Lake paddling with kids is great, but point-to-point river trips add a level of complexity that makes even a simple outing feel like a big accomplishment. There's something so satisfying about using a canoe to actually travel somewhere and never seeing the same spot twice. There's no denying, however, that it's a lot more work than an out-and-back trip.
The Androscoggin River in Durham provides a nice, accessible, half-day outing. This trip requires you to spot a car. It's an easy paddle that feels surprisingly remote, and there are some small ripples, depending on water level. Thrilling for the kids.
Durham River Park is a great place to put in, but if you want a slightly longer paddle (after all that work you're going to put into logistics) you can head up river to the Durham Boat Launch. From there the first part of the trip is next to highway 136, but it's still a nice paddle. It's about 3 miles starting at Durham River Park and 6ish miles from the Durham Boat Launch. We take out at the Lisbon Falls Miller Park boat launch. It's got a portable toilet for that end-of-trip call of nature.
Spotting a car always confuses me, so here's how we work it out for this trip:
Two adults drive two cars (with a canoe atop each car) to Durham River Park. We unload canoes and sometimes leave the older kids there with the boats. You could also lock the boats up, or go with faith in humankind.
Two adults drive the two cars to Miller Park in Lisbon Falls. We park one car there and the adults ride back to Durham River Park together. (Note: Miller Park can get pretty busy so it's best to get this part done early)
Paddle the river
Take out and move the canoes out of the way of the busy boat launch.
Again, leave kids with canoes (and a snack), or lock boats, or have faith in humankind. Two adults drive back to Durham River Park to retrieve the car parked there.
Drive both cars back to Miller Park to car top the canoes
Load up cars and go for custard at Hodgman's.
A couple notes on point-to-point logistics:
Don't make the mistake of leaving any paddling gear in the car that remains at the take out. You'll be struggling to hold back the swearing in front of your kids when you realize you have to go all the way back.
Always make sure to keep careful track of the take-out car's key while on the river. When you land you don't want to have to scramble to find it. Or worse, realize you left the key in the other car. Like I have. Or maybe you want to add hitchhiking to your family's adventure goals?
Make sure the kids are ready to commit to 2-3 hours in a canoe. There's no turning back if someone gets cranky.
River trips certainly require more effort, planning, and patience, but handling the logistics is part of the fun. The kids, who will probably do very little of the hard work, will love it, and you'll score another parenting win.