There are two ways I find new places in Maine to visit and write about: on purpose and by accident.

The “on-purpose” discoveries usually come from books, travel guides and suggestions from readers, but those discovered “by accident” often come from simply turning down a road I’ve never traveled before, just to see where it goes. That’s exactly how I ended up at beautiful Crocker Pond in Bethel a couple weekends ago.

I’d gotten a late start on a sunny Saturday, and I decided to go camping somewhere near the Maine-New Hampshire border. Unfortunately, when I drove through Evans Notch, all four “first-come, first-served” White Mountain National Forest campgrounds were full. Not surprising for a nice weekend in July, but still disappointing. I resigned myself to the two-hour drive back to Portland.

As I headed south from Bethel on Route 5, I saw an old sign just past Songo Pond, about five miles outside of town: NATIONAL FOREST CAMPING NEXT RIGHT. My curiosity piqued, I turned onto dusty Patte Brook Road, and a few minutes later I was in a fascinating, beautiful and mostly deserted part of the White Mountain National Forest I’d never heard of before.

In old travel guides you can find these dirt roads referred to as the “Patte Brook Auto Tour,” a self-guided tour with a number of stops leading to the Crocker Pond Campground. There used to be a kiosk with pamphlets about the tour near the WMNF gate, but now the kiosk is nowhere to be found. I was able to dig up a copy of the pamphlet online.

There are plenty of natural attractions to enjoy near Patte Brook. For paddlers and anglers, the Patte Brook Waterfowl Marsh, Broken Bridge Pond and Crocker Pond all have boat launches reachable by car, and are stocked with trout. For hikers, the Albany Mountain Trail is an easy four-mile round trip day hike that offers expansive views of Evans Notch to the west and the Oxford Hills to the east.

To reach the Patte Brook Waterfowl Marsh, take your first left onto Forest Road 727 (well marked by a sign) and follow it to the boat launch. The old dam next to the boat launch dates to when homesteaders used the area for farming, logging and milling, and it originally provided power to a sawmill downstream. In 2002 – almost 200 years after Moses Patte settled here and operated his own mill – the dam was restored in a partnership with Ducks Unlimited. Now water levels in the 45-acre wetland are periodically raised and lowered to stimulate the growth of the plants on the marsh’s floor. If you decide to dip your paddle or oar into the water, you may see some of the animals who feed on these plants, including moose.

Continuing on Forest Road 7, take the next left, where signs point the way to Crocker Pond Campground. In about half a mile, a small parking lot on the right marks the trailhead for the Albany Mountain Trail. Signs and some guides still refer to this trail as the Albany Notch Trail, but the southernmost mile of the notch trail has been abandoned, and only the northern section from Crocker Pond Road to the summit of Albany Mountain is maintained; hence the new and more accurate name, Albany Mountain Trail.

From the parking lot, the trail follows an old logging road on easy grades, reaching a beaver pond in about half a mile. After the pond, the trail climbs steadily (but not steeply) for a mile before finally reaching the rocky ledges below the summit. There are great views to the east from these ledges, but the best views can be found by very carefully following a series of small cairns over the summit, to the southwest. In about a quarter mile, the cairns take you to wide-open ledges offering a spectacular vista of the Baldfaces and Mount Washington. In August, these ledges are also covered in blueberries – a welcome treat after two miles of hiking.

Back at the trailhead, the road to Crocker Pond continues past the parking lot, rising steeply as it goes deeper into the National Forest. On the left, Forest Road 62 will take you to the boat launch for remote Broken Bridge Pond, one of a series of ponds that drain into the Pette Brook Waterfowl Marsh. If you’re looking for true solitude in this already-remote area, a paddle on Broken Bridge Pond may be your best bet.

Finally, about four miles from the intersection of Route 5 and Patte Brook Road, you’ll reach the Crocker Pond Campground. The campground offers the usual amenities – pit toilets, a pump for potable water, and campfire rings with grills – and about half of the seven campsites are right on the shore of the pond, with steps leading down to the water. Crocker Pond Campground is the smallest campground in the White Mountain National Forest, but I was still able to find an open site, even on this crowded summer weekend.

While I’m a bit reluctant to share this hidden gem, the wealth of opportunities for fishing, hiking and paddling are too good to keep to myself. Head down these old forest roads to enjoy the seclusion, the scenery, the wildlife and the history. Whether you find a campsite and spend the night or just visit for the day, it’s definitely worth the trip.

Jake Christie is a freelance writer living in Portland. Along with his brother, Josh, he writes about great Maine destinations for outdoors enthusiasts. Jake can be reached at:

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