Among the waterways of the South Shore, the North River is much more well-known than its sister, The South. Visible from major highways like Routes 3 and 3A, the North seems to get all the press, while the more discreet South River is largely ignored. It’s a situation that has both advantages and disadvantages, as being relatively unknown makes the South River a quieter, more private place.

The South River flows for twelve miles from its headwaters near Round Pond in Duxbury. It begins as a small but often swiftly moving stream that passes through woods and predominantly rural areas. The South River briefly shows the public its face at Veterans Memorial Park in Marshfield, then darts behind storefronts and other businesses as it glides through the heart of town. Passing along the back of Rexhame Beach it emerges again in Humarock, where it eventually meets the North River and flows into the sea.

The South River is best viewed by water. You can paddle much of its lower reaches in a canoe or kayak; a good-sized piece of it is navigable by motorboat as well. But it can also be seen on foot. Several public trails offer excellent vantage points. Here is an overview.

The Round Pond Trails, off Mayflower Street in Duxbury – This is where you will find the sprig that is the source of the South River. This wooded area includes a small kettle pond and walking trails. Trail maps are available on site and at the Duxbury Town Hall. There is a small parking area off Mayflower Street.

Pudding Hill Reservation, Pudding Hill Road, off Old Ocean Street in Marshfield – 37.2 acres managed by the Wildlands Trust of Southeastern Massachusetts. This parcel includes a pleasant pondside meadow, a bubbling stream and a pine-covered ridge, linked by a wide path. There are walking trails on two sides of Pudding Hill, and access to Chandler’s Pond for fishing, canoeing and kayaking. Parking is available off-pavement on the right side of, and parallel to, Pudding Hill Lane, opposite the preserve sign.

Veterans Memorial Park and South River Junctions, Route 139 (Plain Street), Marshfield – The park is the site of many milling and manufacturing operations, dating back to 1656. In the spring, you may be able to see herring swimming upstream to spawn. Recent renovations have made the park even more pleasant for passive recreation and nature study – as long as you can tune out the heavy traffic nearby. The Junctions, 2.5 acres adjoining the park, includes a boardwalk, benches and a gazebo overlooking the South River. Look for a gravel parking area off Route 139, between Cross and Old Ocean Streets.

The Keville Footbridge, Route 139 (Ocean Street), Marshfield. Follow the trail along the old railroad bed behind the CVS store at the intersection of Webster and Ocean Streets and you will find this footbridge, a lovely spot to view the middle section of the South River. Watch for signs of life in the water below – you may spot an otter or a beaver! The railroad bed trail extends all the way across town, and is ideal for foot or mountain bike travel. Park at CVS.

Bourne Island Reservation, off Chandler Drive, Marshfield. An island surrounded by 34 acres of salt marsh, managed by the Marshfield Conservation Commission. Volunteers from the town’s Trails and Ways Committee recently improved access to the area, which includes four trails through stands of birch, oak and pine trees, and views of the South River. Watch for blue heron and deer. A lagoon tempts fishermen with abundant stripers.

The Rexhame Dunes, Standish Street, via Winslow Street, Marshfield. Former site of the river mouth, before the 1898 Portland Gale relocated it a few miles north at Fourth Cliff. A fascinating natural vista, which transforms from salt water estuary to upland sand dunes to ocean beach over the course of a few hundred feet. Follow the wide trail through the center of the property or check out some of the narrower footpaths. Also good for swimming, picnicking and fishing. Park in the Town parking area at the end of Winslow Street – a sticker or a fee is required from Memorial Day to Labor Day.

Humarock – The South River runs along the western edge of Humarock, providing spectacular views, especially at sunset. Park in the village center and walk down River Street to the Julian Street Bridge, then continue on to the Rexhame Dunes. Or loop back from Julian Street via Ridge Road to the Sea Street Bridge. Or, from the village center, head north on Central Avenue for a great view of the estuary.

By Kezia Bacon-Bernstein, correspondent
September 2006

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.