Connecticut River Paddling Trip

The longest river in New England, the wide and placid Connecticut River winds through a broad, green agricultural valley. Mountains rise in the distance while the river leisurely curves its way along sandy beaches. The NFCT enters by way of the Nulhegan River from Vermont 1.

You can access this segment from the launch in Bloomfield, Vermont, or in North Stratford, New Hampshire, between the ball field and the railroad tracks. There is an established overnight parking area in Bloomfield, and at DeBanville’s General Store you can have some pizza, buy a fishing license, or purchase a pair of Walking Boss suspenders, which are made in town and harken back to the Connecticut’s former logging glory. A free, state-managed campsite is in the woods behind the NFCT kiosk. Just upstream on the Connecticut River, the state also maintains the water-access-only campsites at Lyman Falls.

Across the river, the launch at North Stratford has a grassy non- signed parking area. The small town of North Stratford has a market and two gas stations.

The river begins swiftly here, flanked by flat floodplains and forested hills in the distance. Less than 1 mile downstream the river forks unexpectedly. Stay to the right at this junction. The left takes you into the confluence of Roaring and Kimball Brooks, which are littered with tangled downed trees.

At 1.3 miles, on the New Hampshire side, sits a wood-products mill that produced lumber, bobbins, and veneer over the last century, a reminder of the area’s logging past 2. As early as the 1730s the

British Royal Navy scouted these woods for tall, straight pines for

masts on their ships, marked the best trees with the King’s arrow- shaped blaze, and floated them down the river.

Farther downstream the winding river has worn the banks into high, sandy cliffs where you may see the nesting holes of bank swallows. Not far from here, Wheeler Stream3 enters from Vermont. This marks the beginning of the only “Natural Section” on the entire 407-mile river. No motorboats are permitted in this stretch to the Stratford–Maidstone Bridge.

As you paddle farther downstream, a granite-block railroad trestle appears in the middle of the river, a remnant of the historic rail- road corridor. The landmark sits near the NFCT Maine Central Rail- road Trestle campsite 4. On the Vermont side of the river, a small sign hangs for the campsite. Land on the beach and walk up into the woods, where the site offers a picnic table, campfire ring, and an outhouse. Farther downstream is a long beach, another great spot to picnic, swim, or simply enjoy the quiet. The land around the site is agricultural, and on summer mornings you might hear a tractor and see a farmer working the fields in the early-dawn light. Above the riverbank’s lip, the land is broad and flat and speckled with fields and pastures.

As the river continues southward, watch for other remnants of rail- road craftsmanship, including granite culverts. The Maine Central Railroad ran through this area in the late 1860s transporting goods, logs, and people throughout New England.

At mile 11, look for the Stratford–Maidstone Bridge 7, built circa 1885. This is a popular take-out spot after a day trip from North Strat- ford. The steel truss bridge marks the end of the Connecticut River’s

“Natural Section.” An NFCT campsite is 2.2 miles below the bridge on river right. It is a lovely beach marked by a sign on a tree, but no table or toilet exists here, as they would be swept away during spring flooding. Plan to deal appropriately with human waste if you stay here, and keep the beach pristine. This campsite is not shown on the first edition of the NFCT map.

This area lies near the town of Stratford, which had a historically important role as one of the last outposts on the frontier border with Canada. During that time, the river ran directly through the town   and was used by Native Americans for trade. The river meanders from Stratford on its approach to Groveton but continues to offer distant views of the surrounding mountains. At one point the river passes an osprey nest platform located on the Fort Hill Wildlife Management Area (WMA), owned by the New Hampshire Fish & Game Department. This WMA is managed for a diversity of wildlife species, including waterfowl and upland birds. Oxbows in the river reveal sediments that piled up when the last ice age waned.

Sandy beaches offer a perfect respite for lazy, leisurely trips. If you arrive here on a weekend you might want to visit the nearby Riverside Speedway. Although the track itself cannot be seen from the river, the nearby fence and steep banks are a good landmark between the broad oxbows on the way to the Upper Ammonoosuc River9, which enters from the left. You can turn upstream here to take out in 1.5 miles at the new NFCT campsite and access area on river left (which is on your right as you paddle upstream). The camp- site, which was built in 2008 and is not shown on the first edition of the NFCT map, has a picnic table, fire ring, toilet, and large, grassy clearing in a silver maple floodplain forest. It’s a beautiful spot with easy access to town.

If you choose to take out at Guildhall, follow the slowly moving Connecticut River downstream. Keep an eye out for flocks of resi- dent Canada geese that loaf on the sandbars after feeding in nearby fields. Black bears also are known to swim back and forth across the river to take advantage of ripe field corn in late summer and early fall.