1-minute paddle: Kidney Pond in Baxter State Park

Difficulty: Easy to moderate, depending on the weather conditions and how much of the 96-acre pond you explore. Paddling along the shore around the entire pond is a little over 2 miles.

How to get there: Take I-95 Exit 244, then turn west on Route 157 and drive about 11 miles to downtown Millinocket, passing through Medway and East Millinocket along the way. In downtown Millinocket, drive straight through two traffic lights, then bear right at a three-way intersection. Bear left at the next “Y” intersection, staying on the main road. Drive about 16 miles to the Togue Pond Gatehouse, the south entrance of Baxter State Park. After registering at the gatehouse, veer left at the Y intersection and drive 10.4 miles, then turn left onto the driveway to Kidney Pond Campground. Drive about 0.5 mile to the campground and park in the day use parking area, which will be to your right.

Information: Located in the southwest corner of Baxter State Park, Kidney Pond is a place where paddlers and fly fisherman can enjoy breathtaking views of Katahdin and surrounding mountains. The pond is also home to Kidney Pond Campground, which features rustic rental cabins, a ranger station, a boat launch and a collection of rental canoes and kayaks.

Covering about 96 acres, the coldwater pond is relatively shallow, with a maximum depth of 33 feet and a mean depth of about 10 feet, according to a survey conducted by the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Game in 1961.

Kidney Pond is on the Maine Heritage Fish Waters List, meaning that it’s one of more than 500 self-sustaining brook trout lakes and ponds in Maine that are protected under the State Heritage Fish law. The law dictates that certain rules are followed when people fish these waters. For example, Kidney Pond is open to fly fishing only. Ice fishing is not permitted. And the use of live bait is not permitted.

For wildlife watchers, the pond is often home to common loons, which nest along its shore. A variety of ducks are also found in the pond and the streams flowing in and out of it. And moose are often spotted in and around Kidney Pond Campground.

A loon on Kidney Pond.

The park asks that visitors keep a respectful distance from wildlife. On the water, this is at least five canoe lengths, according to a campground sign.

If you’re visiting the pond just for the day, park in the campground’s day use parking area, then walk toward the pond on the gravel campground road to find the ranger station on your right. The ranger may or may not be present, but make sure to sign the visitor registration book. Also, if you’re renting a canoe or kayak, there’s a wooden box beside the front door where you can leave $1 per hour of paddling or $8 for a whole day.

If you’re in need of paddles and life jackets, continue walking toward the pond and you’ll find the campground library near the shore. Walk through the library; the equipment is on the back deck. Maine law requires that each person must have a life jacket with them in their boat, and children 10 or under must wear a life jacket at all times.

From the library, follow the campground road east to find the boat launch beside Cabin 6. The rental canoes and kayaks are located on a rack nearby.

The boat launch

Dogs are not permitted in Baxter State Park, and on Kidney Pond, the use of motorboats or outboard motors is prohibited. In fact, a park sign instructs people to “use low voices while on pond.” These rules and guidelines help keep the wilderness in Baxter as wild as possible.

When you’re done paddling, return the boats, lifejackets and paddles to their rightful places, clean of any trash or debris. And if you haven’t already, pay for your rental at the ranger station. 

All visitors to Baxter State Park must register at one of the park’s two gatehouses upon entry. If your vehicle doesn’t have a Maine license plate then you’ll be asked to pay a fee of $15 per vehicle or $40 for a season pass. For more information, call 207-723-5140 or visit baxterstatepark.org.

Personal note: After sleeping in tents at Foster Field Campground, we were ready for a day of outdoor adventure on July 26, in Baxter State Park. It was the first full day of my family’s annual camping trip, and a handful of us decided to start things off with a morning paddle on the nearby Kidney Pond.

For my 7-year-old niece, Willa, it was her first time paddling a canoe, and she had a blast. From the boat launch, our group (two canoes, a kayak and a stand up paddle board), traveled to the northeast corner of the pond and explored the narrow inlet. Ahead of us, Katahdin loomed above the trees, joined by a smaller mountain called The Owl. And to the left, peeking above the trees, was Doubletop Mountain, distinctive because of its two sharp peaks.

As we navigated the calm, shallow waters of the pond’s inlet, our group passed a female ring-necked duck leading a squadron of ducklings, their fuzzy feathers a mix of yellow and brown. We also spied a female wood duck and a large brown wading bird called an American bittern. In fact, the spooked the latter — and it spooked me. The bittern blended into the vegetation so seamlessly that I didn’t see it until it took flight right beside my boat. I’m sure that’ll come as no surprise to birders. The American bittern is known for its camouflage and will sometimes sway its body ever so slightly to mimic the movement of grass.

The ring-necked duck family

After a few twists and turns of the outlet, a beaver dam forced us to turn around. We then backtracked and headed to the northeast end of the pond, where we circled a small island and came across two loons. Willa, the young naturalist, informed me that loons have red eyes and like to eat fish. Correct. It’s nice to see that she’s learning about local wildlife.

After a couple of hours of paddling, we headed back to Foster Fields and ate a picnic lunch before embarking on our next adventure: swimming at Abol Beach. From there, a group of us went on a short, easy hike on Abol Stream Trail to the Golden Road, where we cooled off with ice creams at Abol Bridge Campground and Store.

More photos from our adventure:

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.