Canoeing in Maine: Exploring the Madison-North Anson oxbow

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Coastal trees are reflected on the Kennebec River in the Madison-North Anson region. Christine Wolfe Photo

If you love paddling in circles this excursion is for you. More importantly, if you’re looking for tranquility and seclusion in beautiful river scenery, consider paddling the Kennebec River in the Madison-North Anson region. Here, over time, the Kennebec has created a distinctive oxbow lake filled with a maze of islands lush with a variety of hardwoods mixed with a few pines and hemlock. This far north, Kennebec’s waters are clear and refreshing.

Try paddling on a calm day. Bring your vivid imagination. Coastal trees, exposed roots and tree stumps create reflections in the water that double the picture. We spent more time taking photos than paddling. The key to the perfect picture is to capture it before the waves of your paddle stroke hit the scene and blur the reflection. That often meant paddling carefully back to the vantage point we wanted, waiting a few minutes for the water to calm down completely, and then taking the multi-million dollar photo.

The morning forest was full of the song of the songbirds. Many king birds stood at the end of the branches and looked down at us. Her white chest made her easy to spot in the shadows. Red-winged blackbirds scurried about in the cool shadows by the water. Tree swallows scuttled everywhere in search of insects. A busy, red-breasted prototype mother led a dozen teenagers down the coast. Where’s the day care when you need it? Prototypes have the craziest hairstyles and always desperately need a good comb.

Low water conditions in the North Anson Gorge. Christine Wolfe Photo

We started the day heading west at the base of North Anson Gorge. This stunning cut in bedrock is the last drop of the Carrabassett River before it meets the Kennebec. Since there has been no rain recently, the water level flowing through the canyon was low. From here we paddled back to Kennebec and drove a few miles downriver to the oxbow lake. On the right side of the river you come to a striking, combed embankment, brown in the green. If you go to the right you can explore the main run of the Kennebec where there is more development. If you go straight you will see a couple of tree trunk manger. Behind it lies the loneliness of the 2 mile long oxbow lake.

You need a map (the DeLorme or Google map is fine) in the oxbow lake and a good sense of direction. It can be confusing with the constant change of direction and the abundance of islands. A couple of times I’ve driven us in the wrong direction, but my wife’s forest sense put us back on the right track.

We spent six hours exploring down the river and back from the local boat launch on Madison Street, a mile east of the North Anson Post Office. The road begins asphalt and turns into gravel. Consult the DeLorme Maine Atlas and Gazetteer (Map # 20) for assistance with directions to the jetty.

The Kennebec River, near North Anson, has several man-made tree-trunk cribs. Christine Wolfe Photo

Five minutes after discussing whether we might see a deer or an elk along the lush shores of the oxbow lake, we spotted two deer. Their summer coats were a striking reddish-orange color. They stood in the thick bush and waited for us to pass. We backed away and sat still. All we could see of them was the constant movement of their white tails. They were moving up the slope out of sight. A few minutes later, a loud snort made our hearts beat faster. The deer had come back to the bank and were unhappy that we were walking in the same direction as them.

Just before we took the feeder canal from Kennebec back to the boat launch site, we stopped on a flat, paved flood plain to enjoy the sun and splash around in the invigorating water. The river here is wide and shallow, perfect for the amateur rock dog. We found lots of fascinating rocks, both in shape and in color combinations.

This is a beautiful area to drive through; behind a curve a breathtaking view of the conical Sugarloaf and the oddly placed red tower on Route 16. The show stopper, however, is the wire bridge from 1866 in New Portland. This unique wooden and cable bridge spanning the rocky Carrabasset River is as photographic as it gets. Did someone say “Ice cream at Gifford’s in Farmington” on the way home?

Michael Perry is the former director of LL Bean Outdoor Discovery Schools and founder of Dreams Unlimited, which specializes in inspiring outdoor slide programs for community groups, businesses and schools. Contact: [email protected]

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