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Maine Trails

Rip & Go: Debsconeag Loop – Maine Public Reserved Lands, Nahmakanta Unit, ME

Cross the northeast's wildest moose country beneath fall's fiery canopy.

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Nahmakanta Lake (Photo by Tim Seaver)

Nahmakanta Lake (Photo by Tim Seaver)

Luminous moss (Photo by iStock)

Luminous moss (Photo by iStock)

Do it

Some of Maine’s best-kept wilderness secrets are lost in translation. Literally. Take this 18.5-mile loop in the Debsconeag (deb-SCON-egg) region to Nahmakanta Lake. In the Abenaki tribe’s language: Hike from “ponds at the high place” to “plenty of fish” lake. Pack a rod, hit the Fourth Debsconeag trailhead (1), and head down a jeep trail. Bear left at the fork and north onto the blue-blazed Debsconeag Trail (2). Follow it 1.4 miles over three easy stream crossings to Stink Pond (3). As you climb above the pungent aroma, look southwest to 2,524-foot Farrar’s twin peaks, and south for 2,905-foot Jo-Mary Mountain’s rounded top. Dip into a creek-filled gap, then rise to views of Nesuntabunt (translation: “three heads”) Mountain and marshy Seventh Debsconeag Pond. Turn south at mile 4.6 and camp near the shoreline (4).

Next day, continue to Sixth Debsconeag Pond, turn west at the junction and head downhill .7 mile to Nahmakanta Lake (5). Cruise the shoreline for 1.3 miles (stopping to cast for landlocked salmon) with views of 1,560-foot Nesuntabunt’s slope ablaze with fall foliage in early September. Turn west on the West Trail (6) at mile 8.5, and continue .7 mile (with a shallow ford of 15-foot wide Rainbow Stream) to a jeep road. Go west for .4 mile to a bridge over Pollywog Stream (7) and turn right on the Appalachian Trail.

At mile 10.6, take the 150-foot side trail (8) to view 100-foot-deep, 300-foot-wide Pollywog Gorge. Horseshoe around Crescent Pond (9), cross a road at mile 12, and reach views of 3.5-mile-long Nahmakanta. Climb through old-growth red spruce and white pine to a minor summit on Nesuntabunt (10), where a 75-yard side trail leads to a view of Katahdin and the last stretch of the AT 15 miles away. Start downhill and reach the wave-lapped beach (11) in 3.8 miles. Camp or continue to a dirt road (12), turn northeast, cross Nahmakanta Stream, and close the loop’s final .9 mile.


Trip Planner

Get there
From Greenville, take Lily Bay Rd./Main St. north 18 miles to Kokadjo Trading Post. When the pavement ends, bear left at the fork and zero your odometer. Turn right at 1.8 miles. Turn left at miles 6.6, 14, and 18.4. Turn right at 19.3; park at 24.3 miles.

Gear up Northwoods Outfitters, 5 Lily Bay Rd., Greenville. (866) 223-1380;

Maps USGS quads Nahmakanta Stream, Rainbow Lake East, Rainbow Lake West, Wadleigh Mountain ($8,

Key Skill: Spotting a moose

Looking to frame a closeup of Bullwinkle? You can scarcely do better than the ponds, marshes, and ridges around the Debsconeag Ponds. Bonus: Mating season (September to October) ratchets up your chance of seeing moose interact. 

Go early

Moose are most active around water at dawn. If you spot a female alone, be patient; the male will be along shortly. Listen for his short, guttural grunts as he approaches.

Go silent

Moose may have poor eyesight, but their hearing is superb—especially bulls with large racks, which catch sound. Opposite tactic: To call a bull, pull a length of rough twine through a small hole in the bottom of a can to imitate a cow moose’s call.

Go back

Moose are creatures of habit. If you see fresh tracks near the water’s edge, return to the same place the next morning.

Go safely

Don’t get closer than 75 yards to a cow with calves, or bull moose, especially during the rut. If one charges, turn around and run for it (unlike bears, moose won’t give chase for long), and put something (trees, boulders) between you and the beast. Most charges are bluffs, but if you’re knocked down, curl up, protect your head, and keep still (this convinces the moose that you’re no longer a threat).

See This


The family Schistosteagaceae has one member— luminous moss (aka Cat’s Eye Moss or Goblin’s Gold), which grows inside the opening of animal burrows, the bases of uprooted trees, or similar shady areas. Its ability to flourish in such places is due to clear, globular cells that collect faint light—even reflections from a stream—resulting in photosynthesis and the plant’s faint, greenish glow during the day. Spot this rare moss streamside in Pollywog Gorge.

Locals Know

Many of the woods up here are second-growth bounce-back after a few centuries of logging in the Nahmakanta area. Loggers dammed nearly every pond and lake to move timber, and some streams—especially Rainbow Stream at mile 9.2—still bear the scars of the log-driving days in the form of steel pins and blasted ledges. You can spot signs of the old earthen dam on Fifth Debsconeag, 1.3 miles from the trailhead. This pond was used chiefly to raise the level of Fourth Debsconeag and flush the logs floating there downstream to the West Branch Penobscot River, where they’d head for the mill. The loggers were pretty thorough, but they didn’t cut all of the trees and send them down the river—some stands in the unit include individuals well over the 300-year mark, including one 320-year-old white cedar, and the elder statesman, a 397-year-old red spruce in the Henderson Pond area.

On The Menu

Breakfast 1

On the road

Lunches 1 & 3

Fluffernutter on

honey bagel

Dinner 1

Stink Pond Wrap

Breakfasts 2 & 3

Cream of Wheat with dried blueberries

Lunch 2

Ham and Swiss on honey bagel

Dinner 2

Debsconeag Easy ’Roni


Cheerios/dried cranberries trail mix

Stink Pond Wrap

Melty trail sandwiches

2 flour tortillas

4 slices Swiss cheese

6 slices brown sugar ham

1 apple, peeled, cored and thinly


4 slices precooked bacon

2 packets ranch dressing

Spread one packet ranch onto each tortilla, lay on two slices Swiss cheese, three slices ham, two slices bacon and half the apple slices. Heat in frying pan until lightly browned. Serves two.

Debsconeag Easy ’Roni

Cheese delivery system

²/³ cup elbow macaroni

1 tablespoon butter

¼ cup feta

2 tablespoons Romano

¼ cup sun-dried tomatoes,


5 slices smoked summer


Tabasco to taste

Cook macaroni, drain. Add butter and cheeses, and stir until well blended. Mix in sun-dried tomatoes and sausage. Serves two.


[ ] apples (produce)

[ ] Swiss cheese (deli)

[ ] ham (deli)

[ ] shelf-stable bacon (deli)

[ ] feta (deli)

[ ] sun-dried tomatoes (deli)

[ ] summer sausage (deli)

[ ] butter (dairy)

[ ] honey bagels (bread)

[ ] flour tortillas (1)

[ ] Tabasco (1)

[ ] dried blueberries (1)

[ ] ranch dressing (1)

[ ] macaroni (2)

[ ] Romano cheese (2)

[ ] Cheerios (3)

[ ] dried cranberries (3)

[ ] Cream of Wheat (3)

[ ] Marshmallow Fluff (5)



148 Moosehead Lake Rd.

Greenville, ME; (207) 695-2104

PIT STOP Order up a Maine speciality—the jumbo lobster rolls—at Flatlander’s Pub.

36 Pritham Ave., Greenville, ME; (207) 695-3373

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