Indian Head River Fish Ladder

415 W Elm St, Pembroke, MA 02359, USA

Owned By: Town of Pembroke, Town of Hanover

It’s hard to miss the fish ladder at Ludden’s Ford Park! The large concrete structure spans the Indian Head River on the Hanover/Pembroke town line. Fish ladders help migratory fish such as herring and shad get past obstacles so they can swim upstream to their spawning grounds each spring.

The pond behind the dam is part of the Indian Head River. It is a popular spot for catch-and-release fishing and non-motorized boating. Due to mercury contamination from 19th and 20th century industries upstream, fish caught here may not be consumed. When boating, be careful to stay away from the dam.

Each town maintains a conservation area on its side of the river. There are 22 acres in Hanover, and 34 acres in Pembroke. They each include a picnic/passive recreation area and access to a network of walking trails. These extend up and down both sides of the river, through the Tucker Preserve and Rocky Run Conservation Area, and along the Indian Head River Trails. There is a canoe/kayak launch on the Hanover side.


Located on the historic Old Bay Path from Plymouth to Boston, Ludden’s Ford (formerly known as Luddam’s Ford) was named for James Ludden, the guide who in 1632 carried Governor John Winthrop of the Massachusetts Bay Colony across the river to visit Governor William Bradford of Plymouth Colony. Ludden was a settler, landowner and planter in the Wessagusset Colony at Weymouth.

In 1704, Thomas Bardin built a dam just above Ludden’s Ford. He also erected an anchor forge, which supplied the shipyards below. Around the same time, a bridge was built there. The Curtis Anchor Forge was located here, on the Hanover side of the river, in the 1700s. Also on this site was the Clapp Rubber Mill (founded in 1873), the largest of its kind in the country. It was so large, it stood on both sides of the river! Look for remains of the factory in the woods on the Pembroke side, just south of the walking trail. The dam on the Indian Head River fueled these industries as well as earlier mills.

Prior to European contact, the Mattakeeset band of the Massachuseuk (or Massachusett) Native American tribe lived for thousands of years in the North River watershed. Their village included most of today’s Pembroke and Hanson. The word “Mattakeeset” means “place of many fish.” To learn more about our local tribes, we encourage you to interact with their members. The Mattakeeset band of the Massachusett and the Massachusett tribe at Ponkapoag share information on their websites. 

Trail Description

From the parking area on the Pembroke side, the main trail leads across a grassy meadow, with excellent views of the fish ladder and the Indian Head River. After entering the forest, the trail continues along the edge of the river until it reaches a small stream. A bridge leads across the stream into the Tucker Preserve. The Tucker Preserve offers several intersecting loop trails, some with gorgeous views of the Indian Head River. Beyond the boundaries of the Tucker Preserve are additional trails through the river valley, both in Pembroke and Hanson.

On the Hanover side, starting at the parking area, there are several access points to trails. One trail leads away from the river, to Water Street. Several other intersecting trails lead through the woods, between the river and the former railroad bed. The railroad bed itself is a trail (the Indian Head River Trails) that extends for two miles, to the Hanson town line, offering a number of pleasant vantage points.

Ambitious hikers could explore more than 4 miles of trail here. Setting off from Ludden’s Ford Park in Pembroke, continue through the Tucker Preserve, and then follow additional trails through the woods and along the river. This will bring you to Rocky Run Conservation Area in Hanson. Cross the Indian Head River via the bridge on Cross/State Street, round the bend turning right toward Water Street, and then pick up the Indian Head River Trails on the Hanover side. Woodland trails and an old railroad bed follow the course of the river all the way to Ludden’s Ford Park in Hanover.

Across the street from the Hanover section of Ludden’s Ford Park, look for the Mattakeeset Trail, which extends for about a quarter mile, parallel to Indian Head Drive, within view of the river, and connects with the Chapman’s Landing and Iron Mine Brook Trails, adjacent to the Hanover Public Launch.

Habitats and Wildlife

The Indian Head River is freshwater and attracts many different species of animals to its banks and surrounding forest. Mass Wildlife stocks the river with brown and Eastern Brook trout. Herring and shad can be seen at the base of the fish ladder in the spring. These fish attract mammals such as raccoons, striped skunks, coyotes, minks, muskrats, osprey, and fox. The meadow is excellent habitat for dragonflies.

The Indian Head River rises from the Drinkwater River and Factory Pond in West Hanover. It forms the boundary between Hanover and Hanson, and merges with Pembroke’s Herring Brook, a short distance downstream of Ludden’s Ford Park, to form the North River at a spot called The Crotch. The North River flows 12 miles through Pembroke, Hanover, Norwell, Marshfield and Scituate, eventually making its way to Massachusetts Bay and the Atlantic Ocean.

FISHING ADVISORY: The Indian Head River (IHR) has long been a popular fishing destination, and for good reason. The calm waters, miles of shoreline, and variety of fish make it an ideal location for the freshwater angler. Historically, this was a prime spot for herring, shad, smelt, bass, white and red perch, pickerel, horn pout, and even salmon. Due to mercury contamination from the National Fireworks site at Factory Pond in Hanover, the Massachusetts Department of Health has issued a health advisory that the general public should not eat any fish caught from Drinkwater River, Indian Head River or North River. While the source of the mercury contamination is located upstream, mercury bioaccumulates through the food chain, resulting in animals with increasingly higher concentrations of mercury in their bodies. Check current regulations prior to fishing in the IHR.

FISH MIGRATION: The fish ladder was constructed here with the intention of assisting migratory fish over the dam. Sadly, it is not very effective. Some fish do manage to get over it, though! In April and May, you can sometimes view herring here as they wait to enter the fish ladder. Look downstream of the dam at the right moment, and you might see thousands of fish. Unfortunately, due to the location of this fish ladder, in the middle of the spillway, we can’t figure a safe way to monitor or maintain the fish as they pass here. Thus we have no idea what their success rate might be, in getting past this dam. There is an additional dam — well, really just the rock remnants of one — just downstream of the State Street and Cross Street bridge in Hanson and Hanover.

We do know that the Indian Head River is a potential jewel in the crown of herring runs with restoration potential. We have been in initial discussions with the towns of Pembroke and Hanover about the feasibility of removing this dam. Stay tuned!

Diadromous fish spend one portion of their lives in saltwater and another portion in freshwater. These fish can be split into two categories: Anadromous and Catadromous. Anadromous fish spend the majority of their life in saltwater and return to freshwater to spawn. Catadromous fish spend the majority of their life in freshwater and return to saltwater to spawn.

Although anadromous and catadromous fish live opposite life cycles, they share the common need of freshwater rivers to survive. Unfortunately, habitat loss caused by dams and other human impacts like overfishing and pollution threaten the survival of these species. The protection of rivers like the Indian Head River is critical in providing safe breeding grounds and ensuring the continuation of the local species that rely on them.

AlewifeAlosa pseudopharengus: Also known as river herring, alewife are anadromous and are considered a keystone species. A variety of other fish, like striped bass, and wildlife prey on alewife to survive. Juvenile alewives consume algae, insect eggs and larvae, making them an important role in freshwater ecosystems. Due to dwindling populations, it is prohibited to harvest alewife both recreationally and commercially in Massachusetts.

American EelAnguilla rostrata: Despite their slender snake-like appearance, American eels are true fish with scales. The American eel is the only catadromous fish in North America and when mature, migrates out to the Sargasso Sea near Bermuda to spawn and then die. Like other fish species that rely on freshwater rivers for survival, the fragmentation of rivers due to dams, overfishing, water withdrawals and pollution continue to threaten eel populations.

Blueback HerringAlosa aestivalis: Blueback herring, named for the visible bluish coloration near its dorsal fin, can be found along the Atlantic coast from Nova Scotia to Florida. Like the alewife, blueback herring are anadromous and both of these river herring are keystone species and are vital to the aquatic ecosystem. Predators such as ospreys, herons, striped bass and seals rely on blueback herring to survive and without this fish, the food chain would be severely disrupted.

American ShadAlosa sapidissima: The American shad is native to the east coast of the United States and Canada and are anadromous. A Federal Trust fish, the American shad is protected under the United States Anadromous Fish Conservation Act. This legislation supports the improvement and revitalization of fish habitat through conservation and research efforts. Known for its edibility, the American shad’s populations, like the river herring, have been negatively affected by dams and other forms of human impact.

  • A photograph of a river and a fish ladder, set within a green park.
  • A photograph of a dam and fish ladder on a river.
  • A photograph of water passing over a dam.
415 W Elm St, Pembroke, MA 02359, USA

Historic Site: Yes

Park: Yes

Beach: No

Boat Launch: Yes

Lifeguards: No

Size: 34 acres

Hours: Dawn to Dusk

Parking: On-site parking. Look for the gravel lot off West Elm Street.

Cost: Free

Trail Difficulty: Easy


Benches, picnic tables, trash receptacles, interpretive signage. Fish ladder.

Dogs: Dogs must remain on leash. Scoop the poop!

Boat Ramp: No

ADA Access: No

Scenic Views: Yes

Waterbody/Watershed: Indian Head River (North River watershed)