the Chase Woodlands, another Trustees managed property.

After a few more turns, the river leaves Dover and Sherborn and enters Natick. The Broadmoor Wildlife Sanctuary owns the left bank and a large stretch of the right bank. Indian Brook flows through the sanctuary, floods into a marsh, and eventually leaks into the Charles River. Unlike the Trustees’s properties upstream, Broadmoor has no landing spots.


The river takes a sharp left hand turn after passing the Sanctuary. This stretch is rocky and there are a few outcroppings to avoid. For us, the water level was still high from the recent rain so we floated over most of the obstacles.

Then houses appear on the left bank of the river, with noisy Route 16 behind them. The idyllic section of the river has ended and suburbia has sprung up.

On a rocky outcropping on the right hand bank appears a statute of the Virgin Mary. It was placed there by Daniel Sargent who purchased both sides of the river in this spot in 1921. The words at her feet state: “Apparverunt in terra nostra flores”. The flowers shall appear on our earth.

Sargent also built the delightful footbridge just downstream from the statute.

From there it is a short distance to the South Natick Dam. There is parkland on both sides of the dam. However, the left hand side is steep and walled. The right side offers a few spots to softly land and exit the river.

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Looking at Lookout Farm

I’ve ridden by the Belkin Family Lookout Farm dozens of times and have been meaning to stop and explore. From the road you just see the farmstand and it doesn’t seem like much.

You would be mistaken. The farm owners apparently sold off the lots with road frontage over the years. There is 180 acres of beautiful farmland tucked in behind the farmstand.

One of the reason I’ve been visiting the 1,000 Great Places in Massachusetts is to get off the couch and take the kids (and myself) to new places. Lookout Farm should definitely be on you list of places to visit with your kids.

There is plenty of U-pick with great looking apples, peaches, and plums. They grow their trees in the espalier method so the trees are shorter, making it easier for kids to pick the fruit.

They also have a great children’s play area. We were there for a birthday party. The area had climbing structures, petting zoo, pony rides, camel rides, a maze, a tram, and a maze.

Bacon Free Library

The Bacon Free Library was established in 1880, sitting next to the flow of water over the Natick Dam on the Charles River.

Feel free to insert your own joke about the banning of pork products in the library. Bacon refers to the Bacon family that used to have an extensive farm and a large family in Natick.

This building was a gift to the town by Oliver Bacon who died in 1878. The Natick Historical Society is located in the lower level of the Bacon Free Library.

You can find out more at the website for Naticks’ Bacon Free Library.

The library is of the two dozen libraries on the list of 1,000 Great Places in Massachusetts.

Bounding Down the Boardwalk at Broadmoor Wildlife Sanctuary

The Massachusetts Audubon Society put together a great wildlife sanctuary along the Indian Brook as it enters the Charles River. Broadmoor’s nine miles of walking trails ramblethrough a variety of field, woodland, and wetland habitats.

The highlight is a quarter-mile boardwalk along the wetlands. It offers a great opportunity to look for turtles and frogs. The Boardwalk has a railing on one side, but not on the other. The openness urges you to lay down and look hard at the marshy water for signs of water life.

The frogs are tough to see. The green of their skin is a close match to the green algae coating the surface of the water. The frogs were willing to sit there for a long time, staring back at you, while you stare down at them.

The turtles were much more shy. We could here the plop as they splashed into the water when they heard our footsteps approaching. They quickly gave up a sunny branch for the murky water of the marsh. If we lingered quietly long enough, we could see the gentle stirring of the water as the turtles probed the surface to see if they were once again alone. An amphibian head would poke up, look around, catch a glimpse of us staring back, and retreat into the murk.

I was familiar with the wonderful boardwalk. I did not pay attention to trail map. (or bother to stop and pick one up.) I was unaware that there were nine miles of trails. I became aware, as our short visit turned into a much longer trek wandering all the way out to the Charles River.

Broadmoor is a great place to visit and one of the 1,000 Great Places in Massachusetts.

Paddling in Elm Bank and the Bays Region of the Charles River

It was another beautifully warm and sunny October day, so I went back to the Charles River. I put in just downstream from the South Natick Dam.

South Natick Dam
South Natick Dam

A little way downstream, I came across the beautiful Cheney Bridge spanning the river.

Cheney Bridge to Elm Bank
Cheney Bridge to Elm Bank

The Cheney bridge provides access to Elm Bank, a state-owned property with two miles of frontage on the river. The 182 acres of woodlands, fields, and old estate property is surrounded on three sides by the Charles River. Elm Bank was given its name in 1740, when Colonel John Jones acquired the land and planted elms along the banks of the Charles River. The site was later occupied by the Loring, Broad, and Otis families before being sold in 1874 to Benjamin Pierce Cheney. At the time of Cheney’s death in 1895, the property contained over 200 acres (80 hectares), and passed to his eldest daughter Alice in 1905. In 1907, Alice and her husband, Dr. William Hewson Baltzell, engaged an architectural firm to build a neo-Georgian manor house, and the most prominent landscapers of the day, the Olmsted Brothers, were hired to design and improve the gardens.  The entire site was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1987 and is currently owned by the Commonwealth of Massachusetts and leased to the Massachusetts Horticultural Society.

Waban Arches
Waban Arches

When I came to the confluence with Waban Brook, I paddled upstream to the Waban Arches. These support the Sudbury Aqueduct which carried water from a reservoir in Framingham to Chestnut Hill Reservoir in Boston.

The Bays Region Stretches three miles from Charles River Street to the Cochrane Dam. These backwaters are abandoned channels formed as the river changed course as it flooded and re-formed in the flat-bottomed valley between Needham and Dover. The river is broad and flat through this section, meandering back and forth. There were numerous bays to duck into.

I ran into a few swans and a blue heron grazing in the marshy sides of the river.

Also along this stretch of the river was a diverse assortment of houses. There were simple houses and there were mansions, and everything in between. In particular, there was a striking contemporary with floor to ceiling walls of windows in every room.

A common theme for all the houses was their connection to the river. Almost every house had steps down to the river and many had boats visible in their yard.

The section of the river ended at the Cochrane Dam. Then I had a bike ride up the beautiful Claybrook Road through Dover to fetch the truck.

Cochrane Dam
Cochrane Dam

You can the rest of my paddling trips laid out on a map: Paddling Trips.