The Indian Head River, just upstream of where it flows together with Herring Brook to form  the North River.

Recently I participated in the NSRWA’s Annual River Tour, a pontoon boat cruise on the middle stretch of the North River. As guide, it was my responsibility to answer any questions the guests might have about the river and its environs. What a delightful way to spend a sunny June afternoon — lounging on a boat as it traveled up and downstream through Marshfield, Norwell and Pembroke, chatting about one of my favorite subjects!

The event was designed to introduce people, who otherwise might be disinclined, to the North River. We spent the better part of an hour motoring upstream from Union Street to Route 3 and back again. Moving at a leisurely pace, we could really appreciate the beauty surrounding us: lush green marsh grass flanked with forest, the sometimes clear, sometimes cloudy sky reflected in the incoming tide.

I was reluctant at first to be a guide because even though I know a lot about the North River and the land that borders it, I know very little about the wildlife that makes its home in our watershed. I was afraid someone would ask me a question about birds for example, or fish, or even trees for that matter. While I know a duck from a wren, a pine from an oak, I’d be hard pressed to identify much more than that.

“What kind of fish can be caught in the river,” someone might ask. “Striped bass, . . . “ I’d begin, and then fumble. “Um, herring? . . . Shad?” Luckily, my boat captain had the fish and wildlife categories covered. He pointed out the red tailed hawks and cormorants, while I explained what the river valley looked like a hundred years ago.

Being out on the water reminded me that, even though it’s now been two years since I’ve even gone near my kayak, spending time on the North River is still something I enjoy very much. I’ll be swimming in the river for sure this summer, and if I get my act together, I’ll haul the kayak out of the barn and spend a morning on the water.

You might do the same.

In the summer, I prefer the more remote sections of the river system. The main stream of the North River, from Route 3 down to the Spit and the river mouth, can be quite crowded this time of year, especially with motor boat traffic. But upstream of Route 3, the river is significantly less congested, even on holidays and weekends.

To make the most of your paddling trip, it is important to know where and when to launch your boat. The river is influenced by the ocean’s tides, and boating trips can be challenging if they are not planned well, especially in narrow places such as bridges and railroad abutments.

For canoe and kayak access to the upper reaches of the North River, as well as Herring Brook and a small section of the Indian Head River, try the Hanover Canoe Launch (Riverside Drive, off Elm Street) on the Indian Head River. Paddling downstream, you will pass through a freshwater marsh. You have the option of staying in the marsh and exploring Herring Brook (to the right), which grows quite narrow, or heading down the wider North River (to the left).

If you prefer a quiet trip encountering very few (if any) fellow boaters, try Herring Brook. Birders and nature enthusiasts love this stream for the diverse flora and fauna to be observed there. Plan to be there during high tide, which reaches the upper part of the river 2.5 to 3 hours after the ocean high tide. If you arrive 1-2 hours before high tide reaches the launch site, you will have several hours to explore the area. As the tide goes out, the water level drops, and obstacles such as rocks and fallen trees emerge, so plan accordingly.

Another option is to head down the North River, a wider, more “public” stream. The upper reaches of the North tend to be quiet as well, at least as far downstream as the Washington Street bridge.

For a short trip in the upper reaches of the North River, plan to set out a couple hours before high tide at the launch site (remember that’s 2-3 hours after the ocean high tide). Paddle as far downstream as you like, but remember that you may be paddling against the outgoing tide on the way back. Be particularly careful at the old stone bridge at Washington Street. If the tide is flowing against you as you attempt to pass under it, you will have to work very hard to make your way through.

For a longer trip, it is best to drop off a car at another launch downstream. If you leave the Hanover Canoe Launch in the 1-3 hours before high tide, you may be able to ride the outgoing tide all the way downstream to the Union Street Bridge or even Damon’s Point. For a much shorter one-way trip, you can exit the river in Pembroke (see below). You may wish to explore Third Herring Brook (to your left) along the way.

All of the areas mentioned above are also accessible from the Pembroke Canoe Launch, located on Brick Kiln Lane, off Route 139. Launching from Pembroke 1-2 hours before high tide allows you to explore either upstream or down, and make it back before the tide goes out. (High tide at Pembroke is 2-2.5 hours after the ocean high tide).

Boating Safety:

Make your paddling trip safer and more enjoyable by following a few precautions:

• The Coast Guard requires that personal flotation devices (PFDs) must be worn from October to May, and carried in the boat — one for each person — the rest of the year. Children should wear PFDs at all times.

• Pay attention to wind and tides. Blustery days can make for unpleasant paddling trips, especially when the wind stirs up waves. When the wind is blowing against you, it may not matter that the tide is in your favor.

• Be prepared. A map of the river, an extra paddle, a first aid kit, and rope are all important supplies to bring along, as well as the drinking water, sun protection, and foul weather gear you would carry on any outdoor excursion.

by Kezia Bacon Bernstein, Correspondent
July 2001

Kezia Bacon Bernstein’s articles appear courtesy of the North and South Rivers Watershed Association, a local non-profit organization devoted to the preservation, restoration, maintenance and conservation of the North and South Rivers and their watershed. For membership information and a copy of their latest newsletter, contact NSRWA at (781) 659-8168.