Imagine yourself gliding through a crystal clear lake, your paddle barely making a splash as you draw it through the water. You spot a moose across the lake in the early morning mist. Or perhaps you prefer to take on the ocean waves as you skim along the coast in a sea kayak. Maine offers breathtaking canoeing and kayaking opportunities for paddlers of any level of experience.
If you are a novice paddler, consider hiring a Registered Maine Guide to lead you down a river or into the sea. These guides are well-trained and equipped to keep you safe in the potentially dangerous waters of Maine. Visit the Maine Professional Guides Association website to find a guide in your area. A variety of outfitters also serve the regions of Maine. Outfitters provide canoes, kayaks, paddles, and camping gear to visitors who may not have their own. Ask the outfitter for advice on weather conditions, routes, and guided paddling opportunities.
Lakes, Rivers, and Inland Maine
Northern Forest Canoe Trail
Maine’s interior includes hundreds of lakes and rivers suitable for paddling enthusiasts. One of the most extensive canoe networks is the Northern Forest Canoe Trail. This trail stretches from New York through Vermont, Quebec, New Hampshire, and Maine. It terminates in Fort Kent, Maine, at the Canadian border. The canoe trail extends for 740 miles, crossing through 22 rivers and streams, 56 lakes or ponds, and 62 portages totaling 55 miles. Along the way, there are primitive campsites as well as modern amenities in local inns for overnight accommodations. Although a few people have through-paddled the trail, completing all 740 miles, most paddle shorter stretches of the trail for a few days at a time. The trail includes flat paddling, whitewater paddling, and sections that require poling, lining, and portaging. Most people who travel the Northern Forest Canoe Trail use canoes, but experienced kayakers can also traverse these waters.
Allagash Wilderness Waterway
The Allagash Wilderness Waterway is part of the Northern Forest Canoe Trail and was established in 1966 to preserve its pristine wilderness. The waterway extends for 92 miles through lakes, rivers, streams, and ponds that pass through hardwood forests. Paddlers must register at a North Maine Woods control station or Allagash Wilderness Waterway ranger station. Camping is permitted at designated campsites, and only canoes or kayaks are permitted on the waterway. Renting a canoe typically costs $25 to $35 per day. Call the Allagash Wilderness Waterway at 207-941-4014 for more information.
Saint John River
The St. John River passes through northwestern Maine before forming the border between Maine and New Brunswick. This river is an angler’s paradise, with excellent opportunities for muskellunge and smallmouth bass fishing. The river also passes through undeveloped forest, providing seclusion from the outside world. Because several stretches of the river include difficult rapids, only experienced canoeists should attempt to paddle the river. The best paddling experience coincides with spring runoff during May and early June, when water levels are higher. Paddling the entire river takes seven or more days and may cost from $600 to $900 with a registered guide. Instructional guided day trips are typically less expensive, from $150 to $250.
The Kennebec River originates in Moosehead Lake and travels over 100 miles to Augusta. In addition to being an excellent river to fish for salmon or brook trout, the river attracts canoeists and kayakers from around the country. Sections of the river contain significant whitewater and should only be attempted by experienced whitewater kayakers or individuals with a guide.
Rapids are given a designation from Class I to Class VI, with Class VI being extremely hazardous even for expert paddlers. Inexperienced paddlers should stick to Class I or II whitewater, while more experienced paddlers may enjoy the challenge of Class III to V rapids. Several portions of the Kennebec River include Class III to V rapids. In addition to whitewater kayaking, the river includes opportunities for whitewater rafting through outfitters and registered guides.
The Dead River in western Maine provides opportunities for canoeing and kayaking, including some areas for whitewater kayaking. Paddling the Dead River takes you through serene forests, past a variety of wildlife, and near impressive waterfalls.
The Penobscot River and its branches flow for over 264 miles through central Maine. Although many sections of the river are undeveloped and pass through pristine wilderness, some areas have dams to regulate its flow. The Penobscot River takes you past beautiful waterfalls, small farming communities, excellent fishing waters, and tall forests. Traveling the Upper West Branch of the river is a popular route that takes four to five days.
Ocean, Sea, and Coastal Maine
Maine Island Trail
Conservationists and concerned citizens pushed the state to develop the Maine Island Trail in the mid-1980s. The trail connects 190 coastal islands and other sites along Maine’s coast, protecting the area from development and environmental damage. The Maine Island Trail is an excellent opportunity for sea kayakers, who can travel all or part of its 375 miles. The islands along the route include sites for overnight camping. The trail leads from the New Hampshire border, along the coast, through beautiful capes, down saltwater rivers, into quiet bays, and along countless islands. For more information about the trail, contact the Maine Island Trail Association at 207-761-8225.
Acadia National Park
Acadia National Park is the second most popular national park in the United States and one of the premier sea kayaking destinations in the world. The park offers spectacular coastal scenery and the opportunity to view many species of wildlife. Kayaking Acadia National Park should be attempted by experienced paddlers only; novices should hire a registered guide. The ocean waters are typically 55 degrees Fahrenheit and tides, rough seas, and fog can be challenging for paddlers. Consider venturing out to Sheep Porcupine, Bald Porcupine, and the Hop, three scenic islands that are part of the park. These islands contain nesting sites for a variety of coastal bird species. For more information about sea kayaking in Acadia National Park, call 207-288-3338.
St. George Peninsula
The St. George Peninsula is a scenic area of southern Maine which includes the towns of Port Clyde, Clark Island, Glenmere, Tenants Harbor, and Martinsville. Sea kayakers will enjoy paddling along the coastline and out to the Georges Islands. In addition to beautiful coastal scenery, the area features quaint villages and old lighthouses. Kayak tours lasting a few hours typically cost from $50 to $100 per person. The Maine Association of Sea Kayak Guides and Instructors can provide more information about this and other kayaking opportunities; visit http://www.maskgi.org/index.html for more information.