Paddling Moosehead, Maine’s Other Coast

It had been 34 years since I had visited the Maine’s Moosehead Lake region, and if it is a bit more developed, it is no less magnificent — and still provides plenty of opportunity for the experience of wilderness. We were in Moosehead for four days around the 4th of July, which was barely enough time to scratch the surface of what the area has to offer in terms of paddling, hiking, fishing, and more.

I spent time before, during, and after the trip studying maps and refreshing my knowledge of the facts. Moosehead is not just the largest lake in Maine. Among states east of the Mississippi, it is the largest lake enclosed within any single state. Period.

Moosehead has a north-south length of 35 miles, an area of 120 square miles, and shoreline length of 400 miles. The long and short of it is that it offers enough adventure to fill a lifetime for most paddlers, fisherman, and outdoorsmen.

Driving through Greenville or on the surrounding roads, paddlers and fisherman will have the sense that they are members of a brotherhood or sisterhood. Every second car, it seems, has either a kayak or canoe on the roof (and the hull is still wet.)

We arrived on the evening of July 2 and were able to get one of the few nonreservable campsites at Lily Bay State Park. There were a few other sites available, but we felt very lucky, at that late date, to get a site right on the water.

From our campsite, we could launch our kayaks and paddle west across Lowell Cove and around the following point for spectacular views of Big Moose (formerly Squaw) Mountain. Or we could paddle east into Matthews Cove with its many islands and inlets, and grand views of Mt. Kineo. We had thought about paddling out to Sugar Island, which sits just a mile offshore from the Lily Bay Campground and offers several campsites, but decided to save that for another trip.

The lake elevation of 1,023 feet above sea level means cool nights, even in summer. My summer-weight sleeping bag proved a bit on the lean side on at least one of the nights. And the combination of cold and modest elevation made my small white gas stove difficult to operate.

The easy thing to forget, until you go there, is that Moosehead is just one lake in a region of 1,200 lakes and ponds. The region can brag about having 24% of Maine’s total area in lakes and ponds, most of them underappreciated, since Moosehead is the big draw for the average tourist.

We spent our last day in the region paddling Prong Pond and taking a brief side trip to Lower Wilson Pond. Both ponds were equally beautiful as Moosehead, and seemed equally rich in fish and wildlife.

We saw deer each of the 4 days in the region, and saw Moose on a pond off Route 15, just as we were leaving the area on Saturday evening.

I enjoyed thinking about the Moosehead area as what was for Native Americans, the beginning of their highway to the coast, as the region contains the headwaters of the Penobscot, Kennebec Rivers, Piscataquis, Pleasant, and St. John Rivers. While you are there, it is still possible to feel that you are at the center of everything. And to wonder what could possibly bring you to ever leave.

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