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Kayak Camping in Norwalk Islands, Connecticut
Tucked away just off the coast of Norwalk Connecticut are the Norwalk Islands. These small islands separate the Norwalk coast from the Long Island Sound and provide locals with opportunities to explore the islands nature and diversity through a variety of activities from kayaking, camping, or bird watching.
There are around 25 islands that exist off the Norwalk Coast. Some are public land, some are privately owned, and some are part of the Stewart B. McKinney Wildlife Reserve. All of them are beautiful and a great opportunity to explore a unique piece of nature so close to home.
Getting There and Parking
The Norwalk Islands are immediately off the coast of Norwalk, but the main launch point for them is Calf Pasture Beach. Calf Pasture Beach is located on the coast of East Norwalk, off of exit 16 on I-95. If you’re coming by train you can take Metro North to the Norwalk terminal and either walk (0.75 miles) or taken an Uber/Lyft to Calf Pasture Beach.
The parking lot for Calf Pasture is huge and separated into free abundant resident parking and paid non-resident parking. The boat launch will be in the resident parking, so if you are not a resident you should drop your boat by the launch and then go park your car. It is costly to be a non-resident, as the fee is $65 per car on Saturday and Sunday, and $40 per car during the week. There are also only 100 non-resident parking spots, so you’ll want to come early.
Obviously, the most cost effective way is to be or know a Norwalk resident, but if you don’t fall into that category then you can have someone drop you off and pick you up later so you don’t have to pay for parking.
Resident parking area next to boat launch
Bathrooms, Rentals, and Boat Launch
Calf Pasture Beach has plenty of large, accessible, bathrooms, as it is a public beach. These can be found just a little ways past the boat launch and kayak storage area. I did not need to use them when I was out here, but generally the reviews say that they’re fairly clean, for beach-access public restrooms.
Kayak rentals are available at Calf Pasture Beach through Norwalk Sailing School from this launch. You do need to book online prior to arriving and they are only open from 10am to 8pm, 7 days a week. You can do full-day rentals if you’re interested in heading out to camp but don’t have your own kayak.
Norwalk Islands Reservations for Camping
If you’d like to camp on Norwalk Islands there are 20 sites to choose from. Sixteen of these sites are on Shea Island, one of the largest islands, and the remaining four sites are on Grassy Island. You must reserve a campsite prior to arriving on the island. Campsites cannot be reserved on site, and have specific arrival and departure times.
If you are a person who definitely needs a bathroom to camp, then you are going to want sites 1-4 or site 16 on Shea Island. Grassy island has no bathroom available, and neither does campsite 15 on Shea Island. The other campsites (5-14) have access – but it may be a bit of a trek down the coast to get there.
If you’re okay without a bathroom, then my recommendation is to go with campsite 15. It’s remote, and has that entire side of the island to itself. It also has direct access to a small bay with calmer water. It faces Sheffield Island, the lighthouse, and on a clear day NYC can be spotted in the distance. Plus, it has a spectacular view of the sunset.
Campsite Rules and Restrictions
To reserve a campsite and get your overnight camping permit you’ll need to go the Veterans Park Boating Center located on Seaview Avenue in Norwalk. You can only reserve a campsite up to 14 days in advance, so do not go and try to reserve earlier than that.
Some other restrictions include the campsite is limited to 8 campers, and only for up to 7 days at a time. Arrival/Departure times are at 11am each day of your stay and there are no fireworks, animals, or alcohol allowed on the islands.
Another VERY important note is that there is NO freshwater available on the islands. You must bring all of the water you need to drink, cook, and clean with.
Campsites can be reserved from April 15th – October 15th each year.
Launching the Kayak
You’ll launch your kayak from Calf Pasture Beach, but before actually getting into the water, take a second to look out and try to identify where you’re going and which island you’re heading towards. From the launch site you’ll see three islands in the distance. The far left is Grassy, the middle is Shea, and the far right is Sheffield. Because they aren’t really labeled, it’s important to get your bearings before heading out into the water.
If you’re not camping, and just planning to explore, all of them have beautiful scenery and wildlife to checkout. So, make a plan to visit all three.
Kayaking to Norwalk Islands: A Note on Water Conditions
Once you know where you’re headed you can launch your kayak into the water and head out towards your island. Note, this is open water leading into the sound, so there will be waves. There are a lot of boats driving around as well, creating more waves. You’ll need to be prepared for that prior to getting into the water. Be sure you know the water temperature and are appropriately dressed in case the kayak tips. You’ll also want to know how to get back into a kayak that has flipped. Anytime there are waves and currents you want to be prepared.
I kayaked out at around 4pm on a Friday afternoon. It was crowded and there were lots of boats and waves. On the way back I kayaked early in the morning on a Sunday during low tide. It made a world of difference. The kayak trip back barely had any waves, nearly no boats, and took 10 minutes less than the kayak trip out. Know what you feel comfortable doing, and plan accordingly.
On the way out there are plenty of little stopping points along the way should you need to rest or stop for any reason.
Exploring Norwalk Islands
There are so many beautiful spots in and around Norwalk Islands that you can truly spend multiple days just exploring each island individually. A couple of my favorite spots are the bay tucked into the far side of Shea Island, and the seals that can be seen at Sheffield Island. There is also a lighthouse out past Sheffield Island that I did not get to explore, due to poorer weather conditions.
On the far side of Shea Island there is a bay with much calmer water surrounding campsite 15, and other several private islands. Even if the water in the sound is more intense, the water in this bay stays very calm. You can see so many birds kayaking around here – and if you go in towards Shea Island, you can even get to a launch site where the bathroom is accessible. So, even if you aren’t camping and need bathroom facilities – head to this bay to find them.
I really enjoyed kayaking around the private houses on their tiny islands. I can hardly imagine what it’s like to live there and wake up to such beautiful views each and every day!
After Shea Island you’ll come to Sheffield Island. Sheffield Island has beaches, a nature trail, a wildlife preserve, and even a historical lighthouse – so truly everything for a great adventure. The Norwalk Seaport Association even hosts boat tours of the island, so it’s definitely a hot spot to visit. There are also harbor seals that can be seen from the coast around Sheffield Island, how cool! Unfortunately, my trip had poor weather and we didn’t quite make it over there to explore – but it’s on my list for next time and I can’t wait.
The area between Shea Island and Sheffield Island has calmer water than elsewhere around the other Norwalk Islands. There is a piece of land separating the open water of the Long Island Sound, so you end up with calmer waters due to that separation. If you’re interested in heading out into the sound there is an access point half way between Shea Island and Sheffield Island.
Campsite 15 on Norwalk Islands
During my trip, I spent two nights camping at Campsite 15 on Shea Island. Honestly, it was such a great little site to camp. We had a fire pit, a seating area, a bit of beach to ourselves to explore, easy access to the bay, and an incredible view of the sunset. I loved this little campsite, and would recommend it to anyone looking to camp out in Norwalk Islands.
Just a reminder though – this campsite has no bathroom access (unless you kayak through the bay to get to the bathroom on the other side of Shea Island) and also no fresh water. You’ll need to prepare for both how you’ll get water and also how you’ll relieve yourself of that same water.
Returning from Norwalk Islands
When you’re ready to head back to Calf Pasture Beach, you’ll need to take a second to orient yourself again. Two good sight points are the boat docks and storage at Norwalk Cove Marina and the pier from Calf Pasture Beach. The boat launch is in between two two areas, so if you can locate both of them then head towards the middle. Both can be easily seen from Shea Island.
Once you get closer you’ll be able to identify the neon colors of the kayaks stored immediately next to the boat launch. Once you can see those, you’ll easily be able to locate the launch from the water and head back in that direction.
Be thoughtful about when you’re kayaking back as busier times of day will have more boats and more waves. And you’ll need to know how and when to cross boat traffic areas without getting caught in a sticky situation with fast moving boats, which can be dangerous.
Other Tips to Remember
If you’re going to travel out to the Norwalk Islands via kayak please be careful and know what to do if your boat capsizes due to waves. Always wear a PFD and bring extra supplies, especially water with you as there is no freshwater available at the islands.
If you’re camping or visiting the islands remember to leave no trace. Many of these islands are part of nature reserves and have fragile ecosystems and animals living on them. Don’t interfere with that by being unaware of how to protect our environment through those 7 principles.
But, overall, just have fun! The Norwalk Islands are beautiful islands to visit and extremely fun to explore. Go ahead and plan your next trip and get outdoors to see them!
If you’re looking for more kayaking launches in Connecticut, check out our guide to 55 kayaking launches in CT!
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