Outdoor Adventures: Connecticut Lakes provide plenty of paddling opportunities

  • Kayakers paddle on Second Connecticut Lake in Pittsburg. With 11 miles of shoreline, Second Connecticut Lake is the paddling jewel of the Connecticut quartet. When adventuring in this area, it’s possible to have one foot in Canada and one in the United States. Marty Basch / Courtesy

For the Monitor
Saturday, May 06, 2017

In the waning light of a small tidy cabin a few miles shy of the Canadian border in Pittsburg, my wife Jan had her eureka moment.

She radiantly peered up from the New Hampshire Atlas and Gazetteer to announce, “Four, three, two, one Connecticut Lakes. That’s what we are going to do.”

So for the four-night September trip from the state’s Deer Mountain Campground on Route 3, we visited each of the Connecticut Lakes from its remote headwaters on the Pittsburg/Quebec border to the huge First Connecticut Lake some 20 miles south for a grand hiking and paddling excursion north of the 45th Parallel.

Pittsburg teems with paddling potential. We had already explored in many past visits the popular dirt road ponds seemingly stocked with wildlife like East Inlet and Scott Bog. Frankly, we had even hiked to see the tiny Fourth Connecticut Lake before, a neat trek where you can have one foot in the U.S. and one foot in Canada for more than a few steps. But sometimes exploration yields return.

Though we normally know what we’re doing when we go away for a few days, we figured we would leave this one to happenstance but took our hiking boots and tandem kayak along to perhaps sway fate.

Deer Mountain, the state’s northernmost campground, has been base camp for many a Pittsburg pilgrimage. Sandwiched between Second and Third Connecticut Lakes, we stayed in Cornpopper, a fine cabin with an outhouse, spring access, propane fireplace and views of the Connecticut River – a nice step up from a tent.

With that river as the theme, we sought to see its source as it eventually winds down to the Atlantic Ocean in Long Island Sound about 400 miles away. The 1.7-mile round-trip hike to Fourth Connecticut Lake that begins near the border is on the harder side of easy. No passport, no problem. It’s a walk in the woods to a small pond that affords the opportunity to straddle the river, step in two countries and perhaps meet a Cohos Trail hiker or two, trekking the 160-plus mile route between the border and Crawford Notch.

The river then flows into the northwest shores of Third Connecticut Lake, just about a mile from the Canadian border. There are no homes to see from its shores, but it’s possible to take in the entire 1,300-acre lake from the easy access point off Route 3. Paddle its circumference. A sandy beach on the north shore welcomes rest. Though the road is nearby, there are times silence is found when the wind blows just right.

Second Connecticut Lake is the paddling jewel of the Connecticut quartet. With some 11 miles of shoreline, the lake is nearly 1,300 acres in size and provides a wealth of opportunity for witnessing wildlife.

Access was from the picnic areas near the dam on a dirt road off Route 3. Marshy inlets abound. Rocky islands in its southern end were part of the scenery. Ducks, herons and loons used the water as an airport cutting through the still air. A day could be spent exploring it, and it’s a lake that one could return to many times, perhaps to use a more remote access point on East Inlet Road.

As rain entered the picture, we were thankful we had that cabin. Paddling was shelved for a spell, and instead, cribbage came into play. The fireplace and adult beverages provided warmth. When the rain wasn’t that heavy, porch-sitting with river and Deer Mountain vistas consumed us.

There was some time to spend paddling in First Connecticut Lake, the first of the lakes seen by those traveling north from Pittsburg. The boat launch on Route 3 is convenient and used by both paddlers and boaters. Due to a time crunch, we stuck primarily to an eastern bay of the massive 3,000-acre lake with winds creating whitecaps, making for some rock and roll. Homes dotted the shores, but we knew there were still plentiful wild places and more remote access to the big lake. We knew we would have to return.

As we exited and talked to anglers about the salmon they caught, we had a new appreciation for the mighty river, its lakes and the state’s northern tip.