Kayaking the Charles

-- Last Updated: Oct-14-04 9:21 AM EST --

As I looked over the latest e-mail from paddler, I saw a pix of kayaker paddling under a old stone bridge and a memory came rushing back. I paddled the Charles river,in Boston, some years back and had a hair raising experience. I had been paddling for about a 1/2 hr and was just about to clear one of the many stone bridge over passes when, KERPLUNK!!! I looked to my left, just in time to see a mountain of water erupt reaching 6-8 feet into the air! A 3-4' piece of stone from the bridge let go and if I had been 3' to my left, I wouldn't be writing this right now. So if you do decide to paddle rivers, with bridges, stay as close to the shoreline as possible. The closer you are to the middle of the span, the greater the vibration from passing cars and it will be less likely to put a damper on your day out.....TJ

I’ve often
looked up at those crumbling bits of masonry wondering if my time had come.

Looking up while paddling in general can be a smart idea–a couple of years ago I looked up just in time while crossing under the Tobin Bridge in winter: a snowplow on the bridge had dislodged sheets of ice which were headed right for me from a couple of hundred feet up.

In my garden I have a nice piece of the business school footbridge. I picked it up out of 3 feet of water and put it in the rear hatch of my boat–which meant a very funny bow-up ride home. If I ever see them start to repair the bridge I’ll take it back and ask if they can use it again.

I paddled the Charles at sunset yesterday. It was as perfect as it gets: the Harvard crew wannabees were sweating in their 8s, the leaves were turning, and the city glowed along the river. Great fun to do this in a surf-ski, in which I can keep up with the slower rowers.


kayak on the Charles
I was afraid you were going to relate a frightening story about an encounter with one of the DUCKS! Not that the bridge falling was not serious, glad to hear that you came through unscathed. bridges scare me because of the fear of the bridge coming down or some jerk throwing things at passing kayakers. Anyone have that experience?

Keep on paddling,


Canoeing the Charles . . .

– Last Updated: Oct-14-04 6:02 PM EST –

. . . is where it's at. I thoroughly enjoy this stretch of urban paddling, between Watertown and the Museum of Science, when I am stuck in town. The DUKW skippers have always been courteous to me.
If you see me out there in my Almond Wildfire, do say "Hello".

launch site
sanjay - where can i launch on the charles - the only stretch i’ve been at is the charles river kayak outfit, but that was only to look at a boat

Couple Of Places…
if you’re looking at the lower Charles. Magazine Beach, on the Cambridge side, right next to the BU Bridge has a parking area. It’s right next to a big ball field. The other place is up in Brighton(Boston Side) next to Storrow Drive, and past the Harvard University area. You can pull into a parking area, next to to some playground, and launch from a wooden dock.

The duck feeding area, across from CRCK, is the parking and launch for the Newton/Waltham section of the Charles.

There are also other launching areas further upstream in Dedham where you can access the Mother Brook meadow area.



Hello ayerloom (hello, Sing : )
The river’s about 80 miles long with lots of interruptions from dams, so there are many, many segments. The longest segment is the lower Charles, from the Watertown dam, through Allston, Cambridge, Brookline, and Boston to the locks that enter Boston Harbor. If you want to do the whole length of it (10 miles) you can launch just beneath Watertown Square. On the north side there’s easy parking along the river in all weather (that’s my winter launch), and you can often play in the currents under the bridge. Plus Watertown Square is just 1 minute off the Mass Pike, so it’s an ideal launch if arriving by car.

My usual launch, nearest my house, is the Charles River Canoe and Kayak Kiosk in Allston, on Soldier’s Field Road, on the south side of the river by the Harvard athletic fields. It has a dock, which makes for a dry launch, unlike Magazine beach and Watertown Square. There are a few other hidden little spots along the lower Charles, but they’re not any better than these three.

For the upper part of the river, consult one of the two really good guidebooks. If you need their names, email me and I’ll go pull them off my shelves. And if you’re ever in town and going kayaking–email me : )


Next time, don’t stop
at the Museum of Science. Take the little channel to the east of the museum and you’ll get to see some serious Big Dig construction and go under the new bridges, including the new suspension bridge, before you hit the locks, where you can head out past the U.S.S. Constitution or beyond.


Are you saying that…
the little canal is the locks, or does it lead to the locks?

Also can a kayak go through the locks, or do you somehow portage around them?

If you can go through them is there any problem with the raising and lowering of the water, or is it a slow thing?

Two years ago we paddled all around the Charles from the Museum up to Watertown and back, and it was a delight and nostalgic to paddle past the esplanade, (spelling) where we used to sit in the summer evenings a listen to Arthur Fiedler conduct pops.

I would love to do what you are suggesting next summer.

Thanks in advance.



thanks to all !!
sounds like there’s no shortage of places to paddle !! - and ah, arthur fiedler - spent the summer of '60 drydocked at the boston naval shipyard, and went to the “shell” on the 4th - great times !! - didn’t realize this could be a nostalgia(sp) site !!!

Canoeing the locks
Yes, Sanjay is right, though I haven’t tried it yet.

The Museum is over the site of the ‘old’ locks, and you can just paddle through that narrow channel (as the DUKW boats do). The new locks are beyond, and there is one designated channel for rec boaters (river right I believe). You can wait there for the green light, or bring a whistle or horn to get the lock keepers attention. I have watched solo kayakers summon the locks, no problem.

We will probably try it next summer.


Big deal. I rowed and sculled on the
Charles. Things did not just FALL around me, they were THROWN at me. It’s an urban environment.

Was that back in …
…“the good old days”, before the museaum of science was built, and the river was so polluted you could just about walk on top of the scum at the Salt and Pepper shaker bridge?Cheer,


Yes, indeed. Whenever Atlantans whine
about how dirty the Chattahoochee is, I point out to them that we rowed and sometimes accidentally swam the Charles in '60-'65, and amazingly, we did not get sick.

Charles Sun 10/17
8 of us from Boston Sea Kayak Club did the Charles yesterday, a fine 10 miles from Medfield to the South Natick dam. No bridges fell upon us, only some wind and sun. The foliage is a few days past prime but still enjoyable. One fat turkey along roadside near the putin and a ringneck pheasant crossed overhead. Lots of good pictures and a hike in Rocky Narrows preserve, where we had lunch atop a rocky outcropping.

Peter McLaughlin

Plymouth, MA