NORTH FORK OF THE FLAMBEAU RIVER
HOW LONG: Five days, 45 miles
WHEN TO GO: May to September
RAPIDS REQUIRE both flow and gradient, two things hard to come by in the Midwest. So the Flambeau's five days of solitude and summer-long whitewater are no small wonder. If you're still not impressed, consider that early last century, the Flambeau was a wood highway, as Paul Bunyan types filled this and other Chippewa River tributaries with millions of logs a year. Now that the 90,000-acre Flambeau River State Forest has returned to health, it's a perfect paddle tour, with a 300-foot buffer of pine, birch, and maple between you and civilization. Launch from the campground at the folksy Nine-Mile Tavern. You'll start in flatwater but pick up the pace during the next 45 miles, ending with a slew of technical but easily navigable Class II rapids near the take-out at the Flambeau River Lodge. Along the way, commune with deer, eagles, and, after a few fireside toddies, a rare giant blue ox measuring 42 ax handles across the shoulders. »OUTFITTER: There are no commercial operations on the Flambeau; do-it-yourself is the only way to go. »DIY: You don't need a permit, and camping is free. The Nine-Mile Tavern rents canoes for $20 per day and runs a shuttle from the take-out at Flambeau River Lodge back to the Tavern for $60 for up to 14 people and their boats (715-762-3174, www.parkfalls.com/9mile).
HOW LONG: Five days, 50 miles
WHEN TO GO: June to September
IN LATE SUMMER, WHEN NEW YORK and Boston are stifling, make like Henry David Thoreau and head to the Maine woods, where the brook trout are hungry, the blackflies absent, and the night breezes soporific. "Wherever there is a channel for water, there is a road for the canoe," Thoreau wrote of the Allagash, his favorite watery Maine highway. The road turns bumpy north of Churchill Dam, where, for 50 miles downstream to Allagash Village, you'll enjoy intermittent and user-friendly Class II. The canoe-swamping Chase Rapids are just past the put-in, but a friendly Allagash Waterway Park ranger can shuttle your dry gear so you don't end up with a sopping sleeping bag. That hurdle dispensed with, you'll float 45 Wild and Scenic miles through the North Maine Woods management area, 3.5 million multiple-use acres of cedar, spruce, and maple forest, with one portage around 40-foot Allagash Falls. Though Thoreau never made it to the tannic waters beyond Churchill Dam, aspiring transcendentalists can. The Maine Woods: Part 2, anyone? »OUTFITTER: Nicatou Outfitters offers a five-day paddle for $630, including meals, canoe, gear, and transportation (866-746-3253, www.mainecampingtrips.com). »DIY: You don't need a permit, but the North Maine Woods management area charges a $16 usage fee (207-435-6213, www.northmainewoods.org) and a $5-per-person-per-night camping fee. Arm yourself with longtime guide Gil Gilpatrick's The Allagash Guide ($12; 207-453-6959, www.gilgilpatrick.com) and make another call to Nicatou Outfitters. They also set up independent trips, providing canoe rental, food, and camping gear for $485 per person for five days. For an additional $160, they'll shuttle you the 60 miles back and forth from the Bangor airport.
NORTH FORK OF THE FLAMBEAU RIVER