Kayaking in Norwalk and Westport

Norwalk, CT

Directions:

Launch from Calf Pasture Beach Park exit 16 off of I-95. The Park has plenty of parking, rest rooms, food service and a boat launch dedicated to paddleboats, that is in direct view of the Norwalk Islands. There is an entrance fee during the beach season.

A one-mile paddle directly south will bring you to the islands. Paddlers will find several islands open to the public for camping, exploring and picnics. Continuing your exploration of Long Island Sound you will pass several historic lighthouses including the Sheffield Island Lighthouse on the western end of Sheffield Island that you can actually tour.

As you paddle the Sound you will see an interesting variety of wildlife.  This is a paradise for bird lovers as the islands offer refuge for many species of nesting, wading and diving birds that includes an abundance of osprey. Harbor seals from Maine and Canada can be seen frolicking in Long Island Sound during the fall and winter months. And for ambitious paddlers, it's over 9 nautical miles to circumvent all of the Norwalk Islands.

For coastal paddling, paddle east toward Westport and visit the marsh around the golf course, or paddle west and up the Norwalk Harbor and river, or paddle further west toward Rowayton's Bell Island, the Five Mile River and the coast of Darien, where you can explore all kinds of nooks and crannies in Darien's coves.

The Norwalk Islands

The city of Norwalk in the heart of Fairfield County is surrounded by a necklace of islands.  As a matter of fact, there are approximately 23 islands located off the coast of this robust seaside city.

The islands range in size from 60 acres to sandy bars barely emerging from the water. Tidal currents are gentle and the scenic mainland is always visible. On a clear day, Manhattan's skyscrapers are visible.

Geologists generally consider the islands to be terminal moraines — material left by glaciers. Above water, various rocks, gravel, sand, silt and clay characterize the moraines. Some historians have speculated that rocks from the islands were used as ballast for sailing ships returning to New York, where the rocks may have been used for cobblestones.

Today, many of these islands are privately owned, some with residents living on them seasonally and others year-round.

The islands of Chimon and Sheffield are part of the Stewart B. McKinney National Wildlife Refuge and they are open to the public with some limited or restricted access to parts of the island seasonally due to the bird nesting season.

The City of Norwalk owns Shea Island and Grassy Island, both are open to the public. Cockenoe Island is owned by the town of Westport.

The islands are located about one mile off shore and provide canoeists and kayakers with daylong sightseeing, wind sheltered, and open-water scenic paddling experiences.

Overnight camping is permitted on Shea, Grassy and Cockenoe Islands.  Please note that no fresh water is supplied to the islands.

On the Water Logistics

When crossing boating channels stay in close groups and cross at right angles. Make yourself visible and never assume a larger vessel has sighted your vessel or that you have the right of way.

Throughout most of the year the prevailing winds blow out of the southwest. The average tidal range in the Norwalk Islands area is 7.5 feet. Each tidal cycle (from low to high) has duration of approximately 6 hours. Tidal currents are strongest on the mid-outgoing and mid-incoming tides and are more intense during foul weather conditions. Strong tidal currents can be felt between Shea Island and Chimon Island, and the sheer force of their flow can also cause difficult eddy and wave conditions, even on calm days.

When fog occurs, it can result in sudden and total disorientation. You will need a compass, but you may gain orientation from the sound of bells or foghorns as well as steady wave and wind direction. If fog or heavy rain sets in and the shore cannot be seen from the islands, heading in a northerly direction gets you to the mainland.

Please do not tamper with lobster pot buoys or shellfish bed stakes: the shellfish industry is a very important component of the local and state economy.

Wildlife Found on the Islands and on Long Island Sound

Long Island Sound is rich in wildlife.  As you paddle around the Islands of Norwalk keep your eyes peeled for harbor seals.  A favorite hang out for harbor seals is on the southwest corner of Sheffield Island.  Look for the seals sunning themselves on the rocks at low tide in the fall and winter months. Recent studies suggest that kayak and canoe approaches disturb the seals that may sense predatory danger from them so please maintain a safe distance (50 yards) from the seals. The Marine Mammal Protection Act protects these mammals from harassment and sets limits as to how close observers can approach.

A visit to Norwalk's Maritime Aquarium will help you understand the environment and ecology of Long Island Sound.  This nationally recognized aquarium puts you nose-to-nose with sharks, within inches of seals, river otters, sea turtles, jellyfish and more than 1,000 other marine animals. It boasts of many interactive displays that include touch tanks with crabs, sea stars and more.

The Aquarium also offers boat trips year round with the Aquarium's marine science educators that are on hand to explain the ecological importance of Long Island Sound.  The Maritime Aquarium is open daily, 10-5, except Thanksgiving and Christmas Day. During the months of July and August, they are open until 6 p.m. For more information visit www.maritimeaquarium.org.

Many of the islands around Norwalk provide important resting, feeding, and nesting habitats for many species of wading birds, shorebirds, songbirds and terns. Though many islands are small, their importance to wildlife, especially migratory birds, is enormous. Native wildlife populations have diverse habitat requirements.  The islands along Connecticut's coast fill these needs by providing habitats that are forested, marshy, sandy and secluded.

Calf Pasture Beach Boat Launch

Directions to Calf Pasture Beach in East Norwalk, Connecticut: If you are approaching from the west on I-95 take Exit 16 and turn right at the end of the ramp onto East Avenue. If you are approaching from the east on I-95 take a left at the end of the ramp onto East Avenue. Follow East Avenue for about 0.4 miles to a railroad trestle bridge. Continue straight under the railroad trestle for 0.1 miles, then bear left around a cemetery, then immediately bear right onto Gregory Boulevard. Go 0.6 miles to the monument, go left around the monument, and then make the next right onto Calf Pasture Beach Road. Go 0.6 miles to the beach. Follow the parking lot around to boat launch area. (Look for signs to Calf Pasture Beach.).

The Calf Pasture Beach is a large recreation area run by the city of Norwalk. There is a charge for out-of-towners. The unpaved boat launch is on the right between the Coast Guard station and the beach, right across from the ball fields. Parking near the boat launch is reserved for Norwalk residents only. However, parking is available by the ball field or in the large parking lot that you pass on the way to the boat launch. This exposed launch area is the best point of entry to get to the islands quickly and safely. A restaurant and bathroom are available here.

Grassy Island

The coastline of this 7.3-acre island is composed of gravel, sand and silt. The northwest, west and southwest coast are sheltered making them perfect areas for a rest from paddling.

Open to the public May through Columbus Day, campers with permits can stay overnight at one of the 4 campsites on Grassy Island. Permits can be obtained from the Norwalk Recreation and Parks Department.

Out of town residents will be charged a $25 camping registration fee and an additional $10 per night camping fee for use of Grassy Island. Norwalk residents providing proof of residency will be exempt from the registration fee, but will be required to pay a $10 per night camping fee. No refunds will be provided.

Overnight Permit Requests

A permit issued by the City of Norwalk Department of Recreation and Parks will be required for all overnight island camping. Permits will not be issued on site and are required prior to setting up camp. Overnight permits will only be issued at the Veteran's Park Boating Center or through the Norwalk Harbormasters Office, located at:

Norwalk City Hall

125 East Ave.

Norwalk, CT 06851

Camping registration requests are required 14 days prior to the camping date requested. All permits are issued on a first-come, first-served basis. Campers on the islands without a valid permit will be required to remove all camping equipment.

Permit Details

Camping permits will expire at 11:00 am of the last authorized date. Vacant sites may be occupied after 11:00 am on the day of the permit. Permits will not be issued for more than seven consecutive nights. The maximum number of campers per permit is eight.  Camping is allowed in designated numbered campsites only.  Four sites are available on Grassy Island.  Outhouse / restroom facilities are available on Grassy Island during the season. Please note that no fresh water is available on the island. Grassy Island is designated a carry-in, carryout recreation area; no trash facilities are provided. All garbage and trash must be taken off the island by the user.

Additional Information

For further information about the fees and permit requirements of the Norwalk Island Park System, please contact Recreation and Parks Office at (203) 854-7806. Visit http://www.norwalkct.org for more information regarding camping permits.

Shea Island

Once called "Ram Island", this island was renamed after Daniel Shea, a Congressional Medal of Honor recipient from Norwalk who died in the Vietnam War. Owned by Norwalk city government, the island is just northeast of Sheffield Island and about 4,000 yards south of Manressa Island. The entire shoreline of this 45-acre island is strewn with rocks and boulders. Many bird species are found on the island. Two solar powered restrooms are available seasonally along with 16 camping sites. Camping permits can be obtained from the Norwalk Recreation and Parks Department.

Open to the public May through Columbus Day, campers with permits can stay overnight at one of the 16 campsites. Permits can be obtained from the Norwalk Recreation and Parks Department.

Out of town residents will be charged a $25 camping registration fee and an additional $10 per night camping fee for use of Norwalk island parks. Norwalk residents providing proof of residency will be exempt from the registration fee, but will be required to pay a $10 per night camping fee. No refunds will be provided.

Overnight Permit Requests

A permit issued by the City of Norwalk Department of Recreation and Parks will be required for all overnight island camping. Permits will not be issued on site and are required prior to setting up camp. Overnight permits will only be issued at the Veteran's Park Boating Center or through the Norwalk Harbormasters Office, located at:

Norwalk City Hall

125 East Ave.

Norwalk, CT 06851

Camping registration requests are required 14 days prior to the camping date requested. All permits are issued on a first-come, first-served basis. Campers on the islands without a valid permit will be required to remove all camping equipment.

Permit Details

Camping permits will expire at 11:00 am of the last authorized date. Vacant sites may be occupied after 11:00 am on the day of the permit. Permits will not be issued for more than seven consecutive nights. The maximum number of campers per permit is eight.  Camping is allowed in designated numbered campsites only.  A maximum of 16 designated campsites for each 24-hour period will be available to the public on a first come, first serve basis on Shea (Ram) Island.  Restroom facilities are available on Shea Island during the season. Please note that no fresh water is available on the island. Shea Island is designated a carry-in, carryout recreation area; no trash facilities are provided. All garbage and trash must be taken off the island by the user.

Additional Information

For further information about the fees and permit requirements of the Norwalk Island Park System, please contact Recreation and Parks Office at (203) 854-7806. Visit http://www.norwalkct.org for more information regarding camping permits.

Chimon Island

Chimon Island at 59 acres is the largest island in Norwalk's necklace of islands and is located less than a mile to the southeast of the entrance to Norwalk Harbor.

The north and west coasts of the island are gravely, and boulders are strewn along the south and east coasts. Although boaters may land at the three-acre beach at the northwest shore during the day, year round, access to the rest of the island is restricted from April 1 to August 15 each year due to the bird-nesting season. There is no overnight camping allowed.

Chimon Island is part of the Stewart B. McKinney National Wildlife Reserve. This island provides a refuge as well as a variety of habitats to wildlife, especially migratory birds, shoreline birds and long legged wading birds.

This refuge was named to honor US Congressman Stewart B. McKinney, who had an integral role in the refuge's formation that covers ten islands along seventy miles of the Connecticut Coast. For additional informaton http://www.fws.gov/northeast/mckinney.

Sheffield Island

At 53 acres, Sheffield Island is the second largest island located off the coast of Norwalk and the most southerly.  It is located about 1,500 yards from the Norwalk coast and just southwest of Shea Island. The entire shoreline is strewn with rocks and boulders. As part of the Stewart B. McKinney National Wildlife Refuge, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service controls the island except for the 3.5-acre parcel occupied by the Sheffield Island Lighthouse and grounds owned by the Norwalk Seaport Association.

Sheffield is also one of the best places to see seals. The Maritime Aquarium at Norwalk organizes boat trips circling the islands, including a cruise to see the fall foliage and a winter cruise to see harbor seals and waterfowl. The Norwalk Seaport Association offers boat cruises and lighthouse tours to the island from the end of May through mid.- September annually.  The Association also offers special events, Thursday night clambakes in season on the island and bird watching tours.  For more information on the programs offered by the Norwalk Seaport Association visit http://www.seaport.org.

Sheffield Island supports a variety of bird species and has considerable nesting potential for osprey, herons and other migratory birds. To protect these birds, Sheffield Island is seasonally closed to public access each year. The refuge also provides important resting, feeding, and nesting habitat for many species of wading birds, shorebirds, songbirds and terns, including the endangered roseate tern. Adjacent waters serve as wintering habitat for brant, scoters, black duck and other waterfowl.

Sheffield Island offers visitors two special experiences. A climb up the stairs of the island's stone mid.-Victorian styled lighthouse built in 1868 will reward you with exceptional views in all four directions including the Manhattan skyline.  Afterward, take a hike along the trail in the Stewart B. McKinney National Wildlife Refuge.  The trail leads you to an observation platform where you will have a bird's eye view of wildlife that makes Sheffield Island their home.  There are also ruins of a mansion once located on the island to explore.

Cockenoe Island

Less than a mile from the shoreline it has been reported that Cockenoe Island whose name is pronounced "kah-KEE-nee" is now the largest home for birds, in this island chain. As a matter of fact, out of all the islands in this area, Cockenoe Island's 27 acres has the highest concentration of bird rookeries.  Herons, egrets and black cormorants can be seen on Cockenoe.  This scenic island known for birds and wildlife, crabbing, shell fishing, and trails, is an ideal spot for camping and picnics.

Cockenoe Island is located off Seymour Point in Westport and only accessible by boat. There is a boat launch ramp at Compo Beach and Marina and Saugatuck River State Boat Launch in Westport.

Directions:

Compo Beach and Marina:

From the East: Take I-95 South to exit 18 to Sherwood Island State Park and continue 0.16 miles. Take the ramp to US-1/Westport and continue 0.09 miles. Take Sherwood Island Connector/Route 476 North and continue 0.19 miles. Turn left onto Greens Farms Road and continue 1.65 miles. Turn left onto Compo Road South and continue 0.88 miles. Turn slight right onto Compo Beach Road.

From the West: Take I-95 North. Take the Route 136 exit 17 to Route 33/Westport/Saugatuck and continue 0.27 miles. Turn slight left onto Saugatuck Avenue/Route 136. Continue to follow Route 136 for 0.37 miles. Turn right onto Bridge Street/Route 136 and continue 0.50 miles. Turn right onto Compo Road South for 0.88 miles. Turn slight right onto Compo Beach Road.

Saugatuck River State Boat Launch:

From the East: Take I-95 South. Take exit 18 to Sherwood Island State Park and continue 0.16 miles. Take the ramp to US-1/Westport and continue 0.09 miles. Continue onto Sherwood Island Connector/Route 476 North 0.19 miles. Turn left onto Greens Farms Road that becomes Bridge Street/Route 136. Turn / south onto Underhill Parkway to boat launch.

From the West: Take I-95 North. Take the Route 136 exit 17 to Route 33/Westport/Saugatuck and continue 0.27 miles. Turn slight left onto Saugatuck Avenue/Route 136. Continue to follow Route 136. 0.37 miles. Turn right onto Bridge Street/Route 136 and continue 0.50 miles. Turn right / south onto Underhill Parkway to boat launch.

Camping Permits

The island is owned by the town of Westport.  Any person wishing to camp on the Island between May 15 and October 15 of any year must receive a camping permit from the Westport Conservation Department. Camping permits are limited to 4 parties per night can be obtained from the Westport Conservation Commission. Occupancy of each campsite is limited to no more than five people and two tents. Camping permits may be issued for a period of up to seven days.  A period of fourteen days must pass before a permit may be reissued to the same individual or group. There is a camping fee.  For more information regarding a permit call Phone 203-341-1170.

Paddling Trail

This spectacular 7.3 mile paddling tour on Long Island Sound will introduce you to the wildlife and natural beauty of the Connecticut coast.  Abundant wildlife, shoreline birds, seals, lighthouses and islands to explore make this tour rewarding.  Don't forget your camera and your binoculars.

Put In Point: Calf Pasture Beach

Directions: I-95 N to exit 16 (toward E. Norwalk, CT). R onto East Ave. In .4 mi., L onto Cemetery St. In 500 ft., R onto Gregory Blvd. In .5 mi., L around monument, then R onto Calf Pasture Beach Rd. Go .6 mi. to parking area (follow signs to Calf Pasture Beach).

On the Water

Paddle south from the launch on Calf Pasture beach, bear right at Betts Island (privately owned) then head southwest.  Steer around the west coast of Chimon Island, a national wildlife refuge and home to many shorebirds.

As you make your way around Chimon Island, listen carefully for nasal croaks and soft grunts of the long-legged glossy ibis that frequent this island.

Soon you will pass Shea Island's rocky shoreline.

Paddling in a southwesterly direction the next island you will see is Sheffield Island.  Take time to stretch your legs and explore the lighthouse and hike along a trail in the Stewart B. McKinney National Wildlife Refuge to a platform that gives you a birds eye view of the wildlife that makes this island their home.

Continuing on travel south from the tip of Sheffield Island and swing northeast passing The Plains Island, here there is a short portage across a narrow section of land approximately 2 ft at high tide- more at low tide. Or you can paddle east, then north around Copps Island, adding .5 mi. to trip.

Continue in a northerly direction skirting the western edge of Grassy Island; where you may want to pull off for a rest on its sheltered, sandy shoreline and take time to explore the delights of this island.

Leaving Grassy Island, head around the eastern edge of Betts Island, then paddle north/northwest back to the boat launch where this tour began.