Vermont Destinations for First-Time Canoe Camping

Two canoers paddling in a calm pond at sunrise

If you haven’t fallen in love with canoe camping yet, this summer might be the time. It’s usually pretty hard to get into something new – especially in the outdoor field. The thing about canoe camping is that it’s so accessible. Families, friends, solo canoeists, dogs, kids, young and old can go on these trips. In this article, we’re going to help you get started.

How to Rent Gear

To begin with, there are a couple of places in Vermont where you can rent all the gear you need. Instead of worrying about buying a canoe, check out the Outdoor Gear Exchange in Burlington, or Umiak Outdoor Outfitters in Stowe. If renting is still expensive, just ask around to see who can lend you a canoe. For Vermonters, Front Porch Forum is a way to get neighbors in touch. Not only that but plenty of social media groups are out there to get people connected.

Tips For Planning

What to Pack

First, don’t be afraid to bring too much stuff. It’s amazing how much you can fit into a canoe, leaving space for more creature comforts like camp chairs, pillows, and even a cooler.

Make sure you bring safety equipment specific to paddling – a PFD for every paddler, a spare paddle in case you lose one, a tow rope in case someone gets tired, extra rope to dock the boat, dry bags for personal items (especially electronics), headlamp with extra batteries, and a signaling whistle. Three loud, short blasts are a universal signal of distress. See a list of the 10 Essentials to know what else to pack, and remember, always wear sunscreen and a hat to prevent heat exhaustion!

Next, find somewhere peaceful. The following places are just that – low on boat traffic, tested for water quality, pretty straightforward places to camp, and local. This means less driving, and more friends who can help you out if you need it. Plus the outdoor community is so friendly that you should be able to ask someone for advice when you’re out on the water.

Before You Go:

  1. Make an itinerary and give it to a trusted contact – there needs to be someone who knows where you’re going!
  2. Clean, drain, and dry your boat to prevent the spread of invasive species between bodies of water.
  3. If it seems like nobody was at your campsite before you, it’s because they cleaned it up for you – make sure to bring trash bags so you can pack it all out. Pay it forward!
  4. Call ahead to ask for tips! The rangers are happy to help you plan.

Locations for Canoe Camping in VT

You’ve got all the items for your outing, now you just need the perfect spot to enjoy. There are so many places to go in the great state of Vermont. These are some of the places on the tippy top of our list!

Green River Reservoir

Hyde Park, VT | google maps link

An aerial view of Green River Reservoir. Image: VT State Parks

This place is only accessible by boat. An ADA accessible boardwalk leads from the parking area to an accessible boat launch. Motors under 5 mph are allowed, so expect to see some motorized boats (just little ones).

Think about carpooling – parking is limited. It’s along the access road to the park. There is also a small parking lot at the park itself.

Two group sites are maintained throughout the season. That said, sometimes they are closed for rehabilitation — you can call ahead to see if they’re open.

Swimming is a go! There’s some cell service, fishing licenses are available for purchase, and each site has a pit toilet. Remember to bring toilet paper! One last thing – firewood is available for purchase, but to cut down on invasive species transmission you can’t bring your own.

Other resources: The Friends of Green River Reservoir have published a nature field guide for the state park. They even published a new map, free online. There aren’t really hiking trails, but views of surrounding mountain scenery are breathtaking. Bring binoculars because there will be loons and lots of other wildlife.

A gallery of images from Green River Reservoir. From right to left: A Loon swimming while carrying chicks on its back; A picture of a typical primitive campsite at the reservoir; A dock at the shore of the reservoir

Image: VT State Parks

Your go-to land management agency for this park is the VT Department of Forests, Parks and Recreation. They are open from May 20th to October 10th, with post-season permits available for after November 1st.

Molly’s Falls Pond State Park

Marshfield, VT | google maps link

Two photos of Mollys Falls state park, stacked vertically. Top photo: A wide angle shot of the pond  including the dam and parking lot. Bottom photo: the shoreline of one of the parks' primitive campsites.

With 10 picnic sites, Molly’s Falls Pond State Park is great for impromptu excursions. Image: VT State Parks

Molly’s Falls has a variety of fish, including rainbow trout, brown trout, northern pike, pickerel, smallmouth bass, and yellow perch. If you like to fish, this is a great place for it! Ecologically, the wetlands along the southern shore mean it’s likely you will see moose, deer, and birds.

There are five remote tent sites, so less than the Green River Reservoir. A small boat launch is available with some parking. No need to call ahead for a reservation – it’s all first come, first serve. To get there, you can drive to campsites along old route 2. The best sites are 4, 5, 6, and 7. Site 5 is on a small island. Even though there aren’t many campsites, there are 10 picnic sites. Maybe try visiting during the day – just remember, you can swim, but not at the boat launch.

A map of Mollys Falls State Park with campsites and other points of interest

Image: VT State Parks

Molly’s Falls Pond State Park is open from May 27th to Labor Day Weekend.

Waterbury Reservoir

Waterbury Center, VT | google maps link

A zoomed out photo of waterbury reservoir with a kayaker in the distance

With 27 remote sites spread along some 18 miles of shoreline, Waterbury Reservoir offers some of the best secluded camping in VT. and Image: VT State Parks

Waterbury Reservoir is probably one of the best places in Vermont to start canoe camping, and one of the largest. It’s a sweet spot because the sites are beautiful, especially the remote ones at the far end of the reservoir. They’re remote enough that everyone loves how quiet and peaceful they are. The only downside is that sites need to be reserved ahead of time, and are competitive. Try calling the night before to see if one opens up. You can stay for up to 7 days. Each site has roofed composting toilets, which is pretty nice. Fires are allowed in day use sites only. Bring your own firewood, cook stoves, water filters, food, shelter, and the ten essentials for all overnights.

Not only can you canoe at the Waterbury Reservoir, but you can also try out one of their free park based programs. Scavenger hunts and sand castle competitions are two things they tried out in the past, which is great for kids. There’s also a historical lookout trail that is very accessible, even to toddlers.

Reservations open May 2nd, allowing you to pick from any of the 27 remote sites. Pets are allowed. Feel free to call to make a reservation, or use their website.

Wrapping Up

Remember to make reservations, except for at Molly’s Falls Pond. You have a lot to look forward to at each of these places! Between the loons, geese, moose, beavers, and scenery, you’re golden.

If you don’t mind just being on the water, Green River Reservoir is the place to be. It’s super quiet, and while there aren’t hiking trails, it’s gorgeous.

If you love to fish and picnic, Molly’s Falls Pond is perfect. It’s so quiet, and easy enough to drive to.

Waterbury reservoir takes the cake for having the most dispersed campsites and the longest shoreline. As long as you can snag a site, go for it! You can choose to either go super far and feel more removed, or camp closer to the boat launch and be around more people. Up to you!

We hope this helps you get started – feel free to check out our other articles to be even more prepared to go canoe camping.


Published:July 18, 2022


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