Monday, August 27, 2012

Ipswich River: Middleton to Ipswich Bay - 8/25/12

"Have Fun With That", is what I was told about three years ago the time me, my brother, and a couple of friends were kayaking on the Ipswich River. Let's face it, the plan was to go as far as we could, but, of course, I thought we could make it to the ocean. So that's what some guy said that time when I answered where we were going, with "the ocean!". Have fun with that is what I did on Saturday, and it was the motivation for this paddle. It was total awesomeness. Back then, I knew I could do it, I just wasn't ready for it, but the way the guy said it that day, I knew I would come back and do it; I had been talking about it ever since then.

On the way home from work on Friday night, I scouted my original starting point at Ipswich River Park in North Reading. As I drove by Russell Street in Peabody, there was only a trickle and exposed rocks; the river was incredibly low from this drought. That is right after the significant dam (and falls) near the old Bostik Plant, so I was concerned immediately. As I drove Route 62 through North Reading, I couldn't see the river behind the houses (which is a marshy area, and would be torture with no water). At Ipswich River Park, it didn't look anything like I've seen it. Concerned about the water level in N. Reading, I decided to cut my plan short, which was approximately 10-12 miles shorter than I had intended. I wanted to do almost all of the 34 or so miles. The ensuing paddle would be 25.8 miles from South Middleton to THE OCEAN!
Ready to go! 
I decided to put-in at South Middleton, along Route 114. Since I cut off that distance, I didn't need to start at 6am, but I was on the river at 8:30. The weather was hazy most of the morning hours. It took over an hour for the heat to come through, but the conditions were not overly hot. The river conditions were obviously low, but thankfully it wasn't bad to start so I got going. The river from here meanders through a marshy area, making a 90-degree turn on on occasion as it makes its way further into Middleton.
Ipswich River - Middleton, MA
After I got going good, I did have to finally maneuver over a couple of beaver dams. The first one was small, and the second one was a little trickier, but I was able to remain in the boat. 

A mile or so later, I came upon the popular swimming spot at Thunder Bridge in Middleton on East Street. It was quiet, and there is always a small line of rocks right after the beach to contend with. In normal water, its a nice little dip with a boost. Other than that, this section of paddling didn't throw to many issues at me as a result of the low water. I quickly passed I-95, and continued at a good pace. The river meanders quite a bit after I-95, so in higher water, it can be slightly more confusing. With the low water, it was easier, at times, to see which way the flow was going.
"Thunder Bridge" or "Thunder Hole" - Middleton, MA 
Paddling underneath I-95 going into Topsfield
On the other side, I passed the Topsfield Fairgrounds. After smooth sailing for a while, I ran into few shallow spots again. As you float by, you pass some really nice homes. Before I knew it, I was already at the Wildlife Sanctuary.

A US Flag hangs randomly on the far side of the river
You know when your close to the Ipswich River Wildlife Sanctuary when you pass the Grand Wenham Canal or also known as the Salem/Beverly Canal. Don't go down there, that's not the river. There's always something doing in the sunny skies over the Ipswich River, like a cloud formation or plane exhaust lines. It seems to happen every time. I continued on, and as I paddled through here, which was pretty full, the animals were out and about. Turtles, snakes, blue jays, cardinals, blue herons, red-tail hawk and more. I slowly passed beneath the hawk as it sat on the dead tree, it then flew away across the way revealing the definitive red-tail feathers. The snake actually came towards me and past me about an arm's length out from my boat. It was definitely a surprise, and was easily over 3 1/2 feet in length.
Grand Wenham Canal on Ipswich River

A turtle sunning on the Ipswich River 
Large Northern Water Snake 
Red-tail Hawk 
A nice section of flowering lilies 
Continuing right on into Ipswich! 
At the Willdowdale Dam, I exited to the right. There is a small path on the right side next to the fish ladder. I had to take the kayak past the first dam because there is another small one. This was my first real break, other than getting out of the kayak once to pull the kayak over a downed log. I grabbed a snack and powerade. As I was about to put-in, I noticed this bold blue heron standing right next to where I was headed. He would move eventually when he heard my boat scraping against the ground since the water was extremely shallow here.
Willowdale Dam - Ipswich River 
Fish Ladder at the Willowdale Dam 
Blue heron on Ipswich River
Now past the Willowdale Dam, there was still a good ways to go in Ipswich before reaching the ocean. Onward I went, but I was definitely slowed a bit by low water, but I just wanted to get past the next big portage. Although it was not the first time I had to do this, I found my self pushing myself along sandbars with my paddles. I had to maneuver slowly over the dam of rocks you see below. Before I got to the Ipswich Dam, (formerly known as Sylvania Dam) downtown Ipswich, I passed the Ipswich River Watershed Association's dock.

Mill Road Bridge 
Ipswich River Watershed Association dock on Ipswich River 
As I approached the dam, I thought the spot to take out was going to be a little more obvious, as it had in the past. I know it was pretty early right, but the best spot I could find (after circling a few times both right and left) was a small raised landing to get out on the right, but it required me to lift my kayak over my head and a stone wall. On top of the wall was a shared driveway with a multi family and a road-front business. I hauled the kayak over my head onto the driveway and secured my gear for the lift and carry across downtown Ipswich. As I went to lift it up, this guy comes out of the house and says something like, "Hey, if my landlord was here he'd have the police down here in a second." I said, "I'm sorry, this was the safest spot I could see to get out." He said, "Well don't do it again." Are you serious?? Give me a freakin' break buddy. So, after being heckled, I picked up my kayak with gear and all, and hauled it up the street to County Street, where I found a nice put-in spot. Ahh the ocean, but I wasn't done just yet.
Ipswich Dam 
A public spot along County Street
High tide was set to be 6pm. I figured it would be around this time I'd end up on the neck, but I was a little early. I knew I wouldn't have any tide issues though other than a couple of tough spots of paddling maybe. I passed the first no wake marker, and eventually I was paddling next to huge motorboats busy going in and out. It was the afternoon, so a lot of speeding boats were coming in. I stayed to the right and out of the way as best I could while still trying to cut nice lines. I was making it. The waves from the incoming tide and boats going through the channel were splashing on deck, but that was nothing. I exited the channel, and took a wide left around the neck following the flow, somewhat, because the waves were crashing against the rocks and I didn't want to get caught up in that. I took a straight line in with the tide to the sandy beach on the left where there is a parking lot and I got out before. It took me 9hrs to paddle 25.8 miles on the Ipswich River from Middleton to the ocean. It was from the same spot we put it in that day three years ago when I said we were going to the ocean. Today, it was done, for that guy who said, "Have fun with THAT!"
No wake marker in Ipswich River 
Ipswich River Bay 
Looking back at the incoming tide and river mouth 
A dear grazes in the marsh as I wait for my ride at Little Neck
Paddle Stats:
Distance: 25.8 miles
Book Time: 9hrs 3min
Wildlife Seen: White Perch fish, Turtles, Blue jays, Cardinal, Blue Herons, Red-tail Hawk, Geese, Ducks, Frogs, Toads, Eastern Water Snake, Deer


  1. Wow! I really find all those photos cool! It is a great place to relax and do some sight seeing. Thank you so much for sharing your trip! Cool!

    1. Thanks Camper! Looking back at them, its amazing how much cool stuff you can see on one trip. I go on dozens of hikes without seeing much, and then one long paddle not far from where I live and I see all of this!