River trip

The kids and I spent Labor Day weekend on the upper Connecticut River, visiting its source on the Canadian border, stepping into each of the five Connecticut Lakes, and then paddling one of the first navigable sections from North Stratford NH to Maidstone VT. The weather was gorgeous, indeed, absolutely perfect. Check out the photo gallery!

Kayaking in Second Connecticut Lake

I brought along a kayak and managed to take a brief paddle in three of the four Connecticut Lakes that lay at the headwaters of the river.  My paddles were so brief as to be symbolic, and the “river” is not really navigable between these lakes anyway.  The gallery shows photos from all five Connecticut Lakes: Lake Francis, and First through Fourth Connecticut Lake.

Source of the Connecticut River

The “Fourth Connecticut Lake”, which is the source of the river, lays a few hundred meters from the Canadian border, and has no road access. We drove to the border station, a recently upgraded monstrosity that before 9/11 was no doubt a sleepy unmanned stop sign in the woods.  Confused about where to park, we crossed into Canada and asked at the Canadian entrance where to park.  He sent us back to the United States.  We never legally entered Canada, but had legally exited the U.S..  “Didn’t I just see you going north?” said the US-CBP guard. He checked our passports and told us where to park – next to the huge sign for the Fourth Connecticut Lake; we never needed to cross the border.  We hiked to the lake – it’s quite uphill, not feasible to visit by boat, and managed to walk all the way around this pond, er, lake, and to stand in a tiny inlet stream, the source of the Connecticut River.  Very cool! for those of us who live along the river.

NFCT map of the region around our trip

After stopping to visit all five Connecticut Lakes [map] we drove back downstream, stopping briefly at the 45th parallel to marvel that we were halfway from the Equator to the North Pole.  In North Stratford, NH we rented two canoes, with shuttle service, because I had only one car (anyway, my Prius can barely carry one canoe let alone two!). There are two great groups that are set up for CT river paddlers, the Connecticut River Paddlers Trail and the Northern Forest Canoe Trail.  I found the latter to be far more organized and up to date than the former and we stayed in two campsites managed by the NFCT.  That said, the NFCT only covers a small section of the river, but if you check out their home page it is quite an impressive trail!

Dragging the canoe up the Nulhegan River to the Debanville Campsite

I spent a lot of time, in advance, studying websites and guidebooks, and calling the two canoe-rental places. North Woods Rafting strongly recommended that I avoid the Canaan–to–North-Stratford section that I had planned, because late-summer low-water conditions would be unsuitable. So we did a really short segment, from North Stratford NH to Maidstone VT, because I wasn’t sure what to expect or how far the kids could go, and to add another segment would have doubled the distance.  So, we had a laid-back experience rather than pushing for extra mileage. (All the best, I think!)  Sure enough, at our starting point the river was so shallow we had to drag our canoes, and we met people who had dragged their canoes for miles through the upper section. We had just enough “quick water” to be exciting for the kids, and to make our paddle pretty easy.

Ready to launch our canoes! Nulhegan river in the background.

We had two gorgeous days of paddling, through a largely wild section of river.  We zipped through a couple of mild “rapids”. We watched a bald eagle circle right over our heads. We stopped for lunch and a swim. We stayed the night at two wonderful campsites, the second at the site of an old railroad trestle and next to a Vermont corn field. The weather was sunny and warm, and we encountered few other people.

I highly recommend the upper Connecticut River. It’s beautiful countryside, largely farmland and small towns, covered bridges and pristine lakes. We only paddled 11 miles of river, in a day and a half, but could easily have done twice that distance in two days. I hope to go back and pick up where we left off, or (in higher water) try the section to the north. I also hope to go back in the winter – I hear the Connecticut Lakes are great for skiing! Meanwhile, the photos will remind me of warm summer days.

Sunset over Vermont cornfield, from the Railroad Trestle campsite.

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About dfkotz

David Kotz is an outdoor enthusiast, traveller, and father of three. He is also a Professor of Computer Science at Dartmouth College.
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5 Responses to River trip

  1. dfkotz says:

    A friend wrote:
    You were marveling in the wrong place, despite what that nice green sign says. Up north there you’re still in good old red-state New Hampshire, a fairly conservative part of the world. They seem to hang on to that old spherical-earth view of things. But since the earth is not a sphere, the circle at which the 45th parallel lies is not equidistant from the North Pole and the Equator. The distance from the Equator to the North Pole really ought to be a good, old-fashioned 10,000,000 meters by definition, but it’s really more like 10,001,956.7 meters or so. And since our ellipsoid is a little squashed, the 45-degree vector from the center to the surface hits a little short of the halfway point if you were to travel those 10,001,956.7 meters heading north.

    In fact, you could have used those passports, as the monument in Stewartstown is a good 32km closer to the Equator than to the North Pole (that’s probably why it felt a little warm that day). If you had headed about 10 miles due north into Coaticook, PQ (possibly passing through the short-lived Republic of Indian Stream, a subject for another tangent on another day), you would have found yourselves truly halfway. The point on Route 3 where you reach the Second Connecticut Lake, at Camp Idlewild, was where you passed the halfway mark (or anywhere else, for that matter, that you were at 45.14432 degrees North latitude).

    – McEd ’80, map nerd and party-pooper

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