Autumn Paddles along the Northern Forest Canoe Trail in New England and Quebec

The telltale signs of autumn are appearing. Crimson leaves dot lakeshores, osprey nests have been abandoned, and there is a distinctive chill to the night air. While for some fall is the time to put away boating gear, savvy paddlers know that September and October offer some of the finest paddling of the year, with no bugs, cooler temperatures, and spectacular landscapes ablaze with fall colors.

To help you chart your course, we have put together a sample of autumn adventures along the Northern Forest Canoe Trail (NFCT). The trail, recently honored this summer by Outdoor Magazine as the Best Canoe Trail in the U.S., offers both expert and novice paddlers a wide assortment of trips throughout New York, Vermont, Quebec, New Hampshire, and Maine.

A word of caution: Hurricane Irene has changed many of the area’s waterways. Be on the look-out for debris in the water and changes in river channels. As trees stop taking up water, river levels can rise significantly in the fall. If you are not sure of the conditions, check with local outfitters before embarking on a trip.

Vermont/Quebec

In Vermont and Quebec, the Missisquoi River is your best bet for fall colors along the NFCT, thanks to riverbanks lined with silver maples that turn golden in the fall. We have several recommendations for day trips along the river:

Missisquoi River Delta: Home to a 6,600 acre National Wildlife Refuge, and stretching like a great blue heron footprint, the Missisquoi River delta provides interesting areas to explore, and mild currents make round trip loops possible. Consider paddling in Dead Creek, with 2.5 miles of tranquil wildlife viewing. Alternatively, a down river paddle offers views of the 500 nest heron rookery on Shad and Metcalf Islands. A loop around these islands and back is about 8.5 miles. The NFCT Missisquoi Wildlife Wonders itinerary (PDF) provides more information about these trips.

Eastern Townships: In Canada, the Missisquoi River meanders through a picturesque valley surrounded by a forest that in autumn becomes ablaze in crimson reds and vibrant oranges. This region, part of Quebec’s Eastern Townships, has a distinct Quebecois feel and provides ample recreational opportunities. Gentle currents make river trips a great family excursion. Shuttle services and boat rentals can be arranged by local outfitter, Canoe and Co. Those seeking to stay for the weekend should look up Le Majestic. Nestled in the hills above the Missisquoi Valley, this bed and breakfast has three comfortable rooms and a cozy downstairs to relax in, complete with a large picture window, a fireplace, and a built -in bread oven. It also offers direct access to the 200 km Seniters de l’Estrie, or Trail of the Eastern Townships, a hiking route traversing surrounding ridgelines.

Upper Missiquoi River Valley: Paddlers comfortable navigating Class I-II waters will want to take advantage of the higher water levels fall can provide and explore the seven mile stretch from the Canadian border to the town of Richford. In this scenic stretch, the river flows briskly over shallow riffles and through braided meandering channels where bald eagles can be spotted. Put in on a well-worn path behind the Custom’s station. (While not required, it is a good idea to check in with customs officers and let them know your plans). While most of the section is quickwater, you will encounter a Class I+ rapid immediately below the launching point, as well as Stephens Mills Rapids, a Class II wave train 1.5 miles below the put-in. Be sure to take-out on river left before entering Richford, where a Class III series of ledges below the bridge is capable of swamping open boats. Those interested in enjoying a fire and hot shower after paddling might consider a night at the Grey Gables Mansion, across the street from the river in Richford. (Secure boat storage and shuttling services are available). Boat rentals and shuttling services are also available from Montgomery Adventures, a local outfitter.

Picture of Foliage Reflected in Water

Photo courtesy of Noah Pollock

New Hampshire

Fall is a great time to paddle in northern New Hampshire. Consider the following trips:

Magalloway River and Lake Umbagog: The Magalloway River and Lake Umbagog’s quiet bays provide ample room for exploration. Bald eagles, osprey, and beaver are all common sightings in this neck of the woods. The NFCT Hike, Bike and Paddle Vacation Package (PDF) combines all three activities on and near Lake Umbagog National Wildlife Refuge with the assistance of the expert guides and naturalists from Outdoor ESCAPES New Hampshire.

The Androscoggin River: The seventeen miles from Errol to the Pontook Reservoir includes a mix of quiet water, allowing one to enjoy the fall scenery, as well as short Class I-II rapids that keep the trip exciting. For those seeking a packaged vacation in the area, NFCT’s Paws and Paddle Package (PDF) offers a thrill filled outing with a rafting trip on the Errol Rapid in the morning and a rolling dog sledding experience in the afternoon. Meals and lodging at the lovely Mahoosuc Inn are included.

Picture of a Fall Foliage Scene

Photo courtesy of Bob Grant Photography

Maine

Half of the NFCT is in Maine, and there are many paddling options to choose from, including excursions in the Rangeley Lake and Jackman areas.

Rangeley Lakes Area: The Rangeley Lakes Area, with its spectacular landscape of lakes and mountains, straddles two major watersheds. Known for its fly fishing and sporting camp history, the region is also a year-round hotspot for outdoor adventure and wildlife viewing. Consider spending a quiet afternoon exploring the coves of Cupsumptic Lake, or plan a two-day traverse of Mooselookmeguntic and Upper Richardson Lakes and the Beaver Ponds. Those seeking guides and the comfort of lodging at a local inn should checkout NFCT’s “Almost Roughing It” package.

Picture of Rangeley Lake

Rangeley Lake (courtesy www.visitmaine.com)

Moose River Bow Loop Trip: While this 3 day, 34 mile route, near Jackman, is popular with summer camps, you’ll probably have the route to yourself in the autumn. This circuitous route includes beautiful Holeb and Attean Ponds, as well as about twenty miles on the Moose River. To plan your trip, pick up a copy of NFCT’s Section 10 Map.

This post was provided to Travel New England by the Northern Forest Canoe Trail. The Northern Forest Canoe Trail is a 740 mile inland paddling trail tracing historic travel routes across New York, Vermont, Quebec, New Hampshire, and Maine. NFCT connects people to the Trail’s natural environment, human heritage, and contemporary communities by stewarding, promoting, and providing access to canoe and kayak experiences along this route.

Picture credits: All pictures in this article were provided to Travel New England by the Northern Forest Canoe Trail. The picture of Rangeley Lake is used with the permission of www.visitmaine.com.

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