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Canoeing in Maine

Welcome to the hundreds of miles Maine has to offer for your canoeing pleasure. Maine has a fairly long canoeing season thanks to many dam controlled rivers and lakes. Many people find the late summer / early fall the best time to canoe in Maine. The fall colors are usually at their peak that time of year too. Be sure to do your research before you come to Maine and explore what we have to offer.

River Classifications

Class I through VI

Class I : Easy

Flatwater to occasional rapids characterized by low, regular waves. Obstructions such as rocks are easy to avoid. The best route down the river is easily recognized and easy to maneuver through.

Class II : Medium

Frequent rapids characterized by high regular waves up to three feet in height. Easy to medium chutes, ledges, or falls. Back eddies and different currents are easy to negotiate. The best route is easy to recognize and maneuver.

Class III : Difficult

Numerous rapids with high, irregular waves, rollers, breakers, and back eddies. This will require skilled maneuvering. Chutes, falls, and ledges are considered difficult.

Class IV: Very Difficult

Long, difficult sections of rapids with high irregular waves, breakers, powerful back eddies, whirlpools, sharp bends, and constricted canyons. Chutes, falls, and ledges have powerful rollers and undertow.

Class V: Extremely Difficult

Long sections of continuous violent rapids with very high irregular waves. Most of the waves are unavoidable. The current is usually very fast with powerful eddies and whirlpools. River routes are usually complicated.

Class VI: All whitewater Class VI rapids are considered nearly impossible and extremely dangerous. These rivers are run only in the best of conditions.

River Dangers

When canoeing on some of Maine's lakes and rivers there are risks involved. Here are few dangers that you may encounter when you are canoeing.

High water - This condition can change water levels and rapids quickly. High waters can be found in May and early June in Maine. It can also be found after extended rainy period or dam releases upstream. Be sure to call ahead to find out current water levels.

Cold Water - In the early part of the summer the water temperature can be below 50 degrees Fahrenheit. Exposure to this cold water for long periods of time can lead to hypothermia. If you plan to swim a wet suit or dry suit is recommended. If you do not have those be sure to bring wool or pile clothing and be sure to stow your clothes in a dry secure spot.

Strainers - These are obstructions found in the river such as fallen trees, branches, and rocks. Stay clear of these hazards and be sure to keep your eyes downstream.

Dams and other man made obstructions - Many of the obstructions such as dams are well marked with signs and many have booms in the river to keep you away from the dangerous parts of the dams. Portage trails are usually well marked. if the portage trail is not well marked look around and wail down some possible trails without moving your equipment.

Not being prepared for your river trip can be the biggest danger. You should always prepare for just about any type of weather situation you can think of. If you are just planning a days outing make sure you bring a change of warm clothes or a first aid kit. If you plan to be away on an extended canoe trip let people know where you are going and when you plan to return. Always practice common sense when traveling on the river.

Canoe Safety

When coming to canoe in Maine it is important to remember many of the rivers you will be traveling are remote and have very little road access to them. Canoe and water safety are paramount to having a safe and enjoyable time in Maine.

Equipment to Bring and getting your boat ready

1. You should have solid swimming skills and that you should feel comfortable being underwater.

2. You should wear a life jacket at all times. Be sure the jacket fits snugly and is a vest type.

3. If you plan to travel on one of Maine's challenging white water rivers make sure you wear a solid, correctly fitting helmet. These helmets can be found at most sporting goods stores.

4. Know you skills. Make sure your canoeing skills are such that you are not canoeing out of control. Know how to stop your canoe to stay out of danger.

5. Make sure you research a river prior to running it. Scout the rapids and make sure you carry plenty of maps and know where possible pull out spots are.

Check out your canoe before you leave home. Check for cracks and wear from the last time you used the canoe. Check the bolts that hold the seats and thwarts into place. They have the tendency to rattle loose when you are transporting the canoe by car. Bring some extra bolts just in case. Also remember to secure the canoe properly to your car or trailer.

Items to bring when you canoe:

1. Extra Paddle

2. Life Vest - one per person

3. Helmet - If you plan to run whitewater

4. Swimsuit

5. Dry Suit/ Wet Suit (depending on Water temp)

6. Wet Shoes - Shoes or sneakers you do not mind getting wet

7. A waterproof bags for clothes, matches, maps, first aid kits, wallets, and car keys.

8. If you have to portage your canoe keep in mind what you have to carry and how you plan to carry it. A pack with shoulder straps can be helpful.

9. Camping Gear

10. Canoeing Skills

Making Reservations on Allagash Wilderness Waterway & Penobscot River Corridor:

In both of these areas the campsites are available on a first come first served basis. There is no reservation system in place. It is recommended you arrive at your campsite early during your trip to insure that you have a place to stay. You will be assessed a fee to access these areas through checkpoints run by the landowners. Bowater and North Maine Woods are the two companies that run checkpoints in the area. Bowater operates checkpoints north of Rockwood, Greenville, and Millinocket North Maine Woods operates gates close to Ashland, Allagash, and Eagle Lake. The checkpoints close around 11pm and reopen around 5 am. They do not take credit cards. You will also be charged a fee to camp in the Allagash Waterway and Penobscot River Corridor.

Making Reservations in the North Maine Woods Management Area:

North Maine Woods operates a variety of camping areas north and south of Millinocket including areas around Gulf Hagas and the Allagash Wilderness Waterway. They are usually require a reservation. Most of the campsites are in areas which are working forests. There is fee to enter the checkpoint and a campsite fee. They do not take credit cards.

For More Information Contact:  

North Maine Woods, Inc.
PO Box 421
Ashland, Maine 04732

Know what to wear:

Having the right type of clothing can make your canoe trip in Maine very enjoyable. The weather can change quickly so it is important to be prepared.

Each Person Should Have

  • Two Full Sets of Dry/Warm Clothes
  • Shorts and T- Shirts
  • Rain Jacket and Pants
  • Light Nylon Windbreaker
  • Wool Sweater or Jacket
  • Wool Hat
  • Bathing Suit (If you plan to swim)
  • Wool Gloves
  • Comfortable Shoes
  • Insect Repellent, Sunscreen, and Lipscreen
  • Personel Hygeine Items
  • Brimmed Hat or Visor

Try to bring clothing that will keep you warm even it gets wet. Wool, polypropylene, and pile works well for that. It also helps to dress in layers.

Always keep your eye to the weather and have your rain gear handy. "If you don't like the weather wait a minute"

What sort of weather should I expect:

In Maine we have a common saying "If you don't like the weather ... wait a minute, it'll change" At any time of year, Maine's weather can be completely different depending on where you are in Maine. It can be perfectly sunny along the coast, but raining cats and dogs in the western mountains. Try to be prepared for just about anything and keep one eye to the sky.

Along the coast:
(Bar Harbor, Boothbay, Camden, Portland, etc)

The coastal sea breeze can keep Maine's coast 10 to 20 degrees cooler than just a few miles inland. In the winter - the coastal areas typically are warmer and receive less snow due to salt from the ocean. However, Maine's coast has more fog than inland Maine and can make for difficult driving along Maine's popular coastal Rt. 1.

During the summer, evening temperatures can drop into the 40's, and even the 30's in the spring and summer months. Daytime highs generally reach 70's with occassional 80's and 90's.

A fair bit of warning with regard to water temperature's along Maine's coast. In late August, the warmest you might find the water is in the 60's - but, expect much cooler water when venturing in.

(Bangor, Waterville, Newport, Millinocket, etc)

Summer temperatures are a pleasant 70's to 80's with occassional spells of 90's. Humidity is fairly mild, but occassionally can seem high. Long dry spells in the summers are rare.

Winter months can be very cold, with wind chills in sub-zero ranges. Snow amounts vary thoughout the state - but snow generally begins in November and goes through March.

Western Mountains:
(Jackman, Bethel, Rangley, etc)

The high elevations in Maine's western mountains tends to create a cooler climate. Higher elevations can see low temperatures in the evenings - even during the summer months. Temperatures can range in the 60's and 70's during the summer months. Low evening temperatures are generally in the 40's and 50's.

Winter months can bring heavy snow. Driving in this mountainous region requires caution, especially during the height of snow and ice season. The rule of thumb in Maine is be prepared for just about any type of weather in Maine. Check out the local forcast in the area you plan to visit.

Looking to come to Maine and canoe but feel more comfortable with an experienced guide. You will find below a list of companies that we suggest.

  • Allagash Guide, Inc.:
    Join us on guided canoeing, fishing, and camping expeditions on rivers and lakes in Maine and Canada.
  • Bullfrog Adventures:
    We offer unique guided and outfitted canoe, kayak and tubing adventures in Eastern and Central Maine. Day trips as well as multi day canoe camping adventures are available.
  • Mahoosuc Guide Service:
    A versatile guide service, with professional guide services, year round. Canoes, dog sled trips and more.
  • Maine High Adventure Scout Program:
    Maine High Adventure is a challenging outdoor program offered by the Boy Scouts of America.
  • Maine Path & Paddle Guides:
    Fully guided 3-10 day canoeing adventures on the Allagash, West Branch of the Penobscot, St. John, St. Croix Rivers and many other lakes in the North Maine Woods.
  • Maine Wilderness Canoe Vacations:
    Let Gil Gilpatrick be your guide as you discover the Maine Outdoors through a wilderness canoe vacation. 
  • Mountain Ranger Guide Service:
    Offers a unique, personalized approach to guided fishing and hunting vacations.
  • Northeast Guide Service:
    Whitewater Rafting, Kayaking, Drift Boat Fishing, Overnight Trips, & Canoeing Trips & Instructional Clinics on the Kennebec, Dead, & Penobscot Rivers.
  • Northwoods Outfitters, Inc.
    Canoe and kayak trips, fishing trips,rafting, overnight guided canoe tours and more. Wintertime Snowmobile rentals and guided tours offered daily.
  • Sunrise International:
    Respected nationwide for combining the best elements of traditional northern guiding and canoemanship. Sunrise is a traditional eastern Maine guiding outfit.

Kayak Expeditions:

  • AAA Whitewater:
    North Country Rivers has launched a whitewater kayak school. Come enjoy the thrill of learning how to manage a kayak on one of Maine's fabulous rivers.
  • Bullfrog Adventures:
    We offer unique guided and outfitted canoe, kayak and tubing adventures in Eastern and Central Maine. Day trips as well as multi day canoe camping adventures are available.
  • Camps on Wilson Pond:
    Nestled in the mountains, both upper and Lower Wilson Pond offer kayakers and canoeists unforgettable trips on their crystal clear waters.  Loons, eagles, and moose wading in the waters are sights to be captured by all.
  • The Eggemoggin Oceanfront Lodge:
    Relaxing adventures that start on the shore of the Atlantic Ocean. Check out our all inclusive Adventure Package!
  • Maine Island Kayak Co:
    Sea kayak Maine’s 2,000 islands on ½-10 day trips & courses. Great courses, educational trips.
  • Maine Wilderness Tours:
    Works with some of the state's premier canoeing guides to book you the trip of a lifetime.
  • Northeast Guide Service:
    Whitewater Rafting, Kayaking, Drift Boat Fishing, Overnight Trips, & Canoeing Trips & Instructional Clinics on the Kennebec, Dead, & Penobscot Rivers.
  • Northern Outdoors Adventure Resort
    View moose, loons and osprey as you paddle a pristine wilderness lake. Fully outfitted one & multi-day trips.
  • Northwoods Camp Rentals:
    Spend the day exploring Maine's spectacular scenery and wildlife from a touring kayak. Moose, loons, osprey, waterfowl are common sights. New England's premier outdoor adventure resort.
  • Northwoods Outfitters:
    Come join us on one of our guided kayak outfitting trips or moose safaris, or let us help you plan and outfit your own self-guided trip.
  • Three Rivers Whitewater
    Whitewater Rafting on the Kennebec, Penobscot and Dead Rivers in Maine, USA. Full service Rafting Outfitter with accommodations ranging from river side camping to a classic Maine Inn.

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