Northern Forest Canoe Trail

This article was in the travel section of our local newspaper. Thought it might be of interest.


If you’ve done the BWCAW, canoe from New York to Maine

DOMESTIC TRAVEL: Maps are being made to guide canoeists through a trail once used by American Indians and fur traders.



BRUNSWICK, Vt. - This highway through the north country is shady and quiet, with tree limbs

dipping low overhead and snapping turtles skimming through the shallow water. It’s a rural, winding section of the Connecticut River, part of a 740-mile water trail that was used for hundreds of years by American Indians and European settlers. Now, a Waitsfield, Vt.,nonprofit group and a legion of volunteers are re-establishing the trail for recreation.

The Northern Forest Canoe Trail stretches between Old Forge, N.Y., and Fort Kent, Maine, with about half the mileage in Maine. It starts off with the Saranac River in the Adirondacks, and takes travelers across Lake Champlain and up the Missisquoi and Clyde rivers and down the Nulhegan in Vermont. The trail passes through Lake Memphremagog, taking paddlers into Quebec, and then goes into New Hampshire on the Connecticut, Upper Ammonoosuc, and Androscoggin Rivers, and into Maine on the Rangeley Lakes, Moosehead Lake, and the Penobscot, Allagash, and St. John Rivers.

In between are dozens of other less-known rivers and lakes, and 62 spots where paddlers must carry, or portage, their boats for a total of 55 miles. The paddling ranges from novice to expert.

“If you want to do the whole thing, you’re going to have to do your work,” said Ross Stevens, a

volunteer who is responsible for a section of the canoe trail in Vermont and New Hampshire, as he paddled a canoe down the river on a hot day earlier this month.


Stevens, who is the director of the Northeast Kingdom Conservation Service Corps in East

Charleston, has the job of coming up with signs marking points of historical interest on his

section of the trail, helping the directors of the trail design a map for the section, and organizing

maintenance for the section.

Ultimately, every section of the trail will be maintained and mapped. The first maps – one for

each end of the trail – are due to come out in September. Organizers would like someday to have campsites established every 10 or 15 miles as well.

Reviving the Northern Forest Canoe Trail was the idea of three paddlers in the 1970s. In the late 1990s, the founders of Mad River Canoe in Waitsfield, Rob Center and Kay Henry, sold their

company and decided to make re-establishing the trail their next project.

Center and Henry started a nonprofit organization that raises money and coordinates the mapping and signage for the trail. Henry expects work on the trail to be finished in two years.

Center sees the Northern Forest Canoe Trail as a water-based version of the Appalachian Trail, the famed 2,174-mile hiking trail that runs between Georgia and Maine. As such, most people will do it in sections, not all at once.

As with the Appalachian Trail, some segments of the canoe trail are harder than others, so

paddlers with varying skill levels can pick a route that matches their abilities and the time they want to spend on their trip. The Northern Forest Canoe Trail provides maps of the route as a

benefit to members; membership in the organization costs $25.

Meanwhile, volunteers like Stevens are exploring their sections of trail and talking with local

historians and others to determine what features should appear on signs and in maps.


The trail organizers know of one person, Donny Mullen, who has traveled the whole length. Mullen, 32, did the trip four years ago in a home-built wood-and-canvas canoe, sometimes with

friends, and sometimes alone. It took him 50 days.

“The perspective is very different,” said Mullen, a former Outward Bound instructor who lives in

St. George, Maine. After passing through an urban area, such as Plattsburgh, N.Y., or Newport, “it doesn’t take more than a couple of bends in a river to put you out into the woods and make

you feel like you’re out there and removed,” Mullen said.

The longest portage was a little under 5 miles, in Maine. Much of the paddling was upriver. “It was a neat trip; it was very difficult,” said Mullen, who is writing a book about the experience. “To be out on a 50-day trip had its own challenges; to be on your own had another set of challenges.”

Like Stevens, Mullen was drawn by the history of the route. “I have this enjoyment thinking about how these routes were paddled by people and what they had to go through,” Mullen said. “It wasn’t that long ago when, if you were going to northern

Maine, that’s how you were traveling.”

Several canoe trails have been established in recent years in north America. The Northern Forest

Canoe Trail is different because it emphasizes the history of the area – and because it was set up in part to help the struggling towns of the north country, said Kate Williams, the nonprofit group’s executive director. “Part of our purpose is to celebrate the history and settlement along the trail,” Williams said. “We don’t always pick the route that’s the most wilderness.”

Stevens says his job and family probably wouldn’t make a trip along the entire trail practical. But

“I’m intrigued by the whole idea,” Stevens said. “I love the idea that any section I’m on, I could

keep going.”


Northern Forest Canoe Trail: 740-mile route connecting rivers, lakes, ponds and streams

through New York, Vermont, New Hampshire, Quebec and Maine. The route includes 62 portages, a total of 55 miles, with the longest portage, 5 miles, in Maine. The waterways go through towns, farming areas and forests, with 147 miles in New York, 174 miles in Vermont and Quebec, 72 miles in New Hampshire and 347 miles in Maine.

Tips: Paddling the entire trail takes about eight weeks and requires advanced canoeing skills,

including whitewater, poling and upriver paddling.

Maps: An overview map, five hand-drawn sectional maps and a mile-by-mile route description for the trail are provided to members of the Northern Forest Canoe Trail, P.O. Box 565, Waitsfield,

Vt., 05673; (802) 496-2285 or

This has gotten
a lot publicity in the last couple of weeks! I think its great!


– Last Updated: Jul-19-04 9:29 AM EST –

The NFCT is a great resource, no question. Those organizing the trail have been very good at getting press releases out and frequent NFCT features published.

Still, the trail is at a tricky stage for this NFCT paddler. For some sections like the Allagash, which obviously has well established campsites and access, the NFCT is very easy to approach. If you want to travel a lesser known section like the Nulhegan (VT), Upper Ammonoosuc (NH), or even the Mississquoi (VT) however, you are really on your own. I think the NFCT organizers are reluctant to release any practical information like where to access private property (vs. trespass), where to camp (vs. not), how to portage (without trespassing), until a trail section is totally established. Meanwhile, I find it difficult logistically to plan trips on the lesser known sections without reinventing every campsite and portage, and still running the risk of offending a landowner. I have always believed that it is good for the trail if people get out and use it, and spread the word (as I have tried to do). It sometimes seems like the organizers don't really want to encourage use of some sections until all landowner access issues are totally settled.

Yes, there are maps coming soon, but once again only for the sections that have been well established for canoe travel long before the NFCT. This fall's maps will be two on the NY end (Fulton Chain) and two on the ME end (Allagash), both of which are already well mapped for canoeists. The only map available today is of the Rangeley Lakes section, also well mapped elsewhere.

So, yes, its a great trail, and I have already paddled about 100 miles of it's lesser used sections in VT, NH, and ME. However, it's not as easy to get good practical information about the trail as I think it should (and could) be. Yes, I have been a dues paying member of the NFCT for a couple of years.

NFCT Saranac Lake to P’burgh
I am on the NFCT committee for the section from Saranac Lake to Plattsburgh, along the Saranac River. I have paddled some sections, but not most of it. Our plan is to acquire legal access to portages and campsites all along the route, as well as to provide accurate information as to dangers, portages, etc. and to erect signage where needed. Most of our section is public access, but there are still a few areas where permission is being worked out. To have too many folks trespass or worse yet, get injured going through rapids above their experience level, would in the long run be detrimental to the whole project. Once the map is done and published, that is the time to try tackling that section, IMHO.

re: maine landscape…
just some local $.02 from Maine,

A great plan and if the map making can be accurate within a specific distance from the official trail(in Maine), visiting paddlers will have numerous choices, as you know Tramper_Al, of less voluminous waters, each with their own particular appearance and paddling enjoyment.