NFCT: Maine - Aroostook County segment
The Northern Forest Canoe Trail (NFCT) connects northern New York, Vermont, Québec, New Hampshire, and Maine, following age-old Native American travel routes across the Northern Forest Region.
Maine's 347 miles of the NFCT route traverses some of the most scenic, remote, and rugged landscapes the state has to offer. Multiple beautiful and unique kayak and canoe destinations offer paddling experiences for enthusiasts at all levels of experience and with a variety of interests. The Trail crosses lakes big and small, winds down quiet streams, and charges down brawling whitewater rivers. At times challenging, at times serene, the 6 mapped sections (NFCT sections 8-13) pass through diverse settings - historic towns and villages, and working forest and farm landscapes.
Paddling the entire Maine route is a big adventure and truly an expedition. This is the fourth in a series of four articles excerpted from the NFCT Official Guidebook of vacation destinations in Maine, with the intent of breaking this big adventure down into accessible trips. Each offers a great way to experience the state's natural wonders, spectacular beauty, and storied outdoors by kayak or canoe.
The final mapped section (#13) of the Northern Forest Canoe Trail (NFCT) follows the northernmost portion of the Allagash Wilderness Waterway (AWW) and the St. John River to the trail's eastern terminus in the New Brunswick border town of Fort Kent, Maine. This is also the northernmost section of the NFCT route overall. In contrast to other sections of the Trail which easily lend themselves to trips of varying durations, the AWW has only limited put in and take out options. Accordingly, we describe this Aroostook County segment in its entirety from the access at the Umsaskis Thoroughfare Bridge to the NFCT terminus in Fort Kent, noting access points along the way.
This portion of the AWW is as scenic and wildlife-rich as its southern half. For 37 miles, from the Umsaskis Thoroughfare Bridge at the head of Long Lake to Allagash Falls, there is only one quick portage and more than 30 campsites. This is a good stretch for a group of canoes or touring kayaks. Campsites on Long Lake have gravel beaches, and the moose, deer, and waterfowl you see from your boat are the first of many to observe if you are heading north for a while.
A marshy narrows leads to Harvey Pond, home to muskrat, otter, and the remains of Long Lake Dam. Spikes and old timbers protrude from the water where the dam once stood making lining or paddling dangerous. Most paddlers use the 0.15-mile portage trail on river right through the campsite. Below the dam the Allagash River returns. Just ahead at Cunliffe Island is where black bear have been seen crossing the water.
Several miles of quickwater carry you forward, broken by occasional riffles. The channel snakes between rows of tall trees, and on a clear day the sun will brighten the layered shore and distant ridges.
After a sharp right bend at Gamash Brook, a series of shoally rips unwinds. Soon, you pass beneath Henderson Brook Bridge, another official access point to the AWW. Beyond the bridge, the river separates around grass and alder islands. Quiet water near the north channel is a good spot to see grebes, herons, ducks, and warblers.
Paddle by stately elms and maples as you pass below the high ridge that buttresses Round Pond. Moose often congregate at its inlet. If you've got time for a hike, find the Tower Trail campsite on the lake's northeast shore and the trailhead to the 3.3-mile path up Round Pond Mountain.
Exit the pond through a set of Class I rips. Expect a series of riffles over the next several miles. You'll soon pass rock-pile abutments of a long-gone bridge and get a view of a ridge scarred by logging. As you round a bend past Croque Brook, the north slope of Round Pond Mountain drops to the shore. A mature stand of silver maples marks the mouth of Musquacook Stream. Below Musquacook Stream, several miles of deadwater unwind along the Allagash.
As Five Finger Brook pours into the channel, you'll pass one among several upcoming washes of eroded riverbank. In lower water, gravel bars begin to intensify here. It's the perfect place to try out the "Maine guide stance," in a canoe. Stand up in the stern of your boat to get the best perspective on the river ahead.
A hundred yards upstream of the Cunliffe Depot campsite and just south of a small waterfall, find a path up the grassy bank that leads to two abandoned Lombard loghaulers. These steam powered vehicles hauled up to 15 sleds laden with timber and resembled a boxy pickup with a rear-tread drive and a pair of ski-like runners in front. This Maine-born invention was the first
patented track-driven vehicle.
You won't miss Michaud Farm Ranger Station, situated at the base of a long ridge on the river left. A set of Class I riffles drops you below the ranger cabin. The AWW asks that all paddlers sign out of the waterway here. The protected waterway continues for another 10 miles, meeting the 40-foot Allagash Falls and ending at Twin Brook Rapids.
Silver maples and American elms stand like ancient sentinels at the approach to Allagash Falls. The tall radiating branches shade a grass-and-fern understory in a fashion that feels distinctly Southern. When the growl of the falls drifts upstream, look for a well-marked 0.4-mile portage on river right.
Beyond Twin Brook Rapids the river begins to parallel Michaud Farm Road. You'll begin to see homes as the shoreside forest turns young. Near the final bend a worn trail leads up the bank to Two Rivers Lunch well known for skidder tire-sized pancakes, grilled cheese sandwiches on their own bread, and old fashioned desserts like strawberry and lemon filled cookies. You've reached the village of Allagash. You can end your journey here - but make sure you have made arrangements with owner Evelyn McBriearty (scroll down in linked blog to learn about this Allagash character!) before using the obvious take out located in the field at river left just upstream of the bridge.
From here the Allagash River joins the larger St. John River - a defining feature of Maine's northern landscape. The scenic quality of this rolling agricultural valley and the seasonal muscle of its river will surprise you. Expect to feel its push when wrapped in whitewater. Ledge regularly pokes from the St. John's shore as a grassy floodplain mixes with its high, eroded banks. The St. John is quickly becoming famous for its muskellunge (or muskie) fishing. This monstrous fish has become popular because of its size and ability to fight when hooked.
It's 27 paddling miles from Allagash village to the NFCT's eastern terminus at Riverside Park in Fort Kent, Maine. The St. John is dotted with small to medium sized islands and has two full service campgrounds in the Maine towns of St. Francis and St. John. After passing under an auto bridge to the Canadian side there's one more island before curling around a peninsula on river right and landing your boat at the park.
The Northern Forest Canoe Trail website has numerous trip planning tools to help you create the trip that best fits your interests, timeframe, budget, and paddling skills. Visit Plan A Trip, our Map Tool, and our Itineraries and Packages, selecting information on Sections 8 and 9 cover the Maine Lakes and Mountains Region. And, of course, every good paddling trip needs a good guidebook and good maps, all of which you will find at the NFCT Web Store. You are always welcome to call our office for more personal trip advice or to purchase maps over the phone:
Addition resources and attractions in the region include:
- Aroostook County Tourism
- Greater Fort Kent Area Chamber of Commerce
- Town of Allagash
- Allagash Wilderness Waterway
Check the AWW website when planning your trip, as numerous regulations apply to the waterway, including restrictions on boat size.
- Fort Kent State Historic Site
Northern Maine's oldest military fortification was built in 1839 on the St. John River during a border dispute over British claims in present day New Brunswick and Maine's northern boundary. A wooden blockhouse is open to visitors and contains historic artifacts related to the conflict now known as the "bloodless Aroostook War."
- Acadian Landing Site and Acadian Cross
This site on the St. John River commemorates the landing of the first Acadian settlers from Nova Scotia and New Brunswick in the upper St. John Valley. A 14-foot tall marble cross represents the first cross erected by settlers in 1785.
- Allagash Historical Society
The organization has two museum buildings along the St. John River in the village of Dickey. Historical displays of local industry and people.