A Family Adventure

Tyson, Emilie & Isaac

North Richardson Lake Kayak Camping

September 4, 2015
Emilie Phillips

My parents drove up for Labor Day weekend and we all went kayak camping on Lake Richardson in Maine.

Lake Richardson is just upstream of Lake Umbagog on the Northern Forest Canoe Trail and part of the Maine public lands. My parents did almost all the planning. For simplicity, they reserved one campsite for all three nights. We drove to the north end of Lake Richardson, called up South Arm Campground to check in before we lost cell phone access in northern NH, stuffed 4 days of gear in the boats, and paddled off into a surprisingly remote lake.


Friday, we only had a half day to paddle from the car to the campsite, so we headed straight for the site. The instructions said to expect signs at each campsite. Our map only showed an approximate area for our site. Not knowing what the signs might look like, we tucked in close to shore. Eventually we spotted a small white sign. It was for Red Pines, a half mile north of our campsite. A while later we found our campsite, much to our relief. We had only paddled 5 miles, but that was plenty with heavily laden kayaks and a cranky toddler who had skipped his nap.

Car camping tent

Car camping tent

We carried provisions for an opulent campsite. We brought the big car camping tent, and amazingly found a root free spot to pitch it. My Dad paddled his Delta 17 with hatches big enough for a full car camping stove. And my Mom prepared a menu with fresh vegetables, frozen chicken, and daily pancakes. The one downside of the campsite was the pit toilet. The plywood floor was rotted and sagged alarmingly for me and terrifyingly for Tyson. The campsite was up on a bluff overlooking a rocky beach. During the night, the loons serenaded us.


Morning fog

Morning fog

Saturday we headed out to explore the lake. The morning started with thick fog over the lake but soon turned to bright sun. We struck out for the eastern shore to explore the streams and inlets on that side. Our campsite overlooked a typical rocky Maine beach. The east shore, on the other hand, was mostly sand. It also seemed a lot more popular. We saw some motorboats out on the water and lots of people relaxing on the beaches.

The glasses are down there

The glasses are down there

For the heck of it, my Dad decided to try a roll in his Delta to see if he remembered how to roll a large boat after several years paddling a Greenland skin on frame. He missed the first attempt, got the second one, and then discovered his glasses were missing. We all searched up and down the beach in 8 feet of clear water, hoping to find them. Miraculously Tyson spotted them on the bottom, and Dad swam down to get them.

The streams and inlets we discovered were rather disappointing and puzzling. None of them had water flowing in, and most had significant exposed mud flats. The puzzling part was they looked almost tidal. The mud flats and pools in the sand looked like they had just recently been exposed.

Red Champ

Red Champ

We saw plenty of loons, one heron, a few unidentified duck like things, a few gulls, and a bald eagle. We also saw plenty of float planes taking off from neighboring lake Mooselookmeguntic. One red Champ in particular kept flying tours overhead.

The only downside to that day was Isaac failed to nap in the kayak and turned into a royal grump. I hurried back to camp to get him into the tent for a proper nap.


The third day again dawned with thick fog over the lake. We decided to look for streams and inlets north of camp. Getting into our boats, we all agreed that the rocks near camp were covered by less water than the night before. Both Lake Richardson and Lake Mooselookmeguntic upstream are dam controlled, so we wondered if they were reserving more water in Mooselookmeguntic or letting more flow down to Lake Umbagog for economic reasons. But if the water was dropping that fast, it might explain why the shoreline looked tidal.

Pectinatella Magnifica

Pectinatella Magnifica

Paddling north we again saw loons and gulls. The loons let us approach fairly close, but not quite close enough to get a good photo. The first cove we checked out was labeled cranberry bog on the map. Almost the whole cove had drained of water. The bushes were above the water, surrounded by mud flats. The mud was thick with decaying logs and old stumps from before Lake Richardson was dammed. We meandered up the remaining water in the main channel. There were little yellow flowers that floated above the surface and large brain looking things that we first thought were egg sacks. We poked at them and found them firm with a slimy surface. On closer inspection, they didn’t quite seem to be egg sacks. We took a bunch of pictures and looked them up on the Internet when we got home. They are colony invertebrates called Pectinatella Magnifica.

While taking pictures of the Pectinatella Magnifica, Tyson dropped his camera into the water and it sank out of sight in the muck. He figured it was gone for good, but after finding Dad’s glasses the previous day, he figured he had to at least try. This time he couldn’t look for it, instead he groped around in the mud feeling for the camera. Tyson had just about given up when Mom suggested searching slightly upwind. He found the camera within a few sweeps. We decided we really aught to stop dropping things even if we were having miraculous luck finding them.

Other canoeists sinking in the mud

Other canoeists sinking in the mud

Mom, Tyson and I decided to see how far we could navigate up through the mud and logs. We dead ended at three large logs and scrambled up onto land. We picked a couple blueberries and some unripe cranberries. Then we headed back out. But first we had to wait for two people in a canoe who were also adventuring up the stream remnants. One of their paddlers jumped out to turn the canoe around. He sank up to his waist in mud. We had found that you had to balance on the slick logs floating on the top of the mud, or sink into bottomless goop. We turned our boats around without incident and paddled back to my Dad who had avoided our extra adventure.


At the entrance to cranberry bog, there was a nice little island where we stopped to have lunch. We found a whole bunch of cranberries, and enough ripe ones to bother picking for later. After lunch, Isaac took a nap in the kayak, and I, finally, got to enjoy the silence and distant views across the lake. There were a few power boats on the other side, but we could not hear them, and their wakes took minutes to reach us. Loons greeted us with an occasional warble. We passed one small island with a giant rambling house that had grown over the entire island. It looked truly New England farmhouse with weathered shingles and years of incremental additions. But it’s size contrasted with the little island on a remote lake. It even had what looked like a three stall carriage garage.

From there we finally found one inlet that we could paddle up — Beaver Creek. It was pretty nondescript. There was more private property at this corner of the lake. The stream ended at a rock fall that was probably a lively waterfall in the spring. With our goal reached, we turned around and paddled the long way home. 12 miles total.


Fresh cranberry sauce and pancakes

Fresh cranberry sauce and pancakes

Monday we packed up camp and headed back to civilization. This morning dawned a lot warmer than the others, and no fog on the lake. Dad cooked the cranberries we picked the previous day and maple syrup into tasty sauce for the pancakes. We wanted to get back to the car early, so we only took one detour on the way back. As we paddled across the lake, the wind picked up and whipped up chop on the lake. Tyson and I tried to surf it, but the chop had a short period and came from all directions.


We paddled up to the dam from Lake Mooselookmeguntic. I pulled up the rudder in the Bullitt to avoid the rocks. Between the wind and current coming from the dam, I really wished I had someone to do a bow rudder up front — a few more years until Isaac can help. We stopped to admire the construction on the dam. It looked like they were building an entire new dam. Tyson paddled up the quick water section for some fun.

After that, it was just a long slog upwind back to the car. Isaac kicked his feet up and relaxed until he turned grumpy from us putting off lunch too long. The rest of us postponed our grumps for back at the car. We made it to a general store for a 3pm lunch and ice cream.

32 miles total. Nice weather. And 4 days out away from civilization.


Trip Planning

We found lake Richardson from the Maine department of concervation list of backcountry camping destinations. They list a bunch of other destinations worth checking out.

Reservations for the campsites are through South Arm Campsite.


We chose our high volume boats for this trip since we wanted a well stocked camp and we did not plan on long days with the toddler. Dad’s Delta 17 is the highest volume solo the 4 of us own, and it has large hatches which fit the camp stove. The Bullitt tandem is obligatory to haul the toddler. It is sort of silly to use a racing tandem as the toddler minivan, but it is the only tandem we have. Unloaded, it was really easy to paddle solo. Also, it doesn’t have a front bulkhead which makes it easy to stuff the large tent into it. We brought Tyson’s Anas Acuta for me to paddle rather than my Tahe because it carries more gear, and Tyson can also paddle it. After the first day paddling the Bullitt, Tyson declared his hamstrings had enough, so it was good that we brought the bigger boat for him to swap into. Mom ended up in our Avocet. It is the largest of our small people boats and they didn’t have enough roof rack space to bring her other kayak up from Virginia. We probably should have put her in the Tahe Greenland. We could have managed with a little less cargo capacity, and she would have done better in the wind.


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