Saturday, January 8, 2011

Newfound Lake, New Hampshire. But the tourist brochure said pristine and no commercial development!

Maelstrom Vital 166, Newfound Lake, New Hampshire, USA
 I should have known not to believe it when the tourist brochure said "Newfound Lake is pristine and has no commercial development." I came through the city of Bristol, to the southern-most beach and said, "Oh s*#t!"

All around me and as far as the eye could see were wall-to-wall cottages and rows of docks packed with hundreds of ski boats, those ultra-expensive mega party boats with the monster speakers and lights. Of course you don't see them in the photo. I made sure to hide them from the view.

So what do they consider no commercial development around here I wondered? This looks way OVER DEVELOPED to me! And this is just the southern tip of the lake! It was the first thought running through my mind when the lake came into view.

The next thing running through my mind was making a decision. Do I get out and paddle this thing anyway or head somewhere else? I'm on vacation in a new place I don't know very well and I only have a few days left. Every day needs to bring something new.

I'd already paddled a section of the Connecticut River from the Comerford Dam and Reservoir, which had plenty of water in between dams. It wasn't on my list to do again.

Then there were the stretches of the Saco River I saw in the Crawford Notch area that looked more like rock beds.

So, rather than try to research and figure out where to paddle on another river I didn't know, I decided to paddle Newfound Lake. It was a weekday, early in September when most of the motor boat crowd was back at work.

There was plenty of water to swim in and Wellington State Park on the south west shore has a boat launch, or was just a short paddle west of the public beach I launched from . . . but wasn't supposed to.

When the temperature is going to hit 35 degrees Celsius (95 degrees Fahrenheit), it's not a bad bet to be in a lake you can swim in more than paddle.

I was looking for a fair-sized lake that was pristine and swimable, no-motorboats, with views of the White Mountains within a hour's drive from my vacation basecamp near Lyman, NH.

Some of the larger lakes in the Lakes Region of New Hampshire are known motor boat tourist havens, so they were immediately off my list. According to the tourist brochure, Newfound Lake seemed to fit the bill . . . until I got there.

If you're someone like me with a paddle and a kayak, you may want to avoid this lake in the high vacation season when all the speed boats are out in full force.
Despite all the development, the water in Newfound Lake looks amazingly pristine. It's the third largest lake in New Hampshire at 4,450 acres, and its deepest parts reach 183 feet.

So be careful out there. People do drown in this lake and some have never been found because of its depth. See Newfound Lake news report: WMUR 9 Swimmer's Body Reecoverd in Newfound Lake.

Newfound Lake is fed and refreshed by underground springs. It really does have crystal clear waters and sandy bottoms in spots that make you think you might be paddling somewhere in the Caribbean. It is easy to fall in love with it.

But don't get too lost staring off at those distant mountains. There are also patches of large rocks that come upon you suddenly in between those sandy stretches, and they are just waiting to meet you and your kayak. And you can see them! Lots of them!

Awesome . . . when you glance down and see a big jagged rock a split second before you are about to run into it with the nose of your fiberglass boat and manage to miss it by a millimeter!

Without all the motor boats and cottages, Newfound Lake could be a little slice of heaven. But I guess that's exactly why everyone is there. It's a bit too nice. An affliction. Everyone wants a piece of it. Isn't that what happened to California?

As a paddler, I hate to give up water we want to paddle on just because the motor boats out number and out power us. And intimidate us, and threaten our safety.

In one of the crystal clear shallow spots of the lake, where the water was between two and three feet deep, some big-bellied motor boaters were hopping off their decks with their boats in tow. Leading them like pets on a short stretch of 8 foot long rope and wading in the water. Their beautiful 22 foot long, 4,000 pound docile pets floating behind them in calm water without wind or boat wakes.

I thought it was a funny habit, until I saw one looking back nervously to see where his big pet was. It wouldn't take much of a boat wake, or a moment of inattention to send it on top of you in a second.

Back at the launch, I asked a local how a lake that was only 2 1/2 miles wide and 6 miles long could stay so clear while supporting so many cottages and motor boats.

"God keeps it clean," he said.

"Oh, I guess he's doing a good job then," I replied. "But, I'm wondering if he might need some help."

He had no reply to that. Just a friendly chuckle and an offer of some lawn chairs to sit on to enjoy the views from the public beach I had just parked my boat on.

Seems having Canadian license plates and beautiful Maelstrom sea kayaks strapped onto the car makes you very welcome.

Everyone loves kayakers right? Well almost.

I keep forgetting that we are governed by rules just like other boaters with motors. Another local came over and kindly warned me that someone regularly calls the police when people launch from this stretch of public beach, and this visit could cost me $100 in fines.

With this news, you've never seen anyone pack up a boat and gear faster! So here's another pic of what not to do with your boat in this location.
 I never made it to the northern shores of Newfound Lake. Anyone with news about this section of the lake and where to launch from if I ever head back, please let me know.

I love New Hampshire!
Happy paddling and finding your way without fines when you are a tourist!
The BaffinPaddler

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  1. We live here and short of our own deeded access to a put-in it's hard to find legal access. Sounds like the Audubon Society location at Paradise Point will let you launch your own kayak which is probably nicer paddling. I believe that access is limited intentionally to make it easier to inspect the power boats for undesired vegetation. Wouldn't it be great if the lake were as natural as described. Lake Francis and the Connecticut lakes might be more like what you were expecting.

  2. Thanks! I may check out the lakes you mention when I visit New Hampshire again. Such a beautiful place!

  3. I own one of those cabins you hated to see - East side - half way up the lake. There is 1 restaurant and 1 place to buy boat gas w a small dock area. There are no large hotels, no mini-golf, no sprawling marinas. No one selling woodstoves, no Friendly's, no furniture stores. That's why your brochure said no commercial development. There isn't any. Ever been to Miami beach? You could have launched half way up the west side, at West Shore Marina, or at the State park, or up at the Hebron Beach, or at the Audubon center. There are rivers that flow into Newfound year round, creating that pristine clear water they talk about. You can kayak the Pemi River, or the Merrimack if there's been rain, but a NH lake always has enough water. It does get windy though! And yes, it has us NH lake lovers who live here too! Come on back!

  4. I may be back one day. I love New Hampshire!

  5. There really is no "commercial development" You were on the wrong side of the lake. Head North and launch at the cockermouth river in Hebron or Audubon center...beautiful! The Newfound Lake Association has been granted preserved land in Hebron as well. Beautiful river access into the lake and a nearby sandbar to explore. A must to come back to.

  6. Thanks for the information. I really wanted to get to the north end of the lake but didn't make it as it was so hot the day we visited.

    Next time, I'll give what you suggest a try. The south end of the lake is wall to wall cottages and big motor boats.

    Cheers from Canada.

  7. Newfound Lake used to be a paradise many years ago. It is now overrun by large motorboats piloted by inebriated idiots who don't know or care about the state's laws about keeping away from kayaks.

    You can launch from the Hebron beach in the off season but otherwise it's residents only. There is a nice marsh at the north end but not much else.

    There are only a couple of undeveloped places to paddle in New Hampshire and almost no places for kayak camping. Lake Umbagog is all federally and state controlled. All of the Lakes Region is built up.

    New Hampshire is not a friendly place. At Newfound Lake the publically owned islands in the state park are posted with no-trespassing signs. You cannot land a kayak there.

    For the best paddling in New Hampshire and nicer people you need to go to . . . Maine. Seriously.

  8. It did seem a shame to me the over development and so many big speed boats on Newfound Lake. It is such a beautiful lake.

    I have paddled Maine and visited several times. I love Maine. It is definitely more of a paddler's paradise.

    I like New Hampshire too, but I guess I could stick with cycling and hiking the White Mountains.

    Thanks for your comment. Cheers.