Holbrook Island as viewed from the Goose Falls Trail at the 1,230-acre Holbrook Island Sanctuary. The sanctuary is operated as part of Maine’s state park system. Carey Kish photo

Bordered by Penobscot Bay, the Bagaduce River and Smith Cove, Holbrook Island Sanctuary encompasses 1,230 acres – including the namesake 115-acre Holbrook Island – on the north end of the Cape Rosier peninsula in Brooksville in Hancock County. The sanctuary is owned by the state of Maine and operated as part of the state park system.

Holbrook Island Sanctuary was the gift of Anita Harris, a longtime resident of Holbrook Island who acquired the land through the 1960s and donated her holdings to the state in 1971 “to preserve for the future a piece of the unspoiled Maine that I used to know.” Local author Reta Farnham Hunter tells the wonderful story in her 2012 book – “Anita’s Island: A History of Holbrook Island” – of Holbrook Island and Harris and how the sanctuary became a reality.

Nearly 8 miles of old roads, footpaths and animal trails transformed into formal walking paths lead visitors through the sanctuary’s diverse ecosystems and wildlife habitats – the estuary and salt marshes of Goose Pond, the rocky shores, mudflats and sandy beaches of Penobscot Bay and Smith Cove, the volcanic rocks of Backwoods Mountain, and the beaver and muskrat lodges, eagles and ospreys in and around Fresh Pond.

The park’s headquarters are on Indian Bar Road, where there are picnic tables and a large grassy field. Just beyond Indian Bar is a narrow neck of land connecting Penobscot Bay and Smith Cove. A short trail leads from the gravel beach at Indian Bar, a popular swimming spot and mooring for boats, to Penobscot Bay and nice views of Holbrook Island, White Head, and Ram and Nautilus islands. From the dock on Tom Cod Cove at the end of Dock Road, boaters and kayakers can launch for the short trip over to Holbrook Island.

Indian Bar is a popular swimming spot at Holbrook Island Sanctuary in Brooksville. Carey Kish photo

From several trailheads a short distance apart on Back Road, hikers can explore a variety of terrain and natural features in the sanctuary’s interior on a continuous walk of about 4 miles by connecting the Mountain Loop and Summit trails with the Ice Works and Fresh Pond trails.

On the Summit Trail, just before reaching the 275-foot top of Backwoods Mountain, there’s a comfy bench perched on an outcrop that offers views through the trees out to Penobscot Bay and across to the harbor at Castine. The Mountain Loop Trail, as its name implies, makes a pleasant circuit around the base of the peak and takes in some nice mature stands of spruce.


Big cedars, spruce, yellow birch and red maples dominate the forest canopy along the Ice Works Trail. Beyond, the Fresh Pond Trail wends around the scenic pond, which was once a source of ice for area farmsteads back in the day. On the pond’s south shore, looking out past the cattails, water lilies, wood duck houses and beaver lodges, there’s a fine view of the south side of Backwoods Mountain.

Numbered signs along the path correspond to the Fresh Pond Interpretive Trail guide that describes the abundant flora and fauna found in and around the pond. Download and print a copy to bring along with you to enhance your time in this wild spot.

Looking over Fresh Pond to Backwoods Mountain at Holbrook Island Sanctuary. Carey Kish photo

In addition to the aforementioned trails, hikers can explore other inland areas of the sanctuary on the Aaron, Bakeman Farm and Beaver Flowage trails, while the Goose Falls and Backshore trails lead to interesting points and island views along Penobscot Bay.

Holbrook Island was originally settled after the American Revolutionary War by Captain Jesse Holbrook of Truro, Massachusetts. It once supplied white pine logs used as masts for the sailing ships built in nearby Castine, which occupies a commanding location overlooking the confluence of the Penobscot and Bagaduce rivers and is well worth a post-hike visit.

One of the oldest communities in North America, Castine has been occupied continuously since the early 1600s and over time was claimed by France, Holland, England and colonial America; it has also been home to several nations of Native Americans. The town features the pretty campus of the Maine Maritime Academy, as well as the Wilson Museum and the Castine Historical Society.

Holbrook Island Sanctuary is open daily from 9 a.m. to sunset year-round. No fee is charged, but donations are gladly accepted. Dogs are allowed on a leash. For a trail map and the interpretive guide to Fresh Pond, visit parksandlands.com

Carey Kish of Mt. Desert Island is the author of AMC’s Best Day Hikes Along the Maine Coast and editor of the AMC Maine Mountain Guide. Follow Carey’s adventures on Facebook @Carey Kish

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