Lobster Lake, Penobscot River Corridor, North Maine Woods

Discussion in 'Places to Paddle' started by jadefox, Sep 15, 2016.

  1. jadefox

    jadefox Curious about Wooden Canoes

    Brasenia, our 14-foot cedar strip canoe, slipped quietly onto the dark surface of Lobster Stream just a little after 4 pm. We'd been traveling for about 7 hours to reach the put-in just above where Lobster Stream's largely slack current enters the West Branch of the Penobscot. We could have made the trip from Rockland in closer to 5 hours, but it was our first canoe camping trip in the Maine woods, as well as our first time on the Golden Road, so pit stops, last minute provisioning and a wrong turn all conspired to a later than desired start.

    Brasenia-Lobster-Sunset-Katahdin.jpg

    Before getting into the trip report itself, allow me a few words regarding Brasenia. Described by a WCHA forum member as being "in terrible condition and a lovely mixture of bad construction, delamination and old water damage," I want to acknowledge up-front what she is and what she isn't. She is not a museum piece, nor is she a restoration project. She is a boat we had not planned on acquiring, but then she suddenly she came into our life this spring. While my wife and I both used to do a fair bit of sea kayaking (I did my fair share of whitewater as well), we have not paddled much in the last decade, and I'd not spent time in a canoe on a Maine lake since I was a kid--my wife never. So when Brasenia somewhat unexpectedly entered our lives (I say "somewhat," as I'd been looking casually since moving back to New England in the fall of 2012), we were not thinking about much beyond an opportunity to get on the water--to fall in love again with silently slipping through liquidity. Brasenia has provided that opportunity on numerous day trips and evening paddles this summer, and we quickly felt the familiar urge to slip farther from the well-travelled world and head up north. For that we are immensely grateful to her--bad construction, delamination and old water damage aside.

    Golden-Road-Sign.jpg

    WCHA Forums was one of several places we sought advice prior to choosing Lobster Lake, and we are thankful to those who took the time to give us advice and guidance on where we should let Brasenia takes us on her first (with us) canoe camping trip. I hope this trip report helps someone else. One of the big questions we had was about access, given that my wife has an old back issue that surged to life this summer and can be inflamed by a five+ hour drive in our truck--especially if a couple hours of that is over washboard or worse. Traveling in the Saab wagon, however, rarely means she's out of commission when we reach our destination, and our little wagon has taken us some pretty extraordinary places. Still, low clearance and some horror stories had us on the fence until Al at North Maine Woods assured us the road from Millinocket to the Lobster Stream put-in was indeed "Saabable".

    Off we went...

    Golden Road.jpg

    While we dared not utter it to one another for fear of jinxing it, the Golden Road was better than either of us expected....by a lot. We made good time on alternating pavement and hardpack (the old surface has been broken up in the worst spots between Millinocket and Caribou Checkpoint and graded into a pretty good surface). The section leading up to and past Caribou Checkpoint was a pleasure to drive. I should mention here that heading up through Greenville and Kokadjo should be the faster routing, but we couldn't get any good info on the road from Kokadjo to the Golden Road--Saabable?! Soon the well sign-posted turn toward NE Carry and the Lobster Stream put-in appeared, and we were on the home stretch.

    Road to Lobster Stream-Northeast Carry.jpg

    All told, it was roughly two hours on the Golden Road to the Lobster Stream put-in averaging roughly 30-35 MPH. We could have made it quicker, but there was really no need to push it, as we felt fairly confident we still had enough daylight to make the three-ish mile paddle to camp on Lobster Lake. Stepping out of the car was a joyous experience after the long drive, but the euphoria was short-lived as the mosquitos swarmed. I'm fairly impervious to the buggers (years of guiding in places where mosquitos are considered the state bird has somewhat immunized me), but my poor wife... Put 10 people on an elevator with one mosquito, and she'll walk off the elevator with ten welts. While she adorned the headnet, long-sleeves and bug dope, I quickly shuttled Brasenia and our gear to the waters edge. A fairly stiff breeze had been blowing most of the day, but the put in spot was nicely protected from the westerly wind.

    mosquito-karen-out-in.jpg

    As others have remarked, there is little if any current in Lobster Creek as it winds its way over the roughly two miles between the West Branch of the Penobscot and Lobster Lake itself. We saw a bald eagle almost at once, and with each paddle stroke, the stresses of life swept deeper into the gentle wake behind our boat. My wife turned and smiled, and even the mosquito headnet eventually came off.

    upstream lobster stream.jpg

    Rounding the final bend in the stream, the lake opened up beyond a razor-thin isthmus of grasses and scrub. The view was jaw dropping as the sun slanted low painting the mountains in the distance a dark contrast against the cobalt blue. Rounding the point, the wind caught Brasenia broadside, and we turned east-northeast to follow the shoreline taking the wind over the bow and making sure to note the landmarks that would help us find the stream opening on our way out (several people mentioned that could be a challenge).

    [MORE TO COME, AS I GUESS THERE ARE ONLY SIX PICTURES ALLOWED PER POST] :)
     
    Last edited: Sep 15, 2016
  2. OP
    OP
    jadefox

    jadefox Curious about Wooden Canoes

    Part II

    entering-lobster-lake.jpg

    Lobster Lake, for those who have not been there or looked at it on a map, is a fairly large lake with a large island appropriately named "Big Island" in the middle. Lobster Stream leaves the lake at the northwest corner, and there are a number of very good campsites within a mile of the outlet. These campsites are within the Penobscot River Corridor and, as such, are managed (and maintained?) by Maine’s Bureau of Parks and Lands. Subsidized financially from Maine’s general taxation fund, the camping and use fees here are less expensive than the fees charged by North Maine Woods. At the time of our trip, overnight camping fees were $6/night plus 9% sales tax per person for residents. I think the non-resident fee is $12.00 per person per night. Sites cannot be reserved in advance, and all are available on a first-come, first-served basis.

    shallow-bay-landing.jpg

    As one looks almost due south across the lake, especially in the evening, a crescent of bright sandy beach bathed in sun is readily apparent. This beach is on the northeast side of Ogden point, which blends with the northeast shore of Big Island behind it. We headed for the large beach at Ogden Point, but because we were relatively close to the shoreline, we first came across the Shallow Bay campsite. Landing the canoe on the nice sand beach, my wife walked up a short trail to the campsite proper. It was unoccupied, and, although we had heard incredible things about the Ogden Point campsite, we decided to make camp.

    shallow-bay-unpack.jpg

    With hindsight, we are glad we did, as another party soon crossed to the larger beach on the northeast side of Ogden point. While there are multiple sites there, everyone essentially shares the same beach. While the other group was very nice (we met them the next day on Lobster Mountain), they were still a largish group settling in for a few days. Sharing the beach with them would have been fun, do doubt, but in a very different way. We appreciated the solitude of Shallow Bay, which is one of the few sites that is entirely isolated (e.g., you can't walk to another campsite).

    shallow-bay-trail.jpg

    We enjoyed soup on the rocky point while watching the sunset and then prepared dinner and ate around the fire. The Shallow Bay campsite, like all the ones we saw on Lobster Lake, is really nice. It has a fire ring, a nice bench and a picnic table with a ridgepole from which you could hang a tarp if the weather moved in. There are a couple spots where you can comfortably fit at least two tens with filtered views of the water. A very nice outhouse is a short walk up a trail away from the water.

    dinner.jpg

    One real advantage is that you can easily take advantage of both evening and morning sun. The next morning, we were enjoying our coffee bathed in sun looking across the bay to the other campsites that were still in full shadow at 9 am.

    Click image for larger version.

    shallow bay sunset.jpg

    [MORE TO COME IN PART III]
     
    Last edited: Sep 15, 2016
  3. OP
    OP
    jadefox

    jadefox Curious about Wooden Canoes

    Part III

    The next morning we had a leisurely breakfast and planned to hike up Lobster Mountain. It was chilly but gorgeous--not a cloud in the sky.

    morning-beach.jpg

    Our food, which we had hung from the ridgepole, remained critter free, and we fires up the JetBoil for coffee. As I mentioned in Part II, one serious advantage to the Shallow Bay site is the fact that you get both morning and evening sun depending on which side of the point you choose. As we sat on the point enjoying our coffee and talking about the day, our neighbors across the bay had no sun until after we had launched the canoe and headed out for the day.

    coffee point.jpg

    To climb Lobster Mountain, we'd read some contradictory information, but it seemed the most surefire way was to hike from the Jackson Cove campsite. To get to Jackson cove from Shallow Bay, you cross to Ogden Point and then pass between Ogden Point and the northwest point of Big Island. This gave us a point to check out the famed Ogden Point campsite, which truly is a gorgeous spot! The only real downside is what we guessed was a lack of evening sun, as well as the fact that you may end up being in close proximity with a group camped at Ogden Point South, which is just a short path away.

    Ogden Point.jpg

    We left Ogden Point campsite and headed southwest into Jackson Cove with a formidable wind in our faces. The Jackson Cove campsite is on the south side of Jackson Cove beneath lobster mountain. The Jackson Cove beach is along the west side of the Cove and has a nice drop-off for swimming. It's a fine beach for a day at the beach, but you cannot camp there. The Jackson Cove campsite is also the departure point for the Lobster Mountain Trail, which is well signposted.

    lobster mountain trail sign.jpg

    There is a good sized grassy area connected but separate from the campsite to stash your boat (there is no sandy beach). The sign says two miles, but it didn't feel that long. The trail is steep in sections with some rocky sections, but it is well marked and not difficult.

    lobster mountain trail.jpg

    We reached the summit in a little over an hour, and it was certainly worth the trip!

    lobster mountain view.jpg

    The trip back down was pleasant, and we paddled back to Shallow Bay for some relaxing time on the beach and a swim. To call this day a perfect Maine summer day would be an understatement!
     
  4. OP
    OP
    jadefox

    jadefox Curious about Wooden Canoes

    Part IV

    paddle back from Jackson.jpg

    After paddling back from Jackson Cove without a cloud in the sky, we spent a few hours doing that summer thing--just sitting on the beach, swimming and pretty much doing nothing much at all! We didn't see a single other person from the beach at Shallow Bay.

    beach day.jpg

    As the sun dropped lower, we decided to take a paddle along the shoreline from Shallow Bay toward Lobster Stream to see if we could sneak into the wetlands anywhere. There are several small tendrils of creeks, most with beaver dams, and it's possible to portage the canoe over into the beaver ponds above. As the sun dropped, the colors became more intense. We saw large moose tracks but sadly no moose as we poked in and out.

    beaver-dam-canoe.jpg

    In many ways, Lobster Lake is, at least in my way of thinking, a perfect Maine lake for a couple nights of casual camping. It is not really at all committing, the campsites are gorgeous, and there is plenty to do from a well situated base camp. We will certainly be back!

    sunset-beach.jpg

    The next morning, we woke at a little before 6 and had a quick breakfast and packed up. The wind had been blowing during the nights, and there was fairly pervasive cloud cover. We were on the water a little after 7 headed back toward Lobster Stream. We aimed for the east side of an obvious stand of trees and then picked up the little white lobster sign we had noticed on the way into the lake.

    heading home.jpg

    The paddle down Lobster Stream to the take out just above the confluence with the West Branch of the Penobscot was punctuated by the call of a loon and a few coons peering out at us from the banks. It was a stunning trip--just what we needed as summer draws to a close. I'm pleased to report that Brasenia, as imperfect as she is, performed beautifully. We will maybe get one more camping trip out of her before the season ends and then it will be into the barn, where some TLC awaits her.

    takeout.jpg
     
  5. Tnic

    Tnic Paddlewon Canoobie

    Excellent TR! Thanks for bringing us along.

    If you want a nature experience closer to home try checking out Donnell Pond in Franklin. You'd likely come up Rt 3 through Ellsworth and battle the urge to stop in at the Big Red Chicken Barn for some antiquin on the way.

    Donnell is mostly a managed wildlife preserve so not many folks. Between giggle maps and your trusty Maine Atlas & Gazeteer you'll find the put in with no probs. A few camps at the put in end and after that, you have a good chance at seeing no one else. The campsites are about an hour or so of paddling straight across the pond. You can choose from sand beach or secluded woodland sites. All have a table and fire ring and an outhouse nearby. Lots of blueberries around the tent early to mid July (I always went with a big group on the weekend of the 4th). Schoodic Mt. and Tunk lake are on the NE end as well and plenty of marked trails. And btw, no fees to pay. At least not the last time I went in the mid '90s.

    I'm looking forward to taking my bride there this Summer.
     

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