On Sunday, Doug & I paddled the "Took" with about 38 kayakers from the East Hampstead Kayaking Meet Up Group. Yes -- that's a very large group, but this river can take it. We never really felt crowded, since paddlers quickly fanned out. We did see some motorboats on this gorgeous summer weekend, but most of them quickly slowed their speed when they spotted our flotilla of kayaks.
As we paddled down river on this quiet water section of the Contoocook River, we encountered high tree-lined banks, some downed trees in spots, and "wonderful" smells from area farms. There were some houses along the bank, but they were set up high, of course.
We didn't see much in the way of wildlife except for birds overhead, but part of that may be because we were paddling steadily for a total of about 3.5 hours. We didn't have a chance to sit leisurely by the shore and look for turtles or other critters.
Some highlights of the trip: The group pulled over on an island for lunch, which was a nice break. Later in the paddle -- at about 7 miles, we took another break at Daisy Beach, located in Lehtinen Park in Concord. There's a picnic table, a rope swing, rustic outhouse, and also walking trails through the park. It's a great spot to swim, picnic, or just relax from all that paddling.
Things to Know Before You Go: There are several ways to approach an excursion on the Contoocook. To be honest, the 9-mile paddle was too lengthy for us (It was "Aleve" and ice packs for me afterwards, thanks to my recurring back problems.) It all depends on your fitness level, but I would say if you have any question at all about your stamina, then don't take the shuttle to the launch site in Contoocook Village.
Instead, you can put in at the Contoocook River Canoe Company, paddle upstream as far as you want and then turn around and paddle back -- they charge $3 per person if you bring your own boat; Rentals are also available onsite. It's only 2 miles from their put-in to Daisy Beach, where you can have a picnic and enjoy a swim before paddling back or exploring further. Be sure to check their website for more information and other options.
Safety Notes: The Contoocook is a high volume river, which makes it a powerful river. According to one source, even sections of the Contoocook River that are generally "flat water" can become turbulent when the water level is high (AMC's Discover Southern New Hampshire by Jerry and Marcy Monkman). The authors say, "the best time to run this river is in the fall, when the current is negligible and the trees are ablaze in color." Again, it all depends what you're looking for...but I strongly recommend you do a little homework about water levels and the exact section you plan to paddle before heading out.
Directions to Contoocook River Canoe Company: From I-93 North and South, take Exit 15W. At the second set of lights, take a right hand turn (45-degree turn) onto Rte. 3 North. Continue on this road past the NH State Prison until you come to Bog Road (2.2 miles from the prison). Take a left on Bog Road and follow it to the end, where you'll stay straight over the bridge onto Horse Hill Road. The Canoe Company is the first building on your left.