Shoreline trees are reflected on the Kennebec River in the Madison-North Anson area. Christine Wolfe photo

If you enjoy paddling in circles this outing is for you. More importantly, if you are seeking peace and solitude in a beautiful riverine environment, consider a paddling outing on the Kennebec River in the Madison-North Anson area. Here the Kennebec over time has created a pronounced oxbow filled with a labyrinth of islands lush with a variety of hardwoods, mixed with a few pines and hemlock. This far north, the Kennebec waters are clear and refreshing.

Try to paddle on a calm day. Bring your vivid imagination with you. Shoreline trees, exposed roots, and stumps create reflections in the water that double the image. We spent more time taking pictures then we did paddling. The key to getting the perfect picture is to take it before the ripples from your paddle stroke enter the scene and blur the reflection. That often meant we would carefully back paddle to the desired vantage point, wait a few minutes for the water to become perfectly calm again, and take that million-dollar photo.

The morning woods were full of the melody of songbirds. Many kingbirds stood at the end of tree branches looking down over us. Their white breast made them easy to spot in the shadows. Red-winged blackbirds flitted about the cool shadows at water’s edge. Tree swallows darted everywhere in search of insects. A busy red-breasted merganser mom led a dozen youngsters along the shoreline. Where is day care when you need it? Mergansers have the craziest hairdos and always look in desperate need of a good comb.

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

We started out the day heading west to the foot of the North Anson Gorge. This stunning cut in the bedrock is the last drop of the Carrabassett River before it meets the Kennebec. With the recent lack of rain, the water levels churning down through the gorge were low. From here we paddled back to the Kennebec and headed downriver a few miles toward the oxbow. On river right you will come to a distinctive scoured out banking, brown amidst the green. If you go right you can explore down the main course of the Kennebec where there is more development. If you go straight ahead you will see a couple of log boom cribs. Beyond that lies the solitude of the 2-mile long oxbow loop.

You will need a map (the DeLorme or Google map is fine) in the oxbow, and a good sense of direction. It can be confusing with the constant change of direction, and the bounty of islands. A couple of times I got us headed in the wrong direction, but my wife’s woods sense got us back on track.

We spent six hours exploring down the river and back from the local boat launch located on Madison Street, a mile east of the North Anson Post Office. The road starts out paved and turns to gravel. Consult the DeLorme Maine Atlas and Gazetteer (map No. 20) for help in getting to the boat launch.

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The Kennebec River near North Anson features several man-made log boom cribs. Christine Wolfe photo

Five minutes after we had discussed if we might see a deer or moose along the lush shoreline of the oxbow we spied two deer. Their summer coats were a striking reddish-orange color.  They stood in the thick brush waiting for us to pass. We backed up and sat still. All we could see of them were the constant movement of their white tails. They moved up the slope out of view. A few minutes later a loud snort got our hearts beating. The deer had come back down to the shore and were unhappy that we were going in the same direction they were.

Just before taking the feeder channel from the Kennebec back to the boat launch site we stopped on a flat cobble flood plain to soak in the sun and splash in the invigorating water. The river is wide here and shallow, perfect for the amateur rock hound. We found many fascinating rocks, both in shape and color combinations.

This is a beautiful area to drive through; around a bend a jaw-dropping view of conical Sugarloaf, and the oddly placed red tower on Route 16. The showstopper though is the 1866 wire bridge in New Portland. This one-of-a-kind wood and cable bridge spanning the rock-strewn Carrabassett River is as photographic as it gets. Did anyone say, “Ice cream at Gifford’s in Farmington” on the drive home?

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: [email protected]


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