Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Merrimack River Kayak Trip - Lowell to Dracut

View Merrimack River - Lowell - Dracut in a larger map

Last weekend I participated in another of the MRWC kayaking trips.  I penciled this trip into my calendar early this season as it was the only section of the Merrimack River in Massachusetts that I have not paddles.  The trip started at the foot of the Pawtucket Falls in Lowell and we took out at the Dracut / Methuen line.  Our put in for this trip was right behind Lelacheur Park.  The walk down to the water was a bit hairy as it included a walk down a fairly steep embankment covered with gravel as well as traversing a few washed up trees.  One of the kayakers on the trip is an usher at the park so we were able to leave our kayaks under the bleachers while we shuttled the cars to the tale out.
Put in behind Lelacheur Park
Once underway we headed straight across the river to do a little exploring of the mouth of Beaver Brook.  This was as fun little side trip for me as I remember fishing in this brook as a kid.  The brook was fairly shallow so we were only able to paddle 100 or so yards upstream before we had to turn around.  Wildlife was pretty sparse on this trip, along with a few Great Blue Heron and Cormorants we did see the below gaggle of geese who waited patently for us to vacate beaver brook.  Nice to see non-Canadian geese for a change.
Beaver Brook Geese
Upon exiting Beaver Brook we headed downstream passing under the Aiken Street (Ouellette) Bridge.  Once under the bridge we encountered our first set if rapids.  This section of the river is very shallow and rocky so our trip leaders directed us through a chute on the right side of the river.  We all made it through upright although most of is bounced off a couple rocks on our way through this section.  I have crossed over the Aiken Street bridge countless times over the past few years looking forward to kayaking this section of the river so it was great to finally conquer it.
Looking downstream from Aiken Street Bridge

Looking upstream toward rapids and Aiken Street Bridge
The next mile of the is the urban section of  the trip which took us past various old mill buildings.  Some of these mills have been restored and converted to condos others are in a pretty bad state of disrepair.  Passing under these mills are the Lowell canals which at one time provided power for the mill machinery.  We paddled past a couple sections where the canals emptied themselves back into the Merrimack.

Lowell Canal discharge
Our next side trip took us through the mouth of the Concord River.  We paddled as far as we could upstream which was only about 300 or so yards where the river got a bit shallow.  We were just behind Lowell Memorial Auditorium at this point.  There were a couple small waves in this section so a couple of us stopped to play.

Mouth of the Concord River
Continuing on another mile downstream and we passed under Hunts Falls bridge and then encountered Hunts Falls itself.  Our trip leader advised us not to attempt to paddle over the falls as there was not enough water and we would most likely get hung up.  We paddled through this section on the left side of the river through a nice little section of quick water.  We then decided to break for lunch.  After lunch, before we continued downstream the trip leader asked if anyone was interested in playing in the larger waves of the falls.  Even though I don't have a whitewater boat I was feeling brave so I headed across and surfed a bit in the big waves.  Looking it the wave in the picture below I think there was plenty of water to paddle through this section.  Although I am probably better off now that I didn't.

Looking upstream at Hunts Falls

Playing in the big waves at Hunts falls
For the final three or so miles of the trip the river widens up a bit.  Right after Hunts Falls there is a waste water treatment plant that smells pretty ripe on some days.  It wasn't too bad on the day we paddled this section, I didn't even realize we passed it. Right after the falls the river is dotted with a bunch of small rock islands.  The current moves fairly quick so the three miles goes fast.  The river gets a bit wider and deeper as well so the power boat and jet ski traffic increases.  They seemed to be pretty courteous though and gave us a wide berth.  The right side of the river in this section is fairly residential and also tales you by a few golf courses in the Town of Andover.  The left side of the river follows Route 110. through Lowell, Dracut and Methuen.  Out takeout for this trip was the small launch just before the Dracut / Methuen line that I used as a put in for my trip to Lawrence last year.

Total length of this trip was about 6.5 miles and it took us about three hours including a stop for lunch.  Due to the fast current and abundance of rocks this is probably not a section of the Merrimack River that I would paddle alone.  It was a great trip for a group paddle though.  This trip completes my goal of paddling the entire length of the Merrimack through Massachusetts.  Next year I will start tackling the New Hampshire sections.


  1. Enjoyed yout trip report. Congrats on completing the Massachusetts portion. Al

  2. It sounds like this section of the river is Class I with a little Class II in it? I've recently moved to the area and am looking forward to spring adventures.