Mattabesset River at Cromwell Meadows WMA
River and Wildlife Management Area
548 acres in Cromwell and Middletown, CT
- North Boat Launch: from behind Dunkin’s parking lot at 24 Shunpike Rd, Cromwell, CT
- South Boat Launch: Harbor Park Middletown, CT
- Land access: Large lot near 137 South St, Cromwell, CT
Trail Map Trails: 3 miles Rating: ★★★☆☆
The best launch site to explore this river is at the north end of the paddle behind the Dunkin’ on Shunpike Road. The boat launch is a fairly steep carry in launch from the parking lot and tends to be muddy, especially at low tide. I didn’t have any troubles putting in or taking out.
From the launch the river meanders through narrow heavy forest for about a half mile. The water is dirty but clear to the bottom and there are tons of fallen trees and along the banks and at the bottom though they certainly don’t hinder travel. There is traffic noise from Route 9 that begins to fade as you get deeper into the Cromwell Meadows Wildlife Management Area. The canopy opens up alternating forest and marshy meadow stretches with turtles sunning themselves on rocks and partially submerged trees. I saw a chipmunk running along the bank and a beaver gliding along the water.
At about 1.5 miles into the paddle the trees fall away into the ‘Boggy Meadow’ are which is picturesque grass and reeds with plenty of open water. A swan was hanging out here on my visit mucking about off to the side, blackbirds flitted along the water catching bugs, and kingfishers were diving from the high limbs into the water. The meadows provide important habitat for American shad, alewives, and blueback herring who use the lower portion of the river to spawn.
The meadow lasts for about a mile before reentering another tree lined stretch which is accessible to motor boats coming from the Connecticut River. This last stretch curves through some deep dark water under Route 9 before opening into the Connecticut River adjacent to Wilcox Island and the Arrigoni Bridge.
After a quick rest on the shore of Wilcox Island I paddled back up the Mattabesset River for a total of six miles. Paddling at a steady pace would take about 2 hours one way, but there are plenty of shady coves and shorelines to stop, rest, and view the birds and wildlife.
You can explore north of the Dunkin’ boat launch but likely not much more than a half-mile. At the south end you can also explore the Coginchaug River to extend your paddle.
I believe this Wildlife Management Area can be accessed on land for a hike but I have not yet explored it.
Cromwell Meadows is one of 20 significant wetlands within the internationally recognized Connecticut River Estuary and Tidal River Wetlands Complex and one of the 40 “last great places in the Western Hemisphere.”
Due to its rare species, fisheries, wetlands, water birds and unusual habitat, Cromwell Meadows is designated a high priority Special Focus Area within the Silvio O. Conte National Fish and Wildlife Refuge.
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Last updated June 11th, 2022
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