Best of Maine

A Spectator’s Guide to the Kenduskeag Stream Canoe Race

As the last of the snow (finally) melts in the greater Bangor region of Maine, locals and visitors alike will flock to the banks of the Kenduskeag Stream for an annual spring tradition: the Kenduskeag Stream Canoe Race. Hundreds of canoes and kayaks will make the trek down the icy waters from the town of Kenduskeag to where the stream meets the Penobscot River in downtown Bangor.

The annual race is held in the middle of April. (Need a refresher on the race? Check out our Maine 101 guide to the KSCR.)

It’s a lot of fun to watch paddlers navigate the race’s sixteen and a half miles. Whether you want to cheer on participants or be a river vulture (someone who feeds off of the misfortune of those who end up in the water), here are a few tips on where, when, and how to watch.

Where to watch the race

There are a few tried-and-true spots along the race route that are great for spectators. Perhaps the best known is Six Mile Falls, located where Broadway crosses the stream in East Bangor. As the name implies, Six Mile Falls is situated six miles from the end of the stream. By this point in the race, some boats will choose to portage around this set of tricky rapids. Those who choose to navigate them provide a great opportunity for spectators – and it’s no wonder that this is one of the most popular spots to watch along the route.

As racers approach the finish line, there’s one last set of rapids that often catches them by surprise: a stretch of the stream known as Shopping Cart. The rapids in this area provide a unique challenge every year, since water levels and currents are always changing. And fortunately for those on land, there are great views of the stream in this section to watch boats pass. Bring a chair and set up camp anywhere between the Harlow Street and Valley Avenue bridges.

If you’re looking for a more peaceful stretch, the section of the Kenduskeag Stream Trail between Harlow Street and the footbridge is a great spot to enjoy racers celebrating their last mile. (The footbridge itself gives you a unique overhead view!)

Bringing the family? Stop by the parks on Valley Avenue just past the Interstate 95 bridge. You’ll be able to get up close and personal with racers as they portage around the falls at a former mill site. The finish line between State and Washington Street in downtown Bangor is a great place to celebrate the arrival of boats. There’s lots of nearby parking, too!

When to arrive

Crafts begin leaving the town of Kenduskeag at 8:30 a.m. Depending on how the water is flowing, the first racers can reach Six Mile Falls around 10:00 a.m. – the record for finishing the entire race is under two hours! There are hundreds of boats in the race, and you’ll be able to see plenty of boats come through Bangor during the first hours of the afternoon. Arrive early to grab the best spot!

Things to keep in mind

As you’re watching the race, please keep in mind a few tips:

  • Stay out of the way of any race participants and emergency workers. Racers have enough on their minds while they’re portaging; give them room and let them enjoy the race!
  • Be careful on the rocks and banks! Rocks and leaves along the Kenduskeag are often slippery. Please don’t traverse the steep banks if you don’t have proper gear; there are plenty of easier spots closer to the stream to watch. You don’t want to be the one finding out just how cold the water is!
  • Wear layers. The temperature and weather conditions can shift during the day, and there’s nothing worse than having to go back to your car after you’ve found the perfect place to watch.
  • Wear proper footwear. It’s mud season in Maine! Luckily, this good old fashioned Maine event rewards utilitarianism when it comes to clothing.
  • Be considerate to other spectators. The best race is one where everyone is having a good time. Try not to block someone’s view and be mindful of those around you.

The Kenduskeag is one of the most quintessentially Maine events. Whether you’re cheering on a friend or just spending a spring day outdoors, enjoy the race!

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