For some of the most pristine paddling on the planet, dip your paddle blade into the Maine Island Trail, the country’s first water trail. Established in 1988, the Maine Trail established the precedent for all others in its wake. The 350-mile-long waterway extends from Cape Porpoise Harbor on the west to Machias Bay on the east, with its namesake Maine Island Trail Association (MITA) the largest group of its kind on the continent.
Camp at one of 150 island and mainland sites along the route, each accessible by kayak, sailboat or other watercraft. Campsites on state land are free, while those on private islands are available with MITA membership ($45/year individual; $65/year family). July, August and September typically offer the best weather, with September offering the bonus of lobster-red leaves. The Maine Department of Tourism also has some excellent paddling information their site.
Personal safety is the most important part of any paddling trip. The following are some excellent suggestions from the American Canoe Association.
Research the area: Study the trail’s pamphlets, web sites and other information sources on topics such as logistics, potential hazards and isolation. Guidebooks and topographic maps are valuable references in trip planning. Plan alternate routes in case of winds, changing weather, or unexpected paddler limitations.
Prepare for weather: Be prepared for all conditions, including paddling in everything from temperatures that can cause heat stroke and hypothermia.
Be ready for change: Waterways are dynamic systems; even the most detailed route descriptions can’t account for seasonal changes due to fluctuations in water level, downed trees, recent floods, geological disturbances, storms and rainfall. Conditions are ever-changing. Be smart: plan for unexpected situations, and stay alert. Make sure your equipment is appropriate to help you rescue yourself.
Plan each day’s itinerary. Set up locations for put-ins and takeouts along with possible lunch break stops. Consider time, distance, and the abilities of your group. Arrange for a shuttle.
File a float plan with someone who will notify others if you don’t return on time. This is especially important in the Northern Forest, where cell phone coverage is spotty, so you cannot rely on being able to phone for help.
Clarify participant responsibilities with paddlers beforehand. Each participant should take responsibility for the decision to participate, the selection of appropriate equipment, and the decision to run, scout, or portage rapids. More experienced paddlers should assist those with less experience in making proper decisions.
Don’t overreach. Paddle within both your own and your group’s limits.
Use this Paddler’s Checklist, which can be applied to almost any route you take.