Paddle and Pedal along the Northern Forest Canoe Trail in New Hampshire

MargaretCurtisBy Margaret Curtis
Volunteer Trail Maintainer, Sections Maine 1 & 2

The quiet dip of a paddle in a calm pond, the rushing sound of a river flowing over rapids, the miles of driving two vehicles hoping you have the right car keys at the take out.

Like most paddlers, I look forward to the former while dreading the latter: the car shuttle. While there are certainly opportunities to paddle and pole your way upriver along the Northern Forest Canoe Trail, like most, I prefer downriver. And with very few river trips going downriver to end up at the start (exception: Moose River Bow trip NFCT map 10) inevitably your arrival at the end of an enjoyable paddle leaves you needing to return to you start.

But what if the return could be as pleasant as the downstream paddle? Enter the Bike.

Last summer my husband and I began experimenting with a bike shuttle. Our basic routine is this: pack bikes and canoe into the car. Drop the bikes off at the take out along with helmets, shoes appropriate to biking and locked to a tree as needed. Drive to the put-in and unload the canoe—and don’t forget bike lock key and car key! Enjoy a nice paddle down the river. Take out at your bikes. Leave the canoe (use the bike lock to lock the canoe if you feel the need). Enjoy a nice bicycle ride along a scenic river road back to your vehicle. Load up the bikes, return to pick up the canoe.

Voila! A boring car shuttle just became a nice relaxing bike ride.

A great spot to take advantage of this on the Northern Forest Canoe Trail is the Androscoggin River in Errol, New Hampshire (NFCT Map 7). We set up home base at Mollidgewock State Park just south of Errol on NH Route 16. Your first paddle-pedal option starts from Errol and returns approximately 4 miles to your campsite. From the NH Route 26 bridge in Errol you can look down on a consistent Class II-III rapid. This is a great place to “get your feet wet” in whitewater as the entire run is easily viewable from the bridge and empties out into a calm and shallow pool.

If the rapids look too large for your taste, simply carry your boat a few hundred yards from the parking lot to put in below them. The remaining section to Mollidgewock is a flat water meander. Despite being quite close to a main road, the road is hardly noticed during the paddle.

Mollidgewock can serve as either a mid-day break or the start/end point of two separate paddle-pedal adventures.

The river takes a sharp right-hand turn at the campground and moves into a 5-mile section with a series of Class I rapids broken up by quick water sections. The faster waters end at Seven Islands Bridge, where you can take out and pedal back to your campsite and car. This entire section is parallel to NH Route 16. Despite being a main thoroughfare of the region, we found biking quite pleasant and most drivers quite courteous.

So next time you grab your boat and paddle, grab a bike and make it a paddle-pedal!

Can’t wait to get started? The NFCT Missisquoi Paddle and Pedal Race is Saturday, June 27 in Richford, Vermont. Click here for more information.