Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Kayaking North of Millinocket: West Branch of Penobscot River. T2R10/T3R10

Body of Water: West Branch of the Penobscot River [Maine Gazetteer Map 50, D/E 5].  There are a few places along the river to put in.  I put in at Abol Bridge Campground because I camp there when I am up that way.  The campground is under new ownership and the new owners may allow people to launch from the campground, but you would need to check in at the campground store to check. 

Directions (from Portland, ME): Head North on 95 or 295 (which merges with 95 just south of Augusta.)  It will take you about 4 hours to get there from Portland, so definitely worth taking a weekend to enjoy the northern Maine woods!  From I 95, you are going to exit at Medway, exit 244.  (Exits on 95 are now numbered by mile markers.) Coming off the exit you will want to turn left onto Rt. 157.  You will stay on Rt 157 through Medway and East Millinocket into Millinocket. 
Once in Millinocket you will go past a couple of grocery stores (if you need any supplies, get them here!)  You will go down a hill and over a small bridge, seeing a traffic light ahead.  You will want to go straight through the traffic light.  This will take you around a corner with an old school on your right.  stay on that road as it turns to the right.  You will see a green sign that says Baxter State Park with an arrow telling you to turn left.  Turn Left towards Baxter State Park.  This puts you on the State Road.  (Not sure if that is the real name of the road, but it is what the locals call it!) 
Once on the state road, you will go under a railroad trestle (The Aroostook RR) and soon you will lose cell phone reception.  (Don't be scared, enjoy the freedom of being signal-less!) 
The State Rd. will take you past a campground/white water rafting company and into Millinocket Lake.  Once you enter Millinocket Lake, you will see the North Woods Trading post on your right.  At that point you will notice that there are two roads, running parallel to one another, the State Rd. and The Golden Road.  I suggest Switching over to the Golden Road.  (Be aware that the Golden Road is an active logging road that has no line markers.  There will be logging trucks with LARGE loads of wood barrelling down the Golden Road.  You will want to stay to the right as far as possible when these guys pass you.  This also means that stopping along the side of the road can be dangerous.  If you stop, make sure your vehicle is completely off the road.Also be aware that this is moose country.  Keep your eyes wide open for moose and deer.  Moose sightings are most common in the evenings, but can be anytime.) 
Once on the Golden Road you don't have to worry about any more turns.  Just stay on that road.  You will pass Compass Pond on your right and River Pond on your left. (Good Moose spotting sights!)   As you get close to Abol Bridge Campground you will round a corner and see Mount Katahdin in all its glory (unless it is cloudy).
Abol Bridge Campground is on the right before the bridge.  Stop at the store to check in, if you are camping, or to see if you can launch your kayak from there.  I do recommend camping there, it is a nice place to be. 

Boat Launch: There is a beach area at the campground where putting your kayak into the river is easy.  There are also several campsites along the water from which you could launch your boat.  (If you get one of those sites.) 

Parking: If you are camping there, you have no parking issues. If you are just using this spot to launch your kayak, You will want to park your vehicle back up by the store. 

Wildlife: Moose, deer, loons, ducks (mergansers and mallards), beavers, eagles, osprey, turtles (snapping), maybe a fox or a bear.  (And white water rafters.. who can be very wild!)

Notes:  This is a place that is sacred to me.  This is where I learned to canoe and kayak and where I have spent much time with my family and with close family friends.  This is a great place for families, a great place for beginner paddlers or more advanced.  From the beach (or if you stand on the bridge looking at the mountain/river) if you look to the right you can see a very calm place to kayak.  This is Abol stream.  It is a great place for kids to learn to paddle and also a great place to see some wildlife.  I have never gone under the bridge in my kayak, again, I am not a whitewater fan.  I like paddling up the river and then letting the current bring me back to the campground.  The current in this river is stronger than other places I normally paddle, but easy to navigate and well worth the effort.  As you paddle up the river there are smaller pond like areas/streams that are fun to explore.  My mother and I named each of them, including Tadpole Terrace (which is off to the left and now blocked off by a beaver dam.  To get into Tadpole Terrace you would need to portage over the dam) and Baxter Bay, where there is an amazing view of Mt. Katahdin

I must once again remind people to respect the wildlife.  Do not get too close to the animals.  Some of the moose up here are used to seeing people using the river, but need to be respected.  Moose can move quickly on land and in water.  Mothers are very protective of their babies, born in early spring.  Males are more aggressive in the fall, but can be unpredictable year round!

Water levels on the river can vary.  Higher water levels mean stronger current.  You can paddle quite a while up the river before the current gets strong.  Some people put their kayaks/canoes in just below Nesowadnehunk falls and float down to the campground.  If you choose that option, be aware that the current moves pretty fast from the bottom of the falls until leveling out into some flatter water. 

 This is a picture of Mt. Katahdin taken from "Baxter Bay," one of the many inlets along the river.


 


  This is taken from another part of the river, on a cloudier day.  

 This is the beaver dam blocking the entrance to "Tadpole Terrace!"

This is a picture looking up the river from one of the campsites. 

This is looking up the river.  (That's Alan, a family friend in his boat!)
Many people fish the river, catching trout and salmon, if you are lucky!

It is hard to see in this picture, but those two kayakers are a couple of my good friends.  Look closely on the left and see a moose.  Moose are a common sight along the river, especially in June!

This is a picture taken from the campground looking over Abol Stream, which connects to the river. Water levels here vary greatly, but you can always find a paddling route!

This is taken as I paddled behind the island that is in the river. 

 This is an immature bald eagle.  I took this in 2010.  There were two immature eagles around the river that summer.

 A family of merganser ducks.

 One of the amazing sunsets... taken from the beach area of Abol Bridge Campground.  

A Maine loon.  If you are up here and hear a loon, look up, chances are you will see a bald eagle in the area.  The loons warn each other about the eagles. 

 This was taken on a very calm evening.  It is hard to tell if this is right side up or not because the  reflection is so clear.

 Another beautiful sunset.

 And another...

 This young bull was enjoying eating some grass that grows on the bottom of the river.

This is a shot of one of the eagles I got to follow up and down the river.  Last summer I got to see one dive into the water, catch a fish and sit on a log and eat it.  Unfortunately I was too far away to get a great shot. 

This is part of Mt. Katahdin, some ledges.  Can you see that it looks like a skull?

Another Loon sharing its day with me.  
 

Another young bull moose.  Male moose grow antlers which fall off every fall.  It is fun to watch the moose during the summer as their antlers grow.  You can see that the antlers look fuzzy, that's because when antlers are growing they are 'in velvet.' The velvet is a skin that covers and grows with the antlers. As the antlers mature, the moose will rub against trees to remove the velvet, leaving the more white, bone looking, antlers people are used to seeing in pictures.  

 This eagle keeps a close eye on the river, looking for food. 

Another bull moose.  This picture was taken on the same day as the one above.  This is an older more mature moose.  This is the same moose seen in the misty pictures below. 

 This is not a picture of a log.  It is a picture of a whippoorwill sitting on its nest. 
If you look closely the bird is facing the camera.  (Not taken while kayaking, but taken in that area.)
 This is a baby whippoorwill.  I cannot say it is a cute baby, but it is something I had not seen until this summer.  I did not find the nest, some family friends came upon it while collecting firewood. 

This beaver stayed above water for a long time as I was paddling.  It was chewing on something; as soon as it was done snacking it submerged itself and swam away.

 Along with critters, there are a lot of wildflowers, like this iris, along the river. 

Moose in the mist.  One evening as it was starting to rain and the mist began collecting on the river, my dad spotted this bull feeding along the river.  (We could see it from the campground.)  Despite the rain, I needed to go out on the water and capture this in pictures.  It was an amazing experience to see such an amazing animal in the mist.)

 I was able to anchor my kayak behind a tree that hung over the river and offered me a great place from which I could photograph this moose.  I was probably 20-25 feet from him.  He kept looking at me, making sure he knew where I was and kept eating. To be close enough to hear this animal chew its food is a gift. 

The quality of this picture is not great, but it captures a rare moment,
a moose and a deer within feet of each other. 
 

This is part of the Appalachian Trail(AT).  To get to it I simply walked out of the back of the campground.  It is a beautiful place.

 This is a group of ferns along my path.

 This is another part of the AT.

 This is the bridge that crosses Katahdin Stream, again part of the AT.

Getting to this part of Maine may take some time, but is well worth it.  Many people who climb Mt. Katahdin stay at Abol Bridge Campground.  To me, THIS is truly Maine. 

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