Magical might be an overused word in this unabashed age of hype. But in the case of exploring the southern half of Long Pond in Mount Vernon, magical is an understatement. Choose your pleasure: birds, wildflowers, swimming, scenery, solitude. This outing has it all.

There are many options depending on how many hours you have and how many miles you want to cover. We spent the whole day exploring south from the State of Maine Boat Launch on the Castle Island Road, first paddling the length of the pond, then down Ingham Stream into Ingham Pond, then a mile beyond the pond before running out of water. This 12-mile round trip should be done with a forecast of calm winds to make the return enjoyable. There are cottages along some of the shoreline, but the pond is so big that there are many stretches of secluded forest.

If you only have a couple of hours there are two great options: Explore the broad marsh on the northwestern side of the lake, or wind around the many islets, forested islands and astounding array of boulder gardens on the eastern side.

Let’s start with the secluded marsh. From the launch you’ll paddle around two angular peninsulas and head west. The marsh has three distinct arms. A huge beaver lodge caught our attention and as we focused the camera to take a picture, a pair of loons popped up out of the shallows and filled the camera. It seemed odd to see them in such an enclosed area.

Patches of blue flag iris rose up through the green marsh grasses. Yellow pond lilies lined the channels, with fish erupting up through the heart-shaped leaves to snatch unsuspecting bugs. Then we spied our first pitcher plant. These carnivorous bog plants trap insects in their sticky tubed leaves, and have a long flower spike that looks like a piece of red plastic pipe cleaner with a silver dollar sized red wheel on the top. They are easy to identify standing erect in the shorter grasses. Tree swallows flitted here and there. Red-winged blackbird calls mixed with the cooing of mourning doves and the pulse quickening slaps of beaver tails on the placid water.

Now for the eastern side, an explorer’s paradise. Archipelagos of glacial boulders fill the shallow basin. Islands with 10-foot corridors to knife through beckon your passage. The swimming is great but the ledge landings take a bit of creativity and agility.

If you paddle back up the middle of the pond to the boat launch, you will notice the forested elongated mass of McGaffrey Mountain forming a scenic backdrop to the north. Down near the pond a wide-open swath leads up to a sprawling yellow farmhouse. This is one of the few buildings still standing from Maine Chance Farm created by the beauty entrepreneur Elizabeth Arden in the 1930s. This 1,200-acre spa catered to actresses like Judy Garland and Ava Gardner.

Before heading back into the launch site, take a few extra minutes and paddle through the culverts under the Castle Island Road leading into upper Long Lake. Circle around the quaint white cabins perched on the lakeside ledges of Castle Island Camps, and head back under the road bridge to your vehicle. Maybe you’ll be making reservations to stay in these classic cabins later in the summer, lulled to sleep each night by the call of loons and the lapping of wavelets on the ledges.

Oh, about that longer option down through Ingham Pond: As you leave Long Pond and enter the channel to the right, note the huge osprey nest in the dead top of a gnarled white pine. One osprey was calling from a nearby tree, the other was gliding a foot above the water along the shoreline. The stream winds for a mile down to the pond. Note the hillside meadow bounded by forest in the distance – that’s your paddling destination. Dainty pink marsh roses and sheep laurel are everywhere, mixed with an occasional delicate rose pogonia. Tamarack groves dot the savannah-like landscape, and an intoxicating sweet fragrance had us breathing deeply. The shiny leaves of maple saplings fluttered in the slight breeze. There was magic everywhere.

Consult the Delorme Maine Atlas and Gazetteer (map #12) for help in getting to the boat launch on the Castle Island Road a few miles west of Route 27 in Belgrade. The launch is on the left a few yards beyond Castle Island Camps. The site can be busy on weekends but there is plenty of room to park.

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:

michaelj_perry@comcast.net