The Travelin Maine(rs), George and Linda Smith of Mount Vernon, have spent their lifetimes enjoying all that Maine has to offer. Now they’ll tell you all about it — their favorite inns, restaurants, trips, activities, experiences, and travel books and websites — in their own personal style. They’ll be offering anecdotes, tips and all the details you need. So join them in exploring, experiencing and enjoying the great state of Maine.

 

The Kennebec river that flows through Skowhegan, Waterville, Augusta, and Gardiner starts its journey just north of the Forks where it passes through an amazing gorge. You really must see it.

The journey to the Forks from anywhere in central Maine will take you no more than 1 1/2 hours on a scenic highway and deliver you to Northern Outdoors, Maine’s first rafting company and now a sprawling resort of log buildings with all the amenities and luxuries you seek in a vacation.

In a two-day, one-night adventure a few weeks ago, we spent a half day fishing, a whole day rafting, enjoyed delicious meals and a very nice cabin, toured a brewery, got to know some great people, and learned a lot about this interesting region of Maine.

George

I first rafted the Kennebec River gorge over 30 years ago and Suzie Hockmeyer was my guide. It was a trip I’ve never forgotten and I’ve been trying to get Linda to try it ever since. Today, Northern Outdoors — co-owned by Hockmeyer and Russell Walters — is still known for its rafting trips but the business has diversified into a year-round resort offering every kind of outdoor experience including snowmobiling, ATV riding, fishing and hunting.

They’ve got accommodations for every taste, with 250 beds nestled in gorgeous cabins and another 150 in outdoor venues included hardened tents right on the river. The pool, hot tub and game room were always in use.

Downstairs in Northern’s lodge is the Kennebec River Brewery, where owner Jim Yearwood and manager Mike McConnell craft 5,500 gallons of exceptional beer each year, all of it consumed on the premises.

I’ve never forgotten the tasty Porter I enjoyed the first year the brewery opened, and I was pleased to discover they’ve actually improved it by adding a smoky taste. It’s got a fairly high alcohol level, so it’s best to walk from your cabin to the lodge to imbibe!

I’ve fished with him before and can report from experience that Chris Russell of Caratunk is one of Maine’s top guides. Although he takes his clients anyplace there’s fish to catch, the name of his business, Kennebec River Angler, makes it clear where his favorite water is.

Our half-day float-and-fish trip on the Kennebec started in the Forks, a scenic stretch that reminds me of some of my favorite Montana rivers. We had a great time, caught three species of fish and introduced Linda to drift boat fishing. She loved it.

She also loved Chris’s 3 wt. Sage Flight rod and Ross Evolution Reel with sharkskin line. That may cost me a lot of money.

 

Linda

Summer in Maine — is there really any better place to spend the summer? Not for me, and I want to be outside enjoying every minute of it. Gardening, taking walks and even mowing the lawn makes me happy because I’m outside. Now, these sound like chores to George, so he tries to take me away to do fun things.

People often ask if I fish. Everyone knows how obsessive George can be about fishing. So the answer is yes, I do fish. But truthfully, it involves a lot of help. So a half-day guided fishing trip down the Kennebec sounded good to me. I couldn’t quite picture a drift boat, and when he explained it was rubber, I was a little concerned. I shouldn’t have worried.

Picture a perfect summer day, an expert guide paddling us down river in a very comfy raft. As I sat upon my swivel chair at the front of the raft taking in the beauty of this stretch of river, I thought this is about as good as it gets. My very patient guide, Chris Russell, set me up with a top-of-the line fishing rod, took out the tangles in my line whenever they’d occur, netted my fish and then released them. Now, this is fishing at its finest!

I have always refused to go whitewater rafting. George is the adventurous one and his stories over the years have made me cautious. So when he told me we were all set to go rafting while we were at Northern Outdoors, I was apprehensive, to say the least.

I took the seat at the back of the raft, tightened my life vest really well and took a leap of faith that my guide Mike McConnell knew what he was doing. And, of course, he did. Experiencing the rushing river for the first time was something I’ll never forget. With my heart pounding, paddling hard, whitewater rushing towards me — I was exhilarated. This is outdoors in Maine at its best. I’d do it again in a heartbeat!

Our beautiful cabin for two at Northern Outdoors was set on a hill in back of the main lodge. It was about 20 degrees cooler in the shady woods. The cabins are immaculate, and included a well-equipped kitchen with a grill outside.

We ate our meals at the lodge for the two days we were there. The menu is mostly pub fare, which goes nicely with the on-premises brewery. After a morning of fishing out in the hot sun, we were really hungry. My chicken quesadilla included mushrooms, roasted peppers and lots of cheese. It was great. The delicious burgers were huge, (half-pounders), and are served with what I deemed the best sweet potato fries I’ve ever tasted . Crisp, and not at all greasy.

I had the dinner special that night — jambalaya, a spicy pasta dish that included both shrimp and chicken. I also tried the Northern Salad — all kinds of fruit and vegetables made this a perfect choice for a hot evening. I split both the salad and the entree with Susie Hockmeyer, and it’s a good thing — portions here are very large. The service is great and you have the option to dine inside or outside on the large deck.

George’s choice that night was grilled sockeye salmon. (I’m sure he was remembering the beautiful salmon that gave him a fight earlier in the day.) He said the glaze was delicious.

The folks here really know how to accommodate the crowds of people they get arriving early in the morning for rafting. A couple of large groups arrived at breakfast when we did, but everyone was served in a very short time. Their breakfast buffet included crisp bacon, scrambled eggs, deep-fried potatoes (yum!), bagels, yogurt, granola and lots of very fresh fruit.

We found all of the prices very reasonable.

Conclusion

This was another of our fabulous mini-vacations — but a week here would be just the ticket to all that the region has to offer. And be sure to raft the gorge!

Visit George’s website: www.georgesmithmaine.com for travel tips, book reviews, outdoor news and more.

Augusta and Waterville news

Get news and events from your towns in your inbox every Friday.


  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.