Sometimes a paddling outing is more than just those precious hours you are on the water. Sometimes it is just as much about the things you do driving to and from. All these years living in our beautiful state, we had never stopped into Lakewood Theater in Madison to check out one of the oldest summer theaters (1901) in America. We decided to combine a few hours of canoeing on Wesserunsett Lake with a visit.
Consult the DeLorme Maine Atlas and Gazetteer (Map #20) for help in getting to the town boat launch on Grange Road just west of East Madison Road. This is a busy spot on weekends and the parking spots are few, but the friendly staff monitoring invasive plant species are eager to help you find a place to park.
The drive up through rolling farm country is scenic and seems cast in another era when time moved more leisurely. Bring a cooler for the fresh eggs you will want to buy at the many farms. We drove through Smithfield and noted that the town line signs proclaimed “Maine’s Only Leap Year Town.” The town was incorporated Feb. 29, 1840.
Since there are many cottages dotting the shoreline, we decided to focus on exploring the large undeveloped cove on the northwestern end of the lake, and from there followed the shoreline south to Lakewood before cutting straight across the lake back to the boat launch, making for a five-mile circuit.
There is a comforting “be happy” vibe at the boat launch area. Families frolicked in the warm water, kids crowded around us curious about our Kevlar canoe, and one youngster from Cornville proudly showed us the two bass he had just landed from his kayak. Before we had even hit the water, we already had a great outing.
As you head out you will see the summit ridges of a long line of high peaks far to the northwest, their tops peering up out of the vast tracts of Western Maine forest. Cuddled in the warmth of summer, we reveled in the memories of colorful autumn hikes and XC ski adventures on and around Saddleback, Mt. Abraham and Sugarloaf. The classic pyramidal peak of Sugarloaf, 30 miles distant, is particularly impressive from the lake. Bring binoculars.
We slowly circled around the vast northwestern cove lined with cattail reeds and sweet ferns. Wild rice stalks slapped the canoe hull as we glided along the shoreline. A chorus of bullfrog calls swept over the cove. Sparrows flitted from reed to reed. We passed many gray, weathered stumps sticking up out of the shallows, each adorned with toupees of vegetation: grasses, tiny birch, asters and more.
At the southern end of the cove, a thin peninsular sticks out into the lake. We arced around it and landed on a 10-yard wide strip of sand offering nice views down the lake. Though the water was shallow, we enjoyed a cooling dip, all the while watching the cumulus clouds drifting eastward, casting beautiful reflections on the mirror smooth water.
Passing by a flat, grassy island on our left we followed the shoreline westward. All of a sudden we caught a flash of white low on the water, 50 yards away. A mature bald eagle was circling the cove, only feet above the water.
As you head south along the shoreline for another mile, be on the lookout for a small rectangular white gazebo in a grove of trees. This is the Lakewood Theater property. Just to the north, a road comes down to the water, providing access to the lake. You can land here and walk over to the theater.
The historic white buildings are striking, the property full of gardens and stately trees. The Lakewood Inn Restaurant’s dinner hours generally coincide with the schedule of Lakewood Theater productions. Sunday brunch is 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. You will be one of the few guests who has arrived by canoe! Casual dress is fine. An amazing roll call of performers has walked these grounds, including Humphrey Bogart, Betty White, Lana Turner and John Travolta.
If a breeze has sprung up, you can retrace your route back along the northern shoreline, or in calm conditions paddle straight across a mile to the boat launch. It can be a little tricky figuring out exactly where it is on the shoreline. Keep on the lookout for the green and red buoys marking the tiny cove.
And one last gift remained from our outing on Wesserunsett Lake. We followed East Madison Road south, and lo and behold what sits at its meeting with Route 302 in Skowhegan – a Gifford’s Ice Cream stand, where we enjoyed the largest stomach-filling frappes we have ever had, the incredible Extreme Killer Frappe. It’s a huge container, a pound of ice cream, all pretty much guaranteed to have you gasping at the halfway point.
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