The Essex River Basin in Essex, MA is home to the Crane Wildlife Refuge. Encompassing seven islands, the refuge is surrounded by the Essex and Castle Neck Rivers and the Great Marsh. Choate Island, the largest of the islands, is a popular kayaking and day hiking destination boasting extraordinary views from its elevation overlooking the river basin and beyond. For little effort, one can easily hike to the height of the land via mown grass trails courtesy of the MA Trustees of Reservations who manage the island and maintain its three historic buildings. Choate Island was originally the summer home of the native Agawam people and more recently, the set of the 1995 movie The Crucible.
WHY PADDLE HERE? – To explore a tidal river basin, hike Choate Island, relax on a sandbar, for coastal scenic beauty or a combination kayaking-hiking-beach day.
THE PADDLING ROUTE – For this trip we left the planning to others and joined a guided kayak tour to Choate Island arranged by Essex River Basin Adventures (ERBA) of Essex, MA.
Today’s launch site was the public boat launch located at 138 Conomo Point Road in Essex, MA. Once on the water, our ERBA tour group of fourteen paddlers immediately turned left, and paddled behind, and then along the left side of, Corn Island. We then paddled the Choate Island Channel aside the Great East Sand Bar continuing on until reaching the back side of Crane Beach where our group enjoyed some time in the sun and a swim.
After our beach break, we re-launched and paddled over to Choate Island where we landed and hiked on well-worn grass paths to the historic Choate family farm-house still standing since c.1725. We gathered around the back of the original two-story home and enjoyed a picnic lunch in the shade of the old building. But, what’s a hike to a historic location without a little local knowledge? Lucky for us, Tom Barrieau of the MA Trustees of Reservations was paddling with our group today and provided a brief history lesson of the island and its early inhabitants.
After our lesson, we continued hiking toward the top of the island while gazing at the magnificent views of the river basin below. The views along the hike were our reward for the physical effort it took to reach this unique location and we couldn’t help but feel grateful for the opportunity to witness such natural beauty on this warm September afternoon.
Once arriving at the height of the land, we located the final resting place of Cornelius and Mine Crane, the last stop on our journey. We pondered the views from the hilltop before retracing our steps to the water’s edge and then paddled back to Conomo Point Road landing at Clammer’s Beach.
The impressive views of the Essex River Basin from the trails on Choate Island, combined with a history lesson, and some time spent on the beach, made this paddle a local adventure to remember and one that we highly recommend.
CAUTIONS- Tides, shifting sand bars, boat traffic and rapidly changing winds and weather conditions. Attention to the tides is critical as the river basin’s numerous sand bars can leave an unprepared kayaker stranded.
PARKING & LAUNCH – Because the town of Essex, MA has little to no non-resident public parking spaces at each of its three public launch areas, I would recommend skipping the hassle of trying to find parking and enlist the services of a local kayak shop. Essex River Basin Adventures (ERBA) 1 Main St. Essex, MA, is a fully outfitted kayak shop and tour operation offering both kayak rentals and several interesting guided tours.
RESTROOMS – NO. There are no restrooms available at any of the public launch sites in Essex nor anywhere else while kayaking the Essex River basin, so plan accordingly.
WHEN TO VISIT – Plan to visit during the milder days of June, September or October if your primary reason to paddle the basin is to hike Choate Island. Otherwise, paddle here during the summer and spend some time relaxing on a sandbar or the back side of Crane Beach. Avoid the summer weekend crowds if you can.
TIDE CHART – Click Here
US HARBORS LINK – Click Here
ESSEX RIVER BASIN ADVENTURES – 2020 Update- No longer in business.
MA TRUSTEES OF RESERVATIONS – Click Here
MA TRUSTEES OF RESERVATIONS KAYAK TRIPS – Click Here
ESSEX MA HARBOR MASTER – Click Here
138 CONOMO POINT RD. LAUNCH (NORTH END) – Click Here
CONOMO POINT RD. LAUNCH (CLAMMER’S BEACH) – Click Here
MAIN ST. BOAT LAUNCH – Click Here