October 29, 2018
Discovering the Niantic River Kayak Trail
The protected Niantic River, which flows between East Lyme and Waterford, Connecticut, is a well-protected paddling venue—and there’s plenty to see along the way!
Here are some historic and natural points of interest worth checking out, courtesy of Three Belles Marina, which rents and sells Hobie kayaks and SUPs on the river out of Smith Cove.
- Three Belles Marina: Site of the Smith Family homesite dating back to 1762, when the Smith family owned nearly the entire village of Niantic. Simon Smith, following the Great September Gale of 1815, replaced the badly damaged wooden house with the Stone House, which can be seen on the marina’s northern boundary.
- Smith Cove. A natural hurricane hole, Smith Cove was a summering place for the Nehantic Indians. Many Nehantic artifacts have been found on the cove.
- Pine Grove: Developed by European settlers as a religious tent colony in the 1880s, Pine Grove was also inhabited by the Nehantics.
- Saunders Point: One of the earliest points of European settlement in East Lyme (1650).
- Quarry Dock Site: As early as 1819, barges would tie up at this site on the river’s west bank to receive loads of granite mined from the nearby hills. Granite blocks from the Oswegatchie Hills quarry were used to construct New York City buildings.
- Oswegatchie Hills: Proposed as a nature preserve, this privately owned stretch of the river represents what may be the last undeveloped mile of waterfront in southern Connecticut.
- Beckwith Shipyard (Strait’s Bridge site): Former site of the second Beckwith Shipyard, an offshoot of the original shipyard that existed in Keeney Cove from the late 1700s to mid-1800s.
- Golden Spur Amusement Park Site: The popular Golden Spur Park operated from 1905 to 1924, and featured diving horses among its attractions.
- Boston Post Road Bridge: Trollies crossed this bridge as they shuttled passengers between New London and the Golden Spur Amusement Park from 1905 to 1924.
- Sandy Point: Public beach and sandbar; popular swimming and shellfishing area.
- Beckwith Shipyard (Keeney Cove site): This shipyard operated on Keeney Cove from just before the Revolutionary War until the Civil War, when it moved to New London. The yard turned out hundreds of fishing boats, from sailing smacks to schooners.
- Wigwam Woods: Tradition holds that the Nehantics wintered in this area. Skeletal remains have been unearthed along the banks following major hurricanes.
- Mago Point Launch: Public 3-lane boat launch, providing quick access to the river and Long Island Sound.
- Railbridge: The first railbridge was built over the mouth of the Niantic River in 1852. Prior to that a rope ferry operated between Niantic and Waterford. The current Amtrak liftbridge was opened in 2013, replacing the former bridge, known as “Old Nan”. Use caution when paddling this area, as boat traffic is heavy and the current can be strong.
- McCooks Point Park & Beach: Purchased by the Town of East Lyme in 1953, McCooks Point features a long, sandy beach, a playground, cookout facilities and open fields with amazing views of the Sound.
- Hole in the Wall Beach: Sandy Beach notable for its tunnel access below the railroad bed.
- White Storrs House: Site of the 1781 skirmish between the militia and local residents trading with Long Island.
The kayak and boat launch at Three Belles Marina, on Smith Cove. Photo Tom Richardson
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