Charles River - Paddling

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A scenic urban river that offers many miles of flatwater paddling past colleges, forests, and views of Boston skyscrapers.

Written by

Eric Gilbertson


5.0 miles

A good average trip would be paddling about 5 miles, though you could easily paddle as little as you like, or as much (up to 50+ miles if you start in Hopkinton).

Destination Distance From Downtown

4.1 miles


1 of 5 diamonds

Easy flatwater paddling with no rapids.

Time To Complete

0 days

A half day is a reasonable trip on the Charles, though you could paddle for longer and make a full day excursion.


Spring, Summer, and Fall

The river is generally ice-free from early April to late November.

Dog Friendly


Fees Permits




The Charles River starts near Hopkinton, in Eastern Massachusetts, and flows through Newton, Watertown, Cambridge, and Boston on its way to the Atlantic Ocean. The generally flat, meandering water makes this river an excellent choice for canoeing, kayaking, and stand up paddle boarding, while its location makes it easily accessible to anyone in the Boston area. Wooded parks upstream and scenic urban vistas downstream add to the appeal.

What Makes It Great

The excellent views and proximity to downtown Boston are what bring people to the Charles. It’s easy to drop your boat in for a lunch time or evening paddle after work with the river so close and you’re instantly transported away from the traffic and noise of town to a different world of open water and freedom to roam.

Put in upstream and you get to float or paddle through small forests and parks. Trees line the banks from Watertown to the Beacon Street bridge, with Christian Herter Park marking a transition to more urban surroundings. Farther down you pass by scenic college campuses of Harvard, BU, and MIT. At the eastern end of the river you’re treated to a scenic view of the Boston skyline to the south, with sailboats crisscrossing the river between the BU and Longfellow bridges and runners passing by along the esplanade.

With the flat water it’s easy to make a loop out of a trip. Just keep in mind that it could be windy for paddle-driven boats near the east end of the river. That’s why there are so many sailboats there!

Who is Going to Love It

Anyone interested in flatwater paddling and good urban scenery will love a trip on the Charles. Weekend family daytrips are a great bet, with many parks along the way to stop and picnic. Evening trips after work are a good chance to get in a little upper body workout while watching the sunset over town.

Though the Charles is supposedly clean enough to safely swim in some days, swimmers are generally better off finding a different location, especially after heavy rain events inundate the river with city runoff. The river is generally very safe for boating though. For daily water quality reports along the river posted by the Charles River Watershed Association visit

Directions, Parking, & Regulations

There are many potential put-in locations in and near Boston, and the flat water easily allows round trips. If you have your own boat, some options include Magazine Beach (parking available in lot off Memorial Drive), Christian Herter Park (parking available), or Riverbend Park (parking at Harvard Square parking garage).

Boat rentals are available at Charles River Canoe and Kayak, located on the river’s edge on Broad Canal Street in Cambridge, on Soldier’s Field road near Chritian Herter Park, and at Nahanton Park in Newton.

Watch out for crew teams practicing along the length of the river weekday mornings and evenings, and for college sailing teams practicing weekday afternoons between the BU and Longfellow bridges. Weekends in the summer may also have sailing regattas and crew races.

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Charles River Paddling

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