The Allagash Wilderness Waterway

Allagash Wilderness Waterway

Allagash Wilderness Waterway, near Cunliffe Depot. Photo courtesy of Jack Heddon.

The heart of Maine is one of the last truly wild places in the United States. When paddling the area’s lakes and rivers, you glide silently through pristine wilderness. Perhaps you get a glimpse of a moose through the hazy morning mist or see a black bear cavorting on the shore. These are the magnificent experiences that await you on the Allagash Wilderness Waterway.

Established in 1966, the waterway protects 92 miles of lakes, streams, rivers, and ponds. Unlike most rivers, the Allagash runs from south to north, leading you farther into the northern Maine woods. If this is your first long canoe adventure, it is a good idea to hire a Registered Maine Guide or local outfitter to provide a guided trip. The cost is typically from $500 to $800 per person, although prices vary. The entire trip from Chamberlain Lake to Allagash Village takes 7 to 10 days. Most paddlers average 8 to 14 miles per day, depending on their skill level and number of daily paddling hours.

Camping & Entrance Fees

There are campsites located throughout the waterway. These sites are first-come, first-served, so begin looking for an open campsite in the late afternoon or early evening to make sure you find one before nightfall. Camping fees are $4 per night for Maine residents and $8 per night for non-residents. Children under age 10 can camp for free. There is also a fee to enter the Maine North Woods, which is collected at checkpoints along the waterway. The cost is $5 per day for residents and $8 per day for non-residents. The maximum party size allowed on the waterway is 12 people. At no time should you travel with more than 12 people on the waterway; this protects the natural habitat and portages.

Beginning the Trip on Chamberlain Lake 

A journey on the Allagash Wilderness Waterway begins at Chamberlain Lake. The nearest major town is Millinocket, 50 miles southwest of the lake. Outfitters in Millinocket can supply you with tents, canoes, cooking gear, and any other equipment you need for your trip. After launching your canoe at Chamberlain Lake, paddle along the eastern shore of the lake until you reach Lock Dam. The total paddling distance is approximately 10 miles. Be wary when paddling large lakes, as the brisk breeze can cause strong waves that may overturn your canoe. Strong paddling skills are a must when crossing the lake; stay close to shore to be safer. Numerous campsites dot the shoreline of Chamberlain Lake.

From Lock Dam, some paddlers choose to take an optional side trip up a stream to Allagash Lake. This lake is only open to canoeists, making it a secluded, serene area. There are eight campsites on Allagash Lake if you are interested in staying the night. The distance from Lock Dam to the lake and back is approximately 9 miles. Some poling is required to navigate the stream leading to this lake.A journey on the Allagash Wilderness Waterway begins at Chamberlain Lake. The nearest major town is Millinocket, 50 miles southwest of the lake. Outfitters in Millinocket can supply you with tents, canoes, cooking gear, and any other equipment you need for your trip. After launching your canoe at Chamberlain Lake, paddle along the eastern shore of the lake until you reach Lock Dam. The total paddling distance is approximately 10 miles. Be wary when paddling large lakes, as the brisk breeze can cause strong waves that may overturn your canoe. Strong paddling skills are a must when crossing the lake; stay close to shore to be safer. Numerous campsites dot the shoreline of Chamberlain Lake.

Eagle Lake to Umsaskis Lake

There is a brief portage of several hundred feet to cross Lock Dam to Eagle Lake. Look for the Eagle Lake Tramway, the remnants of a tram track and steam engine used during Maine’s logging heyday. Rusting parts litter the forest floor in this area. Eagle Lake is 124 feet deep and has several scenic trails leading from the waters edge. Consider spending time at sandy Russell Brook Beach for a relaxing break from paddling. Look for moose, loons, osprey, and white-tailed deer in this region.

It is a smooth 12 mile paddle from the Eagle Lake Tramway to Thoroughfare Brook, which extends another two miles before you reach Churchill Lake. Look for Churchill Ridge, a 400 foot rocky ridge on the lake’s northern shore. Canadian geese sometimes come to Pleasant Stream, on the northeastern shore of the lake. Paddle the five-mile length of Churchill Lake to Churchill Dam. There are dozens of small islands in Eagle and Churchill Lakes where you can stop for lunch or stay overnight at a campsite.

There is a short, several hundred foot portage at Churchill Dam before you are faced with one of the most thrilling sections of the entire waterway: Chase Rapids. This nine-mile stretch of rapids will challenge your canoe navigation skills, but it is certain to be one of the highlights of your journey. This stretch includes Class I and Class II rapids. The last members of Maine’s native caribou herd were last spotted here in 1901. After braving Chase Rapids, you will enter Umsaskis Lake. This lake has steep ledges on its western slope and affords distant glimpses of Priestly Mountain. Try paddling up Drake Brook, on the western side of Umsaskis Lake, to look for beaver dams, which are often spotted in this region.

Long Lake to Michaud Farm

From Umsaskis Lake, you must paddle through a narrow channel to reach Long Lake. This lake lives up to its name, stretching 11 miles. It is relatively narrow and typically has calm waters, allowing you to have a relaxing paddle. There are eight campsites in this area of the waterway. Look for a marshy, silty delta on the east shore of Long Lake and a sandy beach on its western shore.

At the end of Long Lake, there is a brief portage at Long Lake Dam before the Allagash River resumes its northward flow. The river is swifter here, taking you past northern white cedar, white birch, spruce, and fir trees. After 10 miles of river paddling, the river will branch into three channels, all of which lead to Round Pond. This pond is three miles wide. When the river branches, take the north channel for the best opportunity to view bird species and other wildlife.

From Round Pond, there is a series of whitewater rapids to navigate. After three miles, the river turns southeast. Look for the wide area where a tornado decimated the forest nearly 60 years ago. It is 15 miles from Round Pond to Michaud Farm. This farm is the site where J.T. Michaud, a 19th century lumber baron, made his fortune logging these rich forests.

Allagash Falls to the St. John River

From Michaud Farm, paddle three miles to reach Allagash Falls. These falls drop 30 feet and are a registered critical area, making it important to preserve their grandeur. There is a ⅓-mile portage at the falls, one of the longest portages on the trip. Two campsites are located near the falls, making this a good place to stop for the night.

After portaging past Allagash Falls, the river runs 8 miles before intersecting with West Twin Brook. Dozens of tiny islands and large boulders are found in this part of the river, making it tricky to navigate. Enjoy the birch trees, balsam poplars, and silver maples lining the shore. Although the Allagash Wilderness Waterway officially ends at Twin Brook Ledges, most paddlers continue the remaining five miles to Allagash village. Look carefully at Twin Brook Ledges, on which New England violet and Bird’s Eye Primrose grow. These rare species are endangered, making this a registered critical area. At Allagash village, the Allagash River meets the St. John River. This is a great place to get a hot meal and a shower to celebrate the end of your paddling adventure.

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