Favorite Parks to Go Paddling

This summer, I spent quite a bit of time out on the water, kayaking around different lakes and ponds in NH State Parks. Of course, no two boat launches lead to the same experience, but I wanted to share my favorite kayak stops in case you’re looking for somewhere new to explore. Most of these parks have kayaks, canoes, or paddle boats available to rent, but here is a more comprehensive list with pricing and specifics so you can plan ahead.

Echo Lake at Franconia Notch State Park

Not to be confused with Echo Lake State Park in North Conway, Echo Lake in Franconia Notch has some of the best views in the state. It is tucked into a green valley, and the rugged mountains that climb upward are usually covered in some sort of misty, ethereal cloud formation.

This is another excellent place to kayak if you’re not comfortable on a lot of open water. There is enough to explore without being overwhelmed on a day trip. You can rent kayaks and paddleboats here, but due to the windy nature of the White Mountains, plan ahead to make sure they are open when you plan to go. 

Butterfield, May, and Mill Ponds at Pillsbury State Park

Pillsbury State Park is a special place for many outdoor activities, but kayaking through Butterfield and May ponds is an exceptionally unique experience. Both of these ponds are connected, and you can explore one after another without leaving the comfort of your own boat. Open water isn’t an issue here either; you are never too far from an island or an inlet. 

I have said this before, but this park feels like a little slice of the wild that someone picked up and plopped in the town of Washington. The glassy water reflects the whole forest beneath you, completely immersing you (and your paddles) into the blurry hues of green. Granite slabs might be a common sight in this particular state, but here they demand your attention—honestly, most of this park will. The nooks and crannies are just waiting to be explored. I saw dogs learning how to paddleboard and couples fishing for their dinner. No matter how comfortable you are in a kayak, these ponds have a lot to offer, especially if your goal is simply to get lost in the magic. 

If you are in the mood for a more rugged twist, you can even book a remote kayak-in campsite!

Kezar Lake at Wadleigh State Park

Sutton’s Kezar Lake is not small, but it is very manageable if you have an hour or two you want to spend on the water. The main draw is Loon Island in the center, which you can kayak out to and explore. There are swallows, blueberries, and trails on the tiny strip of land, plus a loon sanctuary along the eastern shore. 

Boat rentals aren’t available Wadleigh State Park, but it’s worth hauling your own, especially during blueberry season.

Umbagog Lake at Umbagog Lake State Park

I would only recommend Umbagog Lake for more experienced paddlers. The park is in Errol, so it might be a hike if you’re in southern New Hampshire. But, if you can make the trek, you will be well rewarded. Stretching into Maine, Umbagog is a vast body of water, and kayaking here is quite the adventure. 

During my visit, I hopped onto a transport boat that carted me and my kayak off towards Big Island. My boat ride probably took twenty minutes, but some sites are up to twelve miles away, hidden in inlets that I didn’t even get to explore. I wish I could have spent days on Umbagog, tinkering around on my island and in the surrounding peninsulas and coves. The lake backs into the Androscoggin River, and with over 30 islands, five coves, and acres upon acres of open water, it is the best place to kayak if you are looking for a grand adventure.


Sophia Hartley

I am a senior at the University of Chicago, and I am thrilled to be interning with the State Parks this summer. As I explore New Hampshire’s parks, I will be sharing my experiences through the blog! My goal is to get off the beaten path and encourage others to explore parks they might not have realized hold their next adventure.

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