Destinations: Alligash vs. Thoreau's

The Alligash is a classic canoeing destination / trip, and I have never paddled it. Earlier in the year I put it on the calendar for early September. Lately, I’ve been reconsidering. I’ve paddled pieces of what I call a “paddling in Thoreau’s wake” trip, and always thought it would be nice to put the pieces together and paddle it as a destination/trip. I’m considering doing it instead of the Alligash.

I called it “Thoreau’s wake” because the trip would retrace Thoreaus’s 1853 route, and it’s a paddling trip so it couldn’t really be Thoreau’s “footsetps”, could it? Thoreau’s party took a steamer north from Greenville, Maine, stopped to climb Kineo, and then proceeded to Northeast Carry. From there, they crossed to the West Branch, Penobscot, stopped to visit Lobster Stream, and proceeded down the West Branch to Chesuncook. The party stayed at Chesuncook Village and then returned up the Penobscot to Northeast Carry, and that’s where this trip would part ways with Thoreau’s wake. My trip would continue south on Chesuncook to the southern end of the Lake, and conclude at the Golden Road with a ride back to Greenville.

In either case, I’d be meeting up with friends in Greenville. The primary appeal of the Thoreau’s wake trip is that it features relatively short and easy shuttles compared to the Alligash. From Greenville, it is relatively easy to get into the Maine Northwoods and preposition vehicles on the Golden Road. Even if we hired somebody to drop our cars at Alligash Village, the trip back from the Alligash is an all-day drive, plus some.

Paddling and camping on Moosehead is nice, but it is not wilderness. But I think the West Branch, Lobster, and Chesuncook would be similar type territory to the Alligash.

So, this is the “advice” forum. Which trip would you do?


West Branch
My lovely bow paddler and I did that same route 17 years ago, either the first or second week in September. Great trip but for a few things. 1, Mosquitos on the first night. We hadn’t had any the preceding 4 nights at Lily Bay, but these were the worst I’ve seen ever! 2, Truck noise from the Golden Road. They ran all night and you can hear 'em 10 miles coming and 10 miles going. 3, Wind on Chesuncook. As we were warned, it’s either with ya or against ya. We have lots of stories associated with memories of that trip, though. Gartley and his store, Max Folsom and his DC-3 on pontoons, Mr. and Mrs. McBirney and the Lakehouse. I could go on and on. Change is coming to that area. Slowly, but it’s coming. I’d do both trips, but Thoreau’s wake first, before its completely ruined forever.

Different trips
West Branch and Lobster Lake are outstanding and Chesuncook can be a slog. Typically a much shorter trip than the Allagash.

Thoreau actually made it up into the Allagash as far north as Eagle Lake where there is an Island/Campsite named after him (South part of the lake). If you put in at Telos and pull out at the Allagash village bridge, it is a leisurely 9 day trip. Allagash shuttles (Lizotte or L’Italien) both do a good job with vehicles. I would always vote for the Allagash, it is total winner of a river trip.

I did lobster lake to ripogenous three
years ago solo. wonderful trip.


River Trip?
I thought the Alligash involved at least as much lake as river. The Wake trip would be mostly lake. Okay, I just spent a few minutes with Google earth and I see the Alligash is mostly river. But seems like I have heard some wind stories about the Lakes on the Alligash, too.

As to the length of the trip, I could see spending a couple days getting north up Moosehead. A night at Lobster Lake seems a must. Maybe take some hikes and spend two. I guess you could cover the whole West Branch in a day. But those are some lovely river miles and I’d be trying to think of a way to spend more time. I think I’d budget about a week for it.

I’ve never heard anyone talk about Chesuncook without mentioning how bad it can be in the wind. Moosehead is no picnic. Is Chesuncook worse?

There’s another Lake that joins Chesuncook on the southwest (Caribou?). Worth shortcutting to the Golden Road through there? or just go straight to Ripogenes?

Lakes and wind
All the big lakes at some point have wind. You can usually get around this by travelling early. Because Chamberlain and Eagle are early in the Allagash trip, you can usually make up the time on the river if wind bound for a day. Chesuncook is problematic because it is the end of the trip. I usually plan 3 days for the Allagash Lakes (Eagle, Chamberlain, and Chuchill) and then 5-6 for the river portion to Allagash village.

Based on the time you have, a West Branch trip with a loop into Lobster Lake sounds like just the ticket. You will not be disappointed. If you have extra time, hike across Mud Pond carry to Chamberlain ( a mile or two). That’s how they jumped from the Penobscot to Allagash watersheds in the old days.

We did it in Mid-May
We just did the West Branch and Chesuncook trip in mid-May in wood canvas canoes. We christened my buddy’s new to him 18 foot Chestnut Canoe Co. Prospector Voyageur that I finished up for him this spring.

We had a beautiful couple of days on Chesuncook - What wind???

We saw lots of wildlife: eagles, moose, bear, deer, turtles, salamanders, snakes etc. etc.

Truck traffic ain’t what it used to be. No trees worth cutting are left (okay, so I exaggerate some).

There is a photo album here.

Thoreau did two trips

– Last Updated: Jun-27-08 3:32 PM EST –

one where he took a steamer up moosehead and one where he paddled a canoe---have fun on the allagash and the west branch they are both great trips. Neither trip is true wilderness in the sense that the North Maine woods on the allgash and the the west branch are commerical forests, heavily logged and heavily traveled by recreationists--the Allagash by canoeists(although travel is off by two thirds---down to 5000 last year compared to 15000 in the early 90s) and the west branch by rafters, fisherman, cannoeists etc) Of the two the allagash is probably the most isolated.