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Hit the Water While There’s Still Time: The Best Places to Kayak & Canoe in CT (CT Blog)

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Best Places to Kayak & Canoe in Connecticut

Where to Kayak & Canoe in CT

Summer is winding down, but that doesn’t mean you have to give up on outdoor activities. October is one of the best months for kayaking, especially when the foliage starts to peak— the air is cool, the leaves are brilliant, and the mosquitoes have finally died a well-deserved death (or at least gone into hibernation). Connecticut has an abundance of lakes and rivers for all your autumn water-sporting needs; here’s a list of my favorites.

1. Lake McDonough, Barkhamsted

Kayaking in Connecticut. Photo by Sarah AlenderLocated in north central Connecticut near the towns of Riverton and Hartland, Lake McDonough is really a two-part lake: the upper part is the enormous Barkhamsted Reservoir, which provides the majority of the drinking water for the metro-Hartford area. The lower part, which is separated from the reservoir by the distinctive Saville Dam, is Lake McDonough. The lake is open for boating, fishing, and swimming, and is known for the large fountain at its entrance, as well as the castle-like architecture of the access buildings along the top of the dam.

Managed by the MDC, the lake is open from Memorial Day through Labor Day. It costs $6 to get in and there is an extra $5 fee to launch a boat, making this one of the priciest boating options in the area, but this $11 gets you all-day access to the almost 450 acres that make up the lake. There is very little development around the water— in fact, almost none— so the view is mainly trees, beach, and the dam. If you paddle down far enough to the south end, the most developed area you’ll see is the open slash among the trees that indicates the slopes of Ski Sundown.

The water here is extremely clear, and paddling all the way down to the end can take an hour and a half or more, depending on your speed and endurance. There are a few islands that you can pull onto if you get tired, and several inlets to explore. Motorboats are allowed on Lake McDonough, which means canoers and kayakers should be vigilant, but the lake is so large that it’s not as if you won’t be able to see a motorboat coming and have plenty of room to get out of the way.

Lake McDonough is located on Route 219 in Barkhamsted. For more information, visit or call 860 379-3036 (in season). Unfortunately, the lake is currently still closed due to Hurricane Irene, but the two small parking areas at the top of the dam are usually always open for scenic overlook purposes.

2. Lake Waramaug, New Preston

Lake Waramaug. Photo by Sarah AlenderAt over 600 acres, Lake Waramaug is the second largest natural lake in Connecticut. Residents of Warren and Washington can swim and launch boats from their respective town beaches, and all other members of the public have access to the lake through Lake Waramaug State Park, which I’m not plugging just because I work there during the summer. The lake really is beautiful, and there is no charge for parking after Labor Day, which makes this a great option for any day of the week. Car-top boats can be launched anywhere outside of the beach area; the best places to put in a canoe or kayak are either immediately to the left of the beach or farther down the road at the small point where canoes and kayaks are rented.

Paddling on the lake here is a more varied experience than it is at Lake McDonough; there are a large number of private houses jammed along the shoreline, and quite a few private docks and beaches. However, the houses are all very aesthetically pleasing, and never obstruct the view of trees, hills, and the few fields that can be seen from any area of the water. Once you get out into the middle, you can see so many things that weren’t visible from the road, and if you go in the fall, the foliage is unbeatable.

Motorboats are allowed on Lake Waramaug, although whenever I kayak there, I’ve only seen a few. The toughest thing you’ll have to contend with on this lake is the wind.  The lake is so big that the wind builds up to a pretty impressive strength sometimes; make sure you check the wind direction before you go, and budget enough time and energy to paddle against it on the way back.

Lake Waramaug State Park is located at 30 Lake Waramaug Road in Kent; hours are sunrise to sunset, seven days a week. Visit or call 860-868-2592 for more information.

3. The Bantam River, Bantam

Kayaking on the Bantam River. Photo by Sarah AlenderThe White Memorial Foundation owns 4,000 acres of forest, nature trails, and wetlands, which the Bantam River runs right through on its way to Bantam Lake. There’s a small parking lot and access point right near a bridge on Whites Wood Road— it’s quite often crowded and can be difficult to find a parking space, so it’s a good idea to get there early. It’s also recommended to go after a few good rainstorms; the river is not very deep, and in low water it can be difficult, if not impossible, to paddle upstream past the bridge and beaver dam.

However, when the water is high, it’s no trouble to paddle right under the bridge and up the river. The current isn’t strong at all, and the river winds its way through gorgeous wetlands full of wildlife. You should see herons, turtles, geese, and if you’re lucky, maybe even swans and otters (for the record, I saw an otter the last time I kayaked there, and it was awesome). The river goes under another bridge before ending in a large open pond area; if you go downstream past the put-in point, you’ll be a bit more enclosed by trees and end up at another beaver dam. Turn around here if you don’t want to end up in Bantam Lake.

For more information and a map of the river, visit or call 860-567-0857. White Memorial, located off of Route 202 in Bantam, also runs a nature museum and has 35 miles of hiking trails, some of which go over boardwalks through the same wetlands area that the river flows through.

4. West Hill Pond, Simsbury

Kayaking in Connecticut. Photo by Sarah AlenderWest Hill Pond is known as one of the cleanest bodies of water in Connecticut, and for good reason. The lake is spring-fed and incredibly clear. At 261 acres, it’s big enough to spend a few hours on, and is open year-round. The Department of Energy and Environmental Protection maintains a public boat launch right across from the dirt parking lot; sadly, this is the only public area, as the beach is only for residents and the rest of the shoreline is built up with summer houses and a Boy Scout Camp. Still, it’s not an overly commercial place, and is located in a quiet area of houses with a small general store right across from the beach that looks like it was transplanted from 1950. (The downside is that there’s a shooting range at the Boy Scout Camp, and it’s frequently loud.)

Motor boats are allowed on the lake, although they’re limited to 8 HP from Memorial Day to September 15. West Hill Pond is also a popular place for sailboats. There is no charge to launch from the public boat ramp. The pond is located on Perkins Road, off of Route 44 in Barkhamsted. Visit and search “West Hill Pond” for more information.

Sarah Alender is a Contributor to The Free George. Photos by Sarah Alender.

The Free George is the online magazine and visitors’ guide of Upstate NY, covering things from Albany to Lake Placid, including Saratoga, the Lake George region and the Adirondacks. Check out our City Blogs section for our extended coverage areas as well.

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