Chamberlain Lake is the typical starting point for an Allagash Wilderness Waterway (AWW) trip, but if you enter Chamberlain Lake from Allagash Lake you will pass by the remnants of the old Eagle Lake and West Branch railroad bridge. Chamberlain is a long narrow lake with a handful of camps and a ranger station at its southern end and what is left of Chamberlain Farm from the early logging days. This is also where Henry David Thoreau would enter the Allagash via Mud Pond carry (an entirely different way to access the waterway and a week long trip in itself). Allagash trips that begin here at Chamberlain start off an improved gravel road that takes you directly to a nice boat launch in the Chamberlain/Telos Lake thoroughfare.
Regardless of how an Allagash trip begins, everyone continuing through Chamberlain must portage the old lock dam on the northeastern side of the lake. It is not a difficult portage, especially if there is plenty of water in the short stream from the dam to Eagle Lake. Lock dam is an interesting spot to explore as there are remnants from the old lock system. On the Eagle Lake side, the lock would be lowered to allow logs to move in. That side would then raise up as the Chamberlain Lake side was lowered, allowing the logs to flow into Chamberlain Lake. From there they could be floated down to Telos Dam, into the Penobscot watershed down to the awaiting sawmills in Bangor.
I typically start my Allagash trips at Indian Stream into Eagle Lake, bypassing Chamberlain altogether. Chamberlain Lake is angled directly into the prevailing Northwest winds and can get quite rough in a canoe. Indian Stream is about a third of a mile from the launch to Eagle Lake and a fun way to start the trip, especially if water levels are good. It is a beautiful small stream and opens into a gorgeous cove that often have a number of rising brook trout ready to take a blue winged olive or caddis.
Once into Eagle Lake, it is a short paddle to historic Pillsbury Island, the furthest point Thoreau ever made it into the Allagash. There is a set of campsites on the northwest side of the island called Thoreau campsites, one of my favorite spots to stay for a night. The narrow and deep section of lake between the island and mainland is great brook trout fishing. From Pillsbury Island, it is a couple mile paddle up to the north/northwest to the “Ghost Trains,” the two massive steam engine trains used to move timber from Eagle Lake to Chamberlain Lake after the lock dam was no longer utilized. The trains were left there in the 1920’s once road expansion and the improving technology of vehicles started making their way into the North Maine Woods. From the trains, it is a 13 mile paddle through Round Pond, Churchill Lake, and finally Heron Lake before reaching Churchill Dam/Depot.