The Fish River, popular with fishermen and boaters, completes its run north to the St. John River in Fort Kent in a line roughly parallel to Route 11 in Aroostook County, Maine. This portion of the road, beginning at Portage Lake to the south, is the Fish River Scenic Byway. According to a link on the site of the Northern Door Inn, a quiet, clean hotel where we spent a couple nights, locals bring inner tubes to the base of Fish River Falls to float down the approximately four miles to Fort Kent. But even if you don’t have the time or equipment to navigate this stretch, the hike to Fish River Falls is an easy twenty to forty minute round trip with great views.
The Falls, which are listed as a Unique Natural Feature (UNF) in the Maine Atlas and Gazetteer, themselves lie at the end of an approximately half-mile downhill trail originating at a parking area by the Fort Kent Municipal Airport (at the end of Airport Road). Confusingly, their location is listed in the Gazetteer as T14 R8 WELS, the unincorporated township at the source of the Fish River, but the falls themselves are marked as a UNF on the map (page 67) containing Fort Kent. You will see signs for the trail, and (carefully) cross the end of the runway into the woods by a covered picnic table and a toilet facility.
The entire loop is only about 1.2 miles, moving from the central trail up to the falls and down to a portage launch spot below them. On the day we visited, a fly fishing lesson was ongoing at the sheltered table, and we passed several people, including small children, while we were heading down to the falls and on our way back. To spend more time in this pretty spot, pack a lunch, and use the picnic area at the terminus of the trail. The trail winds briefly through pine woods, and over a small stream, reaching the banks of the Fish River.
The falls themselves were impressive, even in a dry early summer, and must rage in the spring thaw. According to a Fort Kent comprehensive use plan on the Maine Department of Agriculture, Conservation, and Forestry (DACF) site, six river drivers were killed running logs through these falls during logging days, and their names are inscribed on a ledge near the falls. While the river driving days are over, we saw a lone, battered kayak pinned to a rock by the torrent, and wondered what the story was behind its abandonment. Unfortunately, other items were left behind, including multiple discarded beer/liquor cans. These did not, however, distract from the sounds of the river, the scent of the evergreens by the trail, and the quiet green meadow by the portage launch at the base of the falls. The Fish River Falls are a wonderful spot, too easily accessible to miss out on when visiting Fort Kent.