While the St. George is one of the easier whitewater rivers in mid-coast Maine, the difficulty level varies sharply depending on the flow. Although there are sections of flatwater and Class I whitewater, the Robbins Mills Rapids and Magog Rapids can offer large waves and significant challenge, depending on the water level. Beginning and intermediate paddlers should make sure to be properly equipped and that skills match water conditions. Especially when water temperatures are cold, those paddling the river for the first time should seek to join more experienced paddlers. Even those with experience on the river need to be aware of new blowdowns, which may create strainers at critical places on this relatively narrow river.
The St. George River Race starts on the north side of the ME-131 bridge in Searsmont. The river here is narrow, slow moving, and with tight turns. Beaver dams can provide additional obstacles. Several hundred yards from the start, the river volume is supplemented by the West Branch of the St. George. For the next two miles, the river is relatively deep, winding flatwater with a few tight turns and occasional obstacles created by downed trees.
About two miles in, a few boulders in mid-stream of a long straightaway signal the end of the flatwater and the beginning of a one-mile plus stretch of whitewater. (These boulders may be submerged at higher flows, in which case you will hear the river plenty of time in advance.) Once past a final straight stretch of flatwater, the river turns to the left and enters the first rapid. At low and medium levels, most paddlers enter this rapid (Class I-II at this point) near the center and work toward the left shore, remaining at least 20 – 30 off the left shore. Here the river narrows to Class II-III, marked by standing waves and boulders. After passing a series of boulders in river center (these may be submerged at higher flows), most paddlers work their way aggressively to river right. Above the Ghent Road bridge, at the site of the old Robbins Mill, a Class II-III drop can be run on the far right or (more technical at medium and high levels) down the middle.
Once past the bridge, paddlers can dodge rocks down the middle and finish on the left side of the wave train or, for a drier route, work your way along the left shore. Once through the wave train and around the hairpin turn to the right, the river is “read and run” Class I and II for nearly a mile. At low and medium water, most paddlers prefer routes at center and right of center. At high water, this stretch of river becomes less technical as most of the rocks are well-submerged. About one-half mile past the bridge, the river tumbles over The Rooster Tail, a river-wide ledge with large boulders on river left. At medium and high water, this can be run on river right. At lower levels, the least scratchy route may be to approach straight toward the left-hand boulder and then curl around to the right. Below the ledge, several large boulders divide the river and the river becomes shallower. Most paddlers keep toward the left shore. The river makes several sweeping turns and then reverts to flatwater.
After about half a mile of paddling with occasional riffles and turns, you will approach Magog Rapid, a Class II-III drop at most water levels. This drop can be scouted from the right bank. You can take out in a low area, just upstream from the drop. This old dam / mill site is best run just left of center. At higher flows, the drop may be washed out. Once past Magog, the river winds another mile or so through a marshland to the ME-105 bridge at the end of the race/route. Watch for strong currents on the turns and occasional sleeper rocks that could upset your watercraft. Most approach the finish left of center and then dig aggressively to get over to the right shore to the take-out. If you miss the first take-out, you can continue a few hundred yards through a fun Class II and take out on the right shore. A tote road leads back to the parking lot.
Flow information: There is no river gage on the St. George, but the flow of the Ducktrap River, about 10 miles away, is a good indicator. Generally if the Ducktrap Gage is above 100 cfs, the level will be at least medium on the St. George. At the Searsmont put-in, if the water is flooded halfway to all the way back to the parking lot, the water level is high. Above that, the river may be flooded and too high to run. Use caution.
The St. George River Race is, by tradition, the season-opening whitewater river race in Maine. Sponsored by the Waldo County YMCA, this annual race has been a rite of spring since the 1970s. The St. George is known to be open and free of ice before nearby rivers such as the Passagassawakeag, Sheepscot, Souadabscook, and Kenduskeag. The St. George River has a long history of European settlement, beginning as early as 1605 and is featured in the historical novel, Come Spring, which depicts the early settlement of the region. The St. George River Land Trust promotes stewardship of the river through their work and through the St. George River Canoe Trail (click for more information and a map of the entire river). This video provides a sense of the first part of the river as well as of the sections above and below the Ghent Road Bridge.
Information on this paddling route is provided by the Maine Canoe & Kayak Racing Organization (MaCKRO). MaCKRO promotes paddling & racing for paddlers of all ages and abilities throughout Maine and New England. Join MaCKRO to help expand the sport of racing canoes, kayaks, and SUPs.
This section of the St. George River begins near downtown Searsmont and ends 5.5 miles to the south at the ME-105 bridge in Appleton. Put in near the ME-131 bridge 100 yards west of the US Post Office and 200 yards east of the Fraternity Village Store. A dirt lot east of the river provides plenty of parking and easy access to the river. The Ghent Road Bridge, about 2.5 miles into the trip, provides an alternative put-in or emergency take-out, although access is difficult due to the steep riverbank. The normal take-out is 3 miles farther down the river on the right, just after passing beneath the ME-105 bridge. Parking is available in a dirt lot just uphill from the take-out.
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