Tucked away in the woods just off coastal Route 1 as it wends its way through Washington County from East Machias toward Calais is an alluring little destination for canoeing, kayaking, picnicking, wildlife watching and fishing known as the Orange River Water Trail.

Having passed by the access points to the trail’s two launch sites on multiple sojourns to and from Campobello, Eastport and the New Brunswick mainland, it had been added to our ever-growing bucket lists of must-do paddles.

With the summer winding down, not to mention diminished tourist traffic on Route 1, the time was ripe for a visit.

The entire round-trip paddle between the two launch sites totals only about five miles of placid paddling, and two cars will allow you to cut that in half if your time is limited and you want to just get a nice taste of the trail by paddling from site to site.

There’s plenty of other flat water to explore along the Orange River above and below the launch sites, so you can spend an entire day or more on this lightly used wilderness waterway

The trail was developed and is managed by Downeast Coastal Conservancy, and details are available at www.cobscooktrails.org, and in a nicely produced Trail Map and Guide of the entire region. It’s a day-use area (no campsites), but it features three designated picnic spots along the way for snacking, wildlife watching and just relaxing.

The southerly launch site (hand-carry only) is three miles south of where Route 189 heads down to Lubec. It’s identified as the Reynolds Marsh Overlook (well named for its nice view over the marshy area to the west). There’s a short trail that leads down to the water from an ample parking area.

About two miles north of there and less than a mile south of the Route 189 intersection, you’ll find the Orange River Landing. Keep your eye out for Playhouse Lane on your left, then turn on Landing Road, past a house where the road turns to gravel, and you’ll be at the two-car parking area. Small trailered boats are allowed to launch at this site as well.

Just south of the landing you’ll notice the remaining footings of a now-abandoned steam-powered sawmill that operated nearly 100 years ago.

It’s worth noting that the Orange River is dammed to provide optimal wildlife habitat, and you can expect to find higher water in the spring and early summer, whereas water levels are now lower and will remain so through the fall. There’s even a chance that eager beavers will have erected dams along the way that will occasionally reach from one side of the waterway to the other.

It’s also worth remembering that much of the shoreline is privately owned, so plan your stops at the designated sites only. And the conservancy reminds us that visits are allowed during daylight hours only; camping, fires and ATVs are not allowed; carry-in/carry-out principles and “leave no trace” ethics apply; and nesting bird areas should be given a wide berth.

Unless you are lucky enough to live in Washington County, you really should plan on spending at least one night in the area to allow enough time for exploration.

As luck would have it, one of the gems in the Maine State Parks system, Cobscook Bay State Park, is only 15 minutes north of the water trail and four miles south of Dennysville. It comprises nearly 900 acres right on the bay, so named from an old Passamaquoddy word meaning “boiling waters.” This refers to the falls that reverse with each change of the 24-foot tides, the highest in Maine.

Many of the never-crowded campsites and shelters are right on the water’s edge, nicely secluded among fir and spruce cover. Hot showers are available.

There’s hiking in the park, and on nearby Crane Mountain and Bell’s Mountain, and the Edmunds Unit of the National Wildlife Refuge practically abuts the park, offering miles and miles of backcountry hiking.

And since you’re not that far from Eastport, plan a visit to Raye’s Mustard and taste some of the award-winning concoctions. If you’ve never had a hot pretzel with mustard, this will be your chance.

John Christie is a former ski racer and ski area manager and owner, a ski historian and member of the Maine Ski Hall of Fame. He and his son, Josh, write columns on alternating weeks. He can be reached at:

[email protected]

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