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Canoeing Maine's Saint John River

Canoeing in Maine with Wilds of Maine


  • The longest free flowing river this side of the Mississippi
  • A good mix of easy open rapids, a little flatwater and quick water for the majority of the trip
  • Clear water river and well maintained campsites

Full Description

Maine’s historic logging river flowing through rolling hills & open valley; now preserved by The Nature Conservancy.

The Saint John is the granddaddy of Maine's rivers and our favorite wilderness trip in Maine. On Saint John the Baptist's Day in 1604, French explorer Samuel de Champlain sailed into the mouth of this river at the Bay of Fundy, New Brunswick, giving the river its name.

The St. John is the longest free-flowing river east of the Mississippi. It winds its way through several headwater lakes and on for 100+ miles of forests, beautiful rolling hills and open valleys. (Large tracts of the land are owned by The Nature Conservancy.) It parallels the Maine/Quebec border then turns east and forms the northern border of Maine, continuing on through New Brunswick to the ocean. This free flowing river is generally canoeable from ice-out in late April or early May through June, all depending on snow melt and spring rains.

The Wilds of Maine offers a eight-day/seven-night canoe camping trip on the historic St. John from Baker Lake to Allagash Village. We meet our guests and drive the Golden Road to Baker Lake. Camping that night at the lake, on Day 1 we begin our 125-mile northward journey on a narrow river lined with fir and spruce. The gradient is exceptionally steady, from 1200 feet elevation at the lake to 600 feet at Allagash Village. There are no portages, and the shallow, clear water affords an excellent opportunity to learn the art of canoe poling. The rapids are primarily Class 1 and ll.

All of the campsites are well maintained by the North Maine Woods Association and University of Maine volunteers. In some places we explore the fields for historical remains of logging camps and their supporting farms. On Day 7 we take out at Allagash Village where our vehicles will be waiting.


  • A fully guided and outfitted expedition
  • All transportation to the river from the group meeting point
  • All park entrance and camping fees
  • Paddling and poling instruction as desired
  • All equipment available (canoes, PFDs, paddles, and tents)
  • All group camping gear (cooking gear, tarps, etc)
  • All transportation to and from the river from the group meeting location


  • Travel to and from the trip's meeting location
  • Pre- and post-trip hotel accommodation
  • Any food or snacks desired prior to lunch at the put-in, and after lunch at the take-out

Day by Day Itinerary

Day 1

Due to the remoteness of the river, it takes us most of the first day to drive to the river. We leave our meeting point, usually Belfast, Maine, or Bangor if people have flown in, early the morning of day 1. After a few hours of driving on pavement, we turn off in to the woods and dirt roads for the next 100 miles. We general arrive at the put in at Baker Lake early in the afternoon. Then the work of sorting and loading the canoes starts. This is followed up by our usual safety talk and paddling lesson. Our objective for day 1 is to get to the river and away from civilization. We usually start paddling on this day too, but just go a few miles down river to the first campsite. The first night’s supper is most always baked salmon, rice and salad. (We do eat like Kings and Queens on these trips, no freeze dried here!)

Days 2-6

These are full days on the river. It is typical of us to be on the river by the crack of 9:00 A.M. It takes too much effort to get here and back to rush our way down river, leave that to the people that are still at work, we’re all on vacation out here. Around mid-day we stop for a lunch break and a little rest. Towards the end of the afternoon we arrive at camp. We don’t really go by the clock out here, as you know there are only a few times to remember on the river, time to paddle, time to eat, and when the dark spell comes on, time to go to bed, when the dark spell goes away, it is time to get up. So leave your watch at home. While paddling on the river we will have a good mix of water states, a little flatwater, quickwater, light rapids, and yes, some long more challenging rapids. One thing we like to do is teach people how to stand and pole a canoe. This is an old tradition up here in Northern Maine, where a hundred years ago they were running logs down the river, the old guides would bring supplies up river, poling, to the logging camps to support the lumberjacks. There are many places along the river where remains of the old camps still exist, it is fun to poke around these, uncovering all sorts of implements and you name it. For the most part the river is very shallow, so poling works extremely well, and even the unskilled take to it readily and learn to love the feel of standing and seeing more easily the right currents to follow. The river has lots of personality and many of the places are named after the old timers that made their living in the woods. Just to name a few, Baker Lake, Turner Bogan, Flaw’s Bogan, Morrison Depot, Deuce Brook, Knowles Brook, Moody Bridge, Connors, Simmons Farm, Basford Rips, Longs Rapids, Castonia Farm and Ouellette Farm. Then there is the remains of the largest of the farms on the river at Seven Islands. As you can see this is more than just a river trip, it truly is a step back in time. A great pictorial history of Maine’s river logging industry can be seen in “From Stump to Ship” filmed in the 1930’s and available online.

Day 7

On the last day, we will have a few hours of paddling to do, but we still have the grand finale, Big Rapids. It is just that, big, and long, it goes on for more than a mile and builds in intensity. Yet if you follow your guide he’ll show you the route down the side; oh yes, the adrenaline will be running, but before you know it you’ll be at the end and ready to go and do it again. Shortly down river we will reach the take out point in the little Maine town of Dickey. It’ll be lunchtime, in which we will partake along with the chores of loading up for the return to the “civilized” world. They may call it civilized, but we will have just left the real world. You will all probably sleep for the next five hours while I drive you safely back to our meeting place. Farewell for now, but I will see you again!

About The Operator:

Wilds of Maine


Belfast, Maine


January 1995

Mike Patterson is the owner, head guide, and chief cook and bottle washer of the "Wilds of Maine Guide Service." An avid outdoor enthusiast, Mike's love of paddling started with earning his 'canoe merit' badge on the way to becoming an Eagle Scout. A native Mainer of Belfast, Maine, he worked in the shipbuilding industry following graduation from the Maine Maritime Academy in Marine Engineering. After 23 years of spending all his vacation and weekends on the water, he turned his real passion into his full-time profession. It's been fifteen years and millions of strokes since.

Mike is past president of the Professional Maine Guides Association and a 17-year veteran Boy Scouts of America leader. He is featured in Canoe & Kayak's Special Anniversary Issue, and his articles have appeared in National Geographic Adventure and Paddler Magazine. Over the years he has been a whitewater canoeing instructor for the Appalachian Mountain Club, and winner of the Northeast Divisional Championship for canoe poling. He continues to offer instruction in poling - see our Schedule. His other pursuits have included mountaineering, ice climbing and cross-country and downhill skiing, including instructing for Maine's ski resorts.

He's usually found paddling somewhere nine months of the year with guests and friends, and wife, Shauna. In November and December he's helping folks make their Christmas merrier by operating a Christmas tree and wreath lot. January finds him in the office and barn getting ready for the next paddling season, but he still finds time to participate in his winter pleasures of skiing and snowshoeing. Course he's always ready to talk about rivers, or his favorite haunts in Maine. Call anytime!