Colebrook to Cornish, NH Trip Report

From June 12 - 21, 2011 I spent ten days paddling the Connecticut in my great uncle's 1975 Moise Cadorette canoe with three different companions along the way. In all, I paddled 164 miles, from Colebrook, NH (just south of the bridge at mile 363) to the Cornish, NH boat landing (mile 199). My trip plan and supplies list can be found in this google spreadsheet - https://spreadsheets.google.com/spreadsheet/pub?hl=en_US&hl=en_US&key=0A... - which anyone is more than welcome to draw on as a resource. I have also posted photo albums (with some notes that may be helpful) on facebook at http://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.562116042931.2063734.15000984&l... and http://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.562123478031.2063738.15000984&l.... If others are doing this trip or sections of it, feel free to email me if you have any questions that I might be able to help with.

For the first five days of the trip I was accompanied by my good college friend, Josh. *Note: Josh and I are both guys in our late twenties, in good health, and pretty fit. The distances over the first few days were comfortably doable for us. The shorter distances later in the trip reflect both that I had different paddling partners (my father, who accompanied me on days 6 and 7, is 65 and not in the best of health) and my fiance (who accompanied me on days 8 -10) is 5'4" and 120lbs. While we could have paddled farther during days 6-10 (we actually finished most days pretty early, with plenty of extra time), it was nice to go at a relaxed pace and have extra time to explore, fish, journal, etc.

Day 1 (June 12): Colebrook, NH (Mile 363) to Brunswick, VT (Mile 343). 20 miles.
We started out from Colebrook, just south of the bridge, around 11:30 am and paddled until about 7:30pm, having to make camp on the VT bank somewhere near Brunswick, VT, at the edge of a farmer's field because we couldn't find the Railroad Trestle campground listed in the "Connecticut River Boating Guide," Third Edition (hereafter referred to only as "the guide"). In all we paddled about 20 miles (363 - 343). Highlights from Day 1 included inadvertently running into the concrete of the breached Lyman Falls Dam (when the guide says stay on the NH bank of the river for the approach, it really means the bank, not just the NH side of the river). Luckily running into the concrete didn't damage the boat and the water was low enough that we were able to get out, stand up, and walk the boat over the dam remains. South of Lyman Falls is really shallow and there were a few spots where we had to get out and carry the canoe again. This stretch of the river had great fishing (caught a yellow perch and a trout) and birding (saw eagles, hawks, and an osprey). Also passed one of the most beautiful, idyllic dairy farms (on the VT side) I've ever seen.

Day 2 (June 13): Brunswick, VT (Mile 343) to Lancaster, NH (Mile 315.5). 27.5 miles.
Set off around 9:30am. Saw at least ten families of Canada Geese, nearly all with little grey goslings trailing. Note: south of the Maidstone bridge we noticed a marked campsite on the VT side that wasn't listed in the guide. It's around mile 339 - right near where you can see a "125" marker on the railroad track. The Wyoming Dam portage was pretty obvious and straightforward. It was definitely worth it to take a little extra time and walk around the town green in Guildhall, VT, a beautiful spot (and what a public library building!). At around mile 321.5 there's a nice rope swing on the NH side and then about a half mile farther, on the VT side, there's a marked campsite that's not listed in the guide either (look for the stairs leading up from the bank). It started raining in the early evening so we stopped in Lancaster at the US 2/ VT 102 bridge at around 6pm. The guide says there is no camping here, but oh how thankfully wrong it is! One of the highlights of the trip was the incredible generosity and hospitality of Marilyn, the owner of Beaver Trails campground right behind the convenience store next to the bridge on the NH side. Because it was raining she let us pitch our tent and keep our supplies under their pavilion. It's a great campground right next to the river with amazing people and Josh and I would highly recommend staying there (see www.beavertrailsnh.com or call 603 788 3815). The hot shower at the campground, the clothes dryer, and the Chinese food restaurant next door all really hit the spot on a rainy night!

Day 3 (June 14): Lancaster, NH (Mile 315.5) to Mile 288 in NH. 27.5 miles.
Got on the river by 8:30am. The Mount Orne covered bridge is beautiful and was a nice spot to stop for lunch (too bad it's fenced off on both sides). The portage for the Gilman Dam is not as long a distance as the guide-reported half-mile. It passes through a nice wildflower field (daisy, red clover, Indian paintbrush, buttercups, etc.). The challenge of the day was the Moore Reservoir. It has a lot of open water and with the wind acting up and tossing up some whitecaps, it was a bit rocky in our canoe for awhile. We found that the best way to do it was to paddle on the NH side of the reservoir until the North Littleton Boat Launch (we stopped there for lunch). Just south of here is where the reservoir is at it's narrowest and where we crossed over to the VT side (you want to be on the VT side for the portage). The Moore Dam portage felt longer than the Gilman Dam portage and Josh and I think the distance is longer than the guide has it listed. Luckily, there's a nice downhill grassy stretch where you can drag your canoe down without having to carry it. We stayed the night at the "Moore Primitive campsite," on the NH side, about a half mile south of the Dam and operated by the hydro company. Again, this campsite is not listed in the guide but it's just north of the Waterford bridge boat launch (i.e. if you get to the bridge after portaging Moore Dam, you've gone too far and passed the campsite). It's really nice, you can see the bridge from the site and it has tent platforms, picnic tables, and fire rings, all in a little pine tree grid. A bald eagle was nesting on the VT side. Supposedly good fishing south of the Moore Dam but all I caught was a pickerel.

Day 4 (June 15): Mile 288 in NH to East Ryegate, VT (Mile 272). 16 miles.
On the river by 9am, spent most of the morning paddling the Comerford Reservoir which is a lot smaller than the Moore Dam (width-wise anyway) but feels just as long - if not longer - to paddle. Long portage walk around the Comerford Dam, as long as the Moore Dam portage. The guide said Class III rapids were possible after the Comerford Dam but it must have been low water because it was just a quick current that was easily navigable. The stretch from the Comerford Dam to McIndoe Falls was really enjoyable - a nice mix of fast water and serene stretches. Again, it was rumored to be good fishing but I didn't catch anything the entire stretch, trolling my line the whole way. Also saw a loon during this stretch. The McIndoe Falls portage is pretty straightforward and easy. After the portage, we paddled past Barnet, VT, which is beautiful from the river. The Fiddlehead Island campsite (Mile 273) boasts the nicest rope swing I saw the entire trip. By the time we stopped swinging into the river, it was 5:30pm. With a few hours of daylight left, we paddled on to Dodge Falls. We got there quickly and were planning to keep going after portaging but storm clouds were rolling in so we decided to pitch our tent in the covered shelter set up on the upriver end of the portage trail. This is a decent campsite (lots of pine needles to start a fire with, that's for sure) but be careful looking for firewood as there is poison ivy ALL over the place. As Josh told me, the best way to recognize it is not "a plant with 3 leaves" (almost all ground plants have three leaves!), nor by looking for shiny or reddish color to the leaves (that depends on the time of year) but by looking for the 3 leafed plant that has two side leaves shaped like mittens (held palms up).

Day 5: East Ryegate, VT (Mile 272) to Newbury, VT (Mile 257.5). 14.5 miles
On the river by 9:45am. Started by shortening the length of our portage which was unnecessarily long (the boom line with the orange buoys is placed farther upriver than it needs to be). We paddled the canoe over the buoy line, hugged the NH bank and then got back out between two birch trees, right before where the trees end on the NH bank. You can scout this out from the portage trail so that you are comfortable with it. In about 4 miles we were coming up on "The Narrows." The guide says the current is tricky on the NH side where the Ammonoosuc enters, so we stayed to the VT side on the approach. Problem was, that's where the strongest current is and the river soon turns SHARPLY right. In order to make the turn, we had to paddle hard on our left. Combined with the hard current pushing on the right (starboard) side of our canoe, this threw both Josh and I into the water. Luckily, our gear stayed in, but the boat was nearly full of water. Since it's foamed on both ends, it thankfully stayed afloat. Caught in between two counter currents, it was very difficult for us to swim to shore. Eventually, by getting far ahead of the canoe and pulling it with the rope that was attached to the bow, we were able to free it from the current and get to shore. In hindsight, the better way to have paddled this stretch would have been to approach on the NH side (i.e. get over to the NH side when you see this - http://www.facebook.com/indoorvoice#!/photo.php?fbid=562118592821&set=a.... ) of the river and then paddle gradually across (or simply to have not tried to make the turn as sharply as we did). Past Wells River, the river slows and the 10 miles to Newbury are pretty leisurely. The most idyllic view of the whole trip was probably north of Newbury, where there's a stunning farm with a red barn on the VT side of the river that you see when you are headed downriver. We arrived at the Newbury bridge by 3pm. Note: we didn't see the Harkdale Farm campsite listed in the guide but we did pass the "River Meadow Campground," a private operation, on the NH side, just north of the Newbury-Haverhill bridge.

Day 6: Newbury, VT (Mile 257.5) to Bradford, VT (Mile 248). 9.5 miles.
Got on the river at 10:30am. The river was calm, wide and quiet past the Bedell Bridge ruins. Saw our first kayakers of the whole trip here (the five days prior I had not seen a single other paddler, canoeing or kayaking). My Dad caught a nice smallmouth bass at the confluence with the Waits River. We paddled up the Waits (comes in from the VT side - look for an old railroad bridge up the Waits) to Bugbee Landing in Bradford. Arrived by 2:30pm. Note: I called ahead to reserve the campsite, as the guide suggests. Bradford is a fun town to walk around. There's a bookstore and the Colatina Exit is a nice restaurant. It started raining in the evening so we moved our tent away from the river and under the roof of a long shed off of the golf course. I don't know if this was technically allowed but no one said anything to us and it kept us from being miserably wet (thanks Bradford Country Club!). Bugbee Landing is right near Bradford's little league fields so you might luck out (like we did) and catch a game if you stay here.

Day 7: Bradford, VT (Mile 248) to Ely, VT (Mile 234). 14 Miles.
On the river by 7:30am. Got to the Orford Boat Landing by noon. This was a nice stretch with lots of wildlife (saw a red fox, deer, wood duck with a dozen ducklings, a bald eagle, and a few otters). Sawyer's ledge and the Palisades are incredibly beautiful, some of the visual highlights of the trip for sure. Orford and Fairlee are really fun towns to walk around - both have nice antique shops, Fairlee has a flea market most days outside the railroad depot building (which now sells fresh vegetables) and the Fairlee town green and Morey bridge are stunningly gorgeous. From 4:30 to 7 we paddled from Orford south to the Roaring Brook campsite, a wonderful spot. Along the way it's worth taking time to enjoy the river near the Edgell Covered bridge (there's an epic camp on the NH bank here... we were hoping we'd get invited up for dinner by the owners but unfortunately no one was around).

Day 8: Ely, VT (Mile 234) to Hanover, NH (Mile 223.5). 10.5 Miles.
On the river by 10am. Had lunch at the Ompompanoosuc Boat Launch (when you see the old railroad bridge, paddle up the Ompompanoosuc on the VT side). Arrived at Wilson's Landing in Hanover by 2:30.

Day 9: Hanover, NH (Mile 223.5) to Lebanon, NH (Mile 209). 14.5 Miles.
On the river by 10am. Not far to Ledyard Bridge, passing four folks rowing skulls, probably out of the Ledyard Canoe Club. Got to the Wilder Dam by 12:40 and had lunch at the Boston Lot picnic area on the NH side, just across the road from the portage trail. The river quickens quite a bit past the Wilder Dam, and it was a nice change of pace from the flatwater upriver of it. We camped at Burnap's Island, just north of the Ottauquechee confluence, on the NH side. A nice spot to camp - arrived by 3:30pm. Was hoping for good fishing but didn't catch anything.

Day 10: Lebanon, NH (Mile 209) to Cornish, NH (Mile 199). 10 Miles.
On the river by 9am. Portaged Sumner Falls and on the other side of the trail looking back we were very glad we did. No clean way through there without a big drop. It's not a safe spot to try to paddle a canoe through, as evidenced by the gravestone along the portage trail of a young man who died there in 2001. Paddled on until reaching the "Path of Life," an interesting sculpture garden on the VT side (note: this isn't listed in the guide - look for a sign spray-painted orange that's just downriver of Hart Island). It was definitely worth a walk around and was a nice spot for lunch. Got to the Cornish Boat Landing by 2:30pm. What a trip!

Summary: This was an amazing trip, one I would especially recommend to anyone from VT or NH, generally, or the Upper Valley in particular. It's a totally different perspective on where you are from and how and why the region developed. Having been born in Colebrook, NH and then growing up in Fairlee, VT and Lebanon, NH, this trip was especially meaningful to me because I was following my own personal journey of growing up as I paddled south. Having lived on both sides of the river in many places in the Upper Valley, I have always considered both states home. So it was really nice to experience the river that connects the two states in this way, a river I have crossed countless times by bridge but had never spent any real length of time on in a canoe.

And then there are the benefits of canoeing that I had just never thought of. Before I did this trip, I was debating whether or not to do this or to hike the VT section of the Appalachian Trail. While I may still do the hiking trip at some point, I am glad I chose to canoe this stretch of the Connecticut. For one, the views are always gorgeous in a canoe - the river creates open sight lines that you just don't get consistently while hiking in summer, at least until you reach peaks. From the simple, tranquil beauty of sunligh reflecting on water and willow and silver maple trees on the river banks, to the pastoral beauty of dairy farms, to the majestic beauty of the Fairlee Palisades, the river is consistently visually stunning and in many different ways. Also, bugs were never a problem while paddling (something that is definitely not the case while hiking). I don't know if it's the speed of the canoe or the wind blowing upriver or what, but mosquitoes and flies never bothered us while we were in the canoe (on the banks and at campsites was another story altogether). Plus, if you ever get too hot, there's always a river right there you can swim in and cool off! I also really liked the pace and rhythm of paddling and that we were "out there" but never too far from a town, or a road, or (usually) cell service if needed. It's also nice to be able to stop paddling at points and just let the river take you along, knowing that you are moving on thanks to no effort of your own. I found the simultaneously constant and yet ever-changing nature of the river both reassuring and renewing.

Lastly, I should note that while I reference a few problems with the guide and suggest ways it could be improved in the narrative above, overall I found it to be an incredibly useful, invaluable resource. Deep thanks to its authors, who performed an amazing service in researching and writing it! And special thanks also to the folks who put together this website together and to the folks at the Upper Valley Land Trust - the campsites they've set up (hat tip here to Bill Bridges, who gave me great advice prior to the trip) are wonderful.

Starting Location: 
Colebrook, NH
Days On The River: 
10
Hazards: 
NULL