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.
The following Pictures were taken on the West Branch of the Penobscot River, near Mt. Katahdin. I did not get close to any moose on this trip, hoping to get up there a bit more this summer and hoping to have some moose encounters! But... even without the moose there was much to be seen. For the first time in my life, I got to spend time up there, with otters! They were adorable. For videos of the otters, and hopefully other adventures as I have them, click HERE to visit my youtube channel.
These next pictures were taken on Cold Stream Pond. Cold Stream is located in the towns of Enfield and Burlington. It is a beautiful spot. I am unsure of where the public boat launch is, as I put in at someone's home, but well worth finding the public launch. The Pond's name is deceiving, it is a large lake. It is filled with many large rocks, many homes along its shores, and some boat traffic... and an occasional plane... Wildlife includes birds, specifically loons and ducks, and I have heard moose and deer have been seen, but I have not witnessed it.