Cruising along the famous Golden Road through the big timber country south of Baxter State Park, it’s easy to miss or simply ignore the small roadside signs for River Pond Nature Trail. But the next time you’re in the area, slow down and look closely, because this unheralded spot is home to a real jewel of a trail system that’s worth a good look around.

You’ll find River Pond Nature Trail 6 miles west of where the Baxter Park Road and the Golden Road pinch together between Millinocket Lake and Ambejejus Lake (the North Woods Trading Post and the Big Moose Inn Cabins & Campground are landmarks). If you get to Abol Bridge over the West Branch of the Penobscot River, well, you’ve missed it by 4 miles.

River Pond Nature Trail features three major trails and a couple of connectors for a total of somewhere between 4 and 5 miles of easy and highly scenic woods walking. En route you’ll find 11 full-color interpretive displays that will treat you to a host of interesting facts about the land’s remarkable ecology and its rich history as part of a commercial forest.

Hike the loop counterclockwise starting with the Tenderfoot Trail on a meandering route along the south side of River Pond, a flowage connected to Pockwockamus Deadwater on the Penobscot River. Numerous shoreline points reveal extraordinary views of Katahdin, from Pamola to Knife Edge to Baxter Peak, plus Barren Mountain, Mount Coe and Mount OJI.

The Katahdin views continue on the Timber Cruisers Trail, but eventually it turns away to meet the Foresters Trail. Diverging from this trail, the short River Driver Trail leads past several impressive erratics to the Penobscot River’s West Branch, which is protected for 500 feet on both shores by a 79-mile conservation easement. As you enjoy the river view, just imagine the brave lumberjacks of yore battling danger to drive the logs downstream.

The River Pond Nature Trail network was built around 1990 by Great Northern Paper Co., the industrial giant that dominated Maine’s North Woods for over a century. Today, the land is owned by Katahdin Forest Management, the Maine operations arm of Acadian Timber. Based in Edmundston, New Brunswick, Acadian Timber manages 2.4 million acres in Eastern Canada and the Northeastern U.S., including 320,000 acres in the Pine Tree State.


“The idea behind these trails was to provide an opportunity to showcase the working forest and the natural aspects of that forest and demonstrate to the public how these elements can coexist in the Maine woods,” said Kevin McVey, a land use technician with KFM. “It’s a special place that’s great for hiking, wildlife and mountain viewing, and learning about forestry practices.”

The interpretive displays, installed about three years ago, provide fascinating details about everything from riparian zones, edge habitat, moose, forest succession after fire disturbance and wild blueberries to harvesting and growth cycles, old tree stumps as telltale signs, timber stand improvement and the importance of gravel from the land’s glacial deposits. Each panel also includes a bonus “Did You Know?” factoid that adds to the learning fun.

The educational component aside, what will no doubt enthrall you most about a hike at River Pond Nature Trail is that huge panorama of Katahdin. The centerpiece of Gov. Percival Baxter’s “magnificent obsession,” Maine’s Greatest Mountain rises to its mile-high eminence 7 miles north and 4,736 feet higher than your stance at River Pond. You’re likely to find yourself stopping and staring for long moments all the way to Moose Point.

In 1992, Great Northern clear cut the existing poplar stands on the land and planted the more valuable black spruce. According to McVey, 30 years hence, the spruce plantations are due for thinning and eventual harvesting, so hikers should be aware of these future operations and the landscape changes that will result from this cyclic process.

Looking for more hiking opportunities in the vicinity of River Pond Nature Trail? There’s Baxter State Park, of course, and its many miles of trails. Thanks to The Nature Conservancy, you can visit Trout Mountain Preserve and climb to the observation tower atop the namesake peak. There’s also TNC’s Debsconeag Lakes Wilderness Area, where the cool Ice Caves Trail and the rugged Rainbow Loop Trail are worthy objectives.

Carey Kish of Mount Desert Island is an award-winning member of the Outdoor Writers Association of America. His latest book, “Beer Hiking New England,” will be out this winter. Follow more of Carey’s adventures on Facebook and Instagram @careykish

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