Paddling Along the Jessup River - and Battling Beaver Dams While We're at it!

Waiting to Run Free and Explore

Since the Jessup River sits on a busy stretch of Route 30, I left Wren in the car while I unloaded the boat and our gear for our paddle last week. Wren patiently watched me hoping I would let her out. Once I had done so she wasted no time in racing to the water to plunge in for a drink. We loaded up and set off downstream toward Indian Lake.

We quickly ducked around the first bend and were immersed in a wilderness along the waterway – as thickets of alders and ranks of spruce and fir lined our way along the stream. The curving stream deposited sandy banks on the inside of one bend after another, and I soon paused on a sandy spot to spish a small flock of birds which were feeding in the alders. Most of them were Yellow-rumped Warblers, Black-capped Chickadees, and Golden-crowned Kinglets, but I quickly found a Northern Parula, Nashville Warbler, and a Common Yellowthroat, as well as a few Red-breasted Nuthatches. Cedar Waxwings hawked insects above us throughout our paddle and a Hairy Woodpecker chattered at my owl calls. Further along the stream a Black-backed Woodpecker called and a pair of Red Crossbills flew overhead, only to fly back with two more crossbills a few minutes later. The Jessup is a paddle known as a place to find birds associated with boreal and coniferous forest.

Northern Parula - Larry
The flock of birds we found included a Northern Parula. Photo courtesy of

A Wilderness Experience

It is also known as a wilderness paddle, and Wren and I soon encountered our first beaver dam a few hundred meters along our route. This excited Wren tremendously as she was now allowed out of the boat. As I dragged it through the thinnest section of the dam she played on the adjoining sandbar and pulled sticks from the dam; It may have looked like she was trying to help me get the boat through the hole, but really she was just playing and getting in my way. We got back in and continued a short distance before stopping again – this time to look at some black bear tracks in a sandbar. I took a few photos before Wren raced through the tracks with her nose to the ground, ruining any further shots. Back in the canoe we continued downstream to the next beaver dam and once again got out to pull the boat through. A few hundred meters later we repeated the process again. And then again. It was a lot of lifting and pulling with my binoculars hanging around my chest.

Black Bear Tracks
We found the tracks of a black bear along one of the sandbars.

Thankfully none of the dams were particularly high or difficult to get through and the water was quite shallow for standing at each of them too. In some cases the water around a dam can be very deep! But I was able to easily pull the boat through each of them while Wren chewed sticks and smelled her way around what the beavers had built. It may have been work for me, but she loved not being stuck in the boat! By this time the boat itself was getting quite wet and sandy and I had to readjust my gear so my camera bag wouldn't be sitting in a puddle. I also knew more liftovers were coming as we still had to do all of them again on our way back to the car.

Wren attacking beaver dam
Wren attacks a beaver dam while I attend to lugging the boat over it.

A Quiet Stretch of River

But the fourth dam was the final one to negotiate on this run and we reached a stretch of river – much to Wren's chagrin - where we could snake our way around the tight turns and downed logs without getting out of the boat - watching birds as we went. Eventually we reached the rocky portion of the stream which blocks any further progress - particularly at current water levels - and we waded briefly to see how far we'd have to carry to boat to float it again. It was too far to make the effort worthwhile and there was too much risk of slipping and getting injured on the rocks while lugging a heavy boat. So I let Wren wade through the water while I took a few photos of a female green frog which seemed to think the rock I was standing on was hers. She didn't seem all that concerned about me or Wren – at least not enough to move away!

Green Frog
We also found a very cooperative green frog.

We finally turned around and cruised through the dam-free portion of the paddle far too quickly. Then it was back to liftover after liftover as Wren seemed to become less interested in getting back into the boat with each repetition of the process. In fact she went swimming one time alongside the boat rather than get in it! Eventually we wound our way back near the car ending with another small mixed flock of warblers and other songbirds. We arrived wet and a bit bedraggled at the take-out, but anyone exploring the Jessup should expect similar treatment by the river - it's part of the fun and adventure. I cleaned up my gear and rinsed out the boat before loading it up. Wren didn't care at all about such things – she just jumped back into the water for another swim. So much for keeping the car clean and dry.

Fall is a great time to go on an outdoor adventure. Check out our lodging and dining pages here!

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