1-minute hike: Big Spencer Mountain, near Kokadjo, Maine

Difficulty: Strenuous. To the summit and back, the hike is about 4 miles long. The trail is steep and not marked with paint, signs or cairns. Footing around rocks and roots can be tricky. Several ladders help hikers navigate steep sections of trail near the summit.

How to get there: From the center of town in Greenville, drive north on Lily Bay Road 19 miles. As you come into Kokadjo, the pavement ends and the road becomes gravel. Just after this transition, turn left at the fork. Drive 5 miles to Sias Hill Checkpoint (just two stone pillars on either side of the road as of September 2012). After the checkpoint, continue driving 3.2 miles. A narrow, one-lane bridge crosses Bear Pond Brook. After crossing the bridge, turn left and drive 6.1 miles. A small trailhead parking area is on the left, marked by a blue sign that reads “State of Maine Public Reserve Land, Big Spencer Mountain, Bureau of Parks & Lands, Dept. of Conservation.”  

Recent news: Big Spencer Mountain was the location of a forest fire in early August 2012, which devoured about 2 acres of old black spruce forest, according to a BDN story published on Aug. 5. Caution tape and a makeshift sign was placed at the trailhead during the month of August to deter people from using the trail to hike to the summit of the mountain, but the trail reopened to hikers in September, according to Maine Forest Service District Manager Bruce Reed.

“We closed it temporarily because we were dropping water and flying crews in and out and didn’t want people up there,” said Reed in a recent phone interview. “We were dropping 240 gallons of water at a time. It wasn’t safe.”

According to the BDN story, Forest Ranger Jon Blackstone said the fire began around noon on Saturday, Aug. 4, when a construction crew was on-site building a communications site that will be used to extend digital communications for border patrol agents as well as other federal and state agency officers. Blackstone said it’s likely something related to the construction work caused the fire, but the cause hasn’t been determined yet.

Reed asks that hikers be careful around the wooden helipad near the summit by listening for approaching helicopters, which might be trying to land. Reed also asks that people stay away from the construction site and burnt forest beyond the communications building. The construction site and the camp used by independent contractors had not been cleaned up as of Sept. 13. Tents, machinery, tools and supplies remained at the construction area, which is private property.

Information: Big Spencer Mountain, at 3,230 feet in elevation, is one of the most recognizable landmarks of the Moosehead Lake Region. The mountain’s fire tower, the fourth to be erected in Maine, was active for nearly 85 years, 1906-1991.

The trail to the summit of Big Spencer has two very different sections. The first half of the trail is an old woods road that ascends gradually through hardwood forest. The trail is wide and easy to follow. After one mile of hiking, the last of which is steep, the trail evens out and passes through a mix of spruce and birch forest to a clearing where there recently stood a quaint fire warden’s cabin and matching wood shed. Both structures were recently demolished. Burnt wood and concrete blocks remained as evidence of the buildings as of September 2012. The clearing offers a view, though broken up by trees, of surrounding mountains and lakes.

Leaving the clearing, the trail travels a mile up the north side of the mountain to the summit. This second half of the trail is much narrower and steeper than the first half.  Travel slowly and make sure to stay on the beaten path because there are no painted blazes to lead the way. Not far from the clearing, the trail used to cross a small stream; however, beavers built a dam during the summer of 2012 and flooded the area, creating a small pond. As of September 2012, the trail circled around the pond to the left and reconnected to the main trail on the far side.

After the small pond, several wooden ladders will help you up the steeper portions of the trail. A mile from the clearing, the trail reaches the mountain’s summit, which is marked by a wooden platform where helicopters can land, a communications building, solar panels and a small windmill. From the platform is a 360-degree, unobstructed view of the Moosehead Lake region. On a clear day, you will be able to see the taller mountains of Baxter State Park.

Personal note: While it’s discouraging to see beautiful forest destroyed near the top of this remote mountain, the trail leading to the summit is still a fantastic hike and leads through miles of forest untouched by the recent disaster.

Photo by Aislinn Sarnacki. Big Spencer Mountain, near Kokadjo, Maine, September 2012.

Aislinn Sarnacki

About Aislinn Sarnacki

Aislinn is a Bangor Daily News reporter for the Outdoors pages, focusing on outdoor recreation and Maine wildlife. Visit her main blog at actoutwithaislinn.bangordailynews.com.