Before summer ends, skip the beach and try something new. Canoe, tube or kayak down the crystal clear water of the idyllic Saco River. Now is the perfect time to beat the fall foliage leaf peeping crowds, and go on an adventure with your family or friends.
The Saco River is 134 miles long. The river rises from Saco Lake in Crawford Notch, NH, in the White Mountains, and winds its way through several New Hampshire towns, crossing into Maine, finally spilling its water into Saco Bay on the Atlantic Ocean, located in Biddeford, Maine.
Depending on the time of year, the river can range from gentle flowing water to challenging rapids. There are many sandy beaches along the Saco for relaxing in the sun or having a picnic, and overnight camping is allowed at several of these beaches for free.
There are a myriad of local river tour companies along the length of the river who rent out canoes, kayaks and tubes, and can guide you to the safer or the more challenging areas. Most of these companies will drive you to where you want to begin your trip and will pick you up at a specified destination.
Tour companies: Check out the Saco Canoe Rental Company, Route 16, North Conway, NH, www.sacocanoerental.com . For the more advanced river warriors, check out Northern Extremes Canoe & Kayak, 1946 White Mountain Highway, North Conway, NH, www.northernextremes.com. Both companies are less than a three hour drive from Boston, MA.
For the novice: During certain times of the year, be ready for fast flowing water at several turns in the river. There are some spots known for giving canoes a challenge, and there may be “watchers” ready to cheer you on (ie: laugh at you), if the canoe flips. No worries, the river’s depth averages three feet, and canoes can easily be turned back over. The tour company can tell you where these areas are, and tell you how to avoid them if you are seeking only gentle water.
Gear: Rent canoes and kayaks from a reputable, river tour company. Their sturdy canoes and kayaks are designed to handle the twists and turns of flowing rivers. For example, a sea kayak may be difficult to control in a winding river.
Lodging: Drive ten minutes north beyond North Conway and stay at the Wildcat Inn and Tavern, in Jackson, NH. This historic, country inn has recently been updated and has its own restaurant and tavern (with live entertainment on the weekends). The polished, antiqued wooden floors and classic decor are reminiscent of another era.
The Saco Curse: Beware the “Curse of the Saco River”. There are various interpretations of this local legend but a common one states that in 1675, Indian Chief Squandro cursed the Saco River after European sailors drowned his pregnant wife and son in the river.
The legend says that Squandro commanded there would be three deaths a year to avenge the deaths of his wife, son and unborn child. In 1947, local newspapers declared the curse had ended, but there are still those who believe. Just in case, the best way to be safe and avoid the curse is to wear a life jacket, respect the river, and not drink alcohol while riding in a canoe.