Water has played an influential role in life in Maine for years, whether it’s lobstermen and their boats on the Casco Bay or lumberjacks floating logs down the rivers. The Maine Highlands, in particular, is home to Maine’s largest lake (Moosehead Lake), Maine’s longest river (the Penobscot), as well as more than 200 waterfalls and countless smaller lakes and streams. Because of this, there are numerous ways and opportunities to experience water life in The Maine Highlands throughout the year. These are some of the best.
1. Fly Fishing the Penobscot
Maine’s largest river, the Penobscot, is known for its excellent fly fishing. The West Branch is famous for being one best places in the country to fish for Atlantic salmon, and it also holds an abundance of brook trout. The fly-fishing season begins as ice melts in April and runs through the summer.
There are more than a dozen guide services in the region that can recommend specific places to fish and provide advice on what types of flies to use. Keep in mind that a Maine fishing license is required for anyone over the age of 16, and you can purchase a license online.
2. Canoeing and Kayaking
The opportunities for canoeing and kayaking are excellent in The Maine Highlands due to the abundance of lakes, rivers, ponds, and streams. Many campgrounds in the region offer rentals and may even transport the equipment for you. The Hirundo Wildlife Refuge in Old Town offers canoe and kayak rentals, plus life jackets, free of charge. Just contact the refuge 24 hours before you want to paddle to reserve boats. This is a really fun and easy way to get out on the water because you don’t need your own equipment and there are calm waterways that people of all skill levels can handle.
If you’re not an experienced paddler or you’re not familiar with the area, you can go with one of the many guide services in the area. Outfits such as the New England Outdoor Center, Allagash Guide Service, and the North America Guide Service will even take you on overnight trips.
One of the most notable places to do multi-day trips is the Allagash Wilderness Waterway. If you paddle the full length you’ll travel more than 90 miles, which usually takes a full week. Another popular canoe trip is the journey through the Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument along the Penobscot River.
3. Whitewater Rafting on the Penobscot
For anyone seeking an adrenaline-filled outing in the Maine Highlands, the Penobscot River offers some of the state’s most exciting whitewater rafting. During a trip down the Penobscot, you’ll encounter stunning views of Mount Katahdin, Class II-V rapids, deep gorges, and waterfalls.
For this adventure, you'll want a registered Maine guide service. Northern Outdoors offers a 15-mile trip from McKay Station to their Katahdin Basecamp that encompasses the best the Penobscot has to offer. If you're interested in whitewater rafting but you have younger kids, or you’re hesitant to try some of the more intense stretches of rapids, check out Penobscot Adventures' Lower Penobscot River Trip, which sticks to Class II and III rapids. Or, consider taking one of New England Outdoor Center's Family Float Trips. Some other notable guide services include Three Rivers Whitewater, North Country Rivers, and Maine Rafting Expeditions.
4. High Bridge Waterfall and Swimming Hole
While the High Bridge Waterfall is not very big, the swimming hole below it is one of the best in Maine, and it’s not very well known. This is the perfect place to cool off on a summer day, and High Bridge campsite #1 sits directly above the swimming hole, making it a highly desirable spot. The falls are very accessible from the road, but reaching the falls can be complicated. You’ll find the best turn-by-turn directions at NewEnglandWaterfalls.com.
5. Search for Waterfalls in Gulf Hagas
Not all water experiences in the Maine Highlands involve some type of boat or fishing. The region is home to hundreds of waterfalls, and one of the best ways to see a few of them is to hike in Gulf Hagas. The most well-known waterfall here is Screw Auger Falls, but the challenging 8-mile hike along the Gulf Hagas Rim Trail will lead you to several others, such as Buttermilk Falls, Stairs Falls, and Billings Falls. Along with the waterfalls, this hike boasts beautiful cascades, possible swimming holes, and a stunning gorge known as “The Grand Canyon of Maine.” Trailhead parking is located in the Katahdin Iron Works Historic Site, which charges a day-use entry fee. Maps can be purchased for $2 at the check-in station for the Katahdin Iron Works.
6. Historic Steamboat Ride on Moosehead Lake
For a relaxing and educational experience, take a ride on the historic steamboat Katahdin on Maine’s largest lake, Moosehead. The Katahdin was built in 1914 by the Bath Iron Works and was later converted to a diesel vessel. There are three possible cruise routes, ranging from 3-7 hours. You can choose indoor or outdoor seating and enjoy food from the galley as you listen concerning the history of the region. While the setting for the cruise is beautiful throughout the year, consider going in early October to see the vibrant fall colors.
7. Tubing on the Penobscot River
What better way to spend a hot summer day in the Maine Highlands than floating in a tube down the Penobscot River for a few hours? Soak in the sunshine with spectacular views of Katahdin on this relaxing float. Start at Abol Campground and pick up your tubes and PFDs at the Abol Bridge Store. Float down the Penobscot and catch the shuttle back up to the Abol Bridge Store where you can either take another trip down the river with the tubes or call it a day. When you’re finished, head into the store for some ice cream or a cold beer.
8. Ice Fishing
The fishing season in Maine doesn’t end when everything is frozen. Ice fishing is a unique experience for all ages and ability levels. Ice fishing season in Maine typically starts January 1st and runs through March, and it’s lengthened or shortened due to weather conditions. The Maine Highlands is full of lakes and ponds that will provide incredible ice fishing opportunities.
One of the best areas for ice fishing is the Lincoln Lakes Region about an hour north of Bangor. Some of the more notable ponds here include Round Pond, Crooked Pond, Mattanawcook Pond, and Cold Stream Pond. It's important to be aware of ice conditions and, if possible, you should fish with a knowledgeable friend or registered Maine guide. Also, keep in mind that a fishing license is required for anyone over 16.
Written by Erik Johnson for Matcha in partnership with The Maine Highlands.