Most people equate paddle sports with summer, but fall is the best time of the year for paddling. There is nothing more beautiful than a river when the leaves are all aflame on its banks and the surrounding hillsides. It's magic, pure magic.
If you own your own canoe, kayak, or SUP, you can enjoy the fall spectacle any time, anywhere you want. Just don't put your boat away before ice forms 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. See the list below and get out and do it.
Before we start talking about specific places to paddle, however, I 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, but that's no problem with trees along a river. At some point between now and the end of October, every river in southern Quebec and New England will have a tremendous foliage display along its banks.
Flowing foliage favorites
(Most I've done; some I want to do)
The contacts given all rent kayaks and provide shuttle service, if needed.
Androscoggin River: Bethel Outdoor Adventure: www.betheloutdooradventure.com, Bethel, Maine.
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.
Aroostook River: Perception of Aroostook (www.perceptionofaroostook.com) 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.
Blackwater River: Kayak Country: www.kayakcountry.com, Andover, N.H.
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.
Charles River: Charles River Canoe & Kayak, www.paddleboston.com, Newton/Aub urn dale, Mass.
Paddling the surprisingly unspoiled suburban Charles River -- especially beautiful in foliage season. They are open through October, sometimes into November.
Connecticut River N.H.: Hemlock Pete's Canoes and Kayaks, www.hpcanoes.com, North Haverhill, N.H.
Hemlock Pete (real name Scott Edwards) rents and shuttles canoes along a gorgeous stretch of the river between Monroe N.H., and Newbury, Vt.. He stays open as long as paddlers want to paddle.
Connecticut River N.H.: North Star Canoe and Kayak (www.kayak-canoe.com) Cornish, N.H.
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.
Connecticut River Vt.: Vermont Canoe Touring Center; 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.
Deerfield River: Zoar Outdoor (www.zoaroutdoor.com), Charlemont, Mass.
Enjoy some adrenaline with your foliage! Zoar offers exciting white-water rafting trips and kayaking lessons until Oct. 14. Highly recommended!
Farmington River: Main Stream Canoes and Kayaks, www.mainstreamcanoe.com, New Hartford, Conn.
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 Mass.: Arcadian Shop, www.store.arcadian.com, Lenox.
Rents and shuttles kayaks until at least Columbus Day, later if there's demand.
Housatonic River Mass.: Berkshire Out fitters, www.berkshireoutfitters.com, Adams.
Rents and shuttle canoes for the Housatonic and Hoosic River (if water levels allow) until mid-October.
Housatonic River Conn.: Clarke Outdoors, www.clarkeoutdoors.com, West Cornwall, Conn.
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.
Lamoille River: Bert's Boats: www.bertsboats.com, 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.
Massawippi River: Marina de North Hatley: www.northhatley.net/Loisirs/marina-north-hatley.html, in North Hatley, QC
A beautiful, gentle river in the Eastern Townships of Quebec. Stay at the Auberge La ChocolatiËre (www.lachocolatieredhatley.com) right across the river and don't miss chocolate crepes for breakfast!
Nashua River: Nashoba Paddler, www.nashobapaddler.com, West Groton, Mass.
Another surprisingly beautiful, quiet river close to Boston. They are open through October.
Naugatuck River: Connecticut Outdoors LLC (www.4Conn.outdoors.com ) in Oakville, Conn.
The river no one knows about ... These folks rent canoes and kayaks until Oct. 31, run guided trips through November.
Saco River N.H.: Saco Bound: www.sacobound.com, Conway, N.H.
Saco River N.H.: Saco Canoe Rental Com pany: www.sacocanoerental.com, Conway, N.H.
Saco River Maine: Saco River Canoe and Kayak: www.sacorivercanoe.com, Fryeburg Maine
These companies rent top-flight equipment and offer shuttle service through, at least, Col umbus Day in what is one of the classic foliage-viewing areas of New Hampshire and Maine.
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, not to recover until next summer.
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. It also pays to carry a small dry bag with a towel and a change of clothes.