Sunday, May 20, 2012

Paddling the Wood River

It was time to get the the kayaks out of their winter hibernation, and the beautiful weather last weekend was the perfect little push we needed.  Our usual Rhode Island paddling destinations are the salt ponds and coastal waterways that are all so nice, but for years we've talked about exploring more of the river paddling that is equally great.  We've long talked about doing the Wood River, and when Kim invited us to join their group on Sunday we jumped at the chance.  One of the good things about joining the group was that they already had a car spot planned that we could take advantage of.

The commonly paddled sections of the Wood River go between Rt 165 in Exeter and Rt 3 in Wyoming.  The start is in Arcadia Management Area and has a large parking lot, bathrooms and pavilion with picnic tables.  The last time we'd been there it was just an old Quonset hut, so this is a really nice upgrade.  There is an easy launching area for any hand carried boats.  The route follows the river south and goes through a couple of small ponds along the way and eventually reaches the Barberville dam at the south end of Frying Pan Pond about 4 miles from the start.  This is the site of the Wood-Pawcatuck Watershed Association headquarters and they have a parking lot and concrete ramp.  There is a short portage across the road here around the dam and the route then continues south to the Wyoming Dam Fishing Access area at the south end of Wyoming pond (across the street from the Wood River Inn).  There is more good parking and easy water access here.

Maps of the route are below.  There is also an online interactive version of the map with clickable links on the three water access points that go to their respective pages on the RI Blueways site here:

Complete route

North section from Rt 165 to Barberville Dam

South section from Barberville Dam to Wyoming Dam

We put in around noon and the temperature had climbed to around 80, but it was wonderfully cool on the water.  One of the nicest things about this paddle on a hot day is that it is almost all in the shade with the exception of a few sections across the ponds.

Warning at the start.  What have we gotten ourselves into?!!

Beautiful calm water at the launch site

Rhodora blooming along the river banks

The water levels this weekend were moderate and there was enough flow that you never really had to paddle to keep moving (other than in the ponds).  There were a sections of quicker water along the way, but nothing at all difficult to negotiate.

Nat starting down

A little quicker water to speed up the ride

Navigating some blowdowns

Into the green tunnel

Through another quick section

Lazy floating

The pace was slow and relaxed and we traded positions often so that everyone was able to chat during the day.  This is definitely a good paddle for this kind of group.

Kayak parade

Tight spot here

Gorgeous day to be out here!

There were a number of downed trees across the river (presumably the result of Irene last summer) as seen in some of the pictures above.  They were all pretty easy to navigate as long as you paid attention going in.  There was nowhere that was close to requiring a portage.

We soon entered the beautiful Frying Pan Pond which leads to Barberville Dam.  There were several small side tributaries off of this that I want to explore on a future trip.  The water lilies were all in bud and when they pop in the next few days it's going to be a beautiful sight!

Frying Pan Pond

Water Lily gardens

We took our boats out above the dam and stopped for a leisurely lunch.  There were a bunch of other people putting in to paddle up-river as we got out.  I was happy to be following the current and not the crowd on this day.  The portage across the dam is easy - a short walk across the road - and we put back in for the trip down the second half of the route.  We had gone a little over 4 miles in the first leg and had about 3 to go.

Barberville Dam

Fast water above the put-in

Lined up after the portage

Not that way Nat!

There were a few sections of slightly faster water in this lower section and more downed trees to negotiate, but nothing difficult in either case.  We enjoyed floating beneath the green canopy on a bug-free afternoon - a nice alternative to hiking on a May weekend.

Swamp negotiates the whitewater (OK, not really)

Nice ride

Just floatin'

Don't get stuck Mike!

Through the maze

 Before long we were at Wyoming Pond and the first point in the day where it was actually necessary to paddle to keep moving.  The pond is really choked with some sort of invasive weed and it's going to be interesting to see what this is like later in the season.  If it continues growing at the current rate you may be able to walk across the water.

Wyoming Pond with the dam and take-out in view at the end

The whole trip was a bit over 7 miles and took us 3-1/2 hours with a half hour stop for lunch.  We took our time the whole way as nobody was in any hurry to make this day end.

Kim had brought a cooler of ice cold beer (thanks Kim) and we all enjoyed one at the finish. We jumped in Mike's car that had been spotted at the end (thanks Mike) and headed back to pick up the other vehicles.  It was an interesting route through the back roads (GPS recommended) and in a little over a half hour we were back and packing up the boats.  Half of the group headed for home while Kim, Nat, Mike and I went to Kim's uncle's house on Locustville Pond and took the first swim of the season.  It was a perfect way to wind up a great day.  I'm already looking forward to coming back and doing this paddle again - particularly in the fall when leaves are in full color!

Thanks again Kim for inviting us, and to Mike, JD, Sue and Lou for an awesome day out!


  1. looks like you had a very nice day- some pretty pictures too.

  2. Mark, great trip and weather for paddling! From the pictures, it appears as if you had a little bit of everything in 7 miles that is very similar to what one might experience over the entire length of the Ipswich River north of Boston. Downed logs, ponds along the way, sections of small quick water, etc. my preference for kayaking is rivers over ponds and lakes.

    1. You're right on all accounts Dan. The combo of river and pond paddling is just awesome. The shady river on a hot day is a real bonus. We're going to have to check out the Ipswitch. Thanks for the tip.