Every summer, the Chewonki Foundation sponsors the canoe expedition of a lifetime — the “Thoreau Wilderness Trip.” This excursion traverses the largest undeveloped forest east of the Mississippi River, and in my opinion, the best canoeing Maine has to offer.
The seven-week trip follows the traditional travel routes used by Maine’s native Wabanaki people. The route also retraces many of the steps of famous naturalist, author and philosopher, Henry David Thoreau, who first explored the Maine woods in the 1840s. Later, Thoreau would write several books on his outdoor experiences, including, “The Maine Woods.”
This spectacular canoe journey begins at Baker Lake, the headwaters of the St. John River. From there, groups of up to ten youths paddle more than 100 miles downstream to the confluence with the Allagash River. Upon arrival at the town of Allagash, they put away their paddles and cut dead spruce poles that will be used to work their way up the Allagash River all the way to Churchill Dam.
I have seen those setting poles after they have reached Churchill Dam. They are smoothed up pretty well from constant hand-over-hand use and worn down a few inches from their journey up the Allagash River.
From Churchill Dam, the group paddles and poles to Allagash Lake. From there, they portage to Round Pond, on the headwaters of the West Branch of the Penobscot River. The trip itinerary then takes the group down Caucomgomoc Lake and stream, across Mud Pond Carry, down Chamberlain Lake to Webster Stream, then down the East Branch of the Penobscot River. The final day is spent climbing to the summit of Mount Katahdin in Baxter State Park.
The trip is resupplied at various locations along the route.
The Chewonki Foundation sponsors many other remote canoe trips for teens, families and adults. These trips are not inexpensive, but scholarships are available to many individuals that find the cost a barrier. For more information on Chewonki Summer Wilderness Programs, contact Ryan Linehan at firstname.lastname@example.org or 882-7323 x162 or visit Chewonki.org.
I sure would have liked to go on a trip like this when I was a teenager. Actually, I’d like to go on the trip now!
If this experience perks your interest, but you don’t have time to take a seven-week canoe adventure, you could paddle it in sections over several years. Many people adopt that approach to hiking the Appalachian Trail.
If you don’t think you are up to the portages or poling upstream, there are other ways to cover the same country going with the current and using outfitters. Give me a call at 695-3721 x4, and I would be happy to provide you with information about canoeing the rivers in the North Maine Woods, resupply options and guides and outfitters that can help with logistics.
For general information on the Allagash Wilderness Waterway, go to: www.maine.gov/doc/parks/; call 941-4014; email email@example.com; or write to the Division of Parks and Public Lands, 106 Hogan Road, Bangor, 04401.
Waterway Notes: Josh Plourde and Kale O’Leary have been hired to fill the assistant ranger positions at Churchill Dam and Michaud Farm. Mark Deroche, the former assistant ranger at Round Pond, has been promoted and is now the park manager at Lily Bay State Park.
Waterway reservoirs are currently full, with normal rainfall it should be an excellent canoeing year. The waterway has implemented a new mowing policy as outlined in the recently approved 15-year management plan. Because of this new policy, you may notice that campsites are not as manicured as they have been in the past.
Matthew LaRoche is superintendent of the Allagash Wilderness Waterway.