Boston’s Best Paddling Tours

Here are 6 scenic state parks in the greater Boston area to launch your next flatwater paddling tour.

From following the wake of Thoreau to floating among New England’s colorful fall foliage, the Boston area provides ample opportunity for flatwater paddlers to dip a blade. And state parks—like the beloved Red Sox, Bruins and Patriots—are the region’s pride and joy when it comes to paddling. Aside from its heralded and historic Charles River corridor, a gaggle of these protected areas lie scattered around the city for a quick afternoon paddle workout or a fuller weekend excursion for the whole family. Start exploring this select handful of the best parks around greater Boston to wet your SUP, rec kayak, canoe or even fishing pedal-craft.   

Ashland State Park — Ashland, MA

Though this state park packs a lot of recreational offerings in its 470 acres, 157 of them constitute the Ashland Reservoir—ideal for friendly paddle-powered outings. There’s plenty to make a day of a trip to the park that operates seasonally, including options for hiking, biking, swimming, fishing, as well as boating in all its non-motorized forms on the tree-lined reservoir. Launch your paddlecraft at the well-appointed boat ramp, which also includes wheelchair access to the beach, a bathhouse, plus picnic areas and trailheads for paths paralleling the shore. Parking is available mid-May to Labor Day ($8 daily for MA vehicles; $30 daily for out-of-state vehicles). Bonus: Exercise your legs afterward with a stroll on the loop trail around the reservoir. More info: mass.gov

Mystic Lakes State Park — Medford, MA 

While this waterway has been altered since the 1800s when its shores were primarily salt marsh, Mystic Lakes State Park (just a northwest rock-skip away from Boston), is one of the Commonwealth’s best protected streams, with its twin lakes perfect for flatwater paddling. Open year-round, dawn to dusk, its banks are mostly publicly owned, meaning access is easy from a variety of points leading away from the Amelia Earhart Dam at the mouth of the Mystic Lakes. Note that Upper Mystic Lake is limited to paddling only, while the Lower Lake is open to wakeless powerboats. Want to try sailing? Sign up for a sailing program at the Tufts University Boathouse. More info: mass.gov

Hopkinton and Whitehall State Parks — Hopkinton, MA 

Managed by the Dept. of Conservation and Recreation, Whitehall State Park and Hopkinton State Park were created in 1947 when both of their respective reservoirs were removed from service as Boston-area water sources and approved for recreational use. Offering a boat ramp and hiking trails along the reservoir’s edges, Whitehall is open from dawn to dusk, with free onsite parking. Beyond paddling, visitors can sail, motorboat (12 mph speed limit and no water skiing/wake surfing), fish, hike, even horseback ride and mountain bike on shore, though you can’t swim. Nearby Hopkinton includes a little bit of everything as well, with 1,500 acres of forest crisscrossed by hiking trails, beaches, stocked fishing, picnic areas, and paddling. It’s open daily from 8 a.m. to 6:30 p.m., May 14 to Oct. 30, offering many of the same amenities and recreational opportunities ($8 parking for residents; $30 non-residents). Hopkinton is a slightly better place to paddle a full day, with 300 picnic spots and over 100 grills. It also includes seasonal facilities for kayak and canoe rentals, as well as a youth camp that teaches kayaking, canoeing, and standup paddleboarding, plus sailing and windsurfing. More info: mass.gov

Walden Pond State Reservation — Concord, MA 

Paddle in the wake of Henry David Thoreau and visit the historic single-room cabin of the naturalist philosopher (and paddler), where he lived for two years starting in the summer of 1845. Go back in time to the mid-1800s at 64.5-acre Walden Pond—an example of a kettlehole formed by retreating glaciers 12,000 years ago—where you can experience the nature that inspired Thoreau's Walden, whether you’re swimming, hiking or paddling. Designated a National Historic Landmark in 1962, the pond is protected in the 335-acre state reservation managed by the state Dept. of Conservation and Recreation. With a parking area located across state Route 126, the park includes a boat ramp, picnic areas, restrooms, visitor center and more. Note: Look for a series of granite posts marking the site of Thoreau's cabin. More info: mass.gov 

Great Brook Farm State Park — Carlisle, MA

Got milk? Great Brook Farm State Park does, and you can tour where it comes from after paddling. Established in 1967, the park is a public, day-use recreation area featuring an active dairy farm in the town of Carlisle. Beyond the tranquil paddling options, the 1,000-acre park features more than 20 miles of trails, historic Native American sites and 17th-century cellar holes left over from early English settlers. And best yet, once you’re off the water, you can take a free guided tour of a working dairy farm that was home to the first robotic milking system in Massachusetts. Local tip: Swing by the homemade ice cream stand at the boat ramp after you paddle. More info: mass.gov 

All articles are for general informational purposes.  Each individual’s needs, preferences, goals and abilities may vary.  Be sure to obtain all appropriate training, expert supervision and/or medical advice before engaging in strenuous or potentially hazardous activity.