Paddling the 740-mile Northern Forest Canoe Trail in one trip has been an exhilarating, trying, contemplative, exasperating and enlightening experience for those who have completed it. More than 80 people have made The NFCT List and each have unique stories to tell of wildlife encountered, rapids run or portaged around, crazy thunderstorms and gorgeous sunsets. If you are considering a through paddle of the trail, this list provides references available to help you begin to plan and prepare.
Study an Overview of the Northern Forest Canoe Trail
NFCT’s Trip Planner is an online resource that shows the entire trail divided into 13 sections across New York, Vermont, Québec, New Hampshire and Maine. A majority of rivers flow in the easterly and northeasterly direction (but not all) therefore the trail is described and through paddled from west to east starting in Old Forge, New York and ending in Fort Kent, Maine. The map tool allows you to zoom into each section and populate services along the route.
Read First Person Narratives
Our Paddler Blogs includes a list of through and section paddlers and their personal accounts of paddling the trail. These entries are insightful and inspiring, and share what lake and river conditions can be like at different times of the year and in varying types of weather. From moose sightings, to trail angels, to the best place to get pizza, paddler blogs provide a taste of what your journey can be like.
Get Guidebooks and Maps
Navigational resources to paddle all or part of the trail can be purchased online from NFCT and at your local book store or outdoor retail shop. The Northern Forest Canoe Trail Guidebook provides detailed descriptions from the paddler’s perspective heading downstream. The guide also offers water safety tips and anecdotal wisdom like good fishing spots and historic landmarks. (For example, one gets not only the route description of the 5.7-mile Grand Portage in Québec but also where to find petroglyphs along the way!)
Northern Forest Canoe Trail’s 13 maps are waterproof and show campsites, carries, rapids, local camping and fire regulations as well as who to phone for emergency assistance. They can be purchased individually, as state sets, or altogether. The Northern Forest Canoe Trail guidebook and maps are meant to be used as companions to one another.
Written by through paddler Katina Daanen, The Northern Forest Canoe Trail Through-Paddler’s Companion describes the entire route from the through paddler’s perspective heading east to northeast. This includes about 160 miles of upstream travel, mostly in Vermont and New Hampshire, and practical advice about water levels and the wheel-ability of portages.
Seek Advice from Through Paddlers
NFCT’s Paddlers Forum is an interactive site where you can chat with others who have paddled part or all of the trail, post specific questions, and read past conversations. We monitor the site and also post trail safety updates here. Use the collective knowledge to help answer your questions.
Hone Your Paddling and Route Finding Skills
Being prepared for a through paddle includes being physically fit, being comfortable paddling your canoe or kayak in a variety of water and weather conditions, and knowing how to use a compass. Look for paddling instruction classes in your area; local paddling clubs offer both on-the-water and pool sessions depending on the time of year. You can also checkout NFCT’s Calendar of Events, the American Canoe Association’s Find Courses, and L.L.Bean’s Outdoor Discovery School for canoe and kayak instruction classes. Teach yourself how to use a map and compass, or attend a workshop through a local hiking club, scout group or outdoor recreational store.
Contact Our Office
If you still have questions that haven’t been answered by the resources listed above, you can reach out to staff at the Northern Forest Canoe Trail office in Waitsfield, Vermont. Our availability to answer questions is dependent on how busy we are, and sending detailed questions by email to [email protected] is the best way to reach us. We can also set up a time to meet in person to review maps with you.
Before You Go, Review Trail Updates
Before you head out on the trail, check NFCT Trail Updates. Divided by the trail’s 13 maps, this information shares any new features—like campsites and re-routed portages—or closures that might not appear on your maps. We recommend that you use a permanent marker to add updates directly onto your maps or guidebook. This online resource is public so that you have the most current information available to make your navigation of the trail as well-informed as possible.
Using the above references will provide you with a wealth of knowledge about paddling the Northern Forest Canoe Trail. Another very important way to prepare for any long-distance paddling trip is to get out and paddle! Visit your local lakes and rivers to test your gear and gain confidence on the water.
Most of all, have fun planning your trip. The more research and contingency planning you do now will help make your long-distance adventure more successful when you finally get out on the Northern Forest Canoe Trail.
Next month’s article about through paddling the Northern Forest Canoe Trail: How to determine the best time of the year to start your trip.