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Date(s) Price(s)
June 19-23, 2024 $1,350
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Guided Canoe & Fishing Trips on the East Branch of the Penobscot River

The East Branch of the Penobscot River, flowing through the heart of the Katahdin Woods and Water National Monument, offers an unparalleled canoeing experience for paddlers of varying skill levels. With majestic mountain views, exciting rapids, serene wilderness, and the breathtaking backdrop of Baxter State Park, this river adventure should be on your bucket list.

The river’s course is adorned with numerous falls and gorges, locally known as “pitches,” interspersed among the awe-inspiring mountainous scenery. Paddlers will encounter over half a dozen Class I, II, and III rapids, as well as four portages or “carries,” within the first seven miles. The presence of Class II and III rapids and the required portages make the journey well worth the effort for the privilege of canoeing the East Branch.

The trip begins on Grand Lake Matagamon, where extra time is allocated for practicing and reviewing whitewater maneuvers before navigating Stair Falls, the first major rapid. We spend more days on the East Branch than most outfitters, as the focus is on ensuring guests have the skills to negotiate and enjoy running the rapids safely. The adventure concludes at Whetstone Falls, leaving participants with unforgettable memories of their time on this extraordinary river.

Participants should have experience and be comfortable in Class II water, and you should be in good physical shape due to the portaging required. To view a trip itinerary, click here.

Suggested Reading:

For more information about the East Branch country:

PRICE INCLUDES

  1. All food and gear (including sleeping bags, pads, dry bags).
  2. Transportation to and from Orono.
  3. Two guides.

PRICE DOES NOT INCLUDE

  1. Transportation to Orono.
  2. Overnight stays in motels or bed and breakfasts in Orono.

Bill Green does the East Branch of the Penobscot River with Mahoosuc Guide Service

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Spectacular Mountain Scenery in Baxter State Park

East Branch of the Penobscot is one of the few rivers in Maine that has high mountains very close to the river. The North and South Traveler Mountain (elevation ~ 3,500 ft) are your constant companions on the first five miles of the trip. The Travelers were so named by Moses Greenleaf, one of the early Maine mapmakers, because even when he was in the southern half of the Allagash River country, those mountains seemed to travel with him. They were an important reference point as he was making his early maps.

Challenging Rapids

The East Branch of the Penobscot River features numerous Class II rapids and, at higher water levels, they can become Class III. Some whitewater canoeing experience is helpful, and we will take the time to review the strokes and river maneuvers you need to know before engaging in the more difficult rapids.

Four Carrys

Carrys are what some parts of the country call “portages”. We probably call them carrys in Maine because the Penobscot word for carry is ‘wiwǝnikan’. On the East Branch, “pitches” refer to the four waterfalls and are mandatory carrys, varying in heights from 20 to 40 feet often followed by a churning gorge. This peculiar terminology has got people in trouble in the past because you do not run pitches, but if it’s labeled “falls” on the East Branch, it is a navigable rapid. The Pitches are in the order you will encounter them: Haskell Rock Pitch (named for a river drive who died there picking apart a log jam), Pond Pitch, Grand Pitch (the largest waterfall, approximately 40 ft), and then the Hulling Machine (got its name from the river drivers, because the logs would go into the hulling machine with the bark on and, when they were spit out of the gorge below, the bark was gone).

Wildlife & Fishing on the East Branch of the Penobscot River

  • Forest Types

The forest along the East Branch is very diverse, varying from old spruce-fir habitat interspersed with large white pines to even some red oak and beech flats, which is probably why the area boasts a large black bear population. Lower down on the river, there is extensive old growth silver maple floodplains that have a southern swamp-like feeling.

  • Fishing

The East Branch contains a very healthy population of landlocked salmon. The numerous coldwater streams coming off the Baxter State Park mountains into the river also provide excellent native brook trout habitat. Currently, there are efforts underway to make it easier for Atlantic salmon to reach the upper East Branch watershed. Atlantic salmon have been seen attempting to get up through Grand Pitch, and some have been seen above Grand Pitch, so we know some are making it. If you really want to fish the East Branch, you’ll need to add a day or two to the length of your trip.

  • Wildlife

Moose and deer are commonly seen along the shoreline of the East Branch. Bald eagles and osprey are the most common large raptors seen along the river corridor. Due to the abundance of beech and red oak in certain areas, you may even get a glimpse of a black bear.

Best Times to Canoe the East Branch of the Penobscot

We normally schedule our East Branch trip the second week of May to ensure a good water level and to beat the first hatch of East Branch black flies. The East Branch typically has good flows for paddling May through most of June during a summer with normal rainfall. The river is still runnable in July and August, but the rapids are better negotiated with a setting pole at this water level rather than a paddle. Most years by mid-September, the water flow will increase unless it has been an unusually dry summer.

Please contact us if you would like to paddle the East Branch at a different time from our scheduled trips.

For trip itinerary, click here

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Custom trips

Mahoosuc Guide Service can design custom Maine canoe trips for families, youth groups, clubs, or organizations from one to 10 days in length. We can also design trips to retrace any part of Henry David Thoreau’s route, including Webster Brook and East Branch of the Penobscot River. Contact us today to discuss your group’s interests, abilities, goals, and available dates.

Learn More About Custom Trips

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Safety and Basic Information for Canoe Trips

All our Maine canoe trips are fully outfitted and guided by Mahoosuc Guide Service’s owners Polly or Kevin. We provide all the food, camping, paddling, and cooking equipment, as well as a detailed clothing list to help you in packing for your trip. Most of our trips meet in Orono, Maine (just north of Bangor). We provide transportation to and from the river. Many of our canoe trips require no special physical conditioning. If you have any concerns about the physical requirements of a trip, please contact us.

On the Trip:

We are experienced teachers and will help you master the art of canoeing by teaching paddle strokes and poling techniques. You will learn how to set up a warm dry camp, and if you want, how to cook and bake over an open fire. All our food is natural or organic, and we source much of our food locally. Natural history, wildlife viewing, and fishing will be covered as your interests warrant.

Safety:

You are in safe hands with Mahoosuc Guide Service. With more than 40 years guiding experience from Maine and Quebec to the Yukon Territory and Alaska, we have an excellent safety record. We are certified in Wilderness First Aid and Wilderness First Responders. We carry a satellite phone for emergency communication!

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Trip Itinerary

Day 1

Depart Black Bear Inn in Orono 7:30 a.m.

2 ½ hour drive to put in on Grand Lake Matagamon.

Paddle to Birch Point campsite.

Flatwater practice of whitewater strokes and maneuvers

 

Day 2

Paddle several miles across Matagamon to the outlet of the East Branch

On river – moving-water review of safety, strokes, and maneuvers.

Camp 4½ miles downstream at Oxbow campsite.

Day 3

Travel downriver about 4 miles.

This section has rapids and 3 portages.

In order: 1st rapids Class 2.

  • Stair Falls Class 2-3.
  • Haskell Rock Pitch – portage 1/3 mile.
  • Haskell Rock Pitch Rapids – Class 2+.
  • Lower Rock Pitch Rapids – Class 2.

Pond Pitch – portage 1/4 mile.

Grand Pitch – portage 1/3 mile.

Camp at Grand Pitch – ½ way down portage trail.

Day 4

Finish portage.

Run Class 1-2 rips to

Hulling Machine – ½ mile portage.

Bowlin Falls – Class 2+.

Camp Fiske Bogan.

Approximately 10-12 river miles this day.

Day 5

Paddle approximately 7-8 miles down river (no major rapids).

to Whetstone Falls.

Run Upper & Lower Whetstone Falls Class 2-3.

Take off river midday or early afternoon.

Transport back to Orono – 2 hour, 15 minute drive.