While stand-up paddling on a small pond near Stowe two summers ago, our then sixyear-old daughter Maiana was approached by a mother loon and her two baby chicks. The chicks held onto their mom by their beaks while riding upon her tail feathers. Nearby, we discovered a male loon (probably the father), defending his family from an aggressive adult loon nearby.
As the mother and her babies sought shelter around our floating craft, Maiana knelt to carefully observe the beautiful birds. She had been around loons before, but had never viewed them at such an incredibly close range. The encounter was a rare and magical moment that she will always remember.
After the loons safely moved along, we paddled the lush, forested shoreline under the warm afternoon sun, the distant mountain shifting as we drifted by. Before long, we jumped into the water for a lazy afternoon swim. Our two girls have been swimming with us since they were born, and paddling is often as much about swimming in new places together as a family it is about going somewhere.
Whether you hop in a canoe or kayak, or balance atop a paddleboard, navigating the waters of Vermont is not only fun in and of itself, but it is also grants you access to just about any kind of adventure—be a picnic on a sunny rock outcropping, or a hike to a pretty view and stash of wild blueberries.
Nearby, the Lamoille River just north of Stowe and the Mad River to the south are lined with physical evidence of our region’s natural and cultural history, from working farms to floodplain forests. Where they flow swiftly enough to kick up some playful whitewater, they can also be a great thrill (just make sure that you are either with a guide or have the experience to enjoy them safely).
Two larger bodies of water offer magnificent openwater or shoreline paddling, great swimming and tremendous views—whether you’re enjoying them for just a few short hours, or spending the whole day there.
Waterbury Reservoir, located about 15 minutes south of Stowe, features a grassy beach and picnic area, hiking (check out the Little River Historic Hike, which winds through the remnants of a nineteenth-century ghost town), and Elephant’s Rock, a large outcropping accessible by boat where you can warm up in the sun.
If you’re seeking solitude, travel 30 minutes north to the achingly beautiful Green River Reservoir. With 653 acres of pristine water and 19 miles of shoreline, it’s a designated “quiet” lake, accessible only by humanpowered watercraft and small electric motors. The land has been left almost entirely wild and undeveloped, leaving you with a feeling of remoteness that verges on primitive. Look out for pairs of Common Loons, several of which nest here.
How to Choose a Boat
More than anything, you want to feel comfortable and well-balanced while paddling. We often have our young family of four in a 16- to 17-foot canoe, but will occasionally tow or bring a paddleboard along too, to give us some options.
Canoe: This is a great option for families since you’ll typically have plenty of room for the whole crew, plus cargo and a cooler. Canoes are also flexible, allowing you to paddle while seated, kneeling, or standing. Plus, they keep you relatively dry. The wider the boat, the more stable it will be; while narrow canoes are easier to paddle and steer.
SUP: If you like to travel light and don’t mind getting wet, stand-up paddling might be the ticket. The key is making sure your board is the proper size for you. Getting one that’s the correct volume, weight capacity, length, and width makes all the difference in terms of stability and maneuverability.
Also, consider the shape of the board. Those with a planing hull that’s wide and flat in the front give you greater stability and surface area; while those with a displacement (or pointed) hull are designed for speed and efficiency. Secure a dry bag to the board, and off you go.
Kayak: Whether open-decked or with a closed cockpit, kayaks are easy to maneuver and move swiftly across the water. Recreational kayaks are best for flat water, while day touring kayaks give you control if you’re cruising through rapids. Paddling with your partner or kids? You may want a tandem kayak with two seats.
Pack Your Bag!
Be sure to stash this essential gear on board.
- Drinking water and snacks
- First aid kit
- Personal flotation device for each person
- Sun protection (hat, sunglasses, long sleeves, sunscreen)
- Towel if you’re planning to swim
- Old sneakers or closed-toe sandals in case you have to walk in the water
- Map and compass
- Safety whistle
- Rope throw bag (to toss to a swimmer needing rescue, tow another boat, etc.)
- Duct tape (for temporarily patching punctures in the hull)
- Dry bag with a warm hat and extra layers in cool temps
- Dry bag with firestarter, folding saw, paper, and kindling (if it’s wet out)—when you’re taking a longer trip on a cold day, you can build a fire in case someone goes swimming and gets the chills