A half-dozen family-friendly destinations to keep you exploring on the water all season! Text & photos by Tom Richardson
1) Burton, Knight & Woods Islands, VT
A major attraction for boaters, regardless of the season, in the northern part of Lake Champlain (also known as the Inshore Sea) is the trio of state parks on Knight, Woods and Burton Islands, the last home to a seasonal ranger-staffed campground with a swimming beach, hiking trails, snack bar, canoe and rowboat rentals and a 100-slip marina. Knight and Woods Islands offer a more rustic camping experience, with wilderness sites and no rangers on duty. While all three campgrounds officially close on Labor Day, they continue to draw daytrippers in the fall. Boaters can launch at several ramps in North and South Hero, as well as in nearby Saint Albans.
2) Swan Island, Richmond, ME
There are several Swan Islands in Maine, but this one is on the Kennebec River, some 10 miles north of Bath. The island, part of the Steve Powell Wildlife Management Area, features large, forested areas interspersed by open fields and wetlands. Nature trails wind through the island, and mountain biking can be enjoyed on the central road. Several historic homesteads, as well as an old cemetery, serve as points of interest.
The best way to reach the island and its state-run campground, on the eastern side, is by kayak or canoe. Boaters can camp overnight, but reservations are required. Note that the landing dock on the northwest tip of the island can only be used by powerboaters to pick up or drop off passengers and gear.
3) Kettle Cove, Naushon Island, MA
Boaters in the Buzzards Bay area looking for a great spot to take the family on a fine fall day should check out Kettle Cove, on the north side of Naushon Island in the Elizabeth Islands.
This cove is one of the few spots in the privately-owned Elizabeth Islands where the public is allowed on shore. The beach that skirts the cove is small, but features white sand and clear water that invites snorkeling and swimming. Small boats can be beached on shore, but keep clear of the scattered rocks. Those with larger vessels will need to anchor just offshore.
4) Narrow River, RI
Flowing through the Rhode Island towns of North Kingstown, South Kingstown and Narragansett, the Narrow River (originally the Pettaquamscutt River) is a great fall paddling destination. Even intermediate paddlers can easily navigate its entire six-mile length, from Carr Pond to Rhode Island Sound, in a single day.
The river, which is tidal right up to its headwaters, begins at the Gilbert Stuart Birthplace Museum. Across the street you’ll find a dirt parking lot and a narrow path leading to the river. Several other launch spots are available downriver, including Middle Bridge and Sprague Bridge.
Anglers will want to pack a rod, as the river affords good fishing for striped bass and shad. Flounder and bluefish can also be taken closer to the river mouth.
5) Selden Island, Lyme, CT
Boaters and paddlers on the Connecticut River owe themselves a visit to 607-acre Selden Neck State Park in Lyme, just opposite the town of Chester. While there is no official landing site on the island, boaters can anchor just offshore or beach their craft on the banks. Note that there are submerged rocks along some parts of the shore, so approach cautiously.
Trails wind through the wooded island, some leading to the 230-foot summit and past an old farmstead and quarry. Lookout points from the trails provide excellent views of the Connecticut River. Some parts of the island are still privately held, so respect the boundary markers.
Selden Creek, which flows between the mainland and the island’s eastern shore, is a beautiful and well-protected spot for birdwatching, stand-up paddleboarding, and kayaking, although larger boats can navigate the peaceful, reed-lined waterway as well. Keep a lookout for osprey, heron, egrets, kingfishers, hawks, beaver, muskrat, deer, and other wildlife along the creek. Autumn is an especially good time to visit to this scenic waterway.
6) Norwalk Islands, CT
The Norwalk Islands are a fantastic resource for boaters in southern Connecticut. The archipelago of some 25 low-lying islands not only protects Norwalk Harbor from high seas and inclement weather, they also provide a natural playground for boaters, anglers, birders, beachgoers and clammers.
Cockenoe (pronounced “Kah-kee-nee”) Island is owned by the town of Westport, and public access is allowed. The island features a nifty little cove and beach that’s filled with snapper bluefish by late summer. Overnight camping is allowed with permission by the Westport Conservation Department.
The Norwalk Recreation & Parks Department manages Shea Island and smaller Grassy Island to the east. Both are stony, scruffy tracts of land. Seasonal camping is allowed on these islands by permit from the Norwalk Recreation & Parks Department. Two solar-powered restrooms are available in season, and there are 16 campsites. The shoreline is strewn with boulders, making it a somewhat difficult place to approach by boat.