Canoe Camping on the Connecticut River Last Updated: November 2023
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Looking for a different adventure out on the water? Take your canoe on the Connecticut River and spend the night at a boat access-only campsite. With 68 miles of river running between the Massachusetts border to the Terminus into Long Island Sound, there are plenty of day and overnight paddling trip options.
We chose this adventure as a 17-mile section starting from Middletown moving down to Hadlyme over a 2-day period—spending the night Camping Riverside at Hurd State Park. (make sure to reserve ahead of time)
At the beginning of your adventure on the left-hand side you’ll come across the first noticeable waypoint: an outcropping called Bodkin Rock followed by Paper Rock, which are both natural cape formations. This makes for a good rest area worth exploring.
As you continue paddling towards the right-hand side of the river there are different sandbars you’ll pass—some that are more populated and accessible to boaters and paddlers.
The less accessible shallow water sandbars make for the most unique stops of the trip.
As you approach Hurd State Park, you’ll see an open flat piece of land with a small opening to secure your canoe or kayak. The campsite is right on the water, with an amazing view and plenty of space for you and friends to spread out. You’re also provided a fire pit, grill, table, and restrooms.
Camping riverside after a long day of paddling, with the sun setting and your fire going, canoe and tent all in view; set against the Connecticut River backdrop gives you a faraway destination feels shockingly close to home.
The sun sets directly across the river from the campsite, so make sure to give yourself enough time and have a headlamp handy.
Early to Rise Surprise
The next morning, a 5 a.m. wake-up call seems unnecessary until you can pack up camp and push offshore in time to catch the sunrise out on the river. You'll discover a breathtaking display of colors and light reflecting off the water that was surely the highpoint of the trip.
After enjoying the view, continue passing to the left, where there are large marsh land areas with a wide variety of wildlife and bird species.
And don’t forget the large variety of fish, including all your typical freshwater species to more exotic migratory fish, like the Salmon and Sturgeon. Paired with lots of bait fish activity, it's hard to pass up the opportunity to break out your fishing poles casting lines along the way.
Continuing south, large sand dunes start to come into view as you approach a wooded undeveloped 14-acre island called Haddam Island State Park. You’ll find that it has a sizable beach along the shore with tree swings to lounge on.
Past the islands paddling further you’ll pass by Haddam Meadows State Park on the right and eventually pass by Gelston House restaurant. We highly recommend stopping to get delicious seafood and signature sandwiches or entrees.
You’ll eventually come to the East Haddam Swing Bridge. As you paddle under the bridge, to the left you’ll see the famous Goodspeed Opera House—which is the birthplace of some famous musicals such as Annie.
If you need a rest, just find a clearing on either Rich Island to the left or Lord Island to the right.
As you continue your way through the two islands you are now on the final leg of your journey. We suggest going more towards the left to see the rock formations along the shore.
After the rock formations you’ll see a little path where you can park your canoe and walk up to the iconic Gillette Castle, famous for its architectural design. Once you’re back in the canoe you’ll want to go out more towards the center of the river to grab a different perspective of the castle from the river.
Lastly, you’ll end your journey at the Hadlyme Ferry Boat launch, which transports cars from Hadlyme to Chester and vice versa from April to November.
Something for Everyone
The Connecticut River offers amazing views mixed with our state's natural beauty to historic River Valley scenery, and a wide range of paddling trip options for varying skill levels and varying time constraints.
In the end, we paddled 17 miles down the Connecticut River.
From the variety of landscapes and scenery, experiencing remote riverside camp spots, seeing all the different wildlife, islands, and attractions along the shoreline—if you’re looking for something different to do in Connecticut, we highly recommend this trip.
Ideally you will take 2 cars, parking one at the end (Chester Hadlyme Ferry parking in Hadlyme) and one where we started (Harbor Park in Middletown).