Ipswich River Estuary Paddle Trip
The coastal region of the Ipswich River Watershed is perhaps the most spectacular. Paddling the Ipswich River Estuary can be a strenuous adventure or a gentle meander through beautiful salt marsh. The tidal range in the estuary is 8-10 feet or more, so trips can vary tremendously even over the course of a day. At the highest tides, the estuary becomes an inland “sea,” with even the marsh grasses completely inundated. But at low tide, the channels are narrow and winding, with extensive mudflats. The side channels are astoundingly peaceful and rich in wildlife.
Here the sight of a snowy or great egret against brilliant green marshland in summer will take your breath away. Countless shorebirds pass through the coastal region on their way north in spring, and back again from August into early autumn; watch them feeding on the mudflats. For those who paddle year-round, look for diving ducks like buffleheads and goldeneyes, as well as rafts of black ducks in the winter; and don’t be surprised to see seals! Northern harrier and osprey are sometimes seen, along with other uncommon and rare species.
Most kayakers launch at the north end of Pavilion Beach, which joins Little Neck to Great Neck. From the beach, you look over to Sandy Point Reservation, at the southern tip of Plum Island. That stretch of beach is state owned, allowing for kayaks to land (Plum Island National Wildlife Refuge stretches eight miles north and prohibits landing).
After launching, turn right (south) and paddle into the mouth of the Ipswich River. You can bear left toward the marshes into Fox Creek, a tributary of the Ipswich River and end up behind Trustees of Reservations’ Castle Hill. A narrow channel known as the Fox Creek Canal takes you to the Hay Canal Bridge on the road to Crane Beach where you will soon reach the main channel, known as Castle Neck River. This is the oldest saltwater canal in the United States. Keep in mind that Fox Creek dries out at low tide; you must paddle through here three hours on either side of high tide. Once in Castle Neck River, you will be able to find a deep channel even at low tide.
Labor In Vain Creek further up river on the left is also a nice side trip and optional access point.
Access between the Ipswich Mills Dam and Town Wharf is only at high tide and can be a challenging paddle, but is worth a well-timed trip past historic scenery and three stone arch bridges between Town Wharf and downtown Ipswich: The Green Street bridge (double arch); County Road’s two bridges (single and double); and the Choate Bridge (double arch) which is the oldest stone-arch bridge in the United States, built in 1764.
For explorations beyond the mouth of the river, it is really important to have a navigational chart. You’ll need to consult a tide chart, and of course the weather forecast, as part of trip planning. Unless you are a very strong paddler, you do not want to be going against the current and the tide – let alone the wind. So be aware and be prepared.
- Pavilion Beach, 150 Little Neck Road, Ipswich. Free parking is available in a public municipal lot.
- Ipswich Town Wharf. 65 East Street. Boat ramp and parking for a fee.
- Labor in Vain Road. East side of bridge over Labor in Vain Creek.
- County Road Park. Half-tide and above. Free parking across Street behind Police Station.
For more information on paddling trips along the Ipswich River visit our paddling page.
Click here for other ways to enjoy your favorite activities in the Ipswich River Watershed:
Buy a new Ipswich River Paddling Guide and Map ($5) for all you need to know about how to enjoy the river! Buy online or at our headquarters at 143 County Road in Ipswich. This also map is available for free through the Avenza PDF Map app for mobile devices.
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Join today! We depend on your membership support to protect the river, and every new or increased donation this year will be matched dollar for dollar through the generosity of a matching gift from the EnTrust Fund. New members will also receive a FREE Ipswich River Paddling Guide and Map!