The vast majority of rivers in the United States flow south—not so the twin rivers of the Allagash Wilderness Waterway, the Allagash  and St. John , which have their headwaters west of Katahdin and flow a hundred miles north into Canada. Along the way, they pass through vast stretches of wilderness without roads, making a trip upriver the wildest experience in New England. Other rivers in the region might have more gnarly rapids, but nowhere east of the Mississippi will you be able to find a more wilderness paddling experience than the stretches of the Upper St. John.
Of course, that wildness is an illusion. The rivers’ watersheds are the property of paper companies—and even today it’s possible to hear the drone of a saw in the distance as you paddle. But by long-standing agreement, the companies have left hundreds of feet on either side of the river untrammeled.
At night when the trucks go home and the sky is dense with stars, you can imagine what it was like in New England when only moose and indigenous people roamed among the pines.
The Allagash Wilderness Waterway is operated by the northern headquarters of the state of Maine’s Bureau of Parks and Lands (207/941-4014, www.maine.gov ), which has lots of useful information for paddlers on its website, including a Natural History Guide to the river’s flora, fauna, and geology in PDF format.
The land around the St. John River is managed by North Maine Woods (207/435-6213, www.northmainewoods.org ), a nonprofit consortium, which produces a handy booklet, Pocket Guide for the Canoeist on the St. John River, available at the road checkpoint for $3. Another essential map is the fold-out Allagash & St. John, produced by DeLorme Mapping and available at outdoors stores and supermarkets throughout the area.