A lot of people equate paddlesports with summer, but, as far as we’re concerned, fall is the best time of the year for paddling (and for everything else you do without snow). There is nothing more beautiful than a river overhung with branches or a quiet pond surrounded by hardwoods when the leaves are all aflame. Sometimes, just after the first leaves have fallen, you can have autumn colors still clinging to the trees above you as you float over a carpet of brightly colored fallen leaves. It’s magic, pure magic.
If you own your own canoe, kayak, or SUP, you can enjoy the fall spectacle any time and anywhere you want. Just don’t put your boat away before the last leaves fall, and find time to go out paddling. It’s that simple. But this story really isn’t aimed at the people who canoe and kayak all the time. It’s for people who might not (yet) know how wonderful it is to get on the water in the fall . . .
If you don’t own your own boat, and even if you’ve never paddled before, there are lots and lots and lots of options for fall paddling. You just have to get out and do it. Before we start talking about specific places to paddle, however, we need to refute one persistent myth about foliage season, namely that there’s some magical “peak” time for viewing fall foliage and that, if you somehow missed that peak, you’ve missed the whole thing. It just isn’t so.
Foliage season is a continuum that depends on a lot of different factors, and you can find great foliage in one spot, and nothing a quarter-mile away. Drought can be a real killer of foliage colors, and that’s one thing you never need to worry about with trees along a river. You can just about guarantee that, at some point between mid-September and the end of October, most rivers in Quebec and New England will have a tremendous foliage display along their banks. You just have to be there to see it. Get out and enjoy!
Flowing Foliage Favorites State By State
Farmington River: Main Stream Canoes and Kayaks, New Hartford, CT
If the water in the river is really low, they’ll put you on a pristine reservoir instead. They usually stay open on weekends until mid-October.
Housatonic River: Clarke Outdoors, West Cornwall, CT
These folks offer shuttle and rentals on a couple of beautiful sections of this river. They are open on weekends at least until Columbus Day, later if water levels allow and demand continues.
Naugatuck River: Connecticut Outdoors, in Oakville, CT
The river no one knows about . . .These very nice and very enthusiastic folks rent canoes and kayaks until October 31, run guided trips through November. Highly recommended.
Androscoggin River: Bethel Outdoor Adventure , Bethel, Maine,
Highly recommended. You and kayak are shuttled as far upstream as you want, then you paddle back to your car at your own speed. No pressure, no time constraints, and the Androscoggin is a lovely river here as it flows through the surrounding hills.
Aroostook River: Perception of Aroostook in Presque Isle, Maine.
Beautiful wide, gentle river with maples and birches along the shore and farm fields beyond. Just lovely and the foliage starts early here.
Saco River: (See listings in New Hampshire)
Charles River: Charles River Canoe & Kayak, Newton/Auburndale, MA
Paddling the surprisingly-unspoiled suburban Charles River—especially beautiful in foliage season. They are open through October, sometimes into November.
Deerfield River: Zoar Outdoor, Charlemont, MA
Enjoy some adrenaline with your foliage! Zoar offers exciting whitewater rafting trips and kayaking lessons until October 14. Highly recommended!
Arcadian Shop, Lenox, MA
Rents and shuttles kayaks until at least Columbus Day, later if there’s demand.
Berkshire Outfitters, Adams MA
Rents and shuttle canoes for the Housatonic and Hoosic River (if water levels allow) until mid-October.
Nashua River: Nashoba Paddler, West Groton, MA
Another surprisingly beautiful, quiet river close to Boston. They are open through October.
Blackwater River: Kayak Country, Andover, NH
This guided tour is ideal for someone who has never been in a kayak before. They have excellent equipment, and the Blackwater’s gentle currents open to some pristine ponds with almost-undeveloped shorelines. The entire river is overhung with maple trees which promise a spectacular foliage season.
Hemlock Pete’s Canoes and Kayaks, North Haverhill, NH
Hemlock Pete (real name Scott Edwards; yes, you’re allowed to be confused!) rents and shuttles canoes along a gorgeous stretch of the river between Monroe NH and Newbury, VT. He stays open as long as paddlers want to paddle.
North Star Canoe and Kayak, Cornish, NH
North Star does rentals, shuttles and overnight trips on a gorgeous, flowing section of the Connecticut that’s too shallow for motorboat traffic. They’ll be open at least through Columbus Day, probably later.
Saco Bound, Conway, NH
Saco Canoe Rental Company, Conway, NH
Saco River Canoe and Kayak, Fryeburg ME
These companies rent top-flight equipment and offer shuttle service through, at least, Columbus Day in this classic foliage-viewing area along the border of New Hampshire and Maine. One advantage of the fall season is that you’re less likely to run into the floating party syndrome that happens there in the summer; a real bonus along with the foliage!
Connecticut River: Vermont Canoe Touring Center (sorry, no website); phone 802-257-5008, Brattleboro, VT,
Vermont Canoe rents kayaks and canoes on the quiet waters at the confluence of the White and Connecticut River. They are open until Columbus Day.
Lamoille River: Bert’s Boats, Jeffersonville, VT
Classic easy river paddling in a beautiful section of northwestern Vermont not far from Lake Champlain. “We keep paddling until the customers stop calling,” says owner Ken “Bert” Roberts (wonder if he’s related to Pete/Scott?).
Massawippi River: Marina de North Hatley, in North Hatley, QC
A beautiful, gentle river in the Eastern Townships of Quebec. Stay at the Auberge La Chocolatière right across the river and don’t miss chocolate crepes for breakfast!
If you have your own boats and adventuresome spirit, the Northern Forest Canoe Trail (NFCT) has some recommendations for great leaf-peeper paddling locations along the 740-mile water route that stretches from Old Forge, New York to Fort Kent, Maine.
New York: Fulton Chain of Lakes from Old Forge and Inlet to Long Lake. ”The crowds of summer have dwindled and the maples look just right next to groves of pine.”
Vermont: The Missisquoi River from East Berkshire to Richford and East Richford. “Classic Vermont with great leaf peeping and fine fishing You can continue on into Canada on the river (passports required) where the sugar maple is king.”
New Hampshire: The Androscoggin River and Lake Umbagog National Wildlife Refuge near Errol. ”Nature up close and personal.”
Maine: Visit the Stratton-Eustis area for paddling from Rangeley to Spenser Stream. “Fall happens a little earlier here . . .”
A Note Of Caution
Though the days are often very warm at this time of year, nights often get downright cool. Those cold nights help to start water temperatures falling.
If you are playing around water at this time of year, wear your personal flotation device all the time you are on the water. It’ll help you stay afloat if you end up in the chilly water (and provide a SLIGHT amount of insulation when you first pull yourself out of the water). It also pays to carry a small dry bag with a towel, a change of clothes and an insulation layer in case you get wet. A rainjacket under your PFD isn’t a bad idea if it’s windy; it’ll act as a windbreaker and keep spray or droplets off your paddle from soaking through your clothes and chilling you.