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A Paddle Along the Mystic

The weather and our schedules finally lined up, so Jess and I were able to take the new kayak out.  We live a stone’s throw from where the Lower Mystic Lake meets the Mystic River in Arlington MA, so it is a quick carry to the shore for a put in (and yep, if you were wondering, this is the Mystic River of Sean Penn/Tim Robbins fame.)

The lake is fairly small and gets some motorized use. Which means on popular weekends a peaceful paddle is not a realistic expectation… but if you don’t mind playing in the wake of boats it can be a lot of fun.  Weekdays are a quieter option, or you can put in on the Upper Mystic Lake which is motorless.

The river runs approximately 6 miles start to finish and winds through several communities before joining the Charles River in the Boston Harbor.  I haven’t explored much of it, but from what I can tell it is calm with mostly local traffic.

Mystic River Traffic

Both the lake and the river are bordered by roads and development – and so you are never far from the sounds of cars or reminders of everyday life.  But you do still get a sense of ‘being out there’.  It is an interesting combination of experiences while paddling in this environment… you can peacefully float up on a turtle sun bathing on a log, yet clearly hear the sounds of a basketball game from a park on the other side of the treeline.

Mystic River Turtle

Even obvious urban infrastructure, like a highly trafficked bridge, can blur into the surroundings giving you a sense that you are on the boundary of nature.

Mystic River Bridge

Unfortunately, the down side of this is that you cannot escape the negative signs of such close proximity to civilization.  It isn’t uncommon to see trash left on the shores (or occasionally floating by you) – and the sewage overflow and street run off drains are easy to spot.  Heavy industrial use along the watershed has also led to water quality problems that continue to be an issue today.  The EPA gave the river a grade of C- with “notable improvements” for the calendar year 2008.  This doesn’t seem to discourage fishers though… especially on weekends when it is common to see people casting a line at each clearing along the river.  I’ve never asked if they actually eat the fish they catch – I assume they throw the glowing ones with 3 eyes back in.

Once we buy my canoe, Jess and I are looking forward to exploring the Mystic River down to the harbor.  The possibilities for adventure are numerous.  A really ambitious trip would be to pack a night’s worth of gear and link a river paddle with a harbor paddle to one of the islands that allow overnight camping.  That would require a level of experience (and equipment) that is beyond us right now… but the idea is exciting.

For more information on exploring the Mystic waterways you should check out the North Shore Paddlers Network, along with general information they host an active and informative message board.

Neck Manitou Sport Mystic River Kayaking Lower Mystic Lake


  1. Shauna Winterol
    Shauna Winterol07-15-2009

    Kayakers and Canoers should not have to “mind playing in the wake of boats” as the Upper Mystic is a no motor lake and Lower Mystic and Mystic River are NO Wake zones. Unfortunately this is poorly marked and not well adhered to. Local kayakers should contact the state reps, senators and MA State Police of the area to encourage better sinage and propoer enforcement.

    MA Env. Enf;

    Inland Enforcement;

    Arlington Senator

    Arlington Reps Rep.SeanGarballey@Hou.State.MA.US


    Medford Senator

    Medford Rep

    Environment, Natural Resources and Agriculture Committee
    vice chair
    vice chair

    • Dave

      Shauna, thanks for the info on this.

      Since we’ve lived here we’ve seen boats and watercraft (sea-doos) racing around the lake – especially on popular weekends. I had heard/read that the Lower Lake was supposed to be ‘no wake’ but assumed this was either no longer the case, or was something that was intentionally ignored by the community.

      I will say that most of the times I have taken the kayak out this summer I have not had wake issues, and when there is motorized activity, the boats have been good about slowing down before getting close to me. But there is no denying that on some days the lake is used for water skiing and sea-doo’ing and the wake is unavoidable in those cases. Especially in the middles of the lake.

  2. Dave

    In the days since my last comment I have unfortunately experienced a few outings on the Mystic where high speed boat traffic and wake were much more of a problem than I had previously witnessed.

    I took Shauna’s advice and contacted my State Representative for more information on the subject. You can read about it here:

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  4. Stu

    I noticed your post about the possibility of paddling from the Mystic lakes out to the harbor islands. Sounds very cool, particularly since you live(d) close by.

    Just keep in mind there is a Locke to navigate and a lots of shipping & rec traffic once you get past that locke into the inner harbor. A paddle not for the squeemish!

    That said it would be an amazing diverse paddle and you’d get quite a unique look at Medford, Everett, Charlestown, and Southie.


    • Dave

      Hi Stu

      Thanks for the comment and the info!

      Unfortunately, we were never able to explore the river the way we wanted to this summer.

      Definitely still on my list of to-do’s though. Will just have to be next summer during a work trip back to Boston. Although a paddle out to the islands is likely still beyond our experience level.

      Would love to see photos and read about anyone who has explored the river more thoroughly.

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