My friend Nancy and I took a short paddle on the Exeter River last week. I had read mixed reviews about it on online. One paddler said the river wasn't worth the trip--it was boring and you could hear road noise the whole time. Another couple gave it "two thumbs up." In the end, I went with my trusty source, the AMC Guide to Quiet Water New Hampshire and Vermont and decided to give it a try.
This was a short paddle (a little over one hour) and to be honest, we didn't cover a lot of distance. But I enjoyed the river nonetheless. Exeter River is not like some of the crystal clear ponds we've paddled in more remote locations. But it's a nice little adventure if you take it as it is.
We put in at Gilman Park and followed the advice of some fellow paddlers to head right from the boat launch. The water is murky and there are lots of dead trees on the banks, giving the whole experience a somber note. At the same time, I found it peaceful. This is a narrow windy river that snakes around for about 6 miles. The snaking part is exactly what I liked about it. You never knew what you were going to find around the next bend in the river.
In the short distance we covered, we didn't see many places to go ashore because of the dense shrubbery and trees, but the other couple who paddled for three and a half hours reported that there were several spots to pull over for a picnic lunch. They also saw turtles, ducks, a red-tailed hawk, and a bald eagle. (Read their full report here on paddling.net.) I'd definitely recommend you get out on the river and experience it for yourself. Then come here and let us know what you found.
A safety side note: If you're in New Hampshire, you know what kind of crazy weather we've had this summer-- rain, rain, and then more rain, along with a tornado and flash flooding. Not the best of times for those of us who enjoy paddling. While we were out on the Exeter River, we kept a close eye on a dark ominous cloud and we were never more than a few paddle strokes from shore. Be sure to scope out each situation and use common sense.
Things to Know Before You Go: There's limited parking -- maybe for 4 to 6 vehicles, so try to avoid busy weekends if you can. Nearby downtown Exeter has some great lunch spots. Nancy and I enjoyed delicious salads outdoors at The Green Bean. There's also a place called Loaf and Ladle that's supposed to be good, as well as other options.
Directions: From the junction of Routes 27, 101, and 108 in downtown Exeter, head south on Route 108. Go .7 mile, passing Phillips Exeter Academy and turn left on Bell Avenue just after a bridge. The entrance to Gilman Park is .3 mile down this road.