Pick Your Paddles: Summer Paddling Adventures at Mass Audubon

Kayaking POV from the water

 To find paddling programs at a wildlife sanctuary near you, visit massaudubon.org/onthewater ←

From the Housatonic River in the Berkshires to Great Island in Wellfleet, there is so much to discover at Mass Audubon’s wildlife sanctuaries by canoe, kayak, or stand-up paddleboard (SUP). So grab a paddle and a personal flotation device (PFD), a.k.a. life vest, and hit the water this summer!


The popular off-site paddling programs hosted by Pleasant Valley in Lenox will take you to some of the best spots in the heart of the Berkshires. 

Watch for swallows, herons, ducks, muskrats, and signs of beavers along the scenic and meandering Housatonic River. Explore the coves and marshes of Upper and Lower Goose Ponds in search of eagles, herons, and kingfishers. Or listen for owls, loons, and other wildlife on a moonlit paddle of Buckley Dunton Lake. Best of all, Pleasant Valley provides everything you need—canoes, paddles, PFDs, binoculars, and experienced guides.

Family canoeing at Arcadia
Canoeing at Arcadia

Connecticut River Valley

Where the Mill River passes through Arcadia in Easthampton and Northampton, you'll find a unique, beautiful floodplain forest teeming with herons, kingfishers, beavers, otters, and more. Thanks to the floodplain's rich, loamy soil, Arcadia is a hot spot for wildflowers.

Join a guided canoe trip to take advantage of the sanctuary's equipment or bring your own and find a put-in to the Connecticut River Oxbow—a U-shaped extension of the river that is protected from the current—along Old Springfield Road for a self-guided adventure.

Central Massachusetts

Rent a canoe for a peaceful paddle around the Wildlife Pond at Wachusett Meadow in Princeton. The pond has an impressive array of wildlife, including mink, beavers, otters, and at least a half dozen species of frogs and toads. A variety of woodpeckers favor the standing dead tree snags around the pond’s edges, and there's almost always a Great Blue Heron around somewhere fishing for its dinner. The sanctuary also runs some guided paddling programs during the day and evening.

Drop in to a Broad Meadow Brook canoe program on Friday afternoons at Green Hill Park Pond in Worcester. Canoes, paddles, PFDs, and basic instruction are provided, and naturalists are on hand to answer questions about pond wildlife, including dragonflies, geese, ducks, songbirds, and more. The sanctuary also brings paddlers out to the historic Blackstone River watershed, once dubbed "America’s hardest working river" after 19th-century workers used it to help power the industrial revolution. 

Great Blue Heron wading at Ipswich River © Derek Allad
Great Blue Heron at Ipswich River © Derek Allad

North Shore

Find abundant wildlife and easy-to-access paddling at Ipswich River in Topsfield. Mass Audubon members can rent canoes on a first-come, first-served basis. Start at the visitor center, where you’ll check in and pick up your paddles, PFDs, and a key to unlock your canoe for the day, then stroll down to the canoe landing.

Thanks to the flat topography of the surrounding silver maple floodplain forest, this section of the river is slow-flowing and winding, great for new paddlers and for birders trying to quietly sneak up on a shy warbler or waterfowl. On sunny days, fallen trees will be crowded with Painted Turtles out sunbathing—keep a sharp eye out and you may also spot a rarer Musk Turtle in their midst.

Members can also rent a campsite on Perkins Island, accessible only by canoe. Drift off to sleep to the sounds of the river babbling, owls calling, and maybe even the slap of a beaver's tail in the distance.

Greater Boston

Broadmoor's summer morning and evening canoe trips down the Charles River in Natick offer a glimpse into an ever-changing environment brimming with wildlife: dragonflies darting, turtles basking, frogs croaking, otters leaving tracks in the mud, and more than 150 species of birds.

The sanctuary also offers a trip in July to the scenic Monadnock region of New Hampshire for a day canoeing with nesting Bald Eagles and loons. You’ll watch for adult eagles as they soar and fish and juveniles as they stretch their wings in preparation to leave the nest.

South of Boston

At North River in Marshfield, the staff will supply everything you need, from expert guidance to boats and gear, for a number of explorations by kayak in and around Marshfield's many rivers, marshes, and bays. Paddle the extensive tidal creeks of Duxbury Marsh and pause for a beach picnic. See Daniel Webster from a new perspective as you meander upriver past the twists and turns that are barely visible from Fox Hill on one of the sanctuary's popular summer paddling programs.

Moonrise kayaking at Felix Neck
Moonrise kayaking at Felix Neck

Cape & Islands

Get your feet wet and explore the dynamic Cape Cod ecosystem on a kayak tour with Long Pasture in Barnstable. Trips focus on everything from shorebird ecology and horseshoe crabs to ship building and oyster growing. Some include a climb up the privately owned Sandy Neck lighthouse for spectacular views of Barnstable Harbor. On certain days, Long Pasture runs "full moon" kayak paddles to experience the marsh—and its nocturnal inhabitants—at night. You can also check out Scargo Lake, a natural freshwater kettle-hole pond with limited wind and wave activity, during weekly SUP programs.

There are no put-ins or paddling at Wellfleet Bay in South Wellfleet, but the sanctuary leads dozens of kayaking programs each year—some easy/beginner and others more challenging—to several popular sites nearby, including Great Island, Nauset Marsh, and Upper Pleasant Bay. Explore barrier beach and island systems, salt marshes, estuaries, and glacial bluffs as you look for American Oystercatchers and other shorebirds, nesting Ospreys, herons and egrets, and even feeding Gray Seals.

Go on a guided tour of Sengekontacket Pond on Martha's Vineyard by kayak or SUP with Felix Neck in Edgartown. Look for all manner of marine life and birds, such as herons, egrets, American Oystercatchers, Ospreys, and more. An experienced guide will reveal the unique aspects of saltwater communities on Martha's Vineyard and explain the careful balance that exists between the inhabitants and their environment. For a fun challenge, try a self-guided Kayak & SUP Quest, where you’ll follow rhyming clues in a treasure hunt to uncover the story of the pond’s people, places, and wildlife.

This article is was featured in the Spring 2019 issue of Explore, Mass Audubon's quarterly member newsletter.