Paddling in Paradise
Few excursions are as relaxing as a trip down one of Maine’s rivers or streams.
Maine offers canoeists some of the best paddling in the East, and the Allagash and St. John rivers enjoy national reputations for their wildness and scenery. Of course, there are dozens more rivers to explore across the state, from raging rapids to placid flat water, running through extraordinarily beautiful terrain. The following is a sampling of some of the top trips possible, organized south to north, most of which are fairly easy. Several guidebooks are available to canoeing enthusiasts; among the best are the Appalachian Mountain Club’s River Guide: Maine and DeLorme’s The Maine Atlas and Gazetteer.
Always popular, the lazy Saco River has become the beginner’s Allagash. It’s a great introduction to both paddling and canoe camping. Most people put in near Fryeburg and ride the gentle swells to Hiram, spending a night at one of a handful of public campsites on the sandy beaches along the way. The river winds through farm country and beneath western-mountain foothills, but it’s also extremely popular (and occasionally rowdy), so you might consider a trip during the week in high summer or sometime in the shoulder seasons. www.mainelakeschamber.com
The Ossipee River provides the boundary between Oxford and York counties, and it also makes for a great little day trip by canoe. The put-in is in the village of Kezar Falls; from there the river flows almost directly east for eight miles to Cornish. The current is enough to tug you right along, and there are sections of easily navigable rapids. www.oxfordhillsmaine.com
One of the more pleasant places to dip a paddle in the midcoast is the Pemaquid River, a sleepy waterway that links saltwater Pemaquid Harbor with freshwater Boyd Pond. The surroundings change frequently, from quiet, woodsy stretches to wide-open marshes, and a wealth of wildlife can be seen — watch for turtles swimming below the surface of the clear water. There’s good swimming all along the way, and canoe rentals are available at the put-in, which is just off Route 130, a few miles north of Pemaquid Point. www.damariscottaregion.com
Head Tide and Sheepscot are among Maine’s prettiest villages, and the Sheepscot River is a big reason why. Salty and serene, it sways easily back and forth between the two through the bucolic town of Alna, and its banks are largely undeveloped. The paddling is simple enough for beginners, and there are easy places to put in — just south of Head Tide alongside Route 194 are grassy banks all but made for canoeists. www.damariscottaregion.com
East Machias River
The trip down the East Machias River can be as long or as short as you like. Multiple access points allow you to paddle for an afternoon or several days. There are a number of put-in points on the East Machias’ headwaters, Pocomoonshine Lake, and the river flows through Crawford Lake, too, before it takes its own name and shape, so a lot of the going is on flat water. You can begin in the small Greater Calais town of Alexander and end in either Crawford or in an unpopulated township to the south. www.machiaschamber.org
You’d never know you were a short drive from one of Maine’s biggest urban areas when you canoe the Nezinscot. A fairly quiet river, it parallels the Turner Road between Buckfield and Turner Center, not far from the city streets of Lewiston and Auburn, but the landscape is woodsy and pastoral. The going is straightforward on the twelve-mile route — any rapids you encounter are fairly simple. www2.androscoggincounty.com/public/
For ambitious paddlers, the Moose River trip is a mini Allagash. But it’s more convenient in that it uses interconnecting lakes and ponds to form a long multi-day loop, so there’s no need for shuttles or multiple vehicles. It does require portages, though, some of which can be lengthy, and you should keep an eye to the wind, which can make crossing the big lakes hairy. The scenery is unparalleled, the camping remote, and often moose are your only companions. www.kennebecvalley.org
Nesowadnehunk Stream runs along the western edge of Baxter State Park, offering canoeists extraordinary views of the famous park’s legendary peaks. An expedition on it begins below a lake of the same name just outside the park’s boundaries, and you then flow down to Baxter’s Nesowadnehunk Field Campground. The trip is only five miles, but they are five very spectacular miles. www.katahdinmaine.com
The Royal River is known to just about anyone who has ever driven Interstate 95. It’s the small watercourse that goes under the road in Yarmouth. Go upstream and you’ll find some paddling of the easy, meandering type. A fun six-mile run begins off Route 9 in North Yarmouth. www.yarmouthmaine.org
One of the state’s most industrious waterways, the Androscoggin also provides the hydraulics for some great canoeing, especially the stretch from Bethel to Rumford. You can ride the river for some twenty miles on relatively placid water, through bold western mountain terrain, enjoying serene farm country. The put-in is off Route 2 in Bethel. www.bethelmaine.com
Passable for more than a hundred miles, the Aroostook offers canoeists a look at a good chunk of the County. There are many good trips on the quiet, windy river, but one of the best is from tiny Ashland to Fort Fairfield, past Presque Isle and Caribou, a long and winding row. www.fortcc.org