Nestled in the shadow of Katahdin, just south of Baxter State Park, The Nature Conservancy’s Debsconeag Lakes Wilderness Area (DLWA) is a vital link in nearly 500,000 acres of contiguous conservation land. Debsconeag means "carrying place," named by native people for the portage sites where they carried their birchbark canoes around rapids and waterfalls. The DLWA contains the highest concentration of pristine, remote ponds in New England, as well as thousands of acres of mature forests.
This quick, 1-mile, blue-blazed trail offers three separate destinations and highlights one of the most interesting features in the preserve known as the ice caves. The trail leads up and down through granite boulders, leftovers of the last Ice Age’s glacial activity. The first turnoff on the right leads to a scenic lookout, which offers a vista of First Debsconeag Lake and the Debsconeag Deadwater. Continuing down the Ice Cave Trail (left at the fork), will bring you to another fork. Veer right to see the Ice Cave – a deep hole under a jumble of boulders with a cool environment that retains ice sometimes as late as August. This is a great spot to cool off in some of Nature’s best air conditioning. Turning left at the fork will bring you to the shore of First Debsconeag Lake.
While the trail itself is of moderate difficultly, exploring the actual ice caves is a more advanced undertaking requiring the use iron rungs and appropriate equipment for exploring the tight and potentially slippery conditions underground.
Nearly half the forests in the DLWA show no signs of past logging. Trees as old as 300 years have been found in more remote areas. Old, undisturbed forests like these are rich in diversity and complexity. The forest floor is covered with logs and mosses and ancient trees, whether standing or fallen, provide habitat for many woodland creatures.
The Debsconeag Lakes Wilderness Area Preserve Guidelines:
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The parking lot is located at the end of the Hurd Pond Road. From Millinocket, take the Golden Road approximately 18 miles to Abol Bridge. Immediately after crossing the bridge take a left turn and keep left at the fork. Drive about four miles to reach the parking area and trailhead.
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The trail starts out a little rough as you traverse roots and rocks, so watch your footing, but that's typical of a lot of trails in Maine. Along the hike are huge fern-covered boulders that could only have been placed there by glacier movement. The hike was mostly through red and white pine. Near the end of the trail, you have the option to turn right up to the overlook or turn left down to the ice caves. We opted for both. The overlook provides pretty views of First Debsconeag Lake. It's only 1/10th mile from the intersection, so it's well-worth the minimal effort to get there. After the overlook we headed directly to the ice caves about 2/10th of a mile from the intersection. There are metal rungs built into the wall in one of the caves for those interested in descending into it. Very cool both literally and figuratively. When we were there, someone tied a climbing rope in place, allowing you to get to the bottom of the cave. It was July and there was still plenty of ice in the cave. A flashlight or headlamp are definitely needed if you want to go into the cave.