Maine

Moosehead Lake, Maine | Great Big Lake

A visit to beautiful Moosehead Lake in Maine, the largest mountain lake in the eastern United States.

By Christina Tree

Jul 01 2013

Moosehead Lake

A canoe is docked at Lily Bay State Park, on the eastern side of the lake.

Photo Credit : Carl Tremblay
Moosehead Lake
Moosehead Lake in west-central Maine, with Mount Kineo rising from the water.
Photo Credit : Carl Tremblay
In places, Moosehead is as wide as most lakes are long, but our family is drawn to the narrow passage at its midpoint. A dirt road forks off through the woods to The Birches’ lakeside lodge and cabins at Rockwood, a village of camps and marinas at the mouth of the Moose River. Forget unpacking. It’s out the porch and into the water, and later, down the path to the marina, where kayaks are stacked. We paddle slowly, keeping close to the shore, every stroke connecting with this place, this lake.
Moosehead Lake
A canoe is docked at Lily Bay State Park, on the eastern side of the lake.
Photo Credit : Carl Tremblay
Moosehead Lake
The Green Eyes cabin at The Birches Resort.
Photo Credit : Carl Tremblay
Moosehead Lake
Moosehead visitors can take a three-hour cruise on the Katahdin.
Photo Credit : Carl Tremblay
Next morning we sip coffee on the rocks below our cabin. Mount Kineo’s cliff face, thrusting up 700 feet, waits less than a mile across the water. Sacred to the Wabanaki, the mountain is composed of a rare green flint-like rhyolite, the source of numberless arrowheads, some dating back thousands of years. One collector, Henry David Thoreau, climbed to the top of the cliff in 1857, declaring it “a dangerous place to try the steadiness of your nerves.” Our nerves steady, we reach Kineo by shuttle from nearby Rockwood Landing. The Indian Trail is still a scramble along the edge of the cliff, but there are frequent turnouts, picnic perches above the flat apron of land below. For nearly a century, Maine’s largest, most luxurious resort stood here, survived now only by a nine-hole golf course, a ghostly annex, and a row of cottages.
Moosehead Lake
In The Birches’ dining room hangs a canoe made by the late Fred Reckards, whose famous boats were adoringly referred to as “Moose River Taxis”.
Photo Credit : Carl Tremblay
Moosehead Lake
A still morning in early August at The Birches.
Photo Credit : Carl Tremblay
It’s midafternoon when we reach the summit. Maine’s largest lake stretches 20 island-dotted miles away to the southeast and the same to the north. The Moose River and its chain of ponds angle off to the west; ragged bays wander between mountains to the east. On all sides, water is rimmed by an ocean of green forest, stretching to waves of genuinely blue mountains. In a real way Moosehead Lake is more remote today than in the era when Mount Kineo House guests could step aboard the Maine Central in Boston and step off at Rockwood Landing. Greenville, 20 miles south, on the eastern shore near the lake’s toe, is one of only a few communities along its 400-mile shoreline. Despite the ever-thickening web of private roads, this neck of the North Woods remains untamed, dotted with sporting camps and ponds best reached by floatplane. “I like to fly low and slow,” John Willard tells us as we swoop down over Lucky Pond to view a moose. The Piper PA-12 climbs more than 3,000 feet for a close-up view of the well-named Ladder Trail on Big Spencer. We cruise east toward Mount Katahdin before banking back over Moosehead.
Moosehead Lake
The Blair Hill Inn, on the eastern side of Moosehead Lake in Greenville.
Photo Credit : Carl Tremblay
Moosehead Lake
The inn’s expansive front porch.
Photo Credit : Carl Tremblay
Moosehead Lake
Elegant dining at Blair Hill.
Photo Credit : Carl Tremblay
Moosehead Lake
Maple-glazed duck brochette at Blair Hill.
Photo Credit : Carl Tremblay
“We saw a bear shuffling along down in the woods below that plane one year,” Valerie Long tells us on the final evening of our too-short stay. The Longs, our neighbors two cabins down, have invited us to join their fire circle. Rhode Islanders the rest of the year, they’ve been coming here for all but one of the past 20 summers, and we compare notes—about flights, whitewater rafting, moose watching, and hiking, and, best yet, once you’ve got the kinks out, about doing nothing at all—with all day to do it. On our final morning the water is still, every pebble visible in the shallows. I grab my pad and paints and settle down on the rocks. Hours later a family of mallards drifts by. Months later that picture still evokes the sparkle of light off the water that I never caught on paper.
Moosehead Lake
Two young vacationers take a break from the heat in Moosehead’s cool waters.
Photo Credit : Carl Tremblay