Moosehead Lake is one of Maine's greatest natural wonders. Located on the southern edge of the expansive North Woods, it is the largest alpine lake in the East. Moosehead is still one of the most wild and untouched wildernesses of the Northeast.
|Moosehead Lake and the Great North Woods of Maine|
Before traveling out to Moosehead Lake for the long weekend, I had gone an unbelievable four weeks without tramping into the woods. That must be a record for me. After all, when you're an outdoorsman living in Maine, you're about as happy and active as a surfer living in Hawaii. But these last for weeks of wilderness-less-ness have been a testament to how stressful they have been. Personally, I don't think its very healthy for me to go that long without something- even a day hike will help me feel recharged. So when the Veteran's Day weekend hit and I thankfully had no work nor major tests to prepare for, I went to one of the greatest wilds I haven't been to yet- the North Woods.
I've been meaning to get up to Moosehead since about the time I moved to Maine. A large, majestic lake surrounded by Appalachian Mountains and the endless northeastern forests sounded better than a tropical beach to me. My plan was to spend two days hiking and two days kayaking.
|Greenville Maine, the last stop before the North Woods!|
I think they thought I was a bit of a nut when I walked into Northwoods Outfitters
and asked if they still rented touring kayaks in November. After all, the lake temperature and air temperature were probably in the 30s and the winter wind wasn't helping either, so I don't blame them! But I was serious and experienced. I also rented a tracking GPS just in case I got into real trouble. Shortly thereafter, I was casting off of the Greenville docks and headed North!
The lake was especially windy and choppy but that did not deter the adventure and scenery. Off to my left was Big Moose Mountain which towered 2,000ft above the lake. To the right were the seaplane docks and hunting camps along the shores of the lake. In front of me were the hundreds of islands which dot the lake, some as large as a town and others supporting just a tree or two. It actually felt like I was kayaking across the Maine Island Trail but without the lobster boats and currents!
Although there were no currents, it was cold... very cold. I was glad I brought a wetsuit and dry clothes. I had to land on a couple of islands just to warm myself up and take a break from kayaking into the wind. So in some ways it was more difficult than kayaking on the ocean but at least I did not have to deal with tides.
One of the more delightful aspects of the trip was kayaking through the several archipelagos on the lake. From a general map of the area, only the large islands are marked but I discovered that there are hundreds of smaller islands that are spread across the lake. They offered a nice respite from the wind and it was fun to poke around their shores. I would have been content with a day trip of just island hopping.
|Small islands everywhere!|
Crossing Sandy Bay was difficult and coming between Moose Island and Burnt Jacket Point, about halfway through the trip, were very windy and exposed. Massive cliffs on the shore took my mind off the rough paddle but it was slow going nonetheless. After rounding Burnt Jacket Point, I made a second difficult crossing of Beaver Cove. I found out from one of the locals that this is a particularly difficult section as the surrounding topography tends to funnel the wind though the cove. I got a little soaked coming through there! But once I was on the other side I had a fantastic view of the sun setting over the tops of Katahdin and Baxter State Park.
At about that time, it was 3:30 and the sun was already low in the sky so I looked for a suitable campsite. Lily Bay State Parks was not far off and I found a great landing with a gorgeous view of the lake and Big Moose Mountain. Perfect spot for a camp! I pulled the boat out and quickly set up a tent to warm up.
|Wonderful spot for a camp! The far mountain is Big Moose Mountain|
That evening I popped my head outside of the tent and was rewarded with one of the greatest sights I've ever seen- a completely uninhibited night sky. It was a new moon over northern Maine in November and there was not even the distant lights of a logging truck or hunter's camp to interrupt the brilliance of the stars. I've only seen this clear of a sky in parts of Utah, the Sierra Nevada of California and northern Minnesota. The Milky Way stretched across the sky like a silver rainbow and the evening star was reflecting perfectly off of the calm water. What an incredible and rare sight! I took off along the shore and took in the frigid view!
|Kayaking Moosehead in the early winter!|
The next day held completely different weather. Not only was the wind blowing at the same speed in the opposite direction, there was also some freezing rain. Good thing I brought the wetsuit. When I was paddling hard into the wind, I was able to stay warm but it was still difficult. The same crossings and same channels were just as hard with the wind and chop. Nevertheless, I enjoyed the trip- its not often I'm able to get this much quietude and solitude.
I think that's one of the things I love the most about Maine- if you drive into Portland or two hours South to Boston, you can enjoy some of the finer things about East Coast cities- all the good food, art, history, nightlife, culture, people ect. But if you get tired of that, you can just drive two or three hours North and be completely alone save for the wildlife. I'm no recluse and I'm not a hermit but I love spending time alone in the wild. The abundant solitude is delightful. Its nice to know that in a state like Maine, there will always be a half million acres of land for anyone, be it a Mainer or someone "from away" to get out and enjoy some fresh air and time in the wild. Thank God for that!
|Kayaking along Sugar Island, Moosehead Lake|
So I pulled into Greenville in the afternoon and promptly warmed myself up with some coffee and dry clothes. Despite the cold and constant struggle against the wind, the trip was serene and rejuvenating. It reminded me that I can't stay away from these places for too long- its just plain unhealthy! But it wasn't the end to my Moosehead Travels- I was able to climb Big Moose Mountain and drive all along the shore up to Rockwood. I think I might have found my favorite place in Maine
Looking at the maps, I suppose I was technically just skirting around Maine's Public Reserve Lands but it all felt the same to me. There are some excellent resources if you would like to travel through the North Woods. The website and map for Maine's Public Reserve Lands
is very useful. Simply by chance, I picked up a copy of Tom Hanrahan's guide to the public lands, Your Maine Lands: Reflections of a Maine Guide
, which was filled with practical advice and plenty of good reasons to head up here.
|Sunset on Moosehead Lake from the summit of Big Moose Mountain|
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