When Aristotle and I set out to explore this beautiful river, we planned on a two and a half day excursion. When we finished the river at 1 pm on the second day, we were left unfulfilled. While we had a great time, we wanted more!
We started our trip on Monday at Bosman's Canoe Rental (877) 6-CANOES), on M37 near 10 Mile Road, just north of Baldwin. For $23.00 per vehicle, we were able to leave our vans (which they would drop off at Low Bridge on Wednesday morning) and they also dropped us wherever we wanted to start out. Our plan was to go in at Edgetts Bridge, but we were quickly warned that the access there is no more than a steep goat path that has been neglected by the state. The folks at Bosman's recommended starting at Meadowbrook, which was about 2 miles down river from Edgetts Bridge. I'm glad the kid driving us knew where to go, because it is a bridge in the middle of no where, with a very small entrance, but a wide landing.
Once we had the canoe loaded, Aristotle hopped into his kayak, and we were off! The river is narrow, and moves at a good pace. Within an hour, we were at Skookum bridge. The river is fairly narrow, and since we had little to no rain in the previous month and a half, the river was low (reports varied from 4 inches to 1.5 feet). We stopped at on a sandbar just below Skookum, and had lunch. After a short repast, we were back at it, and by 2 pm, we were at Walker Bridge. We were planning to pull out and camp at Silver Creek, but we went right on by without even noticing it. By the time we realized we missed Silver Creek, we were at Lincoln Bridge. We looked and looked, but never saw either campground.
We reached Elm Flats around 4:30 pm and took a short break to make a plan. After a quick recon of the park, we decided we would not be able to camp there without being seen, and didn't want to risk the $500 fine. We got back on the river, and paddled like mad to get to Dobson Bridge. More than once along the way, we contemplated pulling off onto some of the private property and pleading our case, but we didn't see anyone at any of the homes/camps along the way. We arrived at Dobson Bridge at about 6:45 pm. Luckily, since it was during the week, the hours of use were not being actively enforced. After looking at our maps, we decided that another 4 hours on the river to Peterson Bridge campground was out of the question, with rapids reported to be just below Dobson Bridge. We made a quick recon of this park, and found a small grove of trees where we could hide the canoes, and a small clearing behind another group of trees, hiding it from the parking lot and road.
We cooked dinner, and did a little fishing, with no luck, while we waited for nightfall. Once darkness hid our presence, we pitched the tent and bunked down for the night. We decided that we would get up at first light, break camp, and get all of our gear to the river's edge, to make it look like we were there to do a little fishing before getting on the river. About 1:30 am, there was a bright light that woke me up. I looked out the small window in the tent (a small, 2 person pup-tent) and saw a cop car, sweeping through the park and parking lot. His searchlight went right over us, and he kept on going. 5 minutes later, he made another sweep through the parking lot, and left. I got back to sleep about an hour later, after my heart settled down.
We woke up around 5, and pulled the canoe and kayak to the river's edge, as well as repacking our dry-bags with our gear, and started cooking breakfast. Since we didn't catch any fish, we had to suffer through a breakfast of cornedbeef hash and fried eggs with Tobasco, and coffee. We got back on the river at 8, and tried to stay in the sunlight as much as possible, to stay warm. Imagine our surprise when we came across Cool Springs campground, about 30 minutes down river from Dobson Bridge! It is a national forest campground, and by the looks of it, a nice one! We quickly checked our maps and book, and couldn't find mention of this campground in any of them. There is canoe access to Cool Springs, so this is a good stopping point for a two day trip, as long as you don't mind paddling for 7 - 8 hours the first day!
From Cool Springs to Peterson Bridge was absolutely breath taking. We must have seen about 15 deer, primarily does, with a few fawns. The river picks up speed, and what were supposed to be rapids were little more than riffles, due to the low water level. The river twists and turns about every 100 feet, making for some rapid maneuvering, which I found out that a 17 foot canoe being paddled solo is some what challenging! We came across high sand dunes, so I climbed up a little to get a shot of the river. We stopped about another mile down river, for a quick snack, and to try some more fishing. I got skunked again, but Aristotle caught a sock! The sock put up a good fight, but Aristotle prevailed. Last I heard, he's planning on having it mounted.
We reached Stronach Dam around 12:30, and went across the portage. The steps down the back side of the dam are steep, and end in the water. This dam is supposed to be removed next spring, which should make for some fun paddling, as the river will drop 12 feet in less than 1 mile. Once we portaged the dam, we finally saw another person (other than the cop) since we left Monday morning. 15 minutes later, we were at Low Bridge, and praying that our vehicles were already there. No such luck. Fortunately, we got to talking to some other people, who let us borrow their cell phone (note: Nextel has no coverage is this area. Be sure to check with your provider!) to call Bosman's, who brought our vans within 30 minutes.
It was a great trip to get our feet wet, and we learned a lot! I highly recommend this river to anyone looking for a short trip!
Old Town Penobscot 17, and not being a Yakker, I don't know what kind Aristotle had.
You need to get a daily watercraft permit, available from the USDA Forest Service in Baldwin, or you can call them to arrange for them ahead of time (231) 745-4631.
US 131 north to US 10 west to M37 north.