Poling the Upper Saco River

I had a great trip yesterday poling on the crystal-clear upper Saco river, running downstream from the bridge on River Street in Bartlett to the bridge at River Road in Conway. The 12 mile trip took me just under 4 hours. Except for the extreme lower portion of the trip where the bottom gets sandy, this section of the Saco is characterized by a rocky bottom and banks made up of grapefruit-sized river cobble stones. The upper river was a series of shallow stretches interrupted by deep pools and very shallow (unrunnable) gravel bars where the river would lose elevation quickly.

I was watched by a crowd of people sunning and swimming as I put in, and got the usual lines such as “Don’t you know you’re not supposed to stand up in a canoe?.” But soon I had left the questions behind as I moved downstream from the bridge. I had to get out and line the canoe down several sections due to low water, but just six times over the whole trip, and the longest of these was only about 20 yards.

I saw few people before reaching the Glen Ellis campground, and only in spots where there were houses along the river. Between the campground and Humphrey’s Ledge I again saw no one, but from there down there were occasional people swimming, tubing, and kayaking. The low point of the trip for me was coming around a bend in the river and seeing three teen agers drinking something on the bank next to their kayaks, then throwing the can or bottle into the bushes when they saw me. It’s one thing to sneak a couple of beers for your float trip, but it shows a complete lack of class and respect to litter the riverbank with empty containers along the way.

In the lower section there was a gravel bar funneling all the water to river left. In the middle of the channel was an aluminum canoe that had broached on a tree trunk and was left for dead. It was a stern reminder to the power of the river and the need to remain aware of obstacles. I imagine it will be retrieved when the water level drops.

Overall it was a fantastic trip – clear water, mountain views, and the perfect amount of water to pole a canoe.

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