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Formal Water Trails         Informal Water Trails         Connecticut Water Trails

Formal Water Trails

The American Canoe Association (ACA) defines a "water trail" as meeting the following five requirements:

  1. The trail must be a contiguous or semicontiguous waterway or series of waterways that is open to recreational use by paddlers.

  2. The trail must have public access points for paddlers.

  3. The trail must be covered by a map, guide, signage, or website that is of reasonable quality and detail and available to the public.

  4. Published or printed materials for the trail (e.g., guidebook, map, sign, website) must communicate low-impact ethics to trail users.

  5. The trail must be supported and/or managed by one or more organizations.

The Rivers Alliance of Connecticut, in partnership with the American Canoe Association, the National Park Service, American Rivers, the Appalachian Mountain Club, and the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection, is committed to helping existing and future water trails to fulfill the American Canoe Association's water trail requirements. Trails meeting those requirements are eligible to receive the coveted ACA-Recommended Water Trail designation.

Informal Water Trails

Besides the formally designated water trails, there are many other places to paddle on Connecticut's rivers, lakes, ponds, streams, and Long Island Sound. Click here for our water trails map. 

Do you know of a water trail not included on this website? Send us an email and tell us the name of the trail, where it is located, a trail website address, and who to contact for more information.

Connecticut Water Trails

Connecticut River 

The paddling opportunities on the Connecticut River, supported by the Connecticut River Watershed Council, stretch in a contiguous run from the Massachusetts border to Long Island Sound. The Connecticut River is a large, powerful body of water with significant boat traffic, both commercial and pleasure, as well as strong currents, winds, and tidal influences. The judicious paddler, however, can enjoy a long river journey with some overnight camping opportunities. All paddlers should consult the Connecticut River Boating Guide, available at http://www.ctriver.org and at many bookstores.

Deep River Canoe/Kayak Trail 

Pratt Cove is a rare freshwater tidal marsh, recognized for it's exceptional environmental importance by state, federal, and international organization's. Many organizations share in ownership and preservation efforts here, including the Town of Deep River, State of Connecticut, Deep River Land Trust, Nature Conservancy, Deep River Historical Society, and several private individuals. This area is a wonderful example of private, public, and non-profit groups cooperating in efforts to preserve important habitats. Come and canoe and kayak this cove; you'll be joined by Red Tail Hawks, Osprey, Great Blue Herons, White Egrets, Canada Geese, Trumpeter Swans, and even Great Bald Eagles, among the many birds who live or visit here. Watch out for strong currents and tidal flows. Paddlers can access the water at the Deep River Town Landing on Kirtland Street.  A map and a brochure are available at http://www.ctwatertrails.org/putins/deeprivertrail.pdf .

Essex Canoe/Kayak Trail    

This trail, sponsored by the Connecticut River Estuary Regional Planning Agenc (CRERPA), covers North, Middle, and South coves of the Connecticut River at Essex. While there is quiet paddling in both North and South coves, paddling from North Cove to South Cove requires entry into the Connecticut River itself. Paddlers should beware of strong currents and considerable boat traffic through the North Cove marina and around the marina in Middle Cove. There are also opportunities to paddle upriver and into Hamburg Cove, as well as downriver to Ferry Landing (under the I-95 bridge) or on to Great Island. The main access points to the coves are at Bushnell Park at the end of Bushnell St. and at Essex Town Park at Nell Lane behind the Post Office. A map and a brochure are available at http://www.ctwatertrails.org/putins/essextrail.pdf . A laminated copy was available at the CRERPA offices next to the railroad station at 455 Boston Post Road in Old Saybrook, CT.

Farmington River 

While not yet designated as a water trail, the Farmington River, supported by the Farmington River Watershed Association, has many paddling opportunities. They consist of six semicontiguous recreation sections over an 81-mile stretch starting in Otis, MA, and ending at the river's confluence with the Connecticut River in Windsor. Paddling conditions range from class III/IV whitewater to flatwater. Many dams further divide the river into additional sections. There are many put-ins and take-outs, along with other recreational opportunities. A 14-mile portion is  federally designated Wild and Scenic River. All paddlers should consult the Farmington River Watershed Association's website at  http://www.frwa.org.

Housatonic Valley River Trail    

This trail runs on the Housatonic River from New Milford to the Stevenson Dam in Monroe and has been developed by the Housatonic Valley Council of Elected Officials. There are several launch points and take-outs, as well as portages at the Bleachery Dam in New Milford, the Shepaug Dam in Newtown, and the Stevenson Dam in Monroe for those wanting to continue downriver. The route is flatwater with open lake water at Lake Lillinonah and Lake Zoar. Paddlers should be aware of high water conditions and considerable boat traffic on the lakes. A water trail also exists on the Still River from Danbury to its confluence with the Housatonic in Brookfield. Paddlers should be aware of high water, downed trees, and snags in the Still River. Maps and descriptions of the route plan for both the Housatonic and Still Rivers are available at http://hvceo.org/rivertrail.php.

Quinebaug River Water Trail 

This nationally recognized route offers 45 miles of paddling within an hourï¿¿s drive of three of New Englandï¿¿s largest urban regions. Many of the segments provide an opportunity for family-friendly, close-to-home outdoor adventures with a surprisingly remote feel; wildlife is abundant and the only traces of civilization are the remnants of old mills. Six water trail segments on the Quinebaug River provide almost 45 miles of paddling; all are designated as National Recreation Trails (NRT). Trail guides, paddling trips and other information is availalble from The Last Green Valley at http://www.tlgv.org/preserve/watershedprojects/water-trails.html 

Quinnipiac River Canoe Trail  

This trail, developed by the Quinnipiac River Watershed Association, follows the Quinnipiac River from Southington to New Haven. There are multiple access points, and the river is divided into its upper, middle, and lower sections, each with different paddling conditions. Paddlers should beware of high water levels and the existence of downed trees and snags as well as tidal currents in the lower section. Links to real-time river gauges are available at http://www.qrwa.org/Content/Watershed_Maps.asp. A "Canoe and Natural Resources Guide to the Quinnipiac River" and the "Upper Quinnipiac River Canoeable Trail Guide" are available at http://www.qrwa.org/Content/Publications.asp.

Mattabesset River Canoe/Trail 

This trail, sponsored by the Connecticut River Coastal Conservation District (CRCCD), meanders through a large, freshwater tidal wetland to the river's confluence with the Connecticut River, where you have the opportunity to continue downstream on the Connecticut to Harbor Park in Middletown. Paddlers should be aware of the tidal river current and large-boat traffic on the Connecticut. The principle access to the Mattabesset River is in Cromwell off Newfield Street (Rt. 3). The public dock on the Connecticut River at Harbor Park may also be used. A brochure with a map is available at http://www.conservect.org/LinkClick.aspx?fileticket=gyz_oFTPifo%3d&tabid=232. Laminated copies are available at the CRCCD offices on the 2nd floor of the deKoven House at 27 Washington St. in Middletown, CT.

Mystic River Water Trail 

This trail, sponsored by the Mystic River Historical Society, runs from Old Mystic to Noank and Mason's Island. The trail offers a unique opportunity to view Mystic Seaport and its many historic vessels. The waters under the railroad bridge are protected. Launching is available at the state car-top launch on River Road under the I-95 bridge. Kayak rentals are available in downtown Mystic at 15 Holmes Street near the Seaport. A "Kayakers Guide to the Mystic River & Its History" (with water resistant coating) is available for purchase from the Mystic River Historical Society for $8, including postage. For ordering information, visit http://mystichistory.org/publications.htm .

Niantic River Estuary Canoe Kayak Trail 

The website discover East Lyme describes the Niantic River Estuary Canoe/Kayak Trail as "a wonderful way to enjoy the Niantic River while learning about its human and natural history. From the Head of the River, where the Golden Spur Amusement Park (complete with the World Famous Diving Horses) operated at the beginning of the 20th century, past the Revolutionary War location of Beckwith Shipyard, and on down to Cini Park, you can see many interesting sights.

Evidence of human life along the Niantic River dates back at least 12,000 years. Long before European settlers arrived, Western Nehantics (from whom the river and village names are derived) lived along the shores of the river, subsisting on the bounty of shellfish, fish, and other marine life the river and ocean provided. Centuries later, the river became well known for its scallops, which are now, unfortunately, in decline.

Paddling up or down the river, one is sure to encounter a variety of birds. Among the coastal fishing birds known to frequent the river are bald eagles, osprey, egrets, herons, and cormorants. Seals are seen here from time to time, as well.

Canoes and kayaks can be launched from the car-top launch at Cini Park. Off Route 156, below the bridge across the Niantic River, and just steps away from the Village of Niantic, this launch is easy to get to and easy to use. A map of the Canoe/Kayak Trail is available through the Town of East Lyme website, at http://eltownhall.com/wp-content/uploads/2009/02/localhost_el_attachments_244_KayakTrail.pdf".  The information is this pamphlet is also available at http://newenglandboating.com/destinations/niantic-river-kayak-trail.html .

Norwalk Islands Canoe/Kayak Trail 

This trail, sponsored by the South Western Regional Planning Agency, is entirely on the open waters of Long Island Sound. There are opportunities to land on several islands, camp, visit a lighthouse, as well as circumnavigate one or more of the islands. Paddlers should beware of strong tidal currents, wind, waves, and considerable boat traffic and channel crossings. The main access is at Calf Pasture Beach. There is a $15 entry fee during the beach season. A state boat launch (see map) is located on the Saugatuck River. A brochure with a map is available at  http://files.meetup.com/506423/Norwalk_Islands.pdf. Laminated copies are available at local canoe/kayak dealers. Additional information on Shefield Island is available at http://www.seaport.org .

Old Lyme Canoe/Kayak Trail 

by the Connecticut River Estuary Regional Planning Agency (CRERPA), this trail is on the calm but often windy tidal estuary behind Great Island and Griswold Point. There is opportunity to explore the lower reaches of the Lieutenant River and the Black Hall River. Winter storms have eroded much of Griswold Point, leaving the trail's formerly protected southern section open to Long Island Sound. Paddlers should be prepared for windy conditions and rough water when venturing beyond Griswold Point or circumnavigating Great Island. The main access is at the state boat launch (see map) at the end of Smith Neck Road. Kayak and canoe rentals are available at the Black Hall Marina, 132 Shore Road (Rt. 156), Old Lyme, CT. A brochure with a map is available at http://www.ctwatertrails.org/putins/oldlymetrail.pdf . A laminated copy was available at the CRERPA offices next to the railroad station at 455 Boston Post Road in Old Saybrook, CT.

Willimantic River  

This trail, developed by the Willimantic River Alliance, offers whitewater and flatwater paddling along four sections from Tolland to Willimantic, where the river meets the Shetucket River. An online map with put-ins and take-outs along with other recreational opportunities is available at http://www.willimanticriver.org/recreation/paddling.html.