Paddle North

The Northern Forest Canoe Trail offers paddling trips from New York to Maine.

Through the calm waters of Flagstaff Lake, with the Bigelow Range setting the scene from the south, is a trail. It follows rivers snaking through dense forests that eventually give way to small waterside towns. The Northern Forest Canoe Trail (NFCT) is a continuous 740-mile system of rivers and streams, lakes and ponds, and portages that runs from west to east, beginning in Old Forge, New York, and ending in Fort Kent.

“It’s a real misrepresentation of the trail to think you have to travel it all at once,” says Karrie Thomas, executive director of the NFCT. “There’re are lot of different ways to dice it up.” With 347 trail miles in Maine, nearly half of the trail is located within our state lines, and the options for exploring it are endless. Through its website, the NFCT offers a trip planner and a series of maps with various trip options. Depending on the desired trip, canoers can paddle through isolated areas with primitive campsites and accommodations or travel through more populated areas with bed-and-breakfasts and historic hotels. For paddlers who opt to navigate all 740 miles, the entire trip can be completed in six weeks.

In order to maintain the waterways, the NFCT relies on a group of volunteers and interns. About 50 volunteers have adopted a stretch of the trail, each becoming a steward for their portion of the waterway. “We essentially depend on their eyes and ears to help us understand what the maintenance needs are in any given section,” says Thomas. Four year-round, part-time employees manage the organization, and additional interns help support the organization during the summer. In addition, the NFCT partners with communities and towns, nonprofits, and parks services to provide the best possible experience for paddlers. Next year, with the support of local communities and volunteers, the organization will celebrate its 20th anniversary. 

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