Would you like to canoe the Allagash Wilderness Waterway? If your answer to this question is yes, but you don’t have the time to spend an entire week canoeing from Chamberlain Lake to Allagash Village, I want you to know that you have other options.
There are several opportunities for shorter Allagash adventures without canoeing the entire 92-mile-long waterway.
One of my personal favorites is the Allagash Lake to Chamberlain Bridge trip. This route takes you through the wildest section of the waterway. One of the nice things about this trip is that if you are accessing the waterway from the south or east, you will be driving right past your takeout location on your way to Allagash Lake. The closest vehicle access point to Allagash Lake is actually at Johnson Pond, page 55 of Delorme’s “Maine Atlas and Gazetteer.”
If you do decide to make the Allagash Lake to Chamberlain Bridge trip, there are a few “must-see” places you should check out along the way. The ice caves at the northwest corner of Allagash Lake by the inlet are an extraordinary geological feature. A climb up the fire tower on Allagash Mountain will afford you fantastic views of the Maine woods from the Canadian border to Mount Katahdin. Little Allagash Falls is one of the most beautiful and remote locations on the waterway. If you can arrange your itinerary to stay here overnight, you won’t be disappointed.
At normal water levels, it is a lively 6-mile trip down Allagash Stream to Chamberlain Lake. You should call for current water conditions in Allagash Stream. The stream can be a raging torrent at high water or a drag at low water.
Once you enter Chamberlain Lake, you should take a short detour to the northeast corner of the lake and visit the Tramway Historic District, which includes the tramway and trains.
On your way down Chamberlain Lake, you have the option of staying overnight at Nugent’s Camps, about 10 miles down the lake on the east shore. For information on Nugent’s Camps, visit www.nugentscamps.com.
Another five miles down the lake will bring you to Chamberlain Bridge, where you left a vehicle on the way to Allagash Lake.
You should plan on spending four nights on the waterway to make this trip and visit the sites that I have mentioned. Don’t forget to give yourself plenty of travel time to reach Johnson Pond. Wrong turns are common for first-time visitors, and the logging roads are notorious for flat tires.
Another three- or four-night trip that is slightly easier and no less spectacular is the Umsaskis to Allagash Village trip. This route starts where the American Realty Road crosses the waterway between Umsaskis and Long lakes. There is a nice vehicle access canoe launch and parking lot at this location. You can just launch your canoe and start paddling north. The campsites and scenery are beautiful along this section of the waterway.
At the outlet of Harvey Pond, you will come to the remnants of Long Lake Dam. This was once 700 feet long and held back a 15-foot head of water. It is now a nice campsite. The fishing can be excellent below the old dam in the spring and fall when the water is cool.
It is 10 miles of moderately flowing river to Round Pond — a pretty spot on the trip where the river takes a break before heading toward the St. John River.
Below Round Pond is a two-mile-long stretch of Class 1 rapids known as Round Pond Rips. These rapids are easy for an intermediate canoeist, but they will provide some fun for those who like fast-moving water.
About 13 miles below Round Pond, you will see a campsite on river right called Cunliffe Depot. If you stop here and follow the trail upriver from the campsite, you will discover the remains of two Lombard log haulers.
Another couple miles down river will bring you to the Michaud Farm ranger station. You can end your trip here, but you will miss seeing Allagash Falls, or you can take another night and continue the 17 miles to the town of Allagash. Either way, please stop at the ranger station and sign your group out on the clipboard hanging on the porch.
The Umsaskis to Michaud Farm trip should take three nights. If you want to continue all the way to Allagash Village, you should plan on a four-night trip.
These are just two of the many shorter trips you can take on the waterway. I often suggest that first-time visitors or novice canoeists just drive to Churchill Dam and paddle up on Churchill Lake for a few nights of camping. This gives these first-time visitors a feel for the waterway and the logging roads used to access the area.
If you do decide to canoe the Allagash Wilderness Waterway, I can assure you that you will not be disappointed with the opportunity to reconnect with the natural world.
For information on the waterway, go to www.maine.gov/doc/parks or call 941-4014, email firstname.lastname@example.org or write to the Bureau of Parks and Lands, 106 Hogan Road, Bangor 04401.
Matthew LaRoche is superintendent of the Allagash Wilderness Waterway.