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  • The Saco River from Saco Lake in Crawford Notch to Camp Ellis, Maine and the Atlantic Ocean.

The Saco River from Saco Lake in Crawford Notch to Camp Ellis, Maine and the Atlantic Ocean.

by  dcoimbra

A self-supported trip created by dcoimbra

Trip Overview

My son and I decided to do this for a friend who passed away back in October of 2020. One of his ideas was to be the first person to complete the entire Saco River from the Lake to the Ocean. So at his funeral we discussed doing this and started our planning. First off we purchased the AMC map called Saco River Guide. It has great information, but can use some updating. Still it was the best thing we had to work off. We then took several trips along the river, hiking and driving to check out the portages and dams. We didn't check out all the take out spots, which were a bit problematic during out trip, but nothing we couldn't handle. We then started gathering gear and speaking with folks that had paddled parts that we had not.

Months later we booked open ended camp spots along the river. We booked three campgrounds and one farm stay. The other nights we stayed along the river, which is allowed from Fryeburg to Hiram Maine. You also need a fire permit if you plan on building a fire.

Next was gear. We figured out boats and lightweight durable paddles and acquired additional dry bags. We borrowed boats that we thought would be best. Opted for 12 foot fusions with back hatches and wide waists. They were light and held a ton of gear. We also had one set of trolley wheels for portages, but bought another inexpensive one from Walmart. I wish I had bought a better one with larger wheels. Thank goodness we had ratchet straps as they came in handy during the portages.

We had everything we needed and everything was mapped out and planned and then re-planned according to weather and river water levels. We lucked out as it rained a bit prior to our trip and that allowed us to put in higher up than thought. Our goal was Bartlett, NH, but we had just done that section and it was no way too low! So we hiked down from Saco Lake and put in before first bridge in North Conway, NH. And then we just kept paddling down to the Atlantic.

Safety Notes

If you plan on doing this, please feel free to email me at meskinut@yahoo.com or our facebook page.

Gear Notes

  • Map - Saco River Guide and Map from the AMC

  • Kayaks. Back hatch, flat, recreational, lightweight, wide and had enough room for storage.

  • Ropes for front and back of boat.

  • Ratchet straps. (A must have for portages!)

  • Kayak trolley. Strapped it onto the front of the boat.

  • 6 dry bags. 2 - 30 liters for tent and sleeping gear. 2, 10 liter for food and clothes. 2 small bags for electronics and cooking and first aid.

  • A solar waterproof charger. GoPro camera, 2 phones and chargers.

  • Sunblock, hats, bug spray, first aid kit, water shoes, flip flops, wicking clothes, camp stove and cooking pot.

  • 12 backpacking dinners, 8 tuna or salmon pouches, 6 breakfast meals, nutri bars, beef jerky, candy.

  • Water filtration system and bottles.

  • Waterproof sleeping bags and pads.

  • Lightweight tent.

  • Headlamps.

  • Waterproof matches.

  • Lightweight paddles and an extra one just in case.

  • Kayak paddling jackets


Upper Saco River - From Saco Lake to Bartlett, NH the river is just starting and rocky. There are some really beautiful spots to check out, but don't expect to paddle here. You can paddle around Saco Lake, but it's small. Wiley Pond, down to the gorges and to River Rd. in Bartlett. Nice swimming hole there called big rock. Passing The Spaghetti Shed you will come down to Humphreys Ledge. This is usually a great spot to put in off of West Side Road. When the river is low you might reconsider as below there is a few spots where you have to get out and walk your boats. Swimming is nice at the Ledge. Keep going down to First Bridge in North Conway and the paddling is great. There are many tourists, but the town is totally worth the visit if you've never been. So many shops and great restaurants. And amazing views of Mount Washington and the local mountains right from the center of town. From there you can head down river 8 miles or so until you get to Conway Center. You can take out at the park on the right or keep going until you get to Fryeburg. Don't forget the Redstone Rapids. Then you're just about in Fryeburg.

Middle Saco River - Passing your first dam this part is deeper and during the warm summer months, much more congested. there are great camping spots along the river. The river is deeper and your less likely to have to walk with your boats. There are also many people who can advise you along the way. There are many farms along this section as well. Take note of private property signs.

Lower Saco River - This section can be wide and very deep. There are fewer tall pines and more hardwoods along the way. As you go down you will notice some great fishing spots, farms and rope swings. This is the section with most of the portages. You need to know what side you need to portage on. Make sure you have the information at your finger tips. We had a code R RRL RRL RRL (right, left) Lot's of paddling down here in addition to the portages. Keep hydrated. And unlike us, try and have fun with a jump off a cliff or a swing on a rope!

Portage Notes

Saco River Portages

Redstone Rapids - Conway, NH.

When the water is too low or too high you might consider doing a portage around the right side or even walking and roping down the boats through the rocks and small rapids. Too rocky when low. Class 2 or three with higher water.

Swans Falls - Fryeburg, ME.

Easy portage on right. Take out up a little hill just before the dam. Small hill going down to a beach. This is also a campground and they have a small store that sells fire permits which you should have if camping on the river.

Great Falls - Great Falls, ME.

Portage on right. An easy take out. The put in says to walk down a long path down to the river. We decided it was too rocky and filled with roots, so we put our trolley wheels on and walked down River rd to a parking lot on the left where there was a short path to the river. Not a very difficult portage if you have wheels.

Steep Falls - Steep Falls - Standish, ME.

Portage on left above the rocks just before the falls. Use caution when the river is high.. When the river is low, there is a great beach below the falls. Not the easiest portage, but two people can pull the boats up, through a narrow bike and hiking path down to the beach path. Note: there are several sets of rapids below the falls. We were able to go straight down the middle in both, but in higher water these might be a bit much.

Limington Rips - Limington, ME.

Portage on right. Easy up and onto River Road. Take out when you see the rapids below. You’ll see a clearing on the side of the river and a farm house in the back. There is a long walk down river road that takes you to Bonny Eagle Recreation Area where you can put your boat back in.

This is a popular swimming and recreation area. Recommend trolley wheels. Long walk down.

If you seek a thrill, the rips are not that bad lower down, but we didn’t want to take any chances and as it was low, we didn’t want to flip on a rock. Looks like fun class 2 and 3 rapids though.

Bonny Eagle Dam - Bonny Eagle, ME.

Portage on right before bridge and dam. Not easy getting out. Steep and rocky. Once out you will have a long portage to put back in. Totally missed this one on the map and our pre-drive..., but a local fisherman told us where to put in. You need wheels for sure! Head across the river and take a right on to Warren Rd. You’ll have to walk about ¼ mile passing a few homes on the right. There will be a warning sign and a path on your right. It was a bit overgrown, but we checked it out and put it in there. That wasn’t bad. There was some swift water just after we put in, but it was fun and refreshing. Be prepared, the next dam is just ahead!

West Buxton Dam - W. Buxton, ME.

Easy portage take out on river LEFT just before the dam. Slight bank up to the road. Then you will need to head down across the street keeping the dam and mill buildings to your right.

There are cement stairs and a walkway to put your boats in. Don’t be alarmed if you hear the sirens warning the dam will release water. It happened to us and we were shocked. A local told us they did that quite often. From there the river becomes narrow, but deep. Again it’s not long until the next dam.

Bar Mills Dam - Buxton, ME.

Take out is on the right before the bridge. It's an easy out. Come out and cross the busy street. Head down Canal street to a dirt path and you will see a path and a staircase that leads down to the river. It’s not even ¼ of a mile, but it’s good if you have wheels. We also needed to lower the boats down the stairs into the river. The land adjacent is private.

Skelton Dam - Buxton, ME.

Cross the wide open lake-like river and stay to your right. This will save you time.

Take out is easy and on your right way down in the right corner along the dam. The portage is not well marked nor maintained. A boat ramp allows easy access to take your boats out to a field and a parking lot. To get to the put in, you have to walk up on the dam road and down a hill onto a dirt road and then a path that follows the river.. We found no place down the road to take out, but there was a small sign and a narrow metal staircase that led to a short path to the river. We had to use the ratchet straps and lower our boats. This would be difficult for many. It’s very overgrown and could be easily missed.

Cataract Dam - Saco ME.

This is the final dam prior to making your way to the Atlantic Ocean. From here you are only a few hours to Camp Ellis on the left or Biddeford Pool on the right. We took out at Camp Ellis.

The portage for this dam is on the LEFT at Diamond park. You will see a playground and dock. We pulled our boats up. There is a parking lot and if you're lucky you will have someone there with transportation to take you to the next put in. If not you will need wheels. You will need to make your way down Pine Street and then left onto Elm street and take a right on Water Street and then across the road onto Front Street. Head down and the boat launch is on your right. The Saco Yacht club is just past that. It’s all city walking and it’s quite a hike. We put in and made our way down to the Ocean. It was an easy paddle down as we timed it perfectly when the tide was going out. Tidal information is important. Don’t forget to check that schedule out before making this last trip.

Trip Details

  • Trip Dates: 6/15/2021-6/23/2021
  • Sport/Activity: Kayaking
  • Skill Level: Intermediate, Advanced
  • Water Type: River/Creek (Up to Class II)
  • Number of Portages: 10

Trip Location