|Paddle Trip(A Level 3 Trip)
Merrimack River Lawrence to Newburyport:
The banks of the Merrimack River are surprisingly undeveloped. This trip can either be done in sections or from one end to the other. Every year or two I like to do the entire section as a day trip. The first time I did this trip I did the long version. I met my father at the breakwall in Newburyport on Water Street. There is a boat ramp there and room for about 8 cars. If I'm going to be paddling for a while, I unload at the ramp and then park on a nearby side street.
For the paddle down from Lawrence we simply left a shuttle car on a side street and headed for Lawrence. To get the best benefit of tides I like to start paddling an hour or two before the high tide in Newburyport. My usual launch site is behind the dance studio on Sutton St. in North Andover about 100 yards from route 495. About half the time that I use this launch I leave my car there, other times I move the vehicle over to Main St and then walk back to the launch site. There is supposed to be a boat ramp just down stream from here but it's construction was being held up by some neighbors, last time I checked.
From the launch down to Haverhill is nice flatwater with a decent current, in high water conditions this can result in some entertaining currents. There is one section of quickwater on this stretch stay to the left of the "island", staying too far left will leave you in a shallow rock garden. A friend in a skin/frame kayak found this rock garden and fortunately made it through unscathed, but he needed to get out and carry his boat. The Merrimack passes under 495 twice, the least pleasant section of the entire paddle being the short stretch going past a large incinerator. As you go around the curve, that the incinerator is on, stay to the right it gets pretty shallow on the outer half of the curve. Surprisingly the incinerator is one of only about a dozen buildings on the river in the first 6 miles.
There is also a small rest area on the north bank of the river here (route 110) that could probably be used as a launch site. I haven't launched from there in over 15 years so I don't know it's current state.
Because of the shallow river depth it's very unlikely you will see another boat until you get to Haverhill. After passing under 495 for the second time there is more development as you head into Haverhill. The right bank of the river remains wooded right up to a bridge into downtown Haverhill. For about a half mile through the center of Haverhill the river has 25 foot cement walls on both sides. Despite the image it's surprisingly peaceful floating down the concrete canyon. For about a hundred yards there is a public boardwalk along the top of the left wall.
Downtown Haverhill is also the beginning of tidal influence. After passing the Haverhill Marina, on the right, the river arcs to the left. About half way around the arc there is a stadium on the left bank, there is parking and river access behind the stadium (the stadium is on route 113 next to building 19). Below the next bridge (route 97/113) there is a nice pullout at the Groveland recreation area. I like to stop there for lunch. I've also used this as a meeting place for people who only want to do half of the trip. The sign at the street says for residents only, but I've talked to people working there and if you are polite and park out of the way they didn't mind our using the launch ramp.
The Groveland harbor master has a very interesting Herreshoff canoe shaped tender that at one time was the rowing coaches boat at either Harvard or MIT. It's about 35 feet long and 7 feet wide.
Below Groveland there are scattered houses along the river. The river is nice and wide with a little boat traffic. The next possible launch site is on the south side of the river in West Newbury about 75 yards from the Rocks Village bridge, 2 years ago the launch ramp was in terrible shape, but fine for use by paddle craft.
From West Newbury to Newburyport the riverbanks slowly get more developed and summertime boat traffic increases. The next possible take out is a small marina on the north bank of the river, at the mouth of the Powwow
River. The year I did this with my father he got out at this marina and took a nap next to the ramp while I finished the paddle and then retrieved him. On a separate trip we took refuge from a brief storm under the bridge on the Powwow. Downstream of the the route 93 bridge are a few islands, if you stay to the left there will be less boat traffic and less current. Personally I usually paddle to the right and take advantage of the current. For most paddlers I recommend taking out at Cashman Park in Newburyport, there are 2 ramps there and lots of parking. You also get to avoid paddling through the marinas where the currents can be brisk. I've seen 1 foot standing waves formed off the end of one of the marina docks, a dock that appears to extend fully half way across the river.
Passing through Newburyport the currents can be brisk with a fair bit of boat traffic. After passing through downtown Newburyport the river widens into Joppa flats (a huge expanse of mud at low tide) about a mile downstream of downtown Newburyport, on the Newburyport side is the breakwall where I frequently launch from and for the long version of this trip the takeout. I believe the entire trip from Lawrence/North Andover is 24 miles. It usually takes me about 5 hours of paddling to do the trip.
Trip contributed by Kirk Olsen
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