Canoe with a View
In the iconic Allagash Wilderness Waterway, a longtime guide service lets the river speak
The sun is bright, and a warm breeze whips through the trees. The Allagash River is calm, and all is as it should be. That’s how Lani Love feels, at least, as she paddles her canoe down Indian Stream, trailed by a group of people in their own canoes, ready to begin a seven-day trip that will follow the Allagash River for more than 80 miles. Love, a registered Maine guide, has been running canoe trips since 1988. She and her husband, Chip Cochrane, are the third-generation owners of Allagash Canoe Trips, founded by Cochrane’s grandfather, Herb Cochrane, in 1951.
“The Allagash is kind of the pinnacle,” says Love. The trip seems to be on everybody’s list—and with good reason. The Allagash Wilderness Waterway is teeming with wildlife and is full of variety; it has one of the highest populations of Canada lynx in the state, and moose are plentiful. At night, the stars in the sky are completely uninterrupted. And while Love and Cochrane have been guiding trips for decades, no two trips are the same. “Some people are like, ‘Don’t you get bored of going down the same place?’ But it isn’t the same place. Your office is the same place,” she says. On each trip, the water levels, the weather, and the people are different. The water level of the Allagash has been low for the past few summers, which can discourage some people from making the trip. But Love argues that the river really shows itself when the water is low, with some patience and careful maneuvering. “There really is no bad water level, there’s just different varieties of what you’re going to get,” she says.
The Allagash Wilderness Waterway holds a few significant stories in history, too. As groups with Love and Cochrane make their way to Eagle Lake, paddlers can see the site of the 1976 Allagash Abduction, a purported encounter with extraterrestrials. Farther south on the lake is the Eagle Lake Tramway, a historic timber-transport mechanism built in 1902 between Eagle and Chamberlain Lakes, accompanied by a few abandoned trains on the northwest end of Eagle Lake. The waterway has something for everyone, be they history buffs, nature lovers, or adventure seekers. “It’s the kind of trip, too, where grandparents can bring their kids, and their kids can bring their kids,” says Love. On the Allagash, generations can come together to make memories, just as they did when Herb Cochrane was guiding trips down the river half a century ago.