Kayaking Bantam River and Lake in Connecticut

Bantam River is hands down one of the best places to kayak in Connecticut. It has a little bit of everything you could want from a kayaking trip including wildlife, beautiful nature views, a beach, and a place to swim. 

Located in Litchfield, Connecticut Bantam River feeds into the large Bantam Lake. The kayak launch starts from White Woods Rd and meanders down the river, usually past a few beaver dams, before arriving into Bantam Lake. In Bantam Lake there is a small beach where kayakers and other boaters can get out to swim and enjoy the day. 

I kayak Bantam River and Lake at least once a year. As a personal favorite location, I absolutely recommend it to others. If you’re looking to visit yourself keep reading to learn all you need to know to plan your kayaking trip!

blue kayak in bantam river with blue sky and clouds and greenery lining the river

Overview of Bantam River

Locations, Parking, and Bathrooms at Bantam River

Despite how popular this kayaking location is, it’s not easy to find the launch. The launch for Bantam river isn’t clearly labeled on Google Maps and unless you know someone who knows the launch you’re unlikely just to stumble upon it. 

The launch is located in a small offshoot on white woods road. It’s a tiny, strangely shaped, gravel parking lot. Street parking isn’t allowed so you’ll need to make sure your car gets into the lot. Arriving early, and having someone who is confident parking in tight spaces is a must. 

No bathrooms are available for this launch site. This can be inconvenient as it can be a trek up to this site- but it’s just how it is. Be prepared for the lack of facilities. 

Boat Launch for Bantam River

The boat launch is located at the bottom of the parking area, so it is very easy to transport your kayaks down to the launch site. No motorized boats are allowed at this launch, so it’ll only be paddle craft looking to launch. 

With that said, this is a popular location and there will be other people trying to launch or returning to the launch site. And as you can see from the photo below, the launch area is fairly small. So, try not to dawdle when launching your kayak as you want to make sure there isn’t too much of a backup at the launch site. 

Overview of Bantam River and Bantam Lake

This kayaking day trip is split into two sections. The first has you paddling down the serene Bantam River. This part will likely have lots of wildlife and oftentimes will have beaver dams. You can usually get over them on the way down- but on the way back you may need to get out of your kayak to portage over them. 

The river feeds into Bantam Lake. This lake is large and you should expect large boats and jet skiers. If you stay near the land then it’s a short paddle to the beach in Bantam Lake where you can swim. This is a great spot to stop and rest or eat a packed lunch before heading back. 

blue kayak in bantam river with blue sky and clouds and greenery lining the river

Kayaking Bantam River

The Bantam River is an absolutely hidden gem of a paddling spot in Connecticut. When I recently visited with a friend they were shocked something like the Bantam River even exists in Connecticut due to how beautiful and serene it is. 

Bantam river is a narrow, winding river with beautiful nature on both sides. There will typically be wildlife of some kind that you encounter. This is usually turtles and birds, but I’ve also seen water snakes and beavers up close on various paddles. So, you never know what you’ll get. On hotter days you will see less wildlife as they’re all trying to stay cool in the shade. 

You’ll have around a 40-50 minute paddle in the Bantam River. It helps to have a kayak that’s not too long as you will need to make several turns (it’s a very windy river). But it’s beautiful and every minute will be peaceful and very enjoyable. 

calm water as head of blue kayak is in foreground of photo. Kayaking bantam river. Blue sky with clouds and greenery in back of image on coast of Bantam River

Kayaking Bantam Lake

After a 40-50 minute paddle down the Bantam River you’ll come to Bantam Lake. This lake is large and there will be plenty of motorized boats around and you should expect plenty of waves. 

Despite this (I’m not a big fan of large lakes with motorized boats), I still recommend heading to Bantam Lake because of the beach. If you turn left when you enter the lake and paddle down the coast for about 10 minutes, you’ll reach one of my favorite spots in all of Connecticut.

open water of Bantam Lake with lili pads from the view of a blue kayak with tip in foreground of photo. Blue sky with clouds.

The beach here is very small but, because it isn’t easily reached it’s never really crowded. To reach it, you either need a boat or be comfortable hiking through the woods to reach it- so not a lot of people are willing to take the trek out to it. There is a public access beach to Bantam Lake on the other coast line and it is always packed. This little beach, not so much. 

There is plenty of room to post up your kayak and just hang out and chill. I always pack a lunch to eat here and do a bit of swimming. I’ve seen others bring hammocks and just relax on the beach. I honestly was so jealous of those with hammocks and will be bringing mine next time out. 

You should note that because this is a beach right next to a forest line – there are plenty of insects to contend with, especially if you’re eating foot. I tend to ignore them and go on my way, but if you’re not a big bug person then you may want to bring some bug spray or other protection. 

sandy beach on coast of Bantam Lake. This is reachable by kayaks

Whenever you’re ready to leave just kayak back the way you came. But you’ll need to pay attention as the turn off for Bantam River can be difficult to find when you’re returning from the beach. 

Obviously you’ll want to hug the coast at again, but there are two turn offs and you’re going to think that the second one is the one to take. Instead, you want to take the first one even though it doesn’t really look like a turn off. 

Technically there’s a small white marker indicating the turn but it’s very difficult to see unless you’re right up on it. So keep in mind that you’ll want to pay close attention to find the entrance back to Bantam River. 

the open water of bantam lake taken from a blue kayak. Trees are in the background of the phone with blue skies and clouds over the water

A Note on Beaver Dams: How to Traverse

The Bantam River is notorious for beaver dams. I think there’s only been one time (out of many times) of paddling here where I didn’t come across a beaver dam in the Bantam River. 

So, you do need to know how to handle them should you be kayaking here. 

If the dam is small then you should be able to paddle over it, at least when you’re paddling out. Use the force of the water and current and take the dam with some speed and you’ll make it over. 

It’s the coming back over it that’s a bit challenging. If it’s small enough you might be able to get over it. But most likely you’ll need to portage over it, which requires getting out of your kayak and walking yourself and your kayak over the dam. 

This is not easy and you’ll definitely want to be wearing your life jacket when you attempt it. I am a strong swimmer and pretty adept at entering/exiting my kayak and still managed to flip myself and go under the water when attempting this on my most recent paddle. 

blue kayak approaching a beaver dam in bantam river

If you’re paddling with a group my recommendation is that only one person gets out and the others paddle to the dam while that person uses their arms to help get the other kayakers over. The safest way to traverse this is to have as few people as possible out of their kayaks. 

IF there is a place with solid land next to the dam, then use that to exit the kayak. This is unlikely in the Bantam River- but should be noted anyways. Also, be sure to have a Bilge Pump to pump that water out just in case you do flip your kayak. 

Returning Back to the Boat Launch

After another 40-50 minute upstream paddle you’ll return to the launch. The upstream paddle doesn’t feel particularly challenging, despite the fact it’s upstream. 

Usually there’s a line of people waiting to exit their kayaks at the launch. As long as everyone is patient and waits their turn, this isn’t typically a problem. 

When paddling back, you can’t really miss the launch. This is because of that line of people, but also because the launch is right next to the only bridge you’ll pass on this kayaking trip. So, if you go under the bridge, then you’ve definitely gone too far. 

two kayakers approach the bantam river boat launch from the water. A bridge is in the background next to the launch

Other Tips to Remember

Kayaking Bantam River and Bantam Lake in Connecticut is an absolutely must-do if you’re in the area. The beautiful river combined with the beach for swimming and relaxing makes this a pretty perfect summer day activity for the entire family. 

If you don’t have a kayak, you can get rentals at Sportsman’s  of Litchfield but note that you need to reserve these in advance and will need to pay for delivery to Bantam River. With that said, it’s absolutely worth it if you don’t have your own kayak as you won’t get views like this anywhere else in Connecticut. 

During the summer months, Connecticut requires that you carry a PFD with you in your kayak, so be sure you pack one. A whistle is also another great thing to have for kayaking safety. 

With that said, I hope you get to explore the Bantam River soon and I can’t wait to see you out there! 

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