Family Fun on the Northern Forest Canoe Trail

WAITSFIELD, VT – Long summer road trips in the family car don’t make for great bonding experiences. But, when everyone is in a canoe or kayak on the Northern Forest Canoe Trail (NFCT) with a paddle or binoculars in hand, parents and children share in the unexpected excitement of a journey on a river or lake. 

The NFCT stretches for 740 miles from the Adirondack Mountains of New York, across northern Vermont and a portion of Quebec, Canada; through northern New Hampshire and up the northwest border of Maine. Sections of the waterway with easy canoe or kayak paddling, lots of camping options and interesting off-water attractions are perfect for family adventures.

Whether the route is down a river, across a chain of lakes, or a mix of both, the natural scenery and wildlife along the NFCT are amazing through summer and fall. Here’s a sampling of easy and fun trips for parents with teenagers or younger experienced paddlers in the four states the trail passes through. 

New York
Long Lake Village to Axton Landing on the Raquette River: This 22-mile trip makes an easy two or three-day paddle with plenty of camping locations at lean-to sites. 

Park and launch in Long Lake village, and listen and watch for loons while paddling north on nine-mile Long Lake. There are lean-to sites along the lake’s eastern midsection for lunch stops, or a first campsite for paddlers who want to spend two days on the lake. Camp Riverdale near the start of the Raquette River makes for a roomy first camp for those covering the lake in one day.


The first section of the Raquette is home to great blue herons, and flows for five miles to Upper Falls, the first of three consecutive waterfalls that must be bypassed on foot. The remaining seven miles of the trip consist of lazy river paddling through the High Peaks Wilderness Area. Be on the lookout for deer, bald eagles and osprey.


To save time getting back to your vehicle, arrange to have Raquette River Outfitters ( drive the family car to the parking lot at the Axton Landing take-out. The nearby town of Tupper Lake is home to The Wild Center: Natural History Museum of the Adirondacks (, where children can see and learn about ducks, turtles, frogs, lake fish, river otters and birds through interactive exhibits.

Middle Saranac Lake to Saranac Lake Village: This 14-mile trip is set in one of the most scenic sections of the 6 million acre Adirondack Park.


Middle Saranac Lake is the smallest of the Saranac chain of lakes, and popular for its beautiful natural beaches and views of the park’s tallest mountains. Saranac Lake Islands State Campground maintains 87 waterside and island campsites on Middle and Lower Saranac Lake. 


Traveling east, paddlers enter Lower Saranac and Oseetah Lake through concrete locks which raise or lower a boat to the level of the connecting waterway. Lower Saranac has many protected bays that are great for fishing, and Oseetah is known for its nesting bald eagles and early 1900s Victorian-style waterfront homes. Narrow Lake Flower makes for an easy paddle into downtown Saranac Lake Village. The village hosts Great Adirondack Days ( during the Independence Day weekend with fireworks, an arts and craft show and traditional guide boat races.


Brighton State Park river day trips: This state park has the Nulhegan River to the east and the Clyde River to the west, making it a great base for day trips on each waterway.


Spectacle Pond is the setting for the campsites, lean-tos and cabins of the state park in the town of Island Pond. It’s a two-mile drive to a public boat launch on tiny Nulhegan Pond which drains to the river with the same name. The Nulhegan River shrinks to a width of five to 10 feet as it passes through bogs and an evergreen forest. Sightings of beaver, otter, deer and moose are common along this quiet waterway.  


Island Pond is adjacent to Spectacle Pond and is the starting point for a trip on the Clyde River. A paddle from the pond’s northern launch site to the first set of rapids in the river makes for an easy five-mile roundtrip.


Highgate Center to Missisquoi National Wildlife Refuge: A fun paddle on the Missisquoi River with a stop in the town of Swanton and lots of shore birds waiting at the refuge.


Begin the trip below the Highgate Falls Dam and paddle toward two islands in the river. The river passes under Interstate 89 and Route 7 before reaching downtown Swanton in 6.5 miles. A portage trail on the right side of the river leads to Route 7, and it’s a short walk south to the Swanton Motel ( 


Day two starts below the Swanton Dam with a straight stretch of paddling on the Missisquoi before entering the Missisquoi National Wildlife Refuge (  at 2.5 miles. Look for the Abenaki Indian Nation totem pole on the right riverbank, then keep watch for a variety of ducks, geese, herons and other wading birds along the river. The refuge also has 12 miles of free nature trails for exploring wildlife on foot.

New Hampshire
North Stratford to Groveton on the Connecticut River: This 22-mile all-river trip is a unique way to explore the beauty of the Connecticut River Valley in summer or fall.


Enter the Connecticut from the hand-carry access point in North Stratford. While paddling south, be on the lookout for Canada geese, turtles, beavers and osprey. Small sandy beaches and islands make great stops for a swim or picnicking. The NFCT Maine Central Railroad Trestle campsite is a good first day stop-over seven miles from North Stratford.


For the remaining 15 miles of the trip, the river winds through protected forestland and private farmland. The Connecticut forms a series of S-turns before meeting up with the Upper Ammonoosuc River outside Groveton. Travel up the Ammonoosuc to the Groveton Bridge take-out site, or continue south on the Connecticut to the take-out at Guildhall, VT.


Umbagog Lake State Park: A great paddling destination for canoes or kayaks, with great fishing and wildlife viewing.


Umbagog straddles the Maine border and has 17 primitive waterside campsites on New Hampshire park land that can only be reached by canoe or kayak. A campground on the southern shore of the lake in Cambridge has 35 sites. The lake is 10 miles long with many coves and small islands that make it popular for bass and lake trout fishing.

Nearly all the New Hampshire land bordering the lake is part of Lake Umbagog National Wildlife Refuge. The refuge is home to the state’s largest concentration of nesting common loons. There are also salamanders, turtles, frogs, otters and moose to seek out on a paddling trip. Northwest on Route 26, the Balsams Grand Resort Hotel ( has golf, mountain biking trails, horseback riding and a full service day spa.

Rangeley Lake State Park: This park on the namesake of the Rangeley region’s waterways makes a great base for lake paddling.


The state park is on the south shore of Rangeley Lake, and is a short paddle from South Bog and its stream with a variety of bird life. Deep and narrow Hunter Cove makes another good day trip on the lake’s north shore directly across from the park.


Paddle to the northwest corner of the lake to reach the portage trail to the short Rangeley River which flows into Cupsuptic Lake. Take a tour around Browns Island to the north, or head south for a picnic on Lunch Island off the western shore of connecting Mooselookmeguntic Lake. Bald Mountain, rising from the eastern shore of Mooselookmeguntic, is a popular hike for families, as are the local waterfront properties preserved by the Rangeley Lakes Heritage Trust (   


Full-color, waterproof maps are available from the NFCT with complete route and access information, historic photographs, and descriptions of trail geography, flora, fauna, and human history.


Learn more about every section of the trail with the NFCT interactive Map Tool at or call 802-496-2285.


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