Enjoy a Saturday on the Charles River at the Run of the Charles Canoe and Kayak Race, Boston's premier paddling race (and the biggest flat-bottom boat race in New England), which takes place on the last Saturday of April from 8am - 5pm each year.  The date this year is April 27.

Whether you're watching the race as a spectator or on the water among the more than 1,200 canoe, kayak, and stand-up paddlers from the US and Canada who converge on Boston for this special event, you'll find plenty of excitement.

Although Run of the Charles provides a lot of fun and a great excuse to spend a (usually) beautiful April day outside on the water, this annual event also highlights how water quality improvements and clean-up efforts during the past few decades have transformed the notoriously dirty water of the Charles River into a gorgeous urban recreation area. 

Run of the Charles is sponsored by the Charles River Watershed Association (CRWA), a driving force behind the transformation effort, along with thousands of volunteers and advocacy groups.

Top photo: Canoes on the Charles River next to the Esplanade in April, (c) Boston Discovery Guide

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Run of the Charles Races: What to Expect

Canoe team competing in the Run of the Charles race in Boston - Photo courtesy of Charles River Watershed Association & Jamie Doucett Photo
Canoe team competing in the Run of the Charles race in Boston - Photo courtesy of Charles River Watershed Association & Jamie Doucett Photo

Run of the Charles races include canoes, kayaks, and paddle boards competing in 3-, 6-, and 9-mile courses, plus a 14-mile relay race.  Participants include all skill levels, from beginner to expert.

Although all races end at the Finish Line Festival (more about that in a moment) near Artesani Playground in Brighton's Herter Park, they start in a variety of locations including Dedham and Newton as well as Brighton, depending on their length. 

Races kick off between 10am and 11am.  Shorter races follow 3-mile or 6-mile loops, while the 9-mile and 14-mile races pass through several towns including Newton, Waltham, Watertown, and Cambridge, along with Brighton. 

Because Run of the Charles takes place in April, all paddlers must wear life jackets at all times while on the water for the race.  This is required by Massachusetts law until May 15, when water temperatures finally begin to warm up enough to reduce the risk of hypothermia.

Best Location to Watch the Run of the Charles

Stand up paddlers in the Run of the Charles race - Photo courtesy of Charles River Watershed Association
Stand up paddlers in the Run of the Charles race - Photo courtesy of Charles River Watershed Association

The best place to watch the races if you want to see the winners is, of course, on both sides of the Charles River near the finish line in Artesani/Herter Park on Soldiers Field Road in Brighton, roughly a half mile from Harvard Stadium in Allston. 

However, if you just want to watch the racers in action, then almost any point along the Charles between the starting point for the longer races and the finish line will give you a good view. 

The Dr. Paul Dudley White Bike Path (which doubles as a foot path) runs along almost the entire south bank of the river, and you'll also find walking paths and trails along most of the north side. 

Boston Insider's Tip

April weather in Boston can be unpredictable and it typically changes quickly. 

If you are planning to watch the race, bring rain gear if the forecast looks at all iffy.  And layers are always a good idea at this time of the year.

More about April weather in Boston

The Finish Line Festival at Run of the Charles

Kayak racer competing in the Run of the Charles - Photo courtesy of Charles River Watershed Association & Jamie Doucett Photo
Kayak racer competing in the Run of the Charles - Photo courtesy of Charles River Watershed Association & Jamie Doucett Photo

The Finish Line Festival, located near the playground in Herter Park, is where all of the races finish but even more fun begins! 

Look for live music from a local band playing faves in all genres from the '60s through today's top hits as well as food trucks, other vendors, company picnics, and more.

Entrance to the Festival is free of charge.

Run of the Charles Details

Address:  Herter Park, 1255 Soldiers Field Road, Boston (Brighton neighborhood)

Date:  Saturday, April 27 (always the last Saturday in April)

Find out more about Run of the Charles & register to participate

Want to Stay Nearby? Check Out these Hotels near Run of the Charles

Where to Eat & Drink near Run of the Charles

In addition to the food trucks at the Finish Line Festival, here are a couple of other popular local spots for food and drinks that are good enough to qualify as "hidden gems" near Herter Park:

  • Spring Shabu-Shabu (304 Western Ave, Brighton) - Top-notch place for Japanese hot pots, where you select meats, seafood, veggies, and noodles and cook them in a savory broth at a pot on your table.  Open only for dinner during the week, but on Saturdays and Sundays, it opens at 11:30am for lunch - so a perfect spot to go after the race.  About a 3-minute walk from Artesani Playground at Herter Park.  No reservations.  Website
  • Notch Brewery & Tap Room/Biergarten (525 Western Ave, Brighton) - This popular local brewery/tap room usually has about a dozen of their craft brews on tap, and features mostly German and Czech-style beers.  The darker, full-bodied malty ones are especially good.  They also usually have an American-style pale ale, as well as a gluten-free selection plus non-alcoholic brews and other drinks.  In addition, they sell European-style biergarten food, such as sausages, cheese boards, pierogi, and soft pretzels. Their outdoor biergarten is usually a perfect spot to be in April.  About a 10-minute walk from Herter Park.  Website

The Week Before Run of the Charles:  Earth Day Clean-Up!

Run of the Charles - Top April canoe and kayak race event
Earth Day volunteer cleaning up trash along the Charles River next to Boston's Esplanade

In addition to sponsoring the Run of the Charles, CRWA also sponsors Earth Day Charles River Cleanup on the Saturday morning of the week before Run of the Charles. 

Each year over 3,000 volunteers gather on the banks along all 80 miles of the Charles River and pick up literally tons of trash, remove invasive species, and help with maintenance of this special waterfront park.  If you're in Boston, look for the volunteers along the Esplanade.  

Even better, register in advance using the link below and join them!

The Charles River cleanup effort has been nationally recognized for the large number of volunteers who contribute their efforts.

Looking at the Charles River now, it's hard to realize this is the same place memorialized in The Standells' 1966 hit about Boston, "Dirty Water." 

But just change "dirty" to "sparkling" in the refrain, and the words still ring true: 

      "Well, I love that sparkling water . . . Oh, oh, Boston, you're my home!"

Find out more about how to register & participate

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