The river was almost three times higher than any of us had experienced, and the Class III Whetstone Falls would be a challenge.
Ken Gordon paddles an expedition kayak on the Seboeis River. Credit: Courtesy of Ron Chase

On the second day of a three-day Seboeis and East Branch of the Penobscot River canoe/kayak trip, three of us awoke at Snowshoe Lodge on the Seboeis River. Built by Butler Conservation Trust, in conjunction with the Seboeis Riverside Trail, the exceptional cabin provides unusually elaborate accommodations in a remote river setting.

Riverside Trail begins at Grand Lake Road and the lodge is located about two miles downriver. The wilderness path continues south for another five miles to Wipiti Road, where Philpot Bridge crosses the river.

The cozy lodge is available to hikers and paddlers on a first-come, first-served basis. The interior contains four wooden cots with comfortable mattresses, a table with four stools and a woodstove in one corner. A toilet and woodshed are nearby. Fortunately, it was unoccupied when we arrived the previous afternoon, and we thoroughly enjoyed our stay.  

Our goal for the day was to complete the remaining 15 miles on Seboeis River and find a campsite after joining the East Branch of the Penobscot. There would be nothing comparable to Snowshoe Lodge downriver.

Although sunny and seasonably warm, the defining weather feature of the day was wind. We experienced gusty winds throughout. Fortunately, it was the rarest of all paddling winds, a tailwind. An added benefit, the blustery conditions kept the blackflies away.

We soon passed prominent Sugarloaf Mountain on the left. The Riverside Trail could be seen in several locations as we progressed downriver. Easy rapids and quick water continued to Philpot Bridge. The tailwind helped propel us swiftly along to a noteworthy narrows with sheer cliffs on the right. The impressive escarpment constitutes the lower eastern face of Peaked Mountain.

About three miles of additional paddling brought us to the Sherman Lumber Company Road Bridge, where a campsite is located on the right. We found refuge from the wind below an embankment on the left and stopped for lunch. We were surprised to encounter two parties gathering fiddleheads at the isolated location.

More quick water continued for three miles to the confluence with the East Branch. There, we transitioned to big water paddling with an estimated 4,000 cubic feet per second flowing around us.

After some exploration, we located a suitable campsite. A topic of concern during our evening conversations was what to expect at Whetstone Falls the next day. The river was almost three times higher than any of us had experienced, and the Class III falls would be a challenge. We needed to proceed with caution when we reached the falls.

The blustery northwest winds ushered in cold overnight temperatures. Two of us wore camp clothes inside of our sleeping bags to stay warm. All of us slept late waiting for the sun to fend off the morning chill.

As the sun climbed in the sky, the temperature quickly became comfortable. We carefully packed our boats in anticipation of big waves and turbulent conditions at the falls. Although winds had diminished from the day before, we still enjoyed a feisty tailwind.

We could see large waves as we approached the first Whetstone rapid. Unable to boat scout a safe passage, we paddled to the right shore to investigate. From that vantage point, descending on the right side of a robust wave train appeared to be the safest strategy. We navigated through the substantial waves without difficulty.

Around the next bend, the river narrowed and Whetstone Falls Bridge loomed high overhead. Scrutiny from the shore was essential. We eddied right and scrambled over rugged terrain to the top of the bridge. There were dangerous obstacles ahead on both sides of the river. The preferable route appeared to be a narrow channel between cascading waves down the center.

The river was so wide that it wasn’t practical to set up rope safety on shore. We elected to run close together in case someone had difficulty. Successfully navigating through the menacing waves of Whetstone Falls without mishap, we had a problem-free descent.

The remaining nine miles of quick water to the Butler Conservation Trust Hay Brook Kayak/Canoe Facility in Grindstone were pleasant, but passed too quickly. Thanks to a Matagamon Campground shuttle, our vehicles were waiting at the landing.

My book, “Maine Al Fresco: The Fifty Finest Outdoor Adventures in Maine,” narrates six more exciting Maine canoe trips.

Ron Chase resides in Topsham. His latest book, “Maine Al Fresco: The Fifty Finest Outdoor Adventures in Maine” is now available at His previous books are...