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.
Rainbow Loop Trail and Associated Hikes to Horserace Pond and Rainbow Lake
Horserace Pond - The Horserace Pond Trail (4 miles out-and-back) starts with the Blue Trail and crosses a wooden bridge over a stream and through the forest for about a half-mile before reaching the intersection of the Horserace Pond Trail and the Blue Trail. Follow the yellow-blazed right fork 1.5-mile more miles to Horserace Pond. The Horserace Pond Trail meanders along the picturesque Horserace Brook that drains the pond, as well as through a stand of old-growth hemlock trees. The pristine Horserace Pond is surrounded by deep green conifers and granite cliffs and boulders. There are two backcountry campsites on the banks of the pond (See TNC website for camping guidelines). The Rainbow Loop Trail, marked by orange blazes, continues south from Horserace Pond.
Blue Trail - The Blue Trail (5+ miles out-and-back) is the left fork at the Horserace Pond-Blue Trail intersection and is aptly blazed in blue. From the intersection, it is a steep 2.3-mile hike past Clifford and Woodman ponds, to Rainbow Lake. The path leads through some remarkable stands of old-growth forest, and loops around Clifford and Woodman ponds. Rainbow Lake, the terminus of the trail, is the largest of the lakes in the Debsconeag Lakes Wilderness Area, and is a great spot to see Loons and Bald Eagles. It is also one of seven lakes in Maine with arctic char, a native fish related to salmon and trout.
Rainbow Loop Trail - The orange-blazed Rainbow Loop Trail was completed in 2017 to connect the end of the Horserace Pond Trail with the Blue Trail to form a fantastic 6-mile circuit hike option. The 2-mile loop trail connection passes through many different forest types including towering spruce and pine forests, past remote ponds and over open ledges that afford beautiful views of Rainbow Lake, Mt. Katahdin, a number of distant peaks and the 100 Mile Wilderness section of the Appalachian Trail. The loop trail can be hiked from either direction with the most enjoyable route being clockwise - start on the Blue Trail and turn right on the Rainbow Loop Trail 1 mile past the intersection of the Blue and Horserace Pond trails, continue to Horserace Pond and then return on the Horserace Pond Trail.The Rainbow Loop Trail is strenuous and includes steep climbs and drops that less-experienced hikers will likely find very challenging. Be sure to wear good hiking shoes, bring plenty of drinking water, food and trail safety provisions.
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:
Visit The Nature Conservancy online for more information or contact:
From Millinocket, take the Golden Road about 18 miles to Abol Bridge and then 5 miles further west. Take a left turn onto a road marked with a white sign at the top of the hill just west of the sign for Horserace Brook campsite. Follow the dirt road several hundred yards and park at the trailhead near Horserace Brook.
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