Home > Destinations > Kayaking Destinations > USA > Guide to Kayaking and Canoeing in Massachusetts – Bay State Kayak Places, Rentals, Tours and Laws

Guide to Kayaking and Canoeing in Massachusetts – Bay State Kayak Places, Rentals, Tours and Laws

Mark Armstrong
Updated on:
- If you buy via a link on this page, we may receive a commission, at no extra cost to you. Learn more
- Read our review guidelines
Pinterest Hidden Image

There are lots of fantastic places to go kayaking in Massachusetts, whether you’re looking for a coastal adventure or a scenic river.

But it’s not just great scenery you get in the Bay State, you can paddle through history on some of these waterways, including seeing the 1620 landing site of the pilgrims on the Mayflower.

Whether you’re into history, wildlife, architecture, or just great scenery, this New England state seems to have something for everyone. We’ve listed a few of our favorite spots to help you plan your next outing. 

Kayaking In Massachusetts - PinterestPin

11 Of The Best Places To Kayak In Massachusetts

1: Plum Island

Kayaking can be one of the best ways to explore Plum Island. Much of this barrier beach island is protected and forms the Parker River National Wildlife Refuge. There are many small islands, inlets, and sheltered waterways to check out, with an abundance of wildlife.

The refuge is home to hundreds of species of birds, so you might want to bring binoculars.

There is only one boat ramp inside the refuge, opposite the first parking lot after the park’s entrance. You’re not allowed to land or launch anywhere else within the refuge. However, there is a public boat launch in nearby Newburyport, where kayak rentals and tours are also available.

Class of Rapids rating:

Class I/Flatwater (easy)

Where to launch & how to get there:

Refuge Road, Newbury, MA 01951. Take a right onto Sunset Drive from Plum Island Turnpike. Follow the road to the park entrance. The boat ramp is opposite Parking Lot 1.

2: Cape Cod

Cape Cod can be a great place for paddling, with Cape Cod National Seashore providing diverse habitats for wildlife and plant species. This historically significant area is also known for sharks. This includes great whites, so it can be best to be on your guard and avoid paddling on your own or in areas where there are seals and schools of fish.

A good spot to launch is at Powers Landing Beach. From the beach launch you can paddle around the protected area of Wellfleet Harbor and into the many creeks and coves.

On the western side of Cape Cod Bay, you can paddle around Plymouth Harbor and check out the replica of the Mayflower. A good spot to launch for this is at the state boat ramp just off Water Street.

Class of Rapids rating:

Class I/Flatwater (easy)

Where to launch & how to get there:

555 Chequessett Neck Road, Wellfleet, MA 02667.

3: Connecticut River

The Connecticut River is New England’s longest river, flowing around 400 miles into the Long Island Sound. There are various access points along the river as it flows through Massachusetts.

This can be a relaxing place to paddle, with generally slow-moving water, making it ideal for family trips and suitable for canoes.

From the Pauchaug launch, it’s around a five-mile paddle to Munn’s Ferry Campsite, which offers boat-in camping or you can continue a further three miles to Riverview Picnic Area where you can take-out.

It’s 13 miles from the Pauchaug ramp to Barton Cove public boat ramp. Kayaks and canoes are available at Barton Cove Campground.

> Connecticut Kayaking Guide

Class of Rapids rating:

Class I to II (easy to moderate)

Where to launch & how to get there:

Pauchaug Ramp Road, Northfield, MA 01360.

4: Sudbury River

Green kayak on a calm Sudbury riverPin
Courtesy: Calmuziclover on Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

The Sudbury River is a mostly slow-moving river that eventually joins with the Assabet River and becomes the Concord River. The last 17 miles of the river between the Danforth Street Bridge and where it forms the Concord River, is a designated Wild and Scenic River.

A relaxing seven-mile paddle can take you from Sherman’s Bridge Landing in Wayland to the take out on the Concord River at Old Calf Pasture, just past Egg Rock in Concord.

This route takes you through the Great Meadows National Wildlife Refuge so it can provide excellent opportunities for spotting birds.

You can rent kayaks at the South Bridge Boathouse in Concord.

Class of Rapids rating:

Class I/II (easy)

Where to launch & how to get there:

71 Sherman’s Bridge Road, Wayland, MA 01778.

5: Charles River

A woman paddling in Charles river on a cloudy dayPin
Courtesy: Leonardo Dasilva on Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

If you’re looking for some fantastic views of the Boston skyline, you might want to check out the Charles River. There are several places you can launch along the river, including at Herter Park, where you can also rent kayaks. This launch has a decent amount of parking too.

From Herter Park, you can paddle along the river past Harvard University and its boathouses, where Harvard University’s rowing teams are based. A couple of miles from the launch you can stop for a rest at Magazine Beach, just in front of the Boston University Bridge.

You can also continue paddling along the river past M.I.T and the Charles River Esplanade for stunning views of downtown Boston. The river is flat and can be paddled in either direction.

Class of Rapids rating:

Class I (easy)

Where to launch & how to get there:

Christian Herter Park, Soldier’s Field Road, Boston, MA 02134.

6: Merrimack River

A view on a Merrimack riverPin
Courtesy: Richard Howe on Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

The Merrimack River is a long river that gently flows toward the Atlantic Ocean. This can be a scenic spot that travels through both wild and urban landscapes.

Launching from Riverfront Park in Tyngsborough, you can paddle through leafy surroundings on gently flowing water to the take-out at Rourke Brothers Boat Ramp in Lowell. This can be a short trip that’s ideal for beginners and families with children. Rentals are available at the Bellegarde Boathouse in Lowell.

You can also choose to launch at Pemberton Park in Lawrence, where you can paddle past the historic textile mills from America’s Industrial Revolution as you head along to the take-out at Haverhill.

Class of Rapids rating:

Class I/II (easy)

Where to launch & how to get there:

Riverfront Park, 71 Frost Road, Tyngsborough, MA 01879.

7: Pontoosuc Lake

Pontoosuc Lake is a 511-acre flatwater lake that can be a great place for beginners to develop their skills. Despite being relatively urban, with lots of lakeside homes, this can be a peaceful place to paddle with trees and views of the surrounding hills. However, it can often be busy on weekends and summer months with recreational boaters.

You can launch from the public boat ramp at the southeastern side of the lake, where there is also ample parking. Kayak rentals are available on the eastern shores of the lake.

Pontoosuc Lake can be an ideal place for kayak fishing, with bass, muskie and trout to be found, as well as many other species. The lake is also a popular spot for ice fishing during the winter.

Fishing in Massachusetts

Class of Rapids rating:

N/A – Flatwater lake

Where to launch & how to get there:

Pontoosuc Lake Boat Ramp, Hancock Road, Pittsfield, MA 01201.

8: Deerfield River

The Deerfield River flows through northwest Massachusetts. This can be one of the best places in the state for whitewater kayaking.

There are several sections to paddle, depending on how challenging you want your experience to be. One of the best spots to launch if you’re looking to tackle Class II and III whitewater, is at Fife Brook, just below the dam near Florida, MA.

You can paddle from here to Shunpike Rest Area. But there’s a section at Zoar Gap you may need to portage around unless you’re a skilled whitewater kayaker. There’s a take-out just before the big rapids.

There’s a picnic area just after Zoar Gap where you can stop for a rest.

If you want more of a wilderness experience, you can launch your kayak below Shelburne Falls to paddle the lower, more peaceful section of the Deerfield River.

Class of rapids rating:

Class I-II and III-IV (moderate to difficult)

Where to launch & how to get there:

Fife Brook Boating Access Put-In, River Road, Florida, MA 01247.

9: Great Island Trail

view of Great Island Cape CodPin
Courtesy: Niklas Tenhaef on Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

The Great Island Trail is a hiking trail but it can be more fun to explore this isolated barrier island on a kayaking trip. The launch is from the beach at the Great Island Trailhead parking lot.

Paddling around Great Island requires sea kayaking experience, so it’s not the best place for beginners, due to tides, choppy waves, wind, and currents.

There’s another Great Island Trail you can paddle, which also requires experience. For this one, you can paddle out of Bass River and head east where you’ll find the gated community of Great Island near Hyannis.

This peninsula is home to exclusive homes with private beaches (so you can’t stop for a picnic). But you could paddle around and into Lewis Bay.

Class of rapids rating:

Class I/II – ocean waters (moderate to difficult)

Where to launch & how to get there:

Great Island Boat Launch, Great Island Trailhead, 1440 Chequessett Neck Road, Wellfleet, MA 02667

10: Nashua River

The Nashua River flows north through central Massachusetts, with the segment between Lancaster, MA and Pepperell, MA being a federally designated Wild and Scenic River.

The river flows through a wildlife reserve where you could spot painted turtles, blue herons, bald eagles, and lots of other wildlife.

This is a peaceful river that can be easy to paddle for families, with enough natural beauty to keep experienced kayakers engaged.

There are several spots to launch and take-out along the way, making it easy to plan your kayaking trip in advance.

A good spot to launch your own kayak is in the Oxbow Wildlife Refuge. There are a few launches here, including one at the visitor center. But you can launch at the southern end of the refuge and paddle through it for more wildlife opportunities.

Class of rapids rating:

Class I/II (easy)

Where to launch & how to get there:

Oxbow NWR Access, Still River Depot Road, Harvard, MA 01451

11: Buffumville Lake Loop

Video: Kayaking At Buffumville Lake

Buffumville Lake Loop can be ideal for all paddling skills. This flatwater lake has a 10 mph limit for motorized vessels, making it a quiet spot for beginners and families looking for calm waters.

Part of the excitement of the Buffumville Lake Loop, especially for kids, is paddling through the small tunnel under the road.

The kayaking trail is roughly a 3.5-mile loop around the lake where you’re surrounded by trees and natural scenery. There are plenty of opportunities for spotting wildlife, especially for bird watchers, with bald eagles, blue herons, and osprey to be seen.

You can also go kayak fishing in Buffumville Lake, with largemouth bass and pickerel being target catches.

Class of rapids rating:

N/A – flatwater lake (easy)

Where to launch & how to get there:

Buffumville Boat Ramp, Oxford Road, Charlton, MA 01507

What Are The MA Kayak Laws?

US Coast GuardPin

We’ve included some of the main rules and regulations for paddling in Massachusetts but it can be wise to research the laws for yourself. These are simply for reference and not legal advice.

  • USCG-approved PFD is required to be carried and easily accessible for each person on your kayak or canoe. Between September and May all paddlers and passengers must wear their PFD.
  • Children under 12 must wear a USCG-approved PFD at all times while on a kayak or canoe.
  • paddle is required on all boats less than 16 feet, which includes pedal kayaks.
  • Registration is not required for non-motorized kayaks.
  • Boating Under the Influence (BUI) of alcohol or drugs is illegal. The blood alcohol limit is 0.08% and penalties can include the loss of your driver’s license.

Kayak Rentals And Tours Around Massachusetts

There are several places where you can rent a kayak or take a guided tour to make the most of these scenic locations.

Final Words

Massachusetts can be an exciting place to paddle, filled with history and famous landmarks. You’ll also find beautiful scenery and miles of paddling trails.

Remember to wear your PFD between fall and spring. And stay safe out there.

Let us know what you think of our favorite spots and tell us about some of yours? Share this to help others find new places to paddle.

Leave a Comment