Paddle Sports: Find Your Pioneer Valley Adventure
Sure, a canoe or kayak may feel a little tippy at first, but once you get the hang of piloting one, it’s a fine way to see a river. And the river that makes the Pioneer Valley a valley is exceptionally scenic, winding its way through forested hills down through Franklin and Hampshire counties. Of course, many bodies of water are kayak-able, so your local choices can easily include lakes, not to mention the Valley’s other rivers.
Among those other rivers, you’ll find the Deerfield, winding its way down from the Berkshires. Zoar Outdoor in Charlemont offers instruction and kayak, canoe, and raft voyages. Unlike most bodies of water in Western Mass, the Deerfield includes some stretches of whitewater, so Zoar can help you learn to navigate more-challenging conditions.
"Quintessentially New England"
Tucked away, just off Route 47 north of Hadley, you’ll find Lake Warner. Not only is it a pleasant place to paddle away, it’s got a quintessentially New England stop practically next door, at Carr’s Ciderhouse and Preservation Orchard, home to artisanal ciders made with all sorts of apples, including wild varieties not found at most orchards. The North Hadley Sugar Shack is also close by, and has a great farm market year-round. In the early spring, you can also watch maple syrup-making.
Lake Wyola in Shutesbury is a pleasant spot for swimming or paddling, thanks to its state-run beach.Since it’s far from any of the Valley’s more densely populated towns, the lake and its natural wonders are the main attraction. That said, if you’re lucky in your timing, local bands sometimes play at the Shutesbury Athletic Club.
The most ubiquitous choice for a good paddle outing, of course, is the Connecticut River itself. On the one hand, it’s where you’ll find the most motorized-boat traffic. On the other, its sheer size means it has plenty of pleasant spots, from islands to shaded inlets, where a canoe or kayak can easily maneuver in shallower water that’s less likely to see motorized boats. Boat ramps and smaller spots to splash in with your canoe or kayak abound all over Franklin and Hampshire. You’ll find a handy guide here.
In our stretch of the river, though, perhaps the most often-mentioned attraction for paddlers is Barton Cove, near Turners Falls in Gill. In terms of natural wonders, it’s got plenty. The river widens dramatically here (it’s just north of the Turners dam), and there’s lots to explore. There are also many waterfowl in residence, and on Barton Island, bald eagles have taken up residence, a certain treat for the, well, eagle-eyed paddler.
On shore, there’s a lot to do, too, in Turners itself. The Canalside Rail Trail offers a great option for walking or biking, and downtown Turners features the likes of The Rendezvous, a music venue, bar, and restaurant with eclectic and tasty offerings in all three departments. Fans of craft beer can stop by Brick and Feather for a four-pack, while coffee lovers can find their fix at “bruncheonette” The Upper Bend. Looking to bring home a memento from your excursion? Browse at Loot for handmade art and ephemera, along with industrial artifacts sourced from the area’s rich mill-town history. The Great Falls Discovery Center is a free museum and a perfect place to end a visit to our storied river -- you can discover much about the history of the entire Connecticut River watershed, from its origins near Canada to where it hits Long Island Sound.