Put in at the small boat launch site located on Route 35 about halfway down the eastern shoreline of Bear Pond in Waterford. Look across the road and you will see a jumble of gigantic boulders strewn about under the towering vertical cliffs of Bear Mountain. These majestic cliffs will tower over you throughout your 3-mile circuit of the pond.

Despite the proximity of Route 35 and a number of cottages along the shoreline, the pond has a serene feel to it and the beauty is unsurpassed for such a small body of water.

To the north lies the long profile of Mount Tire’m. If you have paddled on nearby Keoka Lake, you get a completely different look at the mountain. It’s much more conical as seen from Bear Pond.

Try to save some time after your exploration of Bear Pond to drive the three miles up to the historic lakeside village of Waterford and poke around. A hike up to the open ledges on the summit ridge of Mount Tire’m provides an outstanding view over Bear Pond. We were thrilled to retrace our complete route around the pond from the ledges. 

Be sure to follow the Bear River south under the Route 37 bridge. This wide waterway meets an old dam a quarter-mile from the pond, a great spot to get out and enjoy the tumble of water over the dam on its journey five miles down to Long Lake in Harrison. 

On the opposite end of the pond an inlet stream meanders into the lake. You will be able to explore a few hundred yards up this stream, too. Acres of colorful buttonbush rise out of the shallow waters. Their big, round seedpods turn bright red at the end of September and provide a wonderful contrast to a backdrop of deep blue sky and tall white pine. On our visit 20 mallards in unison catapulted up out of the marsh and swung out over the pond. Five wood ducks followed, giving off their telltale high-pitched calls. Buttonbush seedpods are a favorite food for mallards.

A large maple toppled by beavers sat at water’s edge; one of the larger trees we have seen beavers tackle. A couple of good-sized painted turtles basked in the sun on logs protruding up out of the clear mountain-fed waters.

Along the northwestern shoreline sprawls the campus of Camp Wigwam, now closed for the season. We smiled at the image of the seasonal screams of joy and delight from campers from all over the world hitting the water at full sprint early on a steamy summer morning. Remember when summer used to last forever? It still does on the shores of Bear Pond.

We got out on a small sandy beach a few hundred yards east of the camp and scanned the cliffs for hawks and rock climbers. We waded out 20 yards for a refreshing swim, spinning around on our backs to enjoy the comfort of the warm early afternoon sun. Loon calls drifted across the water. A mix of chickadee, nuthatch and blue jay calls provided a familiar late-summer song, while the call and drilling of a pileated woodpecker rattled from pine to pine. Silver maple leaves rustled in the faint breeze.

A wide lawn leads up from the lake to the beautiful Bear Mountain Inn, featured in Bon Appetit magazine for its country gourmet breakfasts. The historic Lake House up in “The Flats” of Waterford next to Keoka Lake dates to 1797 and is another of many fine inns in the area that you can select from to make it a romantic weekend getaway.

Paddle Bear Pond one day, Keoka the next and scramble the 20 minutes up Mount Tire’m both days for sunrise and sunset vistas. Consult the Delorme Maine Atlas and Gazetteer (map 10) for help in getting to Bear Pond.  

Michael Perry is the former director of the L.L.Bean Outdoor Discovery Schools, and founder of Dreams Unlimited, specializing in inspiring outdoor slide programs for civic groups, businesses, and schools. Contact him at: [email protected]