Do you like canoeing smaller rivers? If so, Webster Stream is an awesome little river with lots of character. This trip will take you through some of the wildest and most pristine country in Maine’s north woods.
The traditional starting point for a Webster Stream trip is the boat launch at Chamberlain Bridge. Instead of heading north, down the Allagash Wilderness Waterway, you go south toward Telos Lake. This part of the waterway is surprisingly quiet because it is not in the travel route for an Allagash canoe trip.
One of the prettiest campsites on the waterway is High Bank, on the left as you enter Telos Lake. The site is well protected from the prevailing northwest winds, offers outstanding views of the mountains to the south in Baxter State Park, and has a nice gravel beach. This would be an ideal place to camp on your first night.
A four-mile paddle down Telos Lake will bring you to Telos Dam. This timber crib dam was first constructed in 1861. It, along with Lock Dam at the natural outlet of Chamberlain Lake, reversed the flow of water on the upper Allagash headwater lakes from Allagash to Penobscot waters; that’s subject matter for a future article.
Telos Dam is operated by the waterway for fisheries management and recreation purposes.
The one-mile run to Webster Lake is turbulent (class II and III). It is the most difficult section of water on the entire trip. Be sure to scout the stream on river right from the old road that parallels the river. If in doubt, portage your canoe and gear on the old road. On Henry David Thoreau’s third trip to the Maine woods in 1857, his Indian guide, Joe Poulis, took the canoe through Telos Cut while Thoreau walked along the stream to Webster Lake.
There is a very nice campsite with a lean-to at the outlet of Webster Lake. If you take this trip in the spring before the water warms, you should be able to catch a few nice trout just downstream from the campsite.
As you leave Webster Lake, you will have to navigate through the remains of an old log driving dam. Its remnants are a reminder of days gone by when this stream was a highway for the pine and spruce logs that made Bangor the lumber capital of the world.
The upper section of Webster Stream winds through the northwest corner of Baxter State Park, its intermittent class I and II rapids are a very entertaining section of stream.
When my brother Mark and I took our sons Levi and Gabe on this trip a few years ago, we had a fabulous time. The stream is narrow — 30-40 feet wide — and winding. Part of the fun was not knowing what you were going to encounter around the next bend in the river. I remember coming around one bend and there was a large sweeper — a tree sticking out into the river — right in the line of travel that needed to be avoided. We went around another corner and bang, we ran right into a giant boulder.
The water was a little low on our trip, so I ended up doing a lot of poling. In one small rapid I had to move my canoe upstream a little to get back in the channel.
My pole got stuck in some rocks; instead of letting go, I tried giving it one last pull. Instead of dislodging the pole I was flung out of the canoe and into the cold water of Webster Stream. My son thought it was hilarious, since he was sitting high and dry in the canoe.
There is one section of the stream called Indian Carry about six miles below the outlet of the lake that is a series of class III ledge drops that should be scouted on river right. We ran Indian Carry on our trip, but my brother had to jump out on a rock to keep his canoe from overturning. Even if you decide not to run this section you should be able to line your canoe down through these ledge drops.
Grand Pitch is two miles farther down river. It is a series of larger ledge drops, the highest being 12 feet. This is a mandatory portage on river right.
Another half-mile paddle will bring you to the confluence with the East Branch of the Penobscot River and Second Lake Matagamon. There is a nice campsite on river right that we stayed at on our trip called Little East. It absolutely poured rain most of the night, but we went to sleep with smiles on our faces listening to it pound down on the roof of the lean-to.
From there, it is an eight-mile paddle down Matagamon Lake to the take-out at the landing near the north entrance to Baxter State Park.
For those canoeists desiring an extended small river trip I recommend making this into a weeklong excursion from Johnson Pond and Allagash Lake to the landing on Grand Lake Matagamon. In my opinion, this is the premier small river canoe trip in Maine. This journey will take you through the wildest section of the AWW and through a remote section of Baxter State Park. Incidentally, the prevailing wind is at your back on this trip.
The ideal water flow from Telos Dam for canoeing Webster Stream is about 300 cubic feet per second. During normal water years the gates in the dam are set to provide good canoeing all summer. For information on water levels in Allagash and Webster Streams call the Maine Division of Parks & Public Lands at 941-4014.
The campsites on the AWW are first come, first served; there are plenty of sites to accommodate the current levels of use in the waterway. Camping on Webster Lake and in Baxter Park is permitted by reservation only; call Baxter State Park for campsite availability and information at 723-5140.
The AWW is managed by the Division of Parks and Public Lands which is part of the Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry.
Matthew LaRoche is superintendent of the Allagash Wilderness Waterway.