Mattabesset River Watershed Association
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Mattabesset River Canoe Guide

Great Blue Heron

The Mattabesset River - at times referred to as the "Sebethe" - begins in the hills of Meriden and Southington and flows to the Connecticut River at Middletown, for a distance of 18 miles. Berlin, Cromwell, New Britain, Newington and Rocky Hill are also in its watershed, or drainage basin. As a small river, the Mattabesset offers some limited, but worthwhile, flat water canoeing opportunities. The river, its ponds and surrounding woodlands, and an immense tidal marsh provide for excellent wildlife watching.

Access for the Canoeist

Safety first!
Beware of the hazards of river canoeing.
Wear life vests.

Access for the Canoeist

Canoeists can access the river at several points, as described in the following table and keyed by the number on the map. The "Mi." column indicates paddling mileage to the mouth of the Mattabesset at its confluence with the Connecticut River. The "Min." column identifies the time to the next access point with good flow and moderate effort. Secondary access points are indicated in the text by the symbol "".
# Access Location Comments Mi. Min.
1 By Kensington P.O. on Kensington Rd. Carry under the railroad bridge that parallels Kensington Rd.* 12.6 40
2 Farmington Ave. at Mill Street, Berlin Small triangular park - easy acess* 11.3 90
3 Deming Rd./ Route 160, Berlin Berlin town land - directly across from Selden St., south of Home Depot 8.9 30
4 Beckley Mill Rd., Berlin From road or by Berlin town-owned land, about 60 yards through woods** 8.0 60
5 Chestnut Lane, East Berlin At cul-de-sac on Berlin town-owned land 6.2 25
6 Kirby Rd., Cromwell Behind Walmart 5.4 60
7 Route 3, Cromwell Behind Saw Mill Pub, on east side of Route 3 3.1 90 to mouth
8 Coginchaug River, Middletown From Veteran's Memorial Park, just west of Newfield St./Route 3 bridge 3.0 60 to mouth
9 Cromwell, on the Connecticut River South of Outboard Motor Club on River Road, on town-owned land -.08 20 to mouth
10 Middletown, on the Connecticut River At Harbor Park, south of restaurant -0.9 20 to mouth
*This portion of the river should be attempted only by canoeists prepared for a narrow channel, thick brush and in-stream obstructions. Low water also makes passage a challenge.

**A dam downstream from access point 4 requires portage. 

If you are about to take one adventure on the Mattabesset, a seven mile trip - about three hours - from point 5 to point 10 is recommended. 

A Trip Down the Mattabesset

1 A canoe trip on the Mattabesset may begin near the Kensington Post Office as the stream above this location is quite small and obstructed by dams. The stream is still small and fallen trees often obstruct passage. Just before passing under Lower Lane, Belcher Brook enters on the right and the flow doubles.

Green Frog

Wood Duck

Yellow Warbler


2 A better access point is at the small park at Farmington Avenue and Mill Street/Rte. 372. Proceeding down the river, the Berlin Dog Pound is soon on the left, followed by the culverts under Route 9. Thereafter, the meandering river is often obstructed with fallen trees, sometimes requiring portages on muddy ground. This is no pleasure cruise, but a worthy challenge for the adventurous. While the thick undergrowth provides for much wildlife, including beaver, the undergrowth also captures litter and this area is regularly targeted for Mattabesset River Watershed Association [MRWA] clean-ups. Willow Brook enters on your left. The Berlin landfill is on the left, with its impressive collection of old tires, followed by Webster Brook. Your canoe then passes under the Berlin Turnpike/Rte. 15, Worthington Ridge, and a large concrete pipe which carries sewage to the Mattabesset District treatment plant in Cromwell.

3 The next good launch point is from a grassy corridor to the river off of Route 160. Here the flow is good and generally unobstructed, except for an occasional strainer to challenge the canoeist. In 10 minutes you pass under Wethersfield Road. Soon a rushing sound indicates that there is whitewater ahead! It's a small rapid, but the best you'll find on the river - and only in high water. Good flow continues through the woods along Beckley Mill Road, and evidence of the old mill can be seen.

4 The river may be entered along Beckley Mill Road. Do not proceed beyond this point if you do not want to portage around a dam. A brisk flow continues through the woods, and a scenic view of a farm and green hillside is before you. The farmer's low bridge requires caution, especially when high water does not allow sufficient clearance to pass underneath. At this point, Rocky Hill is on your left and the water slows due to the dam almost a mile ahead. Spruce Brook enters into the marsh on the right. Songbirds and waterfowl are common, bass and carp may be seen in the water, and a muskrat may swim by. After passing under the Route 9 bridges, the StanChem chemical company occupies the right bank and Cromwell is on your left. CAUTION - you are approaching the StanChem damm whhich is about five feet high and cannot be run. Portage on the left. The carry is about 50 yards. StanChem maintains the dam as a water supply for its fire system. Just after the portage you pass under the Pasco Hill Road/Berlin Street bridge. The water quickens and gives a pleasant ride; there is much evidence of beaver activity.

5 The access point at the cul-de-sac of Chestnut Lane provides the best access to the lower river during periods of medium or low water. Continuing through wooded land, you soon pass under Route 372, where a USGS flow gage is located. A level of 1.5' on the gage on the left side of the bridge indicates that the river level is high.

6 Soon the Kirby Road access point is reached, and the river flows briskly, with Middletown's Sawmill Brook entering on your right. You pass under Interstate 91 and an old railroad bridge. Coles Brook enters from your left through three culverts. After the Route 217 bridge you pass a building built entirely on columns in the river's flood plain, a very undesirable concept. The water now slows as the tidal zone is entered. Willow Brook enters from your left. Soon the River Grace Plaza appears close to the river on the left - where a doughnut break at the Whole Donut is a river tradition. In one-half mile you pass under Route 3.

A Trip Down the Mattabesset continued

7 A trip into the tidal marsh part of the river is best begun by the Saw Mill Pub, just downstream of Route 3. There is no convenient downriver takeout point within four miles.

Herring Gull

Snapping Turtle


Map & Illustrations by Michael DiGiorgio.

The incoming tide at the mouth of the Mattabesset lags the tide at Saybrook Jetty, near the mouth of the Connecticut River - listed on tide charts - by two hours and 45 minutes. The inccomiing tide then progresses up the Mattabesset, peaking at the Saw Mill Pub in about 45 minutes. Depending upon river flow and the tide condition, the river may flow upstream or downstream. You may wish to coordinate your trip with the tidal flow, although the tide is actually a minor factor.

The tidal marsh, called Boggy Meadow or Cromwell Meadows, is a fascinating place. This is one of few remaining fresh water tidal marshes available to us and has been listed as one of the Nature Conservancy's "Last Great Places." Bird life is plentiful. Look for great blue and green herons. Raptors, including osprey, can be seen. Explore the side channels extending from the main waterway. The wooded shores, generally inaccessible to people except by the river, are home to deer and other animals. Fish and turtles, including large snappers, are in the water. During the spring thaw when the Connecticut River is high, this area becomes completely flooded and the main river channel is marked only by trees lining its banks. This is a quiet setting, except when disturbed by powerboats coming from the Connecticut River. The osprey nesting platforms were erected and are maintained by the MRWA.

Soon after the broad waters narrow and a river setting resumes, the Coginchaug River enters on the right. You may wish to explore the Coginchaug from this point. Continuing right along the Mattabesset, the Middletown landfill is the high grassy mound on your right. Soon you enter the mighty Connecticut River, but your entry is into a quiet channel created by Wilcox Island; the main channel is on the other side of the Island. Turn left to Cromwell (take out at 9), right to Middletown (take out at 10).

Entry from the Coginchaug River

8 The Mattabesset may also be approached via the Coginchaug. A good launch point is at the Veteran's Memorial Park, where the Coginchaug is close to the road in the park. Due to the winding of the waterways, a trip to Harbor Park (10) provides about four miles of canoeing with only a mile to return to Veteran's Park - providing a chance to simplify the vehicle logistics if one returns on foot.

A Trip Up the Mattabesset

9  10 The Mattabesset can be canoed by access from the Connecticut River as well. Access is convenient from Cromwell's River Road or from Middletown's Harbor Park. From either location, about 20 minutes of steady paddling will bring you to the mouth of the Mattabesset, where you pass under the Route 9 bridge. Except in times of high water, the Connecticut River is easy to canoe. This is actually the easiest way to access the tidal marsh, and is commonly the approach used by fishermen. Determined paddlers may go to Saw Mill Pub (7). 

About the Mattabesset River Watershed Association

The MRWA is dedicated to protecting and preserving the waters and riparian habitat in the Mattabesset River Watershed for the benefit of present and future generations. We created this canoe guide to promote the Mattabesset River as a resource that deserves your care. Please enjoy the river and help us in our preservation efforts. Working together we can increase its value as a recreational waterway, one that will be appreciated for years to come. If you wish to support the MRWA, please send us a note at Box 7174, Berlin, CT 06037.

We welcome your input to improve this canoe guide or your observations on the river at the above address.


Design by Lisa Gibson. Map & Illustrations by Michael DiGiorgio. Paper & printing donated by Northeast Utilities. Produced by the Mattabesset River Watershed Association.