Spencer Lake and Down Spencer Stream

Through-Paddlers like to call Little Spencer the stream from hell. I can imagine fighting up this persistent little river could be pretty demoralizing, but paddling it with the current is a treat! In early spring or after a heavy rain, the overnight trip from the vehicle-access Fish Pond Campground on Spencer Lake to the confluence of Spencer Stream and the Dead River is a gem.

The lake itself is nestled between cozy mountains and almost unpopulated giving it the feeling of a secret world that no one knows about except you. It’s less than three miles to the paddle-up Spencer Beach campsites, the only camping between the launch and Little Spencer Stream. This makes for an easy first day, which is nice for people with a drive to get to the area and set shuttle.

A cluster of three campsites along the west shore perches around a sandy point with long views both north and south. I spent nearly an hour watching the light drop on the mountains with a pair of loons fishing for their dinner and cavorting in the cove in front of me. Our group of nine found plenty of spots to pitch our six tents spread out over two of the sites. The campsites are managed by Landvest, which employs a resident property manager. They are free, but must be reserved by calling ahead.

The paddle to the outflow of Little Spencer is less than four miles past a group of small islands and through a narrow gap that provides entry into the larger part of the lake to the south. We passed a large nest high in a tree on one of the islands with a resident bald eagle on guard. The wind was up and blowing from the west by the time we hit the open water. We had to fight across with the waves quartering our stearns for a couple of miles before we turned to surf into the landing by the portage around the dam.

A tempting boat launch to the right of the dam seems like the best place to portage, but it is not open to the public. Due to disrespectful behavior by previous visitors, paddlers must use the trail about 100 yards left of the dam. This small landing is marked with a confidence marker and passes through the woods about .2 miles to skirt the dam. There is a convenient outhouse here, but no camping is allowed on the portage.

Once back in the water it’s worth paddling up to below the dam if the flow allows. One of our party described it as “Middle Earth.” The dam is built into natural cliffs and a small island forms a nearly complete circle of granite around the pool, again making it feel like you are sharing a secret with this remote landscape.

Below the dam, Little Spencer flows through a series of alternating stretches of river with class I-II rapids and three deadwaters. The flow we had (3.95 feet on the USGS Spencer Stream gage) was about as low as I would like to paddle this. We had just enough water to strategically pick our way through the meandering rapids without having to get out and drag the boat. Two of our party demonstrated their poling skills, nudging their way down and ducking low hanging branches. At high flows this could be a wild ride, but none of the features gave any indication that they would develop into advanced whitewater. The biggest potential hazard is down trees: we needed to maintain constant vigilance when paddling around corners.

When Spencer Stream enters from river-right, you are close to the take-out. We stopped for a late lunch on a beautiful grassy spit at the confluence, basking in the sunshine and the verdant green contrasting with the gray cliff on the opposite bank. Take out at the wide steps on river-left a little over 6 miles from the portage just below the small bridge at the confluence with the Dead River.

Don’t miss the take out! Below here the Dead River flows through about 12  miles of class II-III rapids. There are scheduled releases that can be as high as 6,000 CFS, which increases the difficulty. There is no access to the river until you get to The Forks. Once in the parking lot, take a quick hike on the upstream trail along the Dead River to visit Grand Falls for an added bonus!