Paddling the Saco River 136 miles

My son and I did the 136 mile trip down the Saco River from NH to Camp Ellis at the Atlantic Ocean in Maine. So much information was not in our AMC map. I did a write up on the portages. Feel free to read on and explore.
Saco River Portages June 2021

Redstone Rapids - Conway, NH.
When the water is too low or too high you might consider doing a portage around the right side or even walking and roping down the boats through the rocks and small rapids. Too rocky when low. Class 2 or three with higher water.

Swans Falls - Fryeburg, ME.
Easy portage on right. Take out up a little hill just before the dam. Small hill going down to a beach. This is also a campground and they have a small store that sells fire permits which you should have if camping on the river.

Great Falls - Great Falls, ME.
Portage on right. An easy take out. The put in says to walk down a long path down to the river. We decided it was too rocky and filled with roots, so we put our trolley wheels on and walked down River rd to a parking lot on the left where there was a short path to the river. Not a very difficult portage if you have wheels.

Steep Falls - Steep Falls - Standish, ME.
Portage on left above the rocks just before the falls. Use caution when the river is high… When the river is low, there is a great beach below the falls. Not the easiest portage, but two people can pull the boats up, through a narrow bike and hiking path down to the beach path. Note: there are several sets of rapids below the falls. We were able to go straight down the middle in both, but in higher water these might be a bit much.

Limington Rips - Limington, ME.
Portage on right. Easy up and onto River Road. Take out when you see the rapids below. You’ll see a clearing on the side of the river and a farm house in the back. There is a long walk down river road that takes you to Bonny Eagle Recreation Area where you can put your boat back in.
This is a popular swimming and recreation area. Recommend trolley wheels. Long walk down.
If you seek a thrill, the rips are not that bad lower down, but we didn’t want to take any chances and as it was low, we didn’t want to flip on a rock. Looks like fun class 2 and 3 rapids though.

Bonny Eagle Dam - Bonny Eagle, ME.
Portage on right before bridge and dam. Not easy getting out. Steep and rocky. Once out you will have a long portage to put back in. Totally missed this one on the map and our pre-drive…, but a local fisherman told us where to put in. You need wheels for sure! Head across the river and take a right on to Warren Rd. You’ll have to walk about ¼ mile passing a few homes on the right. There will be a warning sign and a path on your right. It was a bit overgrown, but we checked it out and put it in there. That wasn’t bad. There was some swift water just after we put in, but it was fun and refreshing. Be prepared, the next dam is just ahead!

West Buxton Dam - W. Buxton, ME.
Easy portage take out on river LEFT just before the dam. Slight bank up to the road. Then you will need to head down across the street keeping the dam and mill buildings to your right.
There are cement stairs and a walkway to put your boats in. Don’t be alarmed if you hear the sirens warning the dam will release water. It happened to us and we were shocked. A local told us they did that quite often. From there the river becomes narrow, but deep. Again it’s not long until the next dam.

Bar Mills Dam - Buxton, ME.
Take out is on the right before the bridge. It’s an easy out. Come out and cross the busy street. Head down Canal street to a dirt path and you will see a path and a staircase that leads down to the river. It’s not even ¼ of a mile, but it’s good if you have wheels. We also needed to lower the boats down the stairs into the river. The land adjacent is private.

Skelton Dam - Buxton, ME.
Cross the wide open lake-like river and stay to your right. This will save you time.
Take out is easy and on your right way down in the right corner along the dam. The portage is not well marked nor maintained. A boat ramp allows easy access to take your boats out to a field and a parking lot. To get to the put in, you have to walk up on the dam road and down a hill onto a dirt road and then a path that follows the river… We found no place down the road to take out, but there was a small sign and a narrow metal staircase that led to a short path to the river. We had to use the ratchet straps and lower our boats. This would be difficult for many. It’s very overgrown and could be easily missed.

Cataract Dam - Saco ME.
This is the final dam prior to making your way to the Atlantic Ocean. From here you are only a few hours to Camp Ellis on the left or Biddeford Pool on the right. We took out at Camp Ellis.
The portage for this dam is on the LEFT at Diamond park. You will see a playground and dock. We pulled our boats up. There is a parking lot and if you’re lucky you will have someone there with transportation to take you to the next put in. If not you will need wheels. You will need to make your way down Pine Street and then left onto Elm street and take a right on Water Street and then across the road onto Front Street. Head down and the boat launch is on your right. The Saco Yacht club is just past that. It’s all city walking and it’s quite a hike. We put in and made our way down to the Ocean. It was an easy paddle down as we timed it perfectly when the tide was going out. Tidal information is important. Don’t forget to check that schedule out before making this last trip.

3 Likes

I bet it was an awesome trip. How long did it take?

Hi. It took us 9 days. A few very long days paddling. Good weather, few people and gentle waters.

A quiet time on the Saco is not typical. That’s awesome. A trip I’d love to do at some point

Thank you very much for sharing this information. Good stuff!
:+1:

Its pretty common in May and June actually. I live about 10 miles from the Saco. July and August weekends of course are insane. Only been from Redstone to Hiram. And once we moved nearby we got lazy and only day trip!
Its best avoided after heavy rains in midsummer. Some campers lack the knowledge to properly dispose of human feces. My friend the retired Ranger in Bridgton pointed this out to me…