Paddling the Ipswich River

WillandDock CroppedOur headquarters in Ipswich, Riverbend,  is a great place to paddle and explore the river!  Members use our canoes and kayaks for free anytime. Boats are available on a first-come, first-served basis; reservations not required. We supply the paddles and life jackets too. You can paddle 1 mile downstream to the Ipswich Mills Dam or upriver, perhaps for miles depending on the water level. The 23-acre property also includes trails, a green building, green roof,  water-wise demonstration projects and gardens, offices and remnants of formal gardens from the early 20th-century Barnard estate.

The Ipswich River is certainly one of the best rivers for paddling in eastern Massachusetts. Scroll down for for information on specific paddle trips along the river from the headwaters in Wilmington to the estuary in Ipswich.

Get your own Ipswich River Paddling Guide and Map!

Get your own Ipswich River Paddling Guide and Map!

The river is mostly flatwater, with a few riffles that are great especially in the spring. With a few exceptions, the river is free of from development, lending a rural character along almost its entire course. A major highlight of the river is the outstanding silver maple floodplain forest of Middleton and Topsfield, providing a beautiful and shady paddle in the summer.

Buy a new Ipswich River Paddling Guide and Map ($5) for all you need to know about how to enjoy the river! This newly released 18 inch  x 24 inch, double-sided map of the Ipswich River Watershed’s recreational water resources provides paddlers with important trip-planning information such as access points, landmarks and distances.

This also map is available electronically for free through the Avenza PDF Map app for mobile devices. Hard copy maps are available online, at our headquarters at 143 County Road in Ipswich, or at Russell Orchard, Green Meadow Farms, First Light Anglers, Rivers Edge Card Store, Ipswich Visitors Center and Ipswich River Wildlife Sanctuary.

Essex County Ornithological Club canoe outing on the Ipswich River, circa 1915. Photo courtesy Jim MacDougall.

Essex County Ornithological Club canoe outing on the Ipswich River, circa 1915. Photo courtesy Jim MacDougall.

Before planning your paddle trip, visit our River Conditions page for up to date information on river flow.

Upper Watershed

The Upper Ipswich Watershed is a good place to explore by small kayak, because of many tight turns. It is typically navigable in spring to early summer, but is often extremely low or even dry in late summer to early fall. It is great for spring birding trips!

Ipswich River at Mill Street, summer 2007. Photo: Jackie Specht


1. Woburn Street, Wilmington to Mill Street Bridge, Reading/North Reading – flow dependent

2. Mill Street Bridge, Reading/North Reading to Ipswich River Park, North Reading – flow dependent




Middleton is graced by three leagues of river with dozens of ever changing wildlife habitats. Paddlers coming down river from North Reading pass through a long shady canyon of mature trees that opens into a vast sunny marsh through which the channel meanders.  Midway,  travelers again enter the shade, this time of maples on into Topsfield. Beaver meadows and sign (chewings, dams and lodges) abound throughout.

Boats rest at the stone steps to the river at Farnsworth Landing. Photo: Judy Schneider

Boats rest at the stone steps to the river at Farnsworth Landing. Photo: Judy Schneider


3. Middleton: Farnsworth Landing to Peabody Street

4. Topsfield: Peabody Street Landing to Rte. 97, High Street





Lower Watershed

The lower Ipswich is one of the most beautiful paddles in Massachusetts. You’ll pass by estates and farmland, an outstanding wildlife sanctuary, state park and forest and other protected land. Though mostly flatwater, there are a couple of swifter sections for your paddling enjoyment.

Paddlers enjoy a day on the river in Topsfield. Photo: Judy Schneider.

Paddlers enjoy a day on the river in Topsfield. Photo: Judy Schneider photo


5. Topsfield: Route 97 to Willowdale Meadows, Bradley Palmer State Park

6. Ipswich: Winthrop Street to Peatfield Street – flow dependent







Of all the beautiful places in the Ipswich River Watershed, the coastal region is perhaps the most spectacularly so. The Great Marsh of northeastern Massachusetts, one of the most productive ecosystems in the world, includes the Ipswich River estuary, where the Ipswich River winds its last few miles through great expanses of Spartina grasses, amidst forested coastal drumlins, leading to stunningly beautiful coastal beaches.

The Ipswich River estuary, from Labor-In-Vain road. Photo: Jackie Specht


6. Ipswich River Estuary

Note: Paddlers, please be aware of state requirements to use approved personal flotation devices (PFD) in canoes, kayaks and other watercraft.  Children under 12 must wear PFDs at all times in watercraft, and adults must wear a PFD between September 15 and May 15, and have one for each person in a watercraft at all times.



Note: There are three dams on the river. These impoundments block the natural flow of water and block fish passage: Bostik Dam (Middleton), Willowdale Dam (Ipswich), Ipswich Mills Dam (Ipswich) and must be portaged around.

Lakes and Ponds

Quite a few lakes and ponds in the Ipswich have access points to put in canoes.

  • Berry Pond, North Andover
  • Brackett, Collins and Field Ponds, Andover
  • Four Mile Pond, Boxford
  • Frye Pond, Andover
  • Hood Pond, Ipwich
  • Martins Pond, North Reading
  • Prichard Pond, Middleton
  • Silver Lake, Wilmington (canoe rentals available)
  • Spofford Pond, Boxford
  • Stearns Pond, North Andover
  • Stevens Pond, Boxford
  • Stiles Pond, Boxford