Fall Paddling on the Slocums River, South Dartmouth, MA

The Richardson girls paddle southward along the scenic Slocum
The Richardson girls paddle southward along the scenic Slocums. Photos/New England Boating, Tom Richardson.

Last weekend, my family visited the Slocums River in South Dartmouth, MA. This scenic tidal river is a gem that really shines in the fall, and makes an ideal paddling or rowing trip.

The Slocums flows for some 3 miles from its headwaters at Russells Mills to where it enters Buzzards Bay at Demarest Lloyd Memorial State Park. It’s not a difficult paddle—as long as the headwind isn’t too strong. Along the way, expect to see lots of birds, including great blue heron, egrets, osprey, kingfishers, ducks, swans and more.

The dirt ramp at Russells Mills is suitable for launching kayaks, canoes, PWCs and even small outboard skiffs.
The dirt ramp at Russells Mills is suitable for launching kayaks, canoes, PWCs and even small outboard skiffs.

We made the trip in our 17’ foot canoe and a pair of kayaks for the kids, ages 6, 9 and 10. It took us about an hour-and-a-half to paddle from the launch area to the river mouth, with the children switching between the kayaks and the canoe when they needed a break.

If you choose to start at the headwaters of the Slocums, you’ll find a convenient dirt ramp with lots of free parking at Russells Mills Landing off Horseneck Road. Upstream is a herring run, which explains why the Slocum is loaded with baitfish in the fall.

Fall Paddling on the Slocum River, South Dartmouth, MA
SAT Slocums River

The ideal time to begin a kayak or canoe trip down the Slocums is in the morning on a dropping tide. Follow the ebb tide south, spend the mid-day hours at the beach at Demarest Lloyd State Park then paddle back with the rising tide and (hopefully) a southwest wind at your back. Note that the widest section of the river, at about the halfway point, can be challenging in a stiff westerly or northerly breeze. Monitor the weather and plan accordingly.

Perhaps the best part of paddling the Slocums is that you often have the white-sand beach that borders the river mouth all to yourself, especially on weekdays and after the park closes for the season on Labor Day. This is a fantastic spot for kids, as it features broad, sandy flats covered by warm, knee-deep water—perfect for collecting hermit crabs, periwinkles and the occasional horseshoe crab. In the fall you can sometimes catch stripers and bluefish in the deep channel at the river mouth or just upstream. Blue crabs are abundant in the river, and can be taken with nets or chicken legs. Restrooms, a changing area and an ice cream truck are accessible at Demerest Lloyd Park in summer via a short walk to the parking lot behind the beach.

The Slocum River is bordered by sprawling marsh as it flows towards Buzzards Bay.
The Slocums River is bordered by sprawling marsh as it flows towards Buzzards Bay.
A sandy beach awaits paddlers at the mouth of the Slocum
A sandy beach awaits paddlers at the mouth of the river.

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