A paddler navigates one of the Wigwam Rapids on the Machias River. Contributed

Ken Gordon and I were beginning the third day of our five-day outing on the Machias River in Washington County. Paddling expedition kayaks, two seniors not acting their ages had completed a little less than half of the 55-mile journey and were camped at the foot of Little Falls.

We awoke to bluebird skies and light winds. The paddling day began with a stretch of flatwater to Mopang Stream which entered on the right. Around the bend was the two-mile sector of whitewater called Wigwam Rapids.

The protracted first Wigwam began with a steep pitch replete with unappealing holes. After scouting, we successfully navigated left before proceeding through the rollicking runout. Stimulating rapids introduced second Wigwam which entailed cautious maneuvering around two ledge drops. A horizon line indicated our approach to third Wigwam. After careful scrutiny, we plunged down the left side while managing to avoid breaking waves, boulders, and a wide powerful hole at the bottom. Our exhilarating visit with the Wigwams finished with a Class II descent through large waves in the final pitch.

The three-mile flatwater paddle to Holmes Falls was delightfully interrupted by a deer swimming in the river. The portage around the hazardous falls began by catching a tiny moving eddy just above the onset that required precise execution to safely land. We broke up the demanding carry by camping about halfway through the portage trail at a site overlooking the turbulent cataract.

Day four began with sunshine and warmer weather. A short paddle through easy rapids brought us to Deadman’s Island located a short distance above Little Holmes Falls. We stopped on the island to visit a stone monument dedicated to the memory of Obadiah Hill, an early Machias River pioneer, and to scout the entrance to the falls. Little Holmes is a complex rapid that isn’t easily reconnoitered and concludes with a Class IV descent left of an island and a technical Class III to the right. After proceeding through an approach rapid, we ferried hard right to an eddy to investigate the right side and set up safety. The technical twisting descent was negotiated without incident.

The excitement of Little Holmes behind us, a long expanse of flatwater followed. Near the confluence with Old Stream, we enjoyed an entertaining encounter with a young bear foraging next to shore. The startled little bruin scurried into the woods when we were detected.


Following lunch at Getchel Riffles, we battled a strong headwind while persisting to Great Falls, the longest rapid on the river. From the portage trail, it was apparent the waves were more substantial than most of my prior visits. The best location to view the falls is from the top of gigantic boulders high above the extensive rapid. After careful inspection, we decided to portage gear and carry kayaks around the top half of the falls. A spirited plummet dodging rocks in the lower section followed. We ended our day enjoying sunshine and a warm gentle breeze at an idyllic campsite next to the falls.

We were up early for our final day hoping to avoid rain forecasted to begin mid-morning. Despite our hurried efforts, showers started while breaking camp. We launched in light rain.

The precipitation subsided during our six-mile paddle to the old logging community of Whitneyville. The ubiquitous open banks of that circuitous section of river are the result of a former lake created by a dam since removed. The view of a church steeple announced our arrival in Whitneyville where a rousing Class II rapid carried us under a bridge at Route 1A.

Shortly after, we passed the site of the former U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) river gauge. Inexplicably, it ceased operating several years ago. Why the USGS continues to maintain a gauge for the minor tributary of Old Stream but neglects one for the largest watershed in the area is bewildering.

The remaining five miles to Machias consisted of flatwater with sporadic easy rapids to more substantial whitewater in a gorge beginning shortly before entering town. The long feisty rapid was the perfect way to end our journey on one of Maine’s finest tripping rivers.

More tales of adventure and misadventure on the Machias River can be found in my book, Maine Al Fresco: The Fifty Finest Outdoor Adventures in Maine.

Ron Chase resides in Topsham. His latest book, “Maine Al Fresco: The Fifty Finest Outdoor Adventures in Maine” is available at northcountrypress.com/maine-al-fresco.html. His previous books are “The Great Mars Hill Bank Robbery” and “Mountains for Mortals – New England.” Visit his website at www.ronchaseoutdoors.com or he can be reached at [email protected]

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