Abundant waterways make Maine a dream destination for kayakers

Posted June 30, 2011, at 10:46 a.m.
Last modified Aug. 23, 2011, at 9:21 a.m.
Kayakers paddle near Bar Harbor earlier in June.
Brian Swartz
Kayakers paddle near Bar Harbor earlier in June.

With a 3,000-mile indented coastline and 2,500 ponds and lakes (not to mention rivers and flat-water flowages), Maine offers kayakers the ideal location to explore nature’s beauty by water.

Kayaking’s a popular summer pastime in Maine. Viewed from the air, Maine seems awash in water; countless kayaking opportunities exist along quiet streams and bogs, the latter often frequented by waterbirds and moose. Even on lakes abuzz with outboards and personal watercraft (routinely called “jet skis,” no matter the manufacturer), kayakers nose into tributary streams and venture into shallows that would ground larger boats.

For tourists lacking their own kayaks — and rooftop-mounted kayaks roll everywhere in Maine from April to October — outfitters often rent kayaks, paddles, and PFDs (personal flotation devices) and, for a nominal fee, deliver and retrieve this gear at the appropriate location. Ask the outfitter about the better kayaking destinations, what to expect on the local salt or fresh water, and what to avoid.

No kayaker ever wants to match wits with Eastport’s swirling Old Sow whirlpool, that’s for sure.

For novice kayakers, outfitters offer lessons and trips at popular tourist destinations like Bar Harbor and Camden. Outfitters also organize specific “destination” trips; I’ve seen outfitters trailer kayaks and bus (or “van”) kayakers to Eastport, Pemaquid, and other ports not associated with frequent kayaking.

Outfitters based at less “touristy” destinations, such as Castine or New Harbor, guide trips into coastal waters as pretty as those found around tourist-packed ports.

All outfitters offer specific trips and training; often called “tours,” trips can run from three hours to all day to multiple-day — and price out accordingly. Outfitters can also customize trips, especially for experienced kayakers.

Outfitters offer inland trips, too, with river runs popular during quiet summer flows. Along the Penobscot River between Howland and Milford, for example, kayakers can land on the islands owned by the Penobscot Nation and explore Olamon Stream and the Passadumkeag River. A hand-carry boat ramp on Route 2 in Milford offers access to Sunkhaze Stream and its namesake national wildlife refuge.

Some kayakers seek whitewater (and white-knuckle) adventures on Maine rivers. Contact outfitters to see what lessons and trips they offer. Every good rain storm can kick up whitewater on smaller streams, and dam operators provide daily water releases on the Kennebec River and the West Branch of the Penobscot River.

Place names like Exterminator Staircase and Troublemaker let kayakers know what to expect along the West Branch.

Looking to dabble in sea kayaking? Log onto www.maineseakayakguides.com to find outfitters in particular coastal regions. I recommend checking out several outfitters’ Web sites to compare classes, prices, and trips. Don’t hesitate to contact individual outfitters to discuss the details, such as appropriate clothing.

By the way, chuck the cotton jeans and T-shirts when kayaking. Wet cotton plasters against the skin and hastens thermal transfer, and a wave-splashed novice kayaker suffers immeasurably while paddling among the Porcupine Islands off Bar Harbor (or anywhere else, for that matter).

Pay attention during a guide’s pre-trip instructions. Ask questions. Practice entering and exiting a kayak, and once ensconced in its cockpit, start paddling, always obey the guide, and enjoy the trip. Believe me, Bar Harbor looks far different from sea level — and kayakers don’t disturb birds and seals nearly as much as boaters do.

Ditto kayaking on inland waters. Canoeists and kayakers alike can quietly approach a water lily-munching moose on a Katahdin Region pond. Just don’t get too close.

Kayakers venturing out unguided should, according to the Maine Association of Sea Kayak Guides and Instructors, file a float plan that names the trip’s participants, destination, date(s), and expected return time. Download a float plan at www.maineseakayakguides.com; click “Trip Planning.” Leave the float plan with someone who will notice if kayakers do not return when expected.

Every year in Maine, Maine game or marine wardens receive reports about overdue kayakers. Most “lost” kayakers quickly turn up, sometimes island-beached by strong winds and waves, sometimes neglectful about contacting a friend to say, “We’re back.” But Maine waters annually claim a few kayakers, so be smart and file a float plan.

To find the nearest boat launch for a kayak trip, log onto www.maine.gov/doc/parks/ and click “Boating Facilities.” Belonging to the Maine Department of Conservation’s Bureau of Parks & Lands, the Web site lists several options for finding boat launches in Maine.

 

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