Best Family Friendly Paddles in the Royal River Watershed

These seven easy, flatwater, portage-free, and free public access paddling trips are perfect places to start exploring the Royal River watershed. They are great for families and beginner paddlers and all are round-trip adventures, so you won’t have to arrange a car-drop or shuttle.

Round Trip from Royal River Park – Yarmouth

Royal River, Yarmouth, photo courtesy Kristel Hayes

Overview: With minimal development and meandering oxbows, this day trip provides an escape into the quiet woods of Maine. Due to the dam at East Elm Street, a trip on the Royal River upstream from it is a pleasant, flat paddle with no current.  From the East Elm Street dam upstream for at least six miles the river resembles a narrow pond and can be paddled with equal ease in either direction.

Get There: GPS Address:111 E Elm St, Yarmouth, ME 04096
If you have your own boat you can pull right up to the Royal River boat launch at the Yarmouth History Center on East Elm Street in Yarmouth, offload your canoe or kayak, and then park in the Royal River Park lot across the street on the south side of East Elm Street. Alternatively, you can rent a canoe from Yarmouth Community Services, stored at the launch. Canoe rentals include paddles and PFDs and are available from May 1 through November 1 for $10-$15. Call 207-846-2406 for more information on rentals.

Get Paddling: Launch at Royal River Park above the dam, paddle upstream as far as you choose, and return.  The hand-carry boat launch at Royal River Park is well maintained and bathrooms are nearby. The Yarmouth History Center near the boat launch in Yarmouth has exhibits and displays for young people and adults.

Maps and More Information: Water Trail Segment – Old Town House Park to Royal River Park

Round Trip from Old Town House Park – North Yarmouth

Royal River, North Yarmouth

Overview: With minimal development and meandering oxbows, this day trip provides an escape into the quiet woods of Maine. Due to the dam far downstream at East Elm Street, a trip on the Royal River both upriver and downriver from Old Town House Park is a pleasant, flat paddle with no current.  From Old Town House Park downstream for six miles — and upstream for a mile or so and into the Chandler Brook — the river resembles a narrow pond and can be paddled with equal ease in either direction. There are bathrooms, trails and a well developed boat launch at Old Town House Park.

Get There: GPS Address: 497 Memorial Highway, North Yarmouth, ME 04097
The boat launch and small parking area is located on the river on the edge of  Old Town House Park in North Yarmouth on Route 9 just east of the park’s main entrance and parking.  Baston Park, across the river on Route 9, is not an easy place to launch at most water levels.

Get Paddling: Begin at Old Town House Park and paddle upstream along the Royal River or Chandler Brook for a mile or so or as far as you choose, then turn around and return to where you began. Alternately, paddle downstream six miles to Yarmouth and then return to where you began.

Maps and More Information: Water Trail Segment – Wescustogo Park to Old Town House ParkWater Trail Segment – Old Town House Park to Royal River Park

Round Trip from the Fairgrounds – New Gloucester

Free canoes and kayaks donated by L.L. Bean, New Gloucester Fairgrounds

Overview: This four mile round-trip paddle from the New Gloucester Fairgrounds to the Tobey Road crossing and back is a beginner-friendly tour of the headwaters of the Royal River. Free boat rentals, parking, bathrooms and a developed hand-carry boat launch at the Fairgrounds make this an easy start and end point for a trip.

Get There: GPS Address:  38 Trotters Park, New Gloucester, ME 04260
Canoes and kayaks are available to rent for free at the Fairgrounds. Call the New Gloucester Library at  207-926-4840 for keys and more information.

Get Paddling: Begin at the boat launch at the New Gloucester Fairgrounds and head upstream to the Tobey Road crossing, then return to where you began. This stretch of river is a relatively flat paddle with a minor current.  As you approach Tobey Road the river gets very narrow and full of alders. One larger beaver dam roughly half-way through this segment does require a short portage. The river passes under the Turnpike with clearance. About half of this segment is a pond formed by the dam at Bald Hill Road.  The clear water is stocked with fish, and gravel and pine banks provide good locations for picnics.

Maps and More Information: Water Trail Segment – Sabbathday Lake to New Gloucester Fairgrounds

Round Trip on Chandler Brook – Pownal & Durham

Overview: Chandler Brook is the Middle Branch of the Royal River. This trip begins at the boat launch at 799 Poland Range Road in North Pownal, heads 2.3 miles upstream to the Old Chandler Mill Dam just below Runaround Pond, and returns downstream to Poland Range Road with no need for a car shuttle.  (4.6 miles round trip.)  The trip is surprisingly remote and pristine. While most of Chandler Brook can be paddled only at high water levels (in the spring or after significant rain), this stretch is flat and welcoming even at low water. If portaging upstream past the dam to Runaround Pond, or as a destination prior to returning, visitors will find restrooms, trails, and picnic tables at the Runaround Pond Recreation Area.

Get There: GPS Address: 799 Poland Range Road, Pownal, ME 04069 (where the road crosses the stream). There is parking on the shoulder of Poland Range Road in North Pownal. The Poland Range Road bridge over the Chandler Brook is 1.5 miles west of the intersection with Route 9 and 0.4 miles east of the intersection with Lawrence Road (North Pownal Village Center).

Get Paddling: After launching from Poland Range Road, head upstream 2.3 miles until the Old Chandler Mill Dam (Runaround Pond). This section is easy flatwater. If you’d like to continue upstream of the dam to Runaround Pond, you’ll find the portage on river right along walking trails that will rejoin the pond upstream of the small dam, or portage a bit longer across the road to the boat ramp. Beaver dams and downed trees and ledges can sometimes be a challenge at low water levels just before reaching Runaround Pond. Paddlers can continue on to as much of Runaround Pond as they choose, and then return downstream back to the road crossing at Poland Range Road.

Maps and More Information: Water Trail Segment – Chandler Brook & Runaround Pond

Chandler Mill Pond – New Gloucester

Overview: Chandler Mill Pond in New Gloucester – also known as Lily Pond — is one of the Royal River’s few headwater ponds. There is a hand-carry boat launch off of Snow Hill Road in New Gloucester. This is a great spot for both fishing and paddling!

Chandler Mill Pond, photo courtesy
Vicky Lund Photography

Get There: GPS Address: Shaker Rd, New Gloucester, ME 04260 (43.985141, -70.312571)
From New Gloucester Village head northwest on Intervale Road (Route 231) for 1.9 miles. Intervale Road turns into Bald Hill Road. Continue straight for 0.3 miles. Turn left on Shaker Road/Snow Hill Road for 1 mile. The turn off to Chandler Mill Pond (Lily Pond) will be on your left.

Get Paddling: Launch from the hand-carry site off of Snow Hill Road and explore anywhere you choose on this 47 acre pond. Chandler Mill Pond sits on 117 forested acres of preserved land and has no development along the shoreline or immediate watershed.

Maps and More Information:Chandler Mill Pond

Runaround Pond – Durham

Runaround Pond

Overview: Runaround Pond is always an exceptional paddling experience. Paddlers may begin and end at the Runaround Pond Recreation Area’s hand-carry boat launch. Fish and wildlife at the pond include beavers, otters, eagles, osprey, kingfishers, herons, frogs, turtles, bass and pickerel.

Get There: GPS Address: 200 Runaround Pond Rd, Durham, ME 04222
Take Exit 22 off I-295 in Freeport/Durham. Turn right onto ME-136 North and drive 6.2 miles. Turn left onto Rabbit Road and continue onto Runaround Pond Road for 1.1 miles. Look for the entrance to the Runaround Pond Recreation area parking area, trailhead, and boat launch on the right.

Get Paddling: Launch from and eventually return to the Runaround Pond Recreation area. Soon after leaving the boat launch the winding pond creates a near-wilderness experience with miles of undeveloped forested shoreline, with several branches of the pond to explore. The pond includes several miles of shoreline conserved by the Town of Durham and the Royal River Conservation Trust.

Maps and More Information: Runaround Pond

Sandy Point Beach, Lanes Island, and Littlejohn Island Preserve – Yarmouth

Overview:  This trip is best for sea kayaks, not open canoes, and paddlers should be attentive to ocean safety. Though technically not along the Royal, this intermediate paddle in Casco Bay is just beyond the mouth of the Royal River and can include trips into either the Royal River estuary or the Cousins River estuary. Begin with free parking at Sandy Point Beach on Cousins Island and paddle across the Casco Bay Estuary to Lanes Island. Hop out of the kayak to explore the sand beaches and salt marshes, or the picnic table and camping sites. Paddle back across the estuary to explore the rocky ledges of Littlejohn Island Preserve on the eastern tip of Littlejohn Island (just beyond Cousins). Return to the beach at Sandy Point on Cousins.

Littlejohn Island Preserve

Get There: GPS Address: 1 Cousins Street, Yarmouth, ME 04096
From Route 88 in Yarmouth, follow Gilman Road east and cross the Snodgrass Bridge to Cousins Island. Just past the end of the bridge on the island on the left is the free parking lot for Sandy Point Beach.

Get Paddling: Between Cousins Island, Lanes Island, and Littlejohn Island, there are many destinations to choose from and mix-and-match on this tour. Be aware that low tide exposes sandy  flats at Sandy Point and Lanes Island. This makes for challenging paddling but great beaches! Lanes Island is a 28-acre public preserve owned by Maine Coast Heritage Trust that is most accessible at mid-to-high tide. The two best landing sites here are a small, gravelly beach near the northern end of the southeastern shoreline, and the western sandy beach closest to the mouth of the river. At Littlejohn Island Preserve kayakers will find a mix of natural landing spots and ledges. Paddlers are welcome to come onshore at the preserve for picnicking, exploring the trails, and relaxing on the beach. The Maine Island Trail provides more resources on paddling safety and destinations just beyond the trip options described here.

Maps and More Information: Water Trail Segment – Yarmouth Town Landing to Casco Bay & Littlejohn Island Preserve