Many places in the country have been dubbed a “paddler’s paradise,” but Maine’s Lakes and Mountains region really lives up to the designation. The area’s glaciated landscape is dotted with hundreds of lakes and ponds connected by thousands of miles of rivers and streams that offer a lifetime of watery adventures. Paddlers will discover adventure, solitude, and camaraderie on western Maine’s waterways. Plus, they’ll experience the pleasure of raw nature and the joy of dipping a paddle in a clear pond that reflects the sky, clouds, and mountains. 

Paddling is an exceptional way to explore, whether you canoe, kayak, or paddleboard. Regardless of your skill level, there are various ways to grow your passion for paddling, from flat-water kayaking to multi-day canoe trips to highly technical paddling in pulse-quickening rapids. As an added benefit, paddle outfitters, rentals, shuttle services, instruction, and guided trips are all available. And you can camp along the way when you paddle waterways

Here’s a roundup of the top spots where you can tailor your paddling adventure to suit your abilities and schedule.



Paddling Magazine

#6 – Maine

Over 150 years ago, American author Henry David Thoreau ventured into Maine’s North Woods by canoe with an Indigenous guide and shared his experiences in a journal that’s become an iconic piece of outdoors literature. The experience of canoe tripping in Maine hasn’t changed much since then—the state’s pristine rivers and remote Appalachian lakes have a reputation as the crowning jewels of the 740-mile Northern Forest Canoe Trail.

Featured Paddling Event

Rangeley Oquossoc Adventure Rendezvous

June 28 – 30, Rangeley

The Rangeley Oquossoc Adventure Rendezvous (ROAR), part of Maine’s High Peaks PaddleFest, is a two-day, 40-mile paddling stage race featuring a paddle through the incredible lands and waters of the Rangeley Lakes showcasing the best of the area. The course will take place on the same chain of lakes, rivers and portages used by Maine’s Native people, settlers and guides, now part of the Northern Forest Canoe Trail.

The Maine High Peaks PaddleFest is a weekend of events and activities including equipment demos, paddling clinics and competitions big and small in a setting with lakes, mountains, small shops, outdoor heritage museums as well as food and music for everyone.

Canoe on the shore of lake in Bald Mountain Township near Rangeley

Top Paddling Spots

Northern Forest Canoe Trail, Flagstaff Lake

Northern Forest Canoe Trail

The Northern Forest Canoe Trail stretches 348 miles across Maine, including a long section from Lake Umbagog on the New Hampshire border to Flagstaff Lake. This water trail offers a thrilling challenge and lifetime adventure on western Maine’s biggest lakes, including Richardson, Mooselookmeguntic, Rangeley, and Flagstaff lakes, plus a couple of long stretches of the Dead River.

The best paddle trips on the trail include scenic Flagstaff Lake below the Bigelow Mountains, the twisting South Branch of the Dead River, and Mooselookmeguntic Lake, a quiet enclave with primitive camping, solitude, and open water.

Family paddling adventures along the Saco River

The Saco River, rising in the White Mountains, offers a premier paddling adventure with crystal-clear water, sand beaches, small rapids, and riverside camping. The three day, 33-mile run from Fryeburg to Hiram is an outstanding paddle. Kayakers play in the river’s Steep Falls and Limington Rips. The Saco is popular, especially on weekends, so try to visit on a weekday. 

The 168-mile Androscoggin River boasts rapids and calm water, offering fun paddling for kayakers and canoers alike. Dense woods with scenic views and wildlife line the river. The Androscoggin plunges 177 feet over Rumford Falls then bends south through Androscoggin Riverlands State Park.

Stand Up Paddleboarding in the Bethel Area

Bethel Area Rivers and Ponds

Paddling a canoe, kayak or board on the rivers and ponds surrounding Bethel is an unforgettable Maine adventure. The classic village of Bethel, surrounded by postcard-worthy scenery, sits on a sharp bend of the twisting river, dubbed the Upper Andro by boaters.

Begin at the ramp in town and paddle six miles north to a takeout at Newry. Or, start by launching at the Gilead bridge and drifting 10 miles past wooded islands to Bethel. Watch for moose in the shallows and toss a line for trout.

North, South, Twitchell, and Bryant ponds, lie southeast of Bethel. These clear lakes, ringed by tall pines and sun-splashed shorelines, are secret getaways for paddlers with quiet water and rocky coves. 

Kayakers at Sunrise on large lake

Sebago Lake and the surrounding rivers are prime spots for paddling. Launch from Sebago Lake State Park and explore islands, coves, and inlets, or paddle onto the lake for a taste of sea kayaking. Or head to the many lakes and waterways near Sebago. Boat launch in Raymond allows paddlers to explore long, narrow Crescent Lake or drift a couple of miles down the placid Tenney Stream to Panther Pond.

Northwest of Sebago is uncrowded Trickey Pond, a calm lake lined with towering trees. The 15-mile section of the Crooked River from Edes Falls to the Route 302 bridge is a fabulous kayak run with manageable rapids. Try the section that passes through Songo Locks for a leisurely paddle on flat water. 

Canoeing in the Autumn

The Dead River

Whitewater enthusiasts rave about the Dead River, one of Maine’s liveliest runs, with its 30 rapids in a 14-mile river stretch.  Considered the best whitewater run in New England, the Dead River crashes through a succession of big rapids. You’ll negotiate The Mine Field, Hayden’s Rapid, Elephant Rock, dangerous Evil Nasty Hole, and Lower Poplar Hill Falls, the river’s biggest rapid.

Spectacular scenery matches the heart-pounding adventure with low cliffs lining the river. The Dead is perfect for experienced kayakers and rafters, but novices can find plenty of outfitters that regularly guide the river. For an easier canoe trip, paddle down the North Branch of the Dead River. Put in at Eustis and float a couple of hours to the takeout at Cathedral Pines Campground.

Paddling on the Saco River near Fryeburg

find an outfitter

The region is home to plenty of outfitters and shops that allow you to rent canoes, kayaks, stand-up paddleboards, and life jackets. Many deliver the boats to the river launch, shuttle you back to your car after a trip, and offer boating lessons and tips. If you don’t want to go alone, hire a certified Maine guide to get you safely down the stream.

When you paddle this part of Maine, you’re venturing into remote, wild places, so it’s essential to be prepared. Wind can be your enemy, especially on big lakes like Flagstaff and Sebago. It’s a good idea to plan and record your intended route and notify someone about it and when you intend to return if you choose not to use the services of a guide or outfitter. 

Outfitters and watercraft Rentals

Ways to Adventure

Adventure Respectfully

Our lakes, mountains, and forests are worthy of respect. Whether you’re venturing out into our vast public or private lands or parks, here’s what you can do to conserve the area’s natural resources for all.

other resources

Take Care of the Land

Tread lightly and leave no trace. Keep this place as pristine as you found it.

Where ya headed?

Check if you’ll be on public or private land and if there are any restrictions or fees. Always research your destination ahead of time.

Stick to established trails & roads.

Whether hiking, biking, angling, or ATVing, always stay on a designated trail.


To protect the forest, only build fires in approved sites, don’t leave them unattended, and extinguish them thoroughly.

Avoid spreading invasive species.

Don’t transport firewood, brush your boots, and wash and dry your boat before heading to your next adventure.

Avoid peak hours

Plan around peak hours midday to avoid crowds. Have a Plan B in case the parking lot is already full.

No litterbugs allowed

If you pack it in, pack it out, including food waste like apple cores. Bring bags for pet waste.

When nature calls

If you have to go, pick a spot at least 100′ off the trail or away from a body of water, and bury your poop 6″ deep.

Plan Your Trip

Maine’s Lakes and Mountains offers a variety of resources to help you plan your next visit, including an annual visitor’s guide, stand alone map, and the new Adventure Guide App.

Visitor's Guide

Our Free Visitor's Guide will help inspire your next adventure along our mountain trails, lakes, scenic byways, bustling towns and more.

Map of the Region

Companion to the Visitor Guide, our dual-sided planning map will help you find your way to adventure in every season throughout the region.

Adventure Guide App

The App will point the way to all kinds of adventures, experiences and destinations in Maine’s Lakes and Mountains with GPS location maps and alerts.

Maine's Lakes and Mountains by the numbers

4,000+ footers
Mountain Peaks
Lakes and Ponds
+Towns and Villages
Square Miles of Adventure
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