Four perfect spots to kayak in New Haven

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Lake Wintergreen

As the quarantine almost enter its fifth month, I felt really down and cabin fever was starting to get to me. So I decided to dust off my inflatable kayak and headed off to East Rock park. After my afternoon in the sun, paddling on the glistening water among cranes, turtles, and the occasional fisher-persons, I came back home relaxed (but slightly burned) and ready for another five months of lock down!

Kayaking is the solution to our pandemic, people! It’s the perfect social distance activity: your oar is at least 6-foot long so if you come too close to me, that’s a paddlin’!The Simpsons' Jasper threatening kids with a paddlin'I wanted to share with you my four favorite spots to go kayaking in New Haven, ranked by level of difficulty. Obviously, this difficulty level is objective, but you should always do the following:

  • Never go on your own (always bring a buddy, it’s more fun and safer)
  • Wear a life jacket
  • Check weather and tide forecast before going out

New Haven Park and Rec website has great resources likes maps and advice, and runs clinics for people wanting to learn how to canoe or kayak. They are obviously on hold for now, but they will eventually start again. Probably? I hope?

Kayaking is a fairly accessible sport, and commitment is minimal. You can rent kayaks or canoes by the hour from the Quinnipiac River Marina, or get an annual membership to Canal Dock Boathouse to access their fleet of sea kayaks, canoes, and standing paddle board. If you are ready for it, you can buy an inflatable kayak for less than $100 as long as there isn’t any sort of global pandemic going on. Otherwise, you might be gouged for like $300+ (mine is on its 3rd year, still going strong!). Once done with it, you can deflate and shove it into a closet until next time! The smell is not that bad!

Last thing before we start with the fun, my lawyers would tell me to disclaim this information is for reference only. Between Two Rocks cannot be held responsible if you are attacked by a duck… or something along these lines, if I could afford a lawyer.

Down the Mill River – East Rock Park

Mill River Map

Difficulty: Easy
Current: Low
Length: 3 miles
Access: Orange St Canoe Launch, before the bridge
Map and guide

Want to enjoy a lazy river vibe without going all the way to Six Flags? The Mill river is perfect for you! With a slow current, this is the perfect river to kayak for the first time, or for an easy ride. The river is shallow almost everywhere and the banks are easily reachable.

From the bridge of Orange Street, you can go up river to explore East Rock park, row under people hiking and running on bridges, and reach almost all the way to Lake Whitney falls when the water level is high. Going down river, you can visit the outskirts of the Rice field in Fair Haven and reach the interstate highway bridge. Beware of the tidal gates, do not go any further.

If you are lucky, you can spot some adorable water turtles warming up on the sun on top of their favorite branch floating on the river.

Around the Lake Wintergreen – West Rock Park

Wintergreen map

Difficulty: Easy 
Current: None
Length: 1.3 mile
Access: West Rock State Park - Lake Wintergreen Parking Area
Map and guide

Perfect for a late afternoon outing (I love to go there after work), this cute lake in West Rock Park is ideal for a gentle paddle, or even a swim during the warm days of summer! (Editor’s note: I don’t think you’re supposed to go swimming in Lake Wintergreen, but Florian is French and doesn’t respect our American rules.)

The launch is located in the narrow section of the lake, particularly appreciated by fisher-persons. After about a quarter of a mile, the lake opens up before you, let you enter a gorgeous landscape. The beach on the other side of the lake is an ideal point to take a break before heading back to the launch. Stay away from the overflow dam. It probably won’t kill you, but might badly scratch you, or worst, puncture your inflatable kayak!

Morris Creek and the lighthouses – Lighthouse Point Park

Lighthouse point map

Difficulty: Moderate
Current: Tide and Waves
Length: 1 mile
Access: Lighthouse Point Park at the bus turnaround
Map and guide

Bored with fresh water? Let’s add some salt! The tidal creek Morris Creek is a nice stretch of salt water within a bird sanctuary. While you row in the marsh, you can spot, among the 260 birds species which regularly stop there during their migrations, egrets, cormorants, and kingfishers.

If you are looking for a more challenging outing, paddle all the way down the creek to reach the Long Island Sound and follow the shoreline to reach Morgan Point to the East, or Lighthouse Point to the West. If you stay close to the shore, the waves should not bother you too much, and you can always land on the beach in case of emergency. The beach attendants do not really like boats landing on the beach, but if you look stressed enough, they will let you go through.

And for a very tough but rewarding challenge (reserved to experienced kayakers), row all the way to the New Haven Breakwater Lighthouse at the end of the South West Ledge, one mile away from the shore. Be extremely vigilant of the strong current, waves, and the sea traffic.

Quinnipiac River and the Oyster road – Fair Haven

Quinnipiac map

Difficulty: Hard
Current: Strong tide, frequent wakes from oyster boats, barges, and tugboats
Length: 6 miles
Access: Dover Beach Park 
Map and guide

My favorite (and also the most challenging due to the strong current and tides) spot to be on the water in New Haven is the Quinnipiac River. I row there several times a week on a variation of boats with the Yale Grad Crew and regardless of time of day, the scenery is gorgeous, with a mix of nature preserves and industrial complexes.

Launch at Dover Beach (or the Quinnipiac River Marina for a small fee) to explore the Quinnipiac Meadows directly across the river and row above oyster cages waiting to be harvested a few feet below in the water. Just north of the Meadow entrance, at high tide, you can explore the very long and dark tunnels running under the railroad (avoid going under the I-91 bridge, the currents can be very strong and you might get stuck).

For those looking for a good cardio workout, go check out the old English Station on Ball Island (6 miles round trip). Paddle down river under the Grand Avenue and the Chapel Street bridges, and turn right at the wind turbine to enter the Mill River. You can paddle around the island and approach the massive disaffected power plant.

The Quinnipiac river is an active water way with a tone of traffic. Pay attention to boats and their wakes. It’s not a rule, but from experience, small oyster boats and tugboats tend to be very nice with small crafts and will wave at you, while leisure boats will ignore you and pass you at full speed causing monster wakes. Paddle directly into the wake to avoid capsizing.

Photo by Copps Island Oysters

And if you see the “Jeanne Christine”, a 60-ton black shell boat, rushing your way, it’s time to panic!

JEANNE CHRISTINE WILL MESS YOU UP! 

Drunk on oysters and power, her wakes are legendary, and she does not stop for anyone. We once saw the crew of Jeanne Christine use the boat crane to dangle a full size SUV above the Quinnipiac river and then proceeded to leave for sea, leaving the poor SUV for dead… You’ve been warned!

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Florian moved from southern France to New Haven in 2014 with husband and cat before realizing that it was not a suburb of New York City but you don’t really see well when you are zoomed all the way out on Google Maps. He lives in Wooster Square (the highway part, not the fancy park part) and joined a rowing team because New England. He is currently on a tour of “the most American things” he can do. So far, he went to a demolition derby in Durham, a roller disco in Waterbury, a WWE wrestling match in Springfield, a Monster Truck Show in Stafford, the taping of the Maury Povich Show in Stamford, and a rodeo in Wyoming... Feel free to send him suggestions of what to do next!

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