That Disney classic song, Just around the river bend, seemed to be stuck in my head as we paddled for four days on the meandering Connecticut River (check out the photos and videos). Continuing what I hope to be a new tradition, begun last year at the spot where the river springs out of the ridgeline forming the New Hampshire–Canada border, Pam and the kids and I put our boats into the river at the very spot we ended our trip last year, and pushed off into the current.
Last year we visited on foot and by car the four Connecticut Lakes, connected by unnavigable streams, and then put in at North Stratford, at the confluence of the Nulhegan River for two days of drifting along with the shallow clear water. This year we entered a region known as “the bends”, in which the river meanders in turns so tight that it’s probably faster to walk than to paddle.
There was a good current, due to the wet summer, but the river here is still shallow. For the first two days, we drifted over a sandy bottom in clear water only a couple of feet deep – indeed, Andy had fun simply walking and swimming alongside the canoe for one stretch of the trip. In the third and fourth day, the Wyoming and Gilman dams had allowed silt to settle, and the river bottom was more muddy. Still, with four gorgeous sunny days, the kids were often jumping in for a swim.
Most of the time our view was constrained to eroding riverbanks with a cornfield peeking over the top, but with tight turns leaving us to wonder whether it might be different just around the riverbend. We had several glimpses of the White Mountains – twin peaks that included Mount Cabot, and at our second campsite, an amazing view of cloudless Mount Washington. There was plenty of wildlife — ducks, Canada geese, great blue heron, and numerous types of shore birds. Two days we were graced with the presence of a bald eagle, and twice with a pair of friendly loons. Two nights we heard the coyotes call. The muddy shores were a veritable dictionary of creatures, with footprints of deer, moose, bear, coyote, and raccoon, and the slide paths of what I expect were beaver or otter.
We followed the excellent material prepared by the Connecticut River Paddlers’ Trail, staying in two nicely provisioned campsites on the Vermont shore, and a grassy field on the New Hampshire shore. It’s a great service, though for flexibility of route planning I wish there were even more campsites.
We had crystal-clear blue skies most of the time, with a brief overnight shower the first night and dense morning fog the second and third mornings. Paddling through fog gives the river a mystical feeling, I find, and the kids really enjoyed it. On the final morning, we launched early and passed two loons and a fisherman in the quiet fog, then headed to the famous Littleton Diner for a big breakfast.
I hope we’ll continue next August, where we left off, just below the Gilman Dam. It looks like we have only 170 more miles to paddle before we reach our home! Meanwhile, check out the photos and videos.
Details, with river mile number indicated: we put in at Maidstone Bridge (336.4), first night at Scott Devlin Memorial Campsite (324.3), second night at South Guildhall Campsite (317.4), re-provision water at Lancaster (313.3), past our take-out at John’s River Ramp (304.2), third night at Gilman Dam campsite (301.7), and paddled back up-river to John’s River Ramp (304.2). Paddled 12.1 miles the first afternoon, 6.9 miles the second day, 15.7 miles the third day, and 2.5 miles the fourth morning. Total distance 37.2 miles. We rented canoes from North Woods Rafting.