Lake Cobbossee and summer paddling solitude? Yes, it is quite possible on the southern end of this majestic island-studded lake just west of Augusta.
Put in at the State of Maine Boat Launch facility on the southwestern corner of the lake just off Route 135 in Monmouth. Consult the Delorme Maine Atlas and Gazetteer (map No. 12) for help in getting to the boat launch.
Try to get an early start as this place gets busy on weekends with many boats being launched during a typical Saturday and Sunday. Don’t be dismayed, you will soon enter a cocoon of solitude and quiet once you pass under the Jock Stream bridge at the southern end of the lake.
From the launch site we paddled over to two small islands to the east and stopped to gaze up at an osprey perched on the side of its nest attending to a youngster. Rounding the northern tip of Sheep Island we explored down along the uninhabited mile-long eastern side of the island, then skirted along the long sweep of cattails and rushes on the southeastern end of the lake.
The cattail wetlands on this end of the lake are home to the rare Least Bittern. This secretive bird is able to compress its body to squeeze between dense vegetation and its specially adapted toes allow it to climb through reeds by grabbing the stalks and running from stalk to stalk. We kept our eyes and ears on alert during our five-hour exploration and saw many special delights from darting dragonflies to plopping painted turtles, but no bitterns.
Jock Stream is one of the two inlet streams on this end of the lake. You will be able to follow it for 2.5 miles south to the Carver Road Bridge. You will have to turn around here as there is a two-foot drop of fast- moving whitewater tumbling under the bridge, too powerful to paddle up through.
As you leave the lake you enter a broad grassy marsh with a few maples sticking up, looking very much like a scene out of the African savannah. Soon the twisting waterway enters a shady avenue of forest providing delicious coolness even on a hot day.
We heard a couple of loud taps on a nearby tree and suddenly a pileated woodpecker swooped down across the stream only a few yards ahead of our canoe. Its red head patch caught a solitary shaft of sunlight and then it vanished into the forest. As we rounded a sharp bend, stalks of candelabra-like Canada lilies rose out of the grasses on the banking above us. Bittersweet nightshade was prolific at water’s edge, its distinctive five purple petals surrounding a bright yellow cone.
As we followed the stream back out toward the lake we checked our map one more time and noticed that an arm of water came into the stream about a half-mile south of Jock Stream bridge. Though the trees we saw what looked to be a large open marsh to the east. We followed a narrow ribbon of water into a vast grassy bowl, eventually working our way across the broad open expanse until hitting an open channel leading south.
We stopped to admire a cluster of rose pogonia orchids on a mound of sphagnum moss. The yellow fringe on the lower pink petal has a beard-like look. Pogonia is the Greek word for beard. After 15 minutes of paddling we turned around at a series of beaver dams.
Red-winged blackbirds chased each other about, and many sat perched on downed tree limbs chortling as we passed.
Thunderheads massed far to the north, and as we entered back into the lake it was time for a cooling swim. We headed back to the islands east of the launch site, pulled into a secluded nook, tied off the canoe and floated in the clear refreshing water, warily watching the towering mushroom clouds build around us. A loon sank into the water only yards away. By this time there was quite the beehive of activity at the launch site. Cobbossee is noted for its bass fishery, and attracts anglers from near and far.
We smiled at our little secret; six miles of exploring Jock Stream on a glorious Sunday morning and not one other boat seen.
Michael Perry is the former director of the L.L.Bean Outdoor Discovery Schools, and founder of Dreams Unlimited, specializing in inspiring outdoor slide programs for civic groups, businesses, and schools. Contact him at: