Northern Forest Canoe Trail

Canoe Trip

The Northern Forest Canoe Trail covers 740 miles of rivers, streams, lakes and portages (53 miles) across New York, Vermont, New Hampshire, Maine and Quebec.  For the most part it follows routes used by Native Americans from Old Forge, New York to Fort Kent, Maine.  Completing the entire trail is a major challenge, but there are sections of varying lengths that allow you to create the adventure of your choice.

According to information on the sign shown below:


The Northern Forest Canoe Trail connects quiet marshes, expansive lakes, and swiftly flowing rivers while traversing deep forests, working farmlands and village centers.  The 740-mle trail has a section for everyone – beginners, experts, canoeists, and kayakers – for a day, overnight, or longer.

Northern Forest Canoe Trail Location Map


Fortunately there is a Northern Forest Canoe Trail non-profit organization that has developed a website ( that offers lots of planning help. If you are serious about traveling much or all of the trail,  you will want to purchase the Northern Forest Canoe Trail Guidebook.  You will also want to purchase maps for the segments you would like to travel.  There are thirteen maps:

  1. Fulton Chain of Lakes to Long Lake

    Northern Forest Canoe Trail Sign

    Sign in Enosburg Falls, Vermont

  2. Long Lake to Saranac River
  3. Saranac River to Lake Champlain
  4. Lake Champlain and Missisquoi River
  5. Missisquoi River to Lake Memphremagog
  6. Lake Memphremagog to Connecticut
  7. Connecticut River to Umbagog Lake
  8. Umbagog Lake to Rangeley Lake
  9. Rangeley Lake to Spencer Stream
  10. Spencer Stream to Moosehead Lake
  11. Moosehead Lake to Umbazooksas Stream
  12. Umbazooksas Stream to Umsaskis Lake
  13. Umsaskis Lake to St. John River

With the website, the guide book, the maps and some time to study them, you will have a pretty good idea of what is ahead of you.  You should also study the “Through Paddler Cheat Sheet” for lots of great advice.

As far as the time it will take for a through paddle goes – it depends.  The fastest travelers can do it in around 25 days. Forty days is a reasonable average and many adventurers take 50 days or more.  While time depends a lot on you,  trail and weather conditions can vary considerably and upset the best laid plans.  Rapids that most people float through may need to be portaged if water levels aren’t right.  You will need to take the time to scout out these situations and plan your best course.


It’s called a canoe trail because the original travelers used canoes.  You can use a kayak, but either way you will need to be skilled in the use of your chosen mode of transportation.  You will need to be able to move upstream a total of 160 miles, navigate rapids up to Class IV, portage a total of  53 miles with your boat and all your equipment and generally work very hard along the way.  You may need to drag your boat through knee deep mud and fight hordes of biting insects.  You will need to be in good shape .


Lake Champlain

Lake Champlain

You will need a sturdy boat, built for rough conditions, that remains maneuverable yet light enough to get through the portages.  If you are not equipped with a canoe like that,  you might study the information at Canoe Guide to help you select a model that can work for you.

You’ll have to select a paddle that works for you in all conditions, and better bring a spare as well.  You will also, more than likely, want wheels for portaging your canoe, unless you practice carrying your canoe and equipment a lot before your trip.  Carts that sit under the center of the canoe are generally recommended.  Be aware that wheels won’t help you on some of the portages – they are just too rough.

Plus,  you will need all the gear you would typically carry on an extended backpacking trip.  There are urban areas along the way so there will be opportunities for restaurant food.  Sometimes fuel for your stove is hard to find,  so be sure to bring enough to get you through.

Getting There and Getting Back

Both Old Forge, New York and Fort Kent, Maine are fairly remote with limited services.  Your best bet is to make arrangements to be dropped off and picked up before you leave home.  Other options are more available if you choose more urban endpoints for your adventure.

Slide Show

This video by Katina Daanen is a slide show of a 53-day through-paddle.  The annotated photos give a great feel for the experience the trail offers.

Video Link


While not for everyone,  a through trek on the Northern Forest Canoe Trail offers a great experience for an appropriately skilled, equipped and prepared traveler.  For the rest of us,  there are many ways  to design a trip of any desired length and skill level and still have a great adventure.

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