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Classic wooden canoes on the Allagash River in northern Maine (Photograph by Michael Melford/National Geographic Creative)

Adventure 101: Canoeing the Allagash

Take a page out of Henry David Thoreau’s book, and paddle on northern Maine’s remote Allagash River. “Here was traveling of the old heroic kind over the unaltered face of nature,” he wrote in The Maine Woods, his account of a series of mid-19th-century canoeing and hiking trips he took through the New England state’s largely uncharted woods.

Today, days still rise and fall with the sparrow’s whistle, water lapping against canoe, and the cry of the loon. Canoeing down the 92-mile national “wild and scenic” river to Canada yields wide lakes, waterfalls, Class 1 and 2 rapids, trout-filled streams, and relics from this onetime logging highway, now wilderness waterway.

> Getting Started:

The classic Allagash canoe trip takes seven days, from Chamberlain Lake north to Allagash Village, with 80 rustic campsites along the way. Start those push-ups now to power hours of paddling, often through choppy waters, and a couple of short portages.

“The first few days are a huge adjustment for most people, but then the transformation is remarkable,” says Lani Cochrane, who runs Greenville-based Allagash Canoe Trips with her husband, a third-generation family outfitter offering guided custom trips.

> Trip Out:

Those who want to focus their energy on paddling—not planning—can hire a guide. Outfitters such as Allagash Canoe Trips and Canoe the Wild lead trips that range from four to nine days. Experienced canoeists who want to go solo can rent gear, park at their chosen end point, and catch a ride to one of several put-in spots.

“The river is mapped out well and flows north,” says Pam Farquhar of Katahdin Outfitters, which provides shuttles and rentals from Millinocket. Before going solo, learn how to keep gear dry, brush up on map-reading skills, and pick up camping permits at an entrance station. “Once you launch, there are no provisions along the way, so plan accordingly,” advises Dave Conley, a certified master Maine guide.

> Shortcuts:

Favorite four-day routes include Allagash Lake to Chamberlain Bridge—the waterway’s wildest segment, complete with ice caves, a fire tower, and an historic tramway to explore—and Churchill Dam to Allagash Village, with Class 2 rapids.

Those without white-water experience can pay a ranger a small fee ($10) to shuttle their gear around the rapids.

This piece, written by National Geographic Traveler contributing editor Katie Knorovsky (on Twitter @TravKatieK), first appeared in the magazine’s June/July 2015 issue.