The Maine Woods Regions

The Maine Woods, the general name for Northern Maine, is steeped in history and lore.  The name was initially bestowed on this region by the early trappers, hunters and lumbermen who first ventured into this thickly-forested realm.  However, it was author and traveller Henry David Thoreau who immortalized the name in print in his two articles, “Chesuncook” and “Katahdin,” which, after his death, were merged into one book entitled “The Maine Woods.”  This name stands today to represent the forest which spans from the New Hampshire border to Fort Kent and Down East into Washington County.   The forty-fifth parallel serves as a general line of distinction in Maine.  Below that line most towns are incorporated, while above it most are not, with the exception of the towns along the New Brunswick border in Washington and Aroostook Counties, and a few frontier towns such as Rangeley, Jackman, Greenville, and Millinocket, as well as a string of towns along Route 11 in the interior of Aroostook County – Patten, Ashland and Eagle Lake and Fort Kent.The regions of Maine are not always distinctly separate from each other, often overlapping into other regions, but are generally have names which cover large areas.   Western Maine is basically the drainage area of the Androscoggin River, which starts in Rangeley Lake and picks up waters of the Kennebago, Cupsuptic and Magalloway Rivers.    While Lakes Umbagog, Aziscohos and Parmachenee are often referred to as part of the Rangeley Lakes, historically the settlements along the Magalloway had limited connection with Rangeley, tending to obtain supplies, mail and sportsmen through Bethel and Errol, New Hampshire.   The Rangeley Lakes, which include Kennebago and the Seven Ponds region, are hemmed in by the Boundary Mountains in the north and the Saddleback Range in the east.

East of the Rangeley region are the headwaters of the Kennebec River, which is generally separated into three sections – the Dead River Valley, the Upper Kennebec Valley, and the Moose River Valley.  The waters of these rivers all eventually join together and flow south to the Atlantic Ocean.  These sections were all accessed by stage coach in the early days; the stage left Anson for the Dead River Valley and another headed up the Canada Road from Bingham to Moose River Plantation.

While Moosehead Lake is with the Kennebec River watershed, its mere size gives it the distinction of a separate region.  The Piscataquis Region, which lies east of Moosehead, includes the watersheds of the Piscataquis and Pleasant Rivers, a forest dotted with lakes and ponds.  In the early days lumbermen and sportsmen reached these trout-filled ponds from several access points.  The Wilson Ponds were reached via Greenville, the Lake Onawa section by way of Monson, the middle section by Katahdin Iron Works and the upper ponds, such as the Debsconeag Lakes, Nahmakanta and Rainbow Lakes by way of the West Branch of the Penobscot River.

The West Branch and East Branches of the Penobscot cover an even larger area.  The West Branch starts at the Canadian border above Jackman in Western Maine, and flows generally east to meet the East Branch at Medway.  This region includes all the ponds and streams around Penobscot Lake, around Katahdin, and the Schoodic and Sebois Lakes.  It also includes Chesuncook Lake, Maine’s third largest lake.

Northern Maine is the largest region of the Maine Woods including the upper sections of Somerset, Piscataquis and all of Aroostook County.  It included the drainage of the St. John River, including the Allagash, Fish and Aroostook Rivers and is covered with many lakes and ponds.

The last region which is part of the Maine Woods is the region of Washington County, known as Down East.  This includes the Grand Lake Watershed and the St. Croix Watershed, which forms the easter border with Canada.