The Spit Run: from Herring Brook to the North River to the Spit on 3rd Cliff and back

Length of Route (detailed map): about 1 hour round trip (unless you decide to stop and lounge on the spit); 2.6 miles (4.17km)

Details: Launch your craft from the boat launch in the parking lot of the Driftway Park located across from Widows Walk Golf Course on the New Driftway. (“P” on the map detail) The easiest way to put your craft in the water is to temporarily park right next to the boat launch and unload before parking your car in the lot.

Difficulty: Easy- From beginners to experts, this route is extremely enjoyable. Depending on wind gusts, the tide, and the strength of the river’s current, this route can be a little challenging for beginner kayakers and SUP’ers but is still manageable and fun.

Hazards:

  1. Boat traffic- This river is deep and wide enough for large motor boats, so beware of boat traffic on your kayaking journey. The boat launch where you put your craft into the water is also accessible to large power boats. There are also power boats coming from docks located further up river from the Driftway’s boat launch, so be cautious when putting your paddling craft into the water.  

  2. Tides, Winds, and Currents- This route becomes difficult when the tide, wind, and current don’t move in the same direction. The ride down river to the spit is fastest when the tide is going out, moving in the same direction as the river’s current. However, when there is wind coming off the ocean, the trip becomes a little slower. During high tides, there are also a lot of different streams that break from Herring Brook, cut through the marshes, and return to either Herring Brook or the North River. When there is enough water, exploring these additional “short-cuts” can give you an even closer look at the river’s thriving ecosystem. But memorize your landmarks! The changing tides will surprise you every time! Knowing the daily tides and weather forecasts for Scituate before your paddling trip is paramount in your preparation.

  3. KNOW YOUR MAP! If you are not an experienced boater/swimmer, do NOT paddle past the spit into the mouth of the North River where it meets the open ocean. Changing surf conditions lead to drowning deaths every year.

Nature: This route is especially scenic. The marshland around Herring Brook and the North River is home to a variety of animal and plant species. As you travel towards the Spit, you will see various kinds of animals common to salt-marsh ecosystems including Striped Bass, River Herring, Common Tern, Cormorants, and Egrets feeding in the river, mudflats, and grasses of the river. The tall grasses on the Spit itself are home to the endangered species the Piping Plover, which nests during the spring and early summer months. For the safety of these birds, please do not explore past the ropes and signs surrounding the grasses. 

History: In November of 1898, Massachusetts’ coast was slammed by The Portland Gale, and the coast of Scituate was forever altered. The storm surge added so much power to the North River that the river changed its course and disintegrated the beach connecting Third and Fourth (Humarock) Cliffs in one night. As a result, what is now known as Humarock separated from the rest of Scituate forever and the Spit, the destination of this route, was created. The Spit has remained a significant factor to Scituate’s history since its creation in 1898. During the Prohibition, Rum-Runners (also known as bootleggers) would use the Spit as a rendez-vous to sell and trade their wares.

Until about 1850, the North River was the most prominent area in Massachusetts for the shipbuilding industry. The river’s location provided infinite amounts of lumber for the ships and many freshwater streams powered saw mills. This industry supplied the largest employment and income for residents of Massachusetts for a long period of time. Recorded are at least ten lumber yards and 190 vessels made in the North River. If you decide to travel up-river instead of towards the Spit, you will notice signs that indicate the locations of various shipyards from the 19th century.

The history of the North River also includes stories of shipwrecks. On June 10, 1930, a small passenger liner “Fairfax” and a gasoline tanker “Pinthis” were both outside the North River searching for buoy No. 4 as they were struggling to navigate in the extreme fog. That evening, the “Fairfax” ran into the “Pinthis”. The “Pinthis” immediately burst into flames, killing all passengers and crewmen, while many men on the “Fairfax” leaped into the water thinking their boat was about to sink. Fifty people were killed in this shipwreck.  

Sources include “Images of America: Scituate” (Scituate Historical Society) and Historical Documents kept at Scituate Town Library

The Scituate Historic Trails project formed from a partnership between Scituate Historical Society, People for Active Transportation & Health (PATH), and Stellwagen Bank Marine Sanctuary to create and promote walking paths and bike routes connecting historical sites, beaches, downtown businesses and other fun places to relax, learn, eat and enjoy Scituate, a charming New England seaside town founded in 1636. Scituate is a coastal town located 25 miles south of Boston with nearly 17 square miles of history and centuries old character to be enjoyed on foot, on a bicycle or from a boat! From out of town? Hop on the Greenbush Train from South Station with your bike and enjoy a healthy, historical adventure to Scituate Massachusetts.

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