Planning a multi day canoe trip this coming spring, need input

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First, let me say that I do have camping, and hiking experience, so, I'm not new to the outdoors. What I AM new at is canoe tripping. I am trying to put together a spring trip, the end of April, beginning of May, for a 3-4 day canoe trip in Maine or New Hampshire. I am looking at a few places: the Saco River (during this timeframe, we can avoid the drunken crowds that occur during the summer), the Allagash, and the Penobscot. We have various levels of outdoor skills: myself being the most experienced, my brother about on par with me, and friends vary-mostly car camping experience. I have canoed the Saco several times, both on my own and with others, in the off season, and during the drunk season. This river is an easy paddle, one I'm familiar with. But, I'm asking more experienced members here, what their recommendations would be for other rivers? The Allagash seems a little more experienced, probably too much for a couple of people. I am unfamiliar with the Penobscot, and am hoping it is more middle of the road. Things I don't want on this trip: overly long portages (less than a mile is ideal, and easy to moderate), rapids that cannot be navigated by novice paddlers (myself included) or portaged around, paddling upriver or where poling is needed (paddling upriver isn't something I really want to do for long stints, and I have ZERO poling experience). Things I AM looking for: a reputable canoe rental service for those needing to rent, one that will provide shuttle services and gear (namely, PFDs), decent camping sites-either wild or campgrounds, and a nice paddle where we can get about 10 miles a day, give or take.
As most people here have extensive paddling experience, I'm hoping that you could guide me with my trip planning, and maybe have some experience with the local areas and can offer some tips, maybe some first hand accounts as to who to contact in regards to those areas. So, please feel free to chime in!
 
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Go elsewhere. Maine waters in April are not for novices. It helps to canoe on liquid water. Two of the three areas you are considering are still ice covered.

I am writing for the second time ( the site errored out) a two page treatise on why you ought to consider another time and who to contact.

I am wondering when the last time you paddled the Saco was. It is NOT a drunk river anymore for the most part. Armed officers with boats have taken care of enforcing public drinking prohibitions. It is a good early season river. moose around but the campsites are often underwater or very wet. I live ten minutes from it and am active on the watershed council. Plus paddle it of course. I still would not go late April as its soggy and the sweepers not yet removed from the winter and it often floods then and the river is closed. Living nearby with drysuits in hand we can pick our days.

More on your other choices later.

Later is the operative word. I suggest New Jersey in April.. The Pine Barrens.
 
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If the only reason you're going that early is to avoid the drunks, we haven't had any problems with crowds on the Allagash even at the end of June.
 
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YC, thank you. Last time I was on the Saco was about 3 years ago, and in the Fryeburg area. It was July. There were officers that patrolled, but, there was still constant, ongoing parties, particularly around the Fiddlehead Campground area-which is where I understand the majority of it happens. I can be flexible with the dates, and didn't even consider the strainers (which is why I posted here, as people here have far more experience than I do). I also didn't even consider that ice out up north could potentially be significantly later than it is here. Certainly something to consider.
Right now, I am leaning towards the Saco, as its an easier paddle, and, honestly, with the exception of last time I was on it, I REALLY enjoy paddling that river. Its fairly straightforward, there are uncomplicated put ins, and, provided I pick the right time, camping should be simple. As an aside, at least 2 of us are hammock campers, so sleeping on sand bars will be out, unless forced to.
As to the Allagash, that's on my list of trips to do. Probably not next spring, as its a long drive for me, and even longer for friends coming from NYC area. And, its something I would like to do a little rougher, with more experienced people-myself included. I think, for me, it will be my "reward trip" in a couple years, when I'm more comfortable as a solo paddler.
 
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Novice paddlers and cold water are a bad combination, especially when rivers are at high flows. I would try to find a less popular place to paddle after the water is lower and warmer for your group. It is amazing to hear of armed officers in boats. Dress for immersion, wear PFDs and practice rescue techniques.
 
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I hope you can move your trip as per our email exchange and do the West Branch of the Penobscot later in May or early in June. You would like it and the worries about your novice partners minimized.
 
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That happened to me this morning and ended up just sending a PM to oldsoldier with the info, then shooting a PM to Robin
 
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I was going to C/P my PM here, went to my sent file and the PM was blank there.

oldsoldier when you get ready to do the Allagash, start another thread and we'll get you all the info you need. I'm going to pass on typing it out for a 3rd time.
 
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I think April is awful early for a trip with novice trippers in Maine. Ice is not out on many lakes. Rivers are running high and very cold. Weather can be an issue also.
 
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As I exchanged info with Old Soldier by email but the info might be useful to others and does not need to be private; here it is

.. I think the best wild experience and moose viewing is the West Branch of the Penobscot. But wait a bit till the water gets all thawed and the campsites free of snow. Late May is a possibility if you exit at Chesuncook.. It may be that you can go up Black Pond a bit to Canvas Dam.. What great moose country that is and the mileage not too great. An upset on the West Branch usually is not a big deal as the river isn't that wide. But some of the banks are steep...Others kind of squishy.

Here is a map of the West Branch of the Penobscot.. above Rip Dam...below its class V whitewater!

http://www.maine.gov/dacf/parks/docs/maps/seboomprc.pdf

If you want to stick to the Saco here is the link to the council and the river gauge.
http://www.sacorivercouncil.org/

We did a day paddle last year May 20 after getting a new boat. The leaves had just come out. Our first cleanup scheduled June 13 was met with raging floodwaters. So it goes!

Anyway here is the post.

The college kids converge on the Saco weekend in the summer which makes the launches and take outs a zoo. But as I said there are cops that hand out tickets in the parking lots for those with alcohol in hand. No questions asked. If there is resistance the offender finds themselves in jail. Midsummer is not a quiet time on the Saco for sure. Late May is a good time to go; the campsites will be dried out. I suggest Swans Falls to Hiram.. its a good three day trip. Many rental options available from Saco Canoe, Saco Bound or Woodland Acres. The plan next year is to install portapotties every two miles. Human waste is becoming a big problem on the Saco.

Allagash only requires one experienced person in a canoe. Because of snowmelt its a June or later trip for those unequipped for cold water immersion. But I think its a very poor choice for the OP as five days is required from Churchill Dam to Allagash Village. Three days really makes the shuttle and rental expensive in return for scenery value though you will get to see and portage (very short and well graded..not rooty) Allagash Falls. But later in June please. Norm L'Italien is your contact at Pelletiers Campground

http://www.mainerec.com/pellcamp.shtml

The West Branch of the Penobscot is simply a lovely trip. In June when the moose are out browsing.. And when the access road has dried so it's no longer a quagmire. April and early May is mud season up there. Four wheel drive with high ground clearance is needed once off the Golden Road or the main road to Chamberlain Bridge. AAA does not cover a tow in that country. So that can add a grand for mud extraction.

The usual put in is at Lobster Stream. Its a good trip in itself to go to Lobster Lake.. its about five by eight miles. Takes a full day for exploration and that can easily expand to three nights. However ice out is mid May and the campsites are often underwater then.. I arrived two hours after ice out once! I had forgotten about the month long spread between ice out in Southern Maine and that date in Northern Maine. Lobster Lake is a wonderful beginners trip.

The West Branch is nicely moving water.. a two to three day paddle. One set of rapids at Big Island right channel that usually requires only the ability to keep the boat straight. Take out at Chesuncook Village. I usually go in June and make a week long trip.. Go up to Lobster down the West Branch and up to Black Pond and down Chesuncook. This is NOT a beginners trip when you involve Chesuncook Lake with its 27 mile fetch. I usually wind up paddling Chesuncook at night as the waves are three feet high during the day.

Contacts are Allagash Gateway Campground.
http://www.allagashgatewaycamps.com/

Chesuncook Lake house has good options too.

http://www.greatnorthernvacations.com/Canoeing-Expeditions.html


Kim
 

Glenn MacGrady

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I grew up in Maine every summer and have paddled it fairly extensively as an adult. It's cold-ish even in the summer. I wouldn't go there in April, especially with novices. The water will be freezing if not frozen.

If you've got people coming from NYC, I too would recommend the Jersey Pine Barrens, which is much closer for them than Maine or New Hampshire. The rivers are the Mullica, Batsto, Oswego and Wading--all in close proximity to each other and all more fun to paddle than the Saco, in my opinion. There is a wilderness feeling when you are in there, even though you are 40 miles from Atlantic City. The weather should be pleasant in April. You can do day paddles while camping at a campground. Or you can camp on the rivers with gear in your boat.

Canoe, gear rentals and shuttles for the Wading and Oswego can be had from Mick's:

http://www.mickscanoerental.com/

Canoes, gear and shuttles for the Batsto and Mullica can be had from Bel Haven (or used to be; it's now under new ownership):

http://www.belhavenpaddlesports.com/index.php

Go to Maine in July after the flies recede.
 
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This August I organized a group trip with 8 friends, many of whom I have paddled with in the past although mostly flat water. I chose an easy river with warm water in Oregon the mighty Willamette River. The late afternoon of the first day the river divided around an island and most of the flow was confined to a chute with high velocity in the 6-7 mph range or more. There were several logs at the bottom of the runout. One boat completely missed the obvious line, then missed the eddy and we had two swimmers downstream from their canoe headed for the strainer. The current flushed them out fortunately, I threw them a rescue line which they ignored. After we were all safely onshore, I could not make the group realize how dangerous that spot was. I had them look at it, and try to imagine the force of the canoe against the strainers. At that moment I realized that some people have no business paddling moving water. Please consider my story a plea for consciousness about the hazards of rivers.
 
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Thanks Ppine. That's why I'm picking a relatively tame river, that I am partially familiar with-and is regularly patrolled.
 
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