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Schruender Park in Methuen is a great starting point for my kayak trips as it is just a couple blocks from my house . I simply strap my kayak onto my kayak cart and it is a couple minute walk down the street to put in. The park itself isn't currently very well maintained but there is a project in the works to convert it to a "Healing Garden". As it is now there is a section with a large open space and some benches, the rest is wooded with a series of trails. The put in is just off Riverview Boulevard, if you enter the trail at the sign in the pic below it is just a short walk to the river. The trail to the river is a bit steep in one section but shouldn't be a problem if you can handle your kayak. The only parking at the Schruender Park is on street. There are usually a couple cars parked on the weekends, mostly people fishing.
Sign at Trail ro put-in
Trail to the riverI make this trip as a one way, down stream paddle so even though the trip is over 9 miles it only takes about 3 hours to complete. There is also plenty of wildlife in this section of the river, I have seen heron, beaver and other rodents. I have been told that bald eagles can be seen in the area but I haven't seen one yet. The river is fairly wide and deep at the put in and stays that way for a couple miles. The first time I made this trip in June I noticed a section of the river that got really shallow for a couple hundred feet. It was so shallow that I found myself bouncing my paddle off the bottom. I paddled this section again in July when the river was a little lower and I ran aground and had to get out and drag my kayak behind me for a couple hundred yards in ankle deep water. Kind of an odd feeling given that I was in the middle of the Merrimack River. I think this section is just a sand bar and I probably could have paddled around it had I been closer to shore, something to investigate for my next trip I guess.
The river does get much deeper after this short shallow section and after a couple more miles you will come upon the first route 495 overpass. After the overpass there is an island on the right side of the river. I have always stayed left of the island as I think it is a bit shallow in the right side.
After the island the river gets a little more shallow and much more narrow as it curves around in almost a U turn. There are couple sections of quick water with some rocks that will need to be navigated around. This caught me a bit by surprise on my first trip through this section but I have since come to enjoy the adrenaline rush paddling trough this section. My last trip through one of the quick water sections (when the water level was lower) I hit a submerged rock pretty hard. Luckily I was able to bounce off and my kayak and I made it through unscathed. Guess I need to learn to read the river better.
After a couple more sections of quick water you will pass under route 495 again and will need to navigate one more quick water section before the water gets flat. In most of these quick water sections I tend to stay to the right as the rocks are more closely spaced on the left side of the river. After a few more miles of paddling the river gets wider again as you enter downtown Haverhill. Upon entering this section you will pass under a couple bridges one of them being the bridge for the Boston commuter rail. Passing through downtown Haverhill is fairly interesting as this section has a long cement wall along the left bank with some interesting mill buildings to look at in the area.
As you paddle through the downtown area you will pass under the South Main Street bridge which has some interesting little architectural towers on it. The river gets a little wider again in this section and here you may start to see a bit more power boat traffic. I have not seen any power boat traffic prior to this section most likely due to how shallow the river is. Continuing on you will come upon a marina that juts quite a ways into the river. At this point I usually make my way to the left side of the river as there are channel markers for the power boats in the middle of the river. Since the river is so wide in this section there is not much current to push you along as the prior sections so you need to work a little harder here. I have also heard that the river down stream from Haverhill is the start of the tidal influence so I guess that can work with or against you.
Just a couple more miles of paddling and there is an island along the right bank that is about a mile long. I have always wanted to paddle around the island but haven't gotten the chance to yet. Directly across the river from where the island ends is my usual take-out at Haverhill Stadium / Riverside Park. You will need to keep your eyes open though as the stairs to the launch are set back a bit and are easy to miss. The park is usually pretty busy with joggers and dog walkers but there is plenty of parking. Although you will need to climb a flight of stairs with your kayak to getto the parking lot which isn't always easy after a couple hours of paddling. Not helping matters is the erosion under the stairs making the first step up about three feet. There is a railing though so it is not too bad, I have never has a problen climbing up by myself
This is a paddling trip that I really enjoy, there is an abundance of wildlife and a variety of conditions on the water that keep things interesting. Prior to the Haverhill section the left bank in Methuen and right bank in North Andover are really undeveloped so you really feel you are getting away from civilizaton a bit. Hoping to make this trip at least a couple more times this year.