1-minute hike: River Pond Nature Trail near Millinocket

Difficulty: Easy to moderate. The trails, which intersect to form several loop hikes of different lengths, travel over small hills and uneven forest floor.

How to get there: Take the I-95 Exit 244, then turn northwest on Route 157 toward Medway and Millinocket. In about 11 miles, you’ll be in downtown Millinocket. At a four-way intersection, turn right onto Katahdin Avenue, following signs toward Baxter State Park. Drive about 0.2 mile, then veer left onto Bates Street and drive about 8.5 miles to Katahdin Air Services. Along the way, Bates Street becomes Millinocket Road, then Baxter Park Road. During the wintertime, you’ll need to hop onto the Golden Road at Katahdin Air Services by using a short gravel road on your left because Baxter Park Road is closed beyond this point. Turn right onto the Golden Road and drive 6 miles, and the short access road to the River Pond Nature Trail will be on your left, marked with a sign.

Spring through fall, it is a smoother drive to keep driving on Baxter Park Road past Katahdin Air Services about 6 miles, then turn left onto Pockwockamus Road. Drive 0.7 mile, then turn right onto the Golden Road. Drive 0.7 mile and the short access road to the River Pond Nature Trail will be on your left.

It’s about 0.25 mile down the access road to the main parking area, where you’ll find a kiosk displaying a trail map. Two trails and Central Road (a rough road that leads to another trailhead) start at the parking lot. This road is not plowed during the winter, so simply park at the end of the road, well out of the way of traffic, and walk to the parking area.

The sign marking the access road from the Golden Road.

Information: The River Pond Nature Trail, located just outside Baxter State Park’s southern boundary, is actually a network of trails that together equal nearly 5 miles. These forested trails visited several interesting natural features on the property, including the West Branch of the Penobscot River in a section known as Pockwockamus Deadwater, a black spruce plantation planted in 1992, and the scenic shore of River Pond, which provides a stunning view of nearby Katahdin, Maine’s tallest mountain.

The kiosk at the parking area.

This trail network is owned and maintained by the private landowner Katahdin Forest Management LLC, and is one of the few hiking locations in the area where dogs are permitted. Be sure to keep your dog on leash and pick up after it while on the property.

A close up of the map.

Surrounded by thousands of acres of conserved land, this property is home to a wide variety of wildlife, especially along the riparian zone, which stretches for about 1 mile along River Pond. Moose are often seen in the pond and the woods, as well as a wide variety of birds. For example, near the main parking lot is a nesting site for swallows and belted kingfishers, according to the Katahdin Chamber of Commerce visitors guide, available online at www.katahdinmaine.com.

An example of some wildlife on the trails on March 26.

Other sites labeled on the trail map include an area showing evidence of a forest fire from 1950, and places you can find wild berries, such as blueberries.

The trails in the network are marked with blue blazes and blue flagging tape, and intersections and sites are marked with signs. A trail map displayed on a kiosk at the main parking lot outline popular hike options. There is Tenderfoot Trail, which travels to the shore of River Pond; Timber Cruisers Trail, which forms an arc on the far (northwest) side of the network; Foresters Trail, which weaves through a mixed forest and a section of a black spruce plantation as it approaches the West Branch of the Penobscot River; Bluebird Trail, a secondary trail that runs across the network, connecting the longer trails; and River Drives Trail, a short side trail to the West Branch of the Penobscot River from Foresters Trail.

For information, call Katahdin Forest Management LLC at 723-2110.

Personal note: Through the skeletal forest, the hulking white form of Katahdin cut across the bluebird sky. The mountain appeared so close, towering over the frozen wilderness. As we snowshoed along the Tenderfoot Trail on March 26, I kept looking for glimpses of it through the trees, eager for an unobstructed view. At Site 3 in the trail network, about a mile into our snowshoe, we were rewarded with just that — a magnificent view of Katahdin stretched out beyond the white expanse of River Pond. As my dog Oreo rolled onto his back and thrashed about in the crusty snow, my husband and I took in the beautiful sight. Katahdin is always magnificent, but it’s especially striking when its slopes are coated with snow.

As we looked at the mountain, a place I’ve hiked with my family and friends many times, it occurred to me that Oreo may have never seen the mountain before. Dogs aren’t permitted in Baxter State Park or the nearby Debsconeag Lakes Wilderness Area, so in all of my trips up to Millinocket to hike, I’d left him home. It was nice to be able to enjoy the sight of one of my favorite mountains with one of my favorite hiking buddies. Other dog-friendly hikes in the Millinocket area include the Michael Michaud Walking & Biking Trail and the Katahdin Region Multi-Use Trail, both of which I have yet to explore.

Oreo and I

As we continued exploring the trail network, I noticed a few old snowshoe tracks, but they had been covered by recent snowfall. We were certainly the only visitors to the trail network that day, and likely for several days.

Another aspect of the trail network that stood out to me was the amount of tall, old deciduous trees, of many varieties. I imagine it’s an especially beautiful place to visit in the fall, when the leaves turn yellows, reds and oranges.

The birds of the forest.

More photos:

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.