Friday, June 28, 2019

The Allagash Wilderness Waterway: A Raymond man's tale of adventure

The Allagash Waterfalls
By Craig Bailey

The Windham Eagle Reporter and Registered Maine Guide, Craig Bailey, recently returned from an excursion on the Allagash Wilderness Waterway. This is the first article in a three-part series on the topic.

For anyone considering a truly off the grid experience, there is no more alluring adventure for the outdoor enthusiast than the Allagash Wilderness Waterway (AWW), in Northern Maine.

The AWW is considered one of the last remaining wilderness frontiers on the Eastern seaboard. It is a 92-mile ribbon of protected lakes, ponds, rivers, and streams in the Northwoods of Maine, and one of a handful of rivers in North America that flows south to north.

While it was designated the Allagash Wilderness Waterway in 1966, its history began long before. Henry David Thoreau visited in 1857 guided by two natives of the Penobscot Tribe which he chronicled in his book “The Maine Woods”. to Thoreau’s visit, the logging industry began leveraging the waterway to move timber from the Northwoods of Maine, south to Bangor for processing. This involved logging companies building a dam system and canals to reverse the waterway’s flow, causing Chamberlain and neighboring Telos Lake to temporarily stop draining north, into the Allagash, and instead head south, at the convenience of the logging industry. In fact, remnants of logging and related equipment can be found at many sites along the waterway. The Woodsman’s Museum, in Patton, ME, makes for a great stop on the way to / from an AWW adventure, to learn more about the logging industry and its use of the waterway.

Today, the primary use of the waterway is by adventurers whose ambition is to spend quality time fully immersed in nature. Whether this involves enjoying the nearly untouched natural setting, viewing wildlife such as moose, deer, bear, and eagles, catching one’s dinner of brook trout or musky to hiking trails along the waterway, there is something for people of all ages and walks of life.

Much of the AWW is smooth paddling on tranquil waters gently flowing northwards. However, there are several points offering adrenalin junkies class II rapids which must be traversed with fully laden canoes. should be noted that, while one doesn’t need to be in the shape of a triathlete, it is a rigorous adventure that will tax virtually anyone with the ambition to commit to such an outing.
A multi-day excursion begins by putting-in a canoe or canoes (depending on the size of the group), fully loaded with the gear and provisions necessary to sustain oneself for the duration, at one of the many launch-sites on the waterway.

Determining the starting point of the journey depends on the amount of time one wishes to spend canoeing and camping on the waterway. Durations can range from seven to 10 days beginning at the south end of Chamberlain Lake, to three to four days by launching at the north end of Umsaskis Lake, all finishing at Allagash Village, near the Canadian border, where the Allagash meets the St. John River.

There are over 80 primitive campsites along the waterway available on a first come, first serve basis. Each campsite has a picnic table, tarp poles to enable coverage of the picnic table, a firepit and an outhouse.

While adventurers experiencing the waterway are completely off the grid (there is absolutely no cell service) ranger stations are strategically located along the way such that at least one will typically be passed on each day’s leg of the trip.
Many consider the climax of an AWW adventure to be the scenic Allagash Falls, a forty-foot waterfall located about 13 miles from the end of the trip, only accessible by canoeing the waterway.
Preparing for an AWW excursion should not be taken lightly, as once the journey begins there is no opportunity to obtain anything that was forgotten or to replenish provisions along the way. In summary, one must be completely self-sustaining for the duration of the trip.

Preparation for an AWW excursion is the topic of the next article, which will be followed by an article covering the AWW experience.

Craig Bailey is a Registered Maine Guide and owner of Maine Adventures, LLC. To learn more visit:

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