1-minute snorkel: Phillips Lake in Dedham

Difficulty: Easy to moderate. Snorkeling requires some gear (goggles that cover your nose, a snorkel and fins) and comfort swimming. Use caution while in deep water, keeping an eye out for motor boats, sailboats, jet skis and other water crafts.

How to get there: Phillips Lake has one public landing, and it is often crowded. Consider arriving early in the morning or on a weekday for a better chance of finding a parking spot. To get there from G&M Family Market at the intersection of Route 1A and Route 46 in Holden, drive south on Route 1A toward Ellsworth. In 3.6 miles, turn right onto Lily Road in Dedham, which is at the bottom of a big hill after The Lucerne Inn. About 150 feet down Lily Road, take a right onto Poplar Road and drive 0.7 mile to the public boat launch, which will be a long, paved ramp to the water on your left. Park in the small gravel parking area at the start of the launch or along the side of the road, well out of the way of traffic. As you put your boat into the water, you’ll be right beside the fenced-in beach area for the Lucerne Beach Club.

Information: Covering more than 800 acres, Phillips Lake in Dedham is known for its clear water, abundance of fish and giant underwater boulders, all of which makes it a great place to snorkel.

The lake has one public boat launch. Located beside the Lucerne Beach Club, this boat launch is paved and wide, allowing for boat trailers. And from there, the islands of the lake are to the south, while a long arm of the lake called The Narrows is around a bend to the north.

If planning to snorkel or swim, I suggest paddling or boating out to the islands, six of which are conserved by the Great Pond Mountain Conservation Trust and are open to the public during daytime hours.

A nonprofit organization that has conserved thousands of acres of land in northern Hancock County, Great Pond Mountain Conservation Trust worked with the Lucerne-in-Maine Village in spring of 2005 to conserve the village-owned islands by placing a permanent conservation easement on them. They range from less than one acre to four acres in size, and their names are Shelter, Patmos, Treasure, Fortune, Moccasin and Mystery. Forested and exceptionally rocky, these islands are for day use only. Camping and open fires are prohibited.

There are limited places to beach your boat on these rocky islands, so you may need to do some searching and get creative. After you’ve set up a little base camp, you can snorkel around the islands, sticking close to shore and keeping an eye out for passing motor boats, jet skis and other water crafts. You can also increase your visibility by wearing neon clothing and attaching a flag to your snorkel.

Phillips Lake has “above average” water quality, which is a combination of the water’s transparency, color, PH level and amounts of phosphorus and chlorophyll, according to Lakes of Maine, an online database of information about Maine’s lakes created by the Lake Stewards of Maine. And while the lake has a maximum depth of 98 feet, it also has a lot of shallow areas that are great for snorkeling.

Underwater, you’ll find the carcasses of giant pine trees and huge granite boulders, as well as aquatic plants and fish. The lake is home to landlocked salmon, lake trout, smallmouth bass, chain pickerel, minnows, rainbow smelt, sunfishes and more, according to the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife.

Phillips Lake was named after Nathan Phillips (1775-1861), who built a cabin on the lake in the early 1800s. For more information, call the Dedham Town Office at 207- 843-6217 or visit www.dedhamme.org.

Personal note: The first time I went snorkeling was on my honeymoon off the island of Grenada, where there are all sorts of tropical fish, as well as a famous underwater sculpture park. For the trip, my husband Derek purchased us both a set of snorkel gear — which didn’t come in the mail in time. But it was no big deal. We just rented gear in Grenada.

But when we returned home, we had snorkel gear sitting on our doorstep, and we didn’t know what to do with it. So we kept it, and that summer, we decided to test it out in the nearby Phillips Lake.

Derek snorkel portrait

That was a few years ago, but I remember being amazed by the amount of fish we spotted while snorkeling around the lake’s small islands. We’d done plenty of paddling on the lake, but exploring it beneath the surface was a completely different experience.

Fast forward to this summer, with the heat and humidity we’ve been experiencing lately, I’ve been eager to swim at any opportunity. So my snorkeling gear has gotten some more use, and in the process, I decided to purchase a waterproof case for my iPhone so I could try recording some of the beautiful underwater sights.

I was a bit nervous about dunking my expensive cell phone underwater, but the phone case — the Lifeproof FRE Waterproof Case — worked perfectly, and I was thrilled by the results. Maybe now Derek and I can convince some of our friends to come out snorkeling with us. I don’t think they believe us about just how scenic the underwater scene is here in Maine.

In the comment section below, tell me about your favorite snorkeling or swimming spot in Maine. Where should we go next?

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.