The Hippo


May 31, 2020








A NH AMC Paddlers’ Wednesday evening recreational paddle. Courtesy photo.

Nearby state parks with kayaking

The Granite State is full of local rivers (the Nashua, Merrimack and Pemigewasset rivers are popular kayak spots), ponds and lakes, and it’s got a bit of the ocean too. In addition to these bodies of water, many New Hampshire State Parks offer kayak friendly waterways. Here are some of the most local parks; visit for more.
Bear Brook State Park (61 Deerfield Road, Allenstown, 485-9869) Operating hours 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. weekdays, 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. weekends. Fee $4 for adults, $2 for children ages 6 to 11.
Clough State Park (455 Clough Park Road, Weare, 529-7112)  Operating hours 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. weekdays, 8:30 a.m. to 7 p.m. weekends. Fee $4 for adults, $2 for ages 6 to 11.
Pawtuckaway State Park (40 Pawtuckaway Road, Nottingham, 895-3031) Operating hours 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. daily. Fee $5 for adults, $2 for children ages 6 to 11.
Ellacoya State Park (266 Scenic Road, Gilford, 293-7821) Operating hours 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily. Fee $5 for adults, $2 for children ages 6 to 11.
Get your feet wet
The Contoocook River Canoe Company offers instruction, which Malfait strongly recommends. Instruction will teach you how to paddle efficiently, how to handle large waves, and even how to rescue another kayaker (or yourself). If you’ve ever been in a kayak before, you’ll know just how tricky it is to get back in once you’ve fallen out.
“Once people learn the correct way to paddle, … you’re more efficient in the water, you feel more comfortable in different conditions,” Malfait said.
Another way to start is to sign up for a summer evening recreational paddle with NH AMC Paddlers.
“The Wednesday evening series is geared to beginners or people that have never paddled before,” Pilla said. “We do really flat, slow-moving rivers, so you can do upstream and comeback.”
Both beginners and more experienced kayakers take advantage of the Wednesday evening series, Pilla said. It’s a good chance to learn (since rentals only cost $10), and Pilla said leaders will stick with the beginners and paddle side-by-side to make sure they get the hang of it.
“There’s only a couple of strokes you need to learn,” he said. 
Where to kayak
The following shops and groups offer kayaking instruction, rentals or group trips.
Contoocook River Canoe Co. (9 Horse Hill Road, Concord, 753-9804, Offers kayak instruction classes including rescue, rentals, and guided fishing trips.
Mountain Road Trading Post (68 Mountain Road, Raymond, 895-3501, Offers rentals and demo pond to try out kayaks.
New Hampshire AMC Chapter Paddlers ( Offers weekly Wednesday evening recreational paddles during the summer months and other guided trips throughout the state. Sign-up for a trip online.
Portsmouth Kayak Adventures (185 Wentworth Road, Portsmouth, 559-1000, Offers kayak instruction, guided tours and rentals.
Quick Water Canoe (15 Hannah Dustin Drive, Concord, 753-0025, Offers guided trips, kayak instruction including rescue technique, rentals and demos.

Try a kayak
The quickest and easiest way to enjoy the Granite State’s waterways


 John Pilla, co-chair of the New Hampshire AMC Paddlers, caught the kayak bug in 2006, when he and his wife borrowed some friends’ spare kayaks at Pawtuckaway State Park. It was the first time both Pilla and his wife kayaked, and they fell in love. 

“If we can, we’ll go out two or three times a week,” Pilla said. “There’s just nothing like being out in the water, in the middle of the lake or in the middle of the pond, especially in New Hampshire.”
The Granite State has an impressive amount of water to explore by kayak from the Lakes Region to the estuaries on the seacoast, and all the rivers in between. That’s probably why kayaking is huge in the Granite State. Out of all the committees and groups in the New Hampshire Chapter of the Appalachian Mountain Club, the NH AMC Paddlers is the largest, Pilla said.
“I didn't realize how many people kayak,” Pilla said. “Most people like kayaking because it’s easy.”
In fact, it’s probably the easiest water sport to learn. Patrick Malfait owns Contoocook River Canoe Company in Concord, and he agreed that kayaking is one of the quickest water sports to pick up compared to surfing or scuba diving, even canoeing.
“Many people can hop in a kayak and paddle off and have a ball,” Malfait said.
Kayaking became trendy about 15 years ago. Malfait opened Contoocook River Canoe Company in 1997, and at that time it was a rental company. Shortly thereafter, the demand for retail kicked in. That’s right around the time Malfait got hooked on kayaking too, he said.
“We saw kind of the upswing in kayaking in 1999,” Malfait  said. “New England I think really kind of set the trend around the country.”
Both Pilla and Malfait tried to describe why they love kayaking and both said it was the feeling of being out on the water, almost being “one with the water,” Malfait said. But really, both men said, you have to try it for yourself.
Tour New Hampshire
There’s kayaking for every personality type. Crave adventure? Try whitewater kayaking. Looking for a peaceful recreational sport? Head to flat and quiet water spaces like rivers and ponds. There’s ocean kayaking if you like the waves and salt air. Or perhaps you’re looking to combine your favorite outdoor hobbies. Well, there’s kayaking for that, too.
“New this year we do guided fishing trips,” Malfait said. “That’s been very popular.”
Contoocook River Canoe Company’s fishing guide, Hope Eagleson, is a New Hampshire licensed fishing guide and a Registered Maine Guide. A fishing kayak, rod, reel, lures and bait are all included in trips through the company, and kayakers can catch local fish like large- and small-mouth bass, rock bass, chain pickerel and white perch, just to name a few.
“Lots of people like to hunt and fish, and as many people like to fish like to be in a boat,” Malfait said. “Kayaking gets them in those smaller rivers and areas where they can’t take power boats.”
Both the Contoocook River Canoe Company and NH AMC Paddlers offer kayaking trips, including kayak camping trips. 
One of Pilla’s favorite spots to kayak in the Granite State is in Spoon Wood pond, located by Nubanusit Lake on the border between Cheshire and Hillsborough counties. There’s no road access to the pond and you can’t get to it by boat.
“It is literally surrounded by mountains. It’s a pond in a valley,” he said. “It’s like you’re out in the middle of nowhere. It's just you and God.”
He also recommends the Exeter River and its tidal portion, the Squamscott River. 
Malfait recommends local bodies of water like the Contoocook, Merrimack and Pemigewasset rivers, which he said are all popular. There’s also Massabesic, Glen, Sunapee, Squam and Newfound lakes for larger bodies of water. But Malfait prefers to take advantage of New Hampshire’s coastline.
“I spend a lot of my time on the ocean, but that’s not for everybody unless you’re going to be in a protected area or you know how to read your tide tables,” he said. 
“That takes a skill,” Pilla said. “Sea kayaking I would say requires mapping, navigation and rescue. … With waves and the tide, people can get separated from the group quite easily.” 
As seen in the July 10, 2014 issue of the Hippo.

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