If you love beaches and birds – or more specifically, sand and sandpipers – we have a beautiful May paddling option for you – a 6-mile portion of the Saco River between Bog Pond and Swan’s Falls dam in Fryeburg. Our five-hour outing offered the kind of wilderness solitude that will not happen often on the Saco once summer begins. We saw no other people. Go in May, or wait until autumn.

The water level of the Saco is quick to rise after a significant rainfall. We visited after a few days of sun and the water was low enough to expose vast golden-brown sandbars and beaches, perfect for sunning and a quick dip in the clear, refreshing water. The river current is steady so unless you spot a car at the downriver end of your trip, you will be paddling against the current either starting out, or on your return.

We decided to tackle the upriver portion first, taking three hours going up to Swan’s Falls and one hour returning. The benefit of going upriver was that we were going slow enough that we could focus on the beauty around us – the array of spring green colors in the riverside forests, the wisps of clouds forming and dissipating in the deep blue spring sky. The river bends in multiple directions, providing glimpses of the nearby mountains rising above the Saco River basin, including the Twins and the imposing South Baldface in Evans Notch.

A solitary osprey circled the river above us, a chattering kingfisher passed by at eye level, ravens chortled at each other from treetop perches, and a common merganser and six tiny chicks paddled along the shore.

The spotted sandpipers were the showstoppers. They were everywhere. They are one of the hardest-working birds in the bird business, constantly flitting about, examining tidbits in the water. teetering their tails, winging up and down the shoreline displaying their unique intermittent wing beats.

The river bottom is pure sand; the river wide and shallow. The ripples in the sand were mesmerizing. It seemed like we were in a plane 30,000 feet up looking down at terraced escarpments below us.


Within a mile of the falls, two long arcs of eroded sandy bankings appear, each 30 feet high. Downed trees crisscross the slopes, looking like gray pickup sticks. The higher banking has a manicured pine forest peering down over the river with two white chairs strategically positioned high above the river.

The Swan’s Falls dam area is a fine place to hang out before enjoying the down river float back to Bog Pond. A vast field of colorful boulders and ledges dot the foaming waters below the dam. A small islet of sand and ledges sits in the middle. This is a good spot to land and enjoy your lunch.

The put-in at Bog Pond does have a modest challenge. Downed trees have blocked the end of the channel leading into the Saco. You will have to carry your canoe 50 yards up and around the blockage through ferns and scattered trees. Scout along the muddy banking a few yards for the best spot to carefully lower your canoe down to the river. If the current is too much of a battle, just head upriver a quarter-mile to a broad plain of sand on the right near a public campground. You can stay here for hours walking about and lazing in the sun.

Don’t dismiss Bog Pond, either. Enjoy views up the backside of Mount Tom, watch turtles sunning themselves on logs, drift through emerging patches of pickerelweed, and embrace the solitude.

A monument on Jockey Cap features a panoramic landscape compass with visible summits depicted. Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer

Before heading home, be sure to drive down Route 302 to the outskirts of downtown Fryeburg and hike the half-mile trail up to the open summit of Jockey Cap. The effort-to-reward ratio has to be one of the highest in Maine, with views of mountains in all directions, including the East Snowfields of Mount Washington. A marker at the top, dedicated to North Pole explorer Robert E. Peary, identifies a dazzling array of mountains.

Consult the DeLorme Maine Atlas and Gazetteer (map No. 4) for help in getting to the primitive boat launch on Bog Pond via the Menotomy and Bog Pond roads north of Route 302. Note: If you are paddling with friends, you can eliminate all upriver travel by starting at Swan’s Falls and paddling downriver, spotting a vehicle at either the bridge on Route 5 or the bridge on Route 302.

Michael Perry is the former director of the L.L. Bean Outdoor Discovery Schools, and founder of Dreams Unlimited, specializing in inspiring outdoor slide programs for civic groups, businesses, and schools. Contact: michaelj_perry@comcast.net

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