Paddling in Thoreau's Path, West Penobscot Wilderness, Maine

Sierra Club Outings Trip # 13196A, Canoe


  • Canoe one of the last extensive undeveloped regions in the Northeast
  • Enjoy free time to relax, swim, fish, and take pictures
  • See wildlife, such as bald eagles, black bears, and beavers


  • Canoe rental
  • All meals, from dinner on day one through lunch on day seven
  • Food, cooking equipment, first-aid kit, and water purification tablets


DatesAug 24–30, 2013
StaffLeanora Kovacs

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Trip Overview

The Trip

“I’m sure there are many things I’ll never learn from traveling over the earth by canoe. I’m just not sure any of them are worth much.” - Douglas Woods, Paddle Whispers

“Primeval, untamed, and forever untamable nature” is how Henry David Thoreau describes the Maine woods after his explorations in 1846. The West Branch of the Penobscot River in central Maine flows through one of the last extensive undeveloped regions in the Northeast.  No other Maine river can boast a comparable variety of history, exploration, folklore, Native American names or extraordinary tales.  This is the classic canoe trip, complete with the opportunity to see moose and to drift off to sleep listening to the cry of the loon.  Typical area wildlife also includes deer, black bear, and beaver.  It is also possible we may see bald eagles, osprey, herons, mergansers and river otters.  We expect to have plenty of time to relax, swim, fish (you will need a license) and take pictures. 

This outing is geared toward paddlers who enjoy backcountry camping.  Our campsites contain fireplaces, picnic tables and privies. Everyone will take turns with cooking and clean-up.  Additional responsibilities include setting up your tent, carrying water, and helping with other camp duties.  Canoe rentals and shuttle are included in the trip price. 

This trip ends the Friday of Labor Day weekend and our route is quite close to Baxter State Park and Mount Katahdin.  We hope you will take the long weekend to explore some small part of all that Maine has to offer. 


Day 1: We will meet at Wilderness Edge Campground between 1:00-3:00 p.m.,  set up camp, and enjoy our first meal together.  We will also make sure that everyone has the necessary and appropriate gear for the trip.

Day 2: Today, we shuttle our vehicles to the take out, ride to the put in, and paddle the West Branch of the Penobscot River to Lobster Lake.

Days 3-6: We will continue down the West Branch, eventually reaching Chesuncook Lake.  We will explore the abandoned Chesuncook Village and continue our paddling to our take out at Ripogenus Lake. We hope to arrive each day at a campsite early enough to enjoy swimming, taking photographs, or just relaxing.

Day 7: We will arrive at our take-out point about mid-day, unpack the gear, eat a quick lunch, and say farewell.



Getting There

We will meet on Saturday, August 24 between 1:00 and 3:00 p.m. at Wilderness Edge Campground in Millinocket, Maine.  The nearest airport is in Bangor, Maine and about 1.5 hours from Millinocket. Participants are responsible for their own travel to and from the starting point.  The next day we shuttle our vehicles to the take out, travel with the outfitter to the put in, and begin our journey north.  While we plan to end the trip on Friday, August 30th after lunch, a canoe trip can be unpredictable, and it is possible to become wind-bound.  In making your return travel plans you should consider this possibility. You will receive a trip roster about a month before the start date so you can arrange carpooling. 

Accommodations and Food

Our first meal will be dinner on Saturday, August 24 and the last will be lunch on Friday, August 30.  Generally our meals will be high-carbohydrate cereals, pasta, cheese, crackers, and dried fruit.  Meat is added in small amounts for protein and fat.  Breakfasts will be simple so we can get on the water early when the wind is typically calm.  While some meals may be vegetarian, other meals will have meat and/or dairy.  Please call the trip leader to discuss food considerations. 

Trip Difficulty

While you need not be an expert, some canoe paddling experience is required for this trip.  You should feel safe and comfortable paddling several miles non-stop.  The section of the West Branch we will be paddling has neither white water nor portages, but Chesuncook Lake is known to be windy.  Some days may demand your inner resources to meet moderate or possibly strenuous (windy) conditions; other days may be mostly quiet and leisurely.  If you have any questions about whether your canoeing experience is sufficient for this trip, please contact the leader.

Prior camping experience is necessary, preferably in a wilderness setting.  Some physical hardships may be encountered; but this is by no means the focus of the trip. Since all canoe trips are somewhat strenuous, you owe it to yourself, as well as the group, to get in good physical condition beforehand.  With well-conditioned and well-prepared participants, everyone will have a great time. 

Equipment and Clothing

As stated above, the trip price includes a canoe rental.  If you plan on bringing your own canoe there is no discount in the trip price and it is subject to leader approval to ensure that it is suitable for this trip.

Additionally, you will need a system to keep your personal gear dry. The easiest method is to put everything in one large dry bag that has shoulder straps or a large dry bag duffel.  While the summer months are generally warm and sunny, rain is always possible and evenings can get chilly.  All of your clothing should be made of synthetic materials or wool to retain their warmth when wet and have the advantage of drying quickly. Cotton items should be avoided.  Raingear is necessary as well as wet shoes (river sandals or sneakers) and dry shoes for camp.  You will need a reliable small tent, sleeping bag, and pad.  All gear, including food and group gear, will be carried in the canoes so we will ask you to keep your personal gear to a reasonable minimum.  We will send you a detailed equipment list when you are accepted onto the trip.  The leaders will answer any questions you have about gear.   The club provides food, cooking equipment, a first-aid kit, and tablets for water purification. 


The leaders will have maps for the route and some reference guides.  Future correspondence will provide participants with information on how to obtain maps if you want your own.

You might consider reading Henry David Thoreau’s book The Maine Woods, as he describes the canoe trip he took along the same route in 1853. Other books include:

  • Deitz, Lew, The Allagash.
  • Hubbard, Lucius, Woods and Lakes of Maine.
  • Northern Forest Canoe Trail, The Northern Forest Canoe Trail: Enjoy 740 Miles of Canoe and Kayak Destinations in New York, Vermont, Quebec, New Hampshire, and Maine.


The Sierra Club’s history is steeped in efforts to preserve endangered habitat and wilderness.  Like all areas, the north Maine woods has environmental issues that include the expansion of public lands, sale of timber holdings, logging, recreational use, and future employment.  Our route travels part of the newly created Northern Forest Canoe Trail, which extends from Old Forge, New York to Fort Kent, Maine.  There have been proposals to establish a Maine Woods National Park and designate the Penobscot as a National Heritage River. 

Sierra Club National Outings is an equal-opportunity provider and will operate under a permit from the Maine Bureau of Conservation.



Leanora Kovacs has previously led trips for the Sierra Club in Alaska, the north woods of Minnesota, Newfoundland, Ontario and Maine. She has extensive outdoors and wilderness experience. Her energy, humor and love of the outdoors is inspiring and often contagious. When not canoeing, kayaking or snow shoeing, Leanora works as a lawyer in the New York State court system. She makes her home in New York’s Hudson River Valley.


Kermit Smyth has led Sierra Club service trips in New England since 2000. Previously Kermit worked in research science, investigating flame chemistry with laser techniques. After being marooned in Maryland for 28 years, Kermit was able to return to Maine where he is an active volunteer with several local environmental and conservation groups.

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