ORLAND – One of the true paddling gems of Down East Maine is 218-acre Craig Pond.

Its crystal clear water reflects a dazzling deep blue hue on a sunny day and reminded us very much of the deep waters of Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore on Lake Superior. Just to the north, the open ledges of Great Pond Mountain rise 800 feet above the lake. On the western side of the pond, the steep evergreen-forested slopes of Mason Mountain tumble down to water’s edge.

The cold waters of the pond are utilized on occasion by the Craig Brook National Fish Hatchery located on the western shore of nearby Alamoosook Lake. This renowned hatchery, opened in 1881 and the oldest Atlantic salmon hatchery in the country, is dedicated to the successful restoration of this federally endangered fish in seven Maine rivers. The visitor center is free to the public and is located a half-mile beyond the access road into Craig Pond.

The Craig Pond boat launch area is a great spot to hang out and soak in the sights. The grassy berm above a gravel beach provides a nice view over sun-splashed waters to the far shore. Right now there is not much beach showing due to the high water of spring. Come June the cluster of camps along the northern shoreline will be occupied and locals will be coming to the beach to swim, so visit in May to enjoy the peace and quiet. This past Monday afternoon we saw only one other canoe on the pond during our three-mile circuit.

The southern end of the pond provides complete solitude and a dazzling panorama of 100-foot high cliffs. Along the shoreline huge granite boulders of all shapes and sizes sit precariously on top of each other. The rectangular flat ones sport tops adorned with lichens, mosses and ferns.

As we paddled deep into the cozy confines of the southern cove we looked over to our right and spied a 40-foot high concave wall marked with perpendicular black stripes creating a brilliant zebra-like pattern rising up from the water.

It reminded us of the black “desert varnish” found in the red rock canyons of Utah. We sat transfixed in our canoe — having never seen anything quite like this anywhere in Maine. Then we gazed over our shoulder at the ledges on Great Pond Mountain, and then down through the water to massive boulders shimmering below us. We each said “wow” at the same time. A turkey vulture glided on upswept wings above the shoreline. A solitary loon zoomed over the lake on its missile-like downward path toward nearby Toddy Pond.

At one point along the eastern shoreline we peered into the deep dark woods and saw the rusting tin roof of an old Adirondack style lean-to, still looking sturdy. We took turns guessing its age — 50 years? Sixty?

Although the cottage development is significant for a stretch along the northeastern shoreline, paddling along that shoreline offers a nice perspective over to Mason Mountain and back to the launch site with absolutely nothing but wilderness to gaze at.

As we finished loading the canoe on our vehicle, one nagging thought keep turning our gaze back out over the pond. Should we or shouldn’t we? Wiser heads seemed to be prevailing; there would not be an April swim this year. Then with simultaneous screams we each hit the water for the quickest all-wet immersion you could imagine.

Consult the Delorme Maine Atlas and Gazetteer (Map No. 23) for help in getting to Craig Pond. Follow the Hatchery Road 1.3 miles north from Route 1 in Orland. There is no sign marking the dirt road leading a half-mile east into Craig Pond. The road is 50 yards south of a yellow roadside “Slow” sign. If you get to the Hatchery you have gone a bit too far. The road into the pond is open from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. each day.

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:

michaelj_perry@comcast.net