How to Go Kayaking or Canoeing on the Charles River

Charles River in Boston

TripSavvy / Violet Smirnova

Boston may be a city, but there are plenty of fun ways to get outside and enjoy a beautiful day, especially during spring, summer, and fall. When the weather is nice, one of the most popular spots to do that is along the Charles River, which starts in Hopkinton and goes through 23 cities and towns until it ends in Boston.

In the city, you’ll find people running and biking on the trails beside the Charles River and others experiencing the river by boat. For a little more adventure, hop in a kayak or canoe and paddle your way along the Charles River.

Where to Rent Boats

Because the Charles River runs alongside several of Boston’s neighborhoods, you can pick up kayaks or canoes in multiple locations.

The Esplanade, easily accessible via the MBTA Red Line at the Charles/MGH stop, is the large park alongside the river that is also home to the city’s Hatch Shell, where you can catch concerts throughout the summer, along with the city’s big Fourth of July event. It’s also home to Community Boating, where you can rent kayaks and stand up paddleboards for $45 for the day from April to October. During spring and fall, they open for business at 9 a.m. on the weekends and 1 p.m. on weekdays. During the summer the weekday hours start at 3 p.m. instead of 1 p.m. They close 30 minutes before sunset every day. The launch area is easy to find at 21 David G. Mugar Way.

Paddle Boston (previously Charles River Canoe & Kayak) is another option that offers kayaks, canoes, and SUPs in the city in four locations—Boston (Allston/Brighton), Cambridge (Kendall Square), Newton (Nahanton Park and Historic Boathouse), Medford (Condon Shell), Somerville (Blessing of the Bay), and Waltham (Moody Street Dam). The rates vary depending on where you are heading out from, but in 2019 typically started at $10/hour for children and $16/hour for adults on kayaks and $22/hour for a standard canoe that fits 2-3 adults. Head to their website for more specifics on other options available, including rowboats and SUPs and day rates.

Where to Go and What to See

Once you’re in your kayak or canoe, it’s up to you where or how far you want to go!

If you opt for Community Boating along the Esplanade, you’ll be boating between the Mass Ave. bridge and the Longfellow bridge, where you’ll see the Hatch Shell and city sights.

If you prefer a longer experience with Paddle Boston and start in Allston/Brighton, you’ll paddle downstream with no current and see many of the city’s colleges—Harvard, MIT, and Boston University—and take in the skyline and Esplanade. There are several places to stop along the way, including Magazine Beach in Cambridge, just past the B.U. Bridge.

From Kendall Square, you’ll paddle by many popular Boston destinations, such as the Esplanade, Hancock and Prudential Buildings, Museum of Science, and colleges. Just past the Museum of Science, you can take a break at North Point Park where there is a playground for the kids. One caution: the high dock can be challenging for some, so if that’s the case, head to Nashua Street Park instead.

Starting in Newton’s Nahanton Park will give you a different experience on the Charles River with 12 miles of flatwater surrounded by parks. This will take you from Silk Mill Dam at Upper Falls to Dedham Ave in Needham. Along the way, stop at Hemlock Gorge (be sure to avoid Silk Mill Dam) or Cutler Park, where there are hiking trails to explore. And across from that is Millennium Park with other walking paths, fields, and picnic areas.

Waltham’s Moody Street Dam location is a six-mile paddle on wide open water with little current. You can choose to stop at Forest Grove Park, where there is a sand beach and short walking trails, or Newton’s Auburndale Park, which also has a beach, along with a playground, ballfields, and picnic areas.

Safety on the River

It’s important to take a look at the safety regulations for each boat rental company before heading out on the Charles River. Aside from all requiring the use of life jackets, which are provided, each have different requirements when it comes to the minimum age to rent kayaks or canoes.

Community Boating notes that children must be at least 9 years old and 40 inches tall to ride with a parent. Paddle Boston allows children, even infants and dogs, to ride on their boats, and starting at age six they can take their own boats out if permitted by the parents and accompanied out on the water by an adult.