Paddling in the Bold Coast of Maine

Interested in paddling around a saltwater bay in search of frolicking seals or osprey diving for fish? How about shooting through white-water on a multi-day wilderness canoe trip on one of the only completely natural flowing river systems in the eastern United States?

With its abundance of lakes, rivers, streams, bays and rugged coastline, the Bold Coast region provides hundreds of miles of canoeing and kayaking pleasure amidst unbroken natural scenery, making it a paddler’s paradise.

Casual and experienced boaters have numerous waterways to explore in the Bold Coast region. There are boat launches throughout the region, as well as private outfitters and tour guides to help plan a trip that meets your goals and abilities. Whatever your paddling experience, from true beginner to the hardened adventurer, there is a Bold Coast paddling experience that is right for you.

Inland Waterways

Washington County alone has 133,000 acres of lakes and ponds and ten rivers that travel a total of 412 miles from their source to the sea. Here is a sampling of some of the better-known paddling experiences:

  • Orange River Water Trail is an easy to access, easy to paddle 5.9-mile flat-water trail, which includes miles of fresh water teeming with wildlife. The Orange River provides important inland waterfowl and wading bird habit and also supports bald eagles, deer wintering, and brook trout fisheries.
  • Downeast Lakes Water Trail is a 55-mile network of rivers and lakes offering a remote wilderness experience through prime fishing and moose country.
  • Machias River Corridor offers a 76-mile canoe trip that begins at Fifth Machias Lake and reaches tidewater in the city of Machias. The upper reaches of the river are narrow and have some stretches of rapids best suited for an experienced paddler. The trip requires a minimum of six days to do in entirety, but can be split into two three-day trips. Less experienced paddlers should engage a guide.
  • St. Croix International Waterway is the 95-mile waterway that establishes the U.S.-Canada border from where the St. Croix River forms in the Chiputneticook Lakes all the way to the Atlantic Ocean. Paddlers can enjoy spectacular scenery, Class I and II whitewater, wilderness campsites, wildlife viewing and fishing.

Ocean Paddling

The ocean in the Bold Coast region poses unique hazards, making it more dangerous to navigate than other coastal waters. The combination of exceptional 20+/- foot tides and strong currents (which increase quickly the further north you go), extremely cold water, unpredictable weather, and limited places among the rocky cliffs to land in the event of an emergency, makes the coastline suitable only for boaters with bona fide advanced ocean kayaking experience and sound judgment. This is especially true for the section of coastline from Cutler (where the Bay of Fundy tidal influence begins) to West Quoddy Head.

When ocean kayaking in the Bold Coast region, it is critical that you know your limits and plan a paddling adventure that truly is within your abilities.

Ocean paddling offering more placid waters for day kayakers includes: Machias Bay, Whiting Bay, and Dennys Bay.

Ocean paddlers interested in a self-guided multi-day kayak adventure are well served by becoming members of the Maine Island Trail Association, a non-profit organization that manages the Maine Island Trail, a 375-mile coastal waterway extending from the New Hampshire border to Cobscook Bay and New Brunswick, Canada. Membership in MITA, which starts at $45 per year, includes an annual trail guide and mobile app listing boat launches, pump out facilities, danger areas, and sites on the mainland and islands where paddlers are welcome to come ashore to picnic or camp.

Safety & Other Considerations

Both ocean and lake water in eastern Maine can be cold at any time of the year, and wind or storms can kick up with little warning. It is highly recommended that you become familiar with the following information before undertaking a paddling trip. If in doubt, hire an experienced guide!

Canoe and Kayak Rentals, Tours, and Guides

Maine law requires that a USCG-approved life jacket be worn at all times by any boater 10 years of age or younger, and one must be on board and readily accessible for each passenger over 10.  However, it is highly recommended that every boater wear a life jacket at all times, especially when boating alone or on the ocean.