Swimming in the Ipswich River

rope_swing_MFentonThere’s something about swimming in a river which is so memorable that children (and adults!) can often recall the images for the rest of their lives. Sliding along in a gentle current, floating in a tube, watching brilliant dragonflies and damselflies dancing about, sunfish gently “nibbling” your toes… unforgettable!

The Ipswich River Watershed has all this to offer, and more! The ponds, lakes, streams, rivers and ocean beaches of the Ipswich River Watershed provide some great places to swim. Here are a few suggestions:

River Spots

The Ipswich River in summer is typically warm and slow-moving, and has some wonderful places to have lots of fun. But be aware of the risks of swimming in a river. There is no supervision, no safety equipment nearby, and swimming is at your own risk. The water is tea-colored from natural tannins in wetland soils, which limits visibility and may make it difficult to see underwater hazards. Diving is not advisable.

Middleton town beach at Thunder Bridge. P. Sacco photo

Middleton town beach at Thunder Bridge. P. Sacco photo

Middleton’s town beach is at Thunder Bridge, where East Street crosses the Ipswich; there is a small sandy beach and a round “scour hole” type pond below the bridge. However, during the summer season there is parking for residents only – cars parked along East Street will be ticketed and possibly towed. Swimming at Ipswich River Park in North Reading is unsanctioned.

Many other spots along the river lend themselves to a dip during a leisurely paddle down river on a summer’s day, or sliding down a riffle (with life jacket on) when the current is slow.

One of the best things about the Ipswich River is that, on whole, it is much less polluted than many other rivers in Massachusetts, and typically bacterial contamination is not a big problem in dry weather. After heavy rains, however, there are areas of the watershed where pollution has been a problem in the past. Credit goes to the Town of Ipswich for taking action to clean up pollution in the downtown area, a benefit for swimmers, boaters, and for shellfishing too.

Readers should be aware that in flood conditions, the Ipswich River is very powerful, and is not safe for swimming or even wading. If the current is swift, the river can be especially dangerous. Other potential hazards include slippery rocks, drop offs from shallow sections to deep pools, underwater snags, etc. Use common sense, observe all safety precautions, and have fun!

Lakes and Ponds with Swimming Beaches/Access

Boy swims in Hood Pond. K. O'Reilly photo

Boy swims in Hood Pond. K. O’Reilly photo

While there are many places in the watershed where swimming is permitted, few are open to the public-at-large. These include:

  • Berry Pond, Andover, in Harold Parker State Forest has a tiny sandy beach with terraced lawn and picnicking areas, handicapped-accessible trails, bathroom facilities anda gazebo. Open from Memorial Day to Labor Day; parking fee charged. Also at Harold Parker SF, the campground at Frye Pond has a small beach open to the public, though it is open to campers only during busy periods (call the SF for more info; 978-686-3391). Swimming is not authorized at other locations in the state forest.
  • Silver Lake in Wilmington has a sandy beach, basic bathhouse facility. Canoes can also be rented there.
  • Martin’s Pond in North Reading has a small sandy beach. However, water quality at the beach is poor at present. The Town of North Reading is beginning a project to remediate pollution in the neighborhood, so hopefully the pond will improve and be more suitable for swimming in the future.

The following pond beaches are public, but restrictions may apply regarding parking and/or access:

  • Hoods Pond in Topsfield and Ipswich is a lake located at the junction of the towns of Topsfield, Boxford and Ipswich. Most of the shoreline is part of Willowdale State Forest or the John Nutter Town Forest. There is a small beach at the southwestern end, with parking off Route 97. There is a fee for non-residents, and a limit is set on the number of people at the beach, with priority on busy days for residents/members of the beach association. Contact the Topsfield Town Clerk at 978-887-3799 for more information.
  • Stiles Pond, Boxford: town beach, Boxford residents only; must have an identification tag for entry.

Swimming Along the Coast

Crane Beach, Ipswich, MA

Crane Beach, Ipswich, MA

The Ipswich River Watershed has a very small coastal area, but it is located amidst some of the most wonderful beaches in Massachusetts. Here are a few beaches to explore:

  • Crane Beach/Steep Hill Beach, Ipswich.This is one of the premier beaches in Massachusetts. The beach and adjoining properties are owned by the Trustees of Reservations (entrance and parking fees). In addition to miles of wonderful sandy beach, the Crane Reservation includes a great self-guided trail leading from the parking area, over around and through the back dunes all the way to to the mouth of the Essex River. Stay to the trail! You’ll see how the dunes migrate away from the sea, covering trees as they move.
  • Sandy Point State Reservation. At the southern end of Plum Island, this is a lovely spot to beach-go, opposite Crane Beach and the mouth of the Ipswich River. Sandy Point adjoins the Parker River National Wildlife Refuge, one of the ecological treasures of the North Shore. While the beach at PRNWR is closed in the spring/early summer to protect nests of endangered plovers and terns, the Sandy Point State Park beach is open at the end of the island. (Sandy Point is not subject to the entrance fee for the refuge – though consider paying the fee or buying a year pass to the refuge anyway, to support this outstanding national ecological resource.)
  • Pavilion Beach, Little Neck Road, Ipswich.This beach is a small barrier beach connecting Great Neck and Little Neck, two drumlins (glacially-formed hills) bounding the Ipswich River estuary.  There is no charge for parking/access to Pavilion Beach.



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:

IRWA_MAPSIDE_Final_web(2)-002Buy 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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If you’ve ever thought of helping the Ipswich River, now is the time.

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!