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Towns in the Charles River Watershed:

  • Hopkinton

  • Milford

  • Bellingham

  • Franklin

  • Medway

  • Millis

  • Medfield

  • Sherborn

  • Needham

Major Tributaries:

Muddy River, Stony Brook, Faneuil Brook, Village Brook, Tannery Brook, Laundry Brook, and many more

Relevant River Information

Environmental Concerns for the Charles


As of 2020, the biggest environmental concerns for the Charles River include reducing stormwater runoff, increasing groundwater recharge, and responding to climate change. To learn more about environmental challenges currently facing the Charles, click here.




Additional Facts


History:

  • In the late 19th and early 20th century, several tributaries of the Charles were culverted, meaning the water was directed into underground pipes and covered over. This is a practice used in many countries, but recently there has been increased effort to deculvert these lost rivers, a process also known as daylighting.
  • In 2000, the Deer Island Sewage Treatment Plant was completed, helping to reduce sewage discharge into the Charles and increase water quality in the Charles and the Boston Harbor
  • The Charles River is closely monitored to meet boating and swimming standards as a part of the Clean Charles River Initiative. Since 1995, The Charles River Watershed Association has sent water quality data to the U.S. EPA, which then issues an annual report card. In 1995, the overall grade for the Charles was a D. In 2018, the overall grade was a B. As of 2020, the highest overall grade that the Charles has been awarded is an A-, in 2013 and in 2017. More info on the annual report card
  • Industrial mills were built on the Charles, thus affecting river flow, sediment buildup, fish migration, and pollution levels.
  • As towns surrounding the Charles industrialized and became more heavily populated, many of the streets and land areas were paved over, creating impermeable surfaces. Impermeable surfaces prevent water from seeping into the ground (ie. aquifer recharge) and instead cause water to run into a nearby body of water, bringing along with it excess nutrients and pollutants. When too many nutrients are added to a waterbody, eutrophication can occur*. The fill-in of the Back Bay increased the amount of sewage that would eventually flow into the Charles.
*nutrients enter water → nutrients act as food for algae → algal bloom → sunlight penetration is limited → plants die → bacteria eats dead plants and algae, consuming lots of oxygen → water becomes hypoxic, or in severe cases, anoxic → all other marine life lack sufficient oxygen and may die Did You Know? The Charles is one of the three major tributaries into the Boston Harbor




Neerby Parks and Green Spaces


  • Boston National Historical Park
  • Langone Park
  • North Point Park
  • Lederman Park
  • Boston Commons
  • Boston Public Gardens
  • Charles River Esplanade
  • Fort Washington Park
  • Magazine Beach
  • Riverbend Park
  • JFK Memorial Park
  • Christian Herter Park
  • Arsenal Community Park and Skate Park
  • Howe Park
  • Forte Park
  • Riverwalk Park
  • Fox Park
  • Auburndale Park
  • Norumbega Park
  • Riverside Park
  • Nahanton park
  • Cutler Park
  • Millenium Park
  • Charles River Park
  • Charles River Conservation Land
  • Charles River Peninsula
  • Scott Conservation Land
  • Peters Reservation
  • Medfield Charles River State Reservation





Organizations that help keep this river clean, healthy and fun to enjoy:

Click an icon below to learn more about Charles River activities
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Swimming
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Hiking, Walk & Run
Paddling
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Boating & Sailing
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Fishing

Charles River Events - 

To learn more about Charles River events, click HERE.

Also of interest: Recreation Sundays on Memorial Drive (closed to traffic between Western Avenue and Mount Auburn Street). This usually occurs from spring to late fall.

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What People Are Saying...

I visited the Charles River Gateway in Medfield, located next to the Medfield State Hospital Campus (established in 1892 and operating through the mid-20th century, it is now on the National Register of Historic Places). The first view of the Charles that I came upon was at The Promontory. As I walked down a narrow dirt path, I could see two kayakers making their way downstream where the canoe drop-off and landing sites are. Following their lead, I headed towards the Charles River Link Trail, a sixteen-mile trail that passes through six towns. The dirt trail is several feet wide with a variety of plants and trees lining both sides (note: poison ivy can be found very close to the trail, so be careful of your footing). As someone who enjoys spending time up in Maine every summer, I was pleasantly surprised by the familiar feeling of walking through sun-splotched trails and passing by friendly faces and smiley dogs. 

-Rachel, Mass Rivers Alliance Intern

On why rivers are important:

I managed one of the water quality units in the EPA and I spent my professional career for over 40 years protecting river flow and river water quality. They’re sort of a lifeblood in the landscape in terms of being corridors for migratory fish, birds, and waterfowl. Growing up in Pittsburgh, I saw how rivers were horribly abused with all the steel mills.

On hopes for the future:

With all that’s going on in the country right now, we are realizing as an environmental organization that we need to do a better job of getting people to the river, using the river, and enjoying the river than we’ve done in the past. I would really like to see our organization make the Charles more accessible to people. I think we have done that in terms of physical boat ramps, but if you can’t get to the boat ramp from where you live, that’s not good. That’s something that’s truly important.

Ralph Abele (Board Member, Charles River Watershed Association)

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Swimming

Where to go Swimming

 

There are no swimming beaches along the river and it is not consistently safe to swim. There are some lakes with beaches in the watershed though, such as Crystal Lake in Newton and Morse's Pond in Wellesley.

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Hiking, Walking, Running

Where to go on a walk, run, or take a hike

 
  • Charles River Link Trail

  • Charles River Bikeway/Paul Dudley White Bike Path

    • Asphalt and concrete paths are often coupled with dirt and grass areas for softer footing

    • Playgrounds, including public exercise equipment

    • There are several overpasses that will help you cross Storrow Drive and onto the Bikeway/Path:

      • There is one located behind Boston University’s Marsh Plaza next to the “BU Beach”. Stairs only.

      • Silber Way Overpass is located at the intersection of Back St. and Silber Way. This one is handicapped accessible and is also bike-friendly.

      • There is a ramp connected to the eastern side of Massachusetts Ave (Harvard Bridge). It is handicapped accessible and bike-friendly.

      • There is an overpass located at the intersection of Back St. and Fairfield St. It is handicapped accessible and bike-friendly.

      • There is an overpass located at the intersection of Back St. and Dartmouth St. It is handicapped accessible and bike-friendly.

      • The Arthur Fiedler Footbridge is located at the intersection of Beacon St. and Arlington St. It is handicapped accessible and bike-friendly.

  • Running map: https://greatruns.com/boston-the-charles-river-paths/ 

  • Landry Park Charles River Reservation, located at Moody St (Carter St.) in Waltham, MA

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Paddling

Where to go paddling (listed in direction of upstream to downstream)

 

Info taken from CRWA’s Charles River Canoe and Kayak Guide. Please consider purchasing the full Guide, which includes detailed maps of the river and is both easily-transportable and waterproof!

  • Bellingham: Maple St. Launch

    • On river left downstream from the Maple St. bridge behind the factory building. Parking in factory lot.

  • Medway: Populatic St./Walker St.

    • Roadside parking on river side of Walker St. near intersection with Populatic St.; carry boat down easy path to river.

  • Norfolk: Populatic Pond Launch

    • Roadside parking and small boat ramp at intersection of Priscilla Ave. and Lakeshore Drive. Can accommodate small trailers.

  • Norfolk: River Rd. Launch

    • Carry boat down steep bank to river. Roadside parking where the Mill River meets the Charles.

  • Norfolk/Millis line: Route 115 Bridge Launch

    • Informal launch site with roadside parking at bridge (minor rapids downstream)

  • Millis: Cedariver Launch

    • Parking lot off Forest Rd.

  • Millis/Medfield line: Forest Rd. Launch

    • Informal launch with roadside parking at the bridge.

  • Medfield: Dwight St. Launch

    • Parking lot off Dwight St.

  • Medfield: Causeway St. Launch

    • Boat must be carried down to river. Roadside parking where Causeway St. crosses the Stop River; paddle down the Stop River to the Charles (mileage includes 0.2 miles on Stop River).

  • Medfield: Dover Rd./West St. Launch

    • Short carry down path to river. Launch downstream of bridge by railroad tracks near Wastewater Treatment Facility. Off-road parking on northwest side of the bridge.

  • Millis: South End Pond Launch

    • Caution: Bogastow Brook may not be navigable during times of low water. Parking on a gravel road off Route 115 leading to the pond. Paddle through the pond to where Bogastow Brook exits the pond and goes into the Charles.

  • Dover/Sherborn line: Farm Rd./Bridge St. Launch

    • Maintained launch site with short carry to river, and flat beach area for launching/landing. Easy parking along street and in launch parking lot.

  • South Natick: Grove Park Launch

    • Maintained launch site (no trailer access). Picnic tables are available in park. Roadside parking lot on Pleasant St. or Mill Ln.

  • Wellesley/Dover line: Elm Bank Reservation Launch

    • Enter from Route 16 and proceed through the reservation on one way loop road to small parking lot on right near river’s edge. Carry boats down path to river.

  • Needham: Central Ave. Launch

    • Informal launch, limited parking in a gravel pull-off.

  • Needham: Redwing Bay Launch

    • Maintained site with parking lot at launch site off Fisher St.

  • Dover: Mill St. Launch

    • Roadside parking at difficult access site below the dam on Mill St. (rapids downstream).

  • Needham: South St. Launch

    • Informal launch, with parking at small dirt pull-off just east of intersection of South St. and Dedham Ave. (Route 135).

  • Needham/Dedham Line: Great Plain Ave./Needham St. Launch

    • Roadside parking on small dirt pull-off where street runs close to river. Short carry to river.

  • Dedham: Ames St. Launch

    • Informal launch, with parking along Pleasant St. at intersection with Ames St.

  • Dedham: Riverdale Park Launch

    • Roadside parking along Riverside Dr.; carry boat through park to river’s edge.

  • Boston (West Roxbury): Millennium Park Launch

    • Bear left and follow road to river side parking lot area. Short carry to launch from lot.

  • Newton: Nahanton Park Launch

    • Caution: Be aware when paddling downstream, as there are hazardous dams two miles away. Parking at Nahanton Park, off Kendrick St.

  • Weston: Riverside Park Launch

    • Parking lot at park off Recreation Rd/Route 128 northbound. Carry boat through park to river’s edge.

  • Weston: Norumbega Duck Viewing Area

    • Informal launch site with parking lot off Norumbega Rd.

  • Newton: Charles River Canoe & Kayak Launch

    • Parking at Duck Viewing Area across river. Restrooms, drinking water and canoe rentals available seasonally.

  • Waltham: Forest Grove Park

    • Parking in lot off Forest Grove Rd. Nice shallow beach area for landing/launching.

  • Waltham: Woerd Ave. Launch

    • Handicapped accessible launch site, can accommodate trailers. Parking at boat launch on Woerd Ave.

  • Watertown: California St. Launch

    • Launch site downstream of Watertown Dam. Roadside parking along California St. (rapids upstream).

  • Newton: DCR Boat Launch

    • Can accommodate trailers. Large parking lot and ramp 300 yards east of DCR’s Daly Ice Rink on Nonantum Rd. Restrooms open seasonally.

  • Boston (Allston): Herter Park

    • Large parking lot off Soldiers Field Rd. across from WBZ-TV. Smaller parking lots just upstream of the Elliot Bridge. Restrooms, drinking water and canoe rentals available seasonally from Charles River Canoe & Kayak.

  • Cambridge: Magazine Beach

    • Parking lot off Memorial Dr. downstream of Riverside Boat Club.

  • Cambridge: Broad Canal Launch/Kendall Square Canoe & Kayak

    • Restrooms, drinking water and canoe rentals available seasonally; boat drop-off at launch, with public parking on nearby streets or at Kendall Square South Garage.

 

  • You can put-in at the Charles River Gateway in Medfield, MA. There is ample parking at the Medfield State Hospital.

  • You can rent canoes, kayaks, and paddleboards from Paddle Boston: Charles River Canoe & Kayak 

    • For rental information and directions on how to get to the rental place, follow these links that are organized by location:

      • Boston: Allston/Brighton

      • How to get there using public transit:

        • Take the Red Line to Harvard, then walk for 1.5 miles across the Anderson Memorial Bridge

        • Take the 66 or 86 to N Harvard St @ Western Ave, then walk for 1.1 miles

        • Take the 70 or 86 to 367 Western Ave opp Brighton Mills Mall, then walk 0.7 miles

      • Cambridge: Kendall Square

      • How to get there using public transit:

        • Take the Red Line to Kendall/MIT, then walk for 0.2 miles

        • Take the 64, 68, or 85 to Main Street @ Kendall Station, then walk 0.4 miles

      • Newton: Historic Boathouse

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Boating & Sailing

  • Community Boating, Inc.

  • Charles River Alliance of Boaters

  • BU Sailing Pavilion: rent kayaks, SUPs, or sailboats. Check the website for rental prices.

  • MIT Sailing Pavilion. You must sign up to be a MITNA member and have a current sailing card.

  • Charles River Basin Mooring. This site will lead you to the boat mooring application and also outlines the requirements.

 
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Fishing

Where to go Fishing
 

Can you fish on this river? Yes, you can fish on the Charles.

For info on guided fishing trips led by the Charles River Outdoor Company, click here.

  • Dover

  • Natick

  • Wellesley

  • Dedham

  • Newton

  • Waltham

  • Watertown

  • Cambridge

  • Boston