One of the benefits of living in Maine is exploring the sheer number and variety of public lands that provide hiking trails. They each have some unique feature; something that sets one apart from the other.
One place in particular, Nahmakanta Public Reserved Lands, is really extraordinary. Located in the remote north woods east of Greenville and west of Millinocket, the land is rugged, the scenery outstanding and the hiking fantastic.
Last week I went exploring in Nahmakanta country to see what the trails were like. I found a little-known trail network with only one other person on the trail I was hiking. It’s the Turtle Ridge Trail, and getting there is half the adventure.
There are other routes from different directions, but the easiest way is from the south off Route 11, which runs from Brownville to Millinocket. Look for a sign on the left, northbound, for Jo-Mary Campground, about 15 miles before Millinocket. Turn left on a dirt road, Jo-Mary Road.
Soon you come to a manned gate where you must stop to pay a use fee of $6. The road is a private land management road for forestlands known as the KI-Jo-Mary Multiple Use Forest. It’s a logging road and the first thing you should know about traveling logging roads is that log trucks take the middle of the road. That means that you, a pesky little pickup, must yield right of way. That means get off the road to the side as far as you can and stop, until they pass.
The log trucks were driving out the road about once every 20 minutes or so, on the 15-mile road to the trailhead. I managed to stay out of their way for long enough, including one encounter on a one-lane bridge, to make it safely to the start of the trail.
The dirt parking area had only a couple of vehicles in it when I started hiking. The terrain was gently rising over granite rocks. The blue-blazed trail is typical of those found in most public lands. I soon came to a signed intersection with one direction leading to Henderson Pond and the other, to the right, leading to Rabbit Pond.
Once past the intersection, where I took the trail to Rabbit Pond, the trail descended through a mature spruce and fir forest before I arrived at the pond, a small body that reflected the brilliant blue of the sky above. There was a canoe stored on the shore, but I resisted the urge to paddle and pressed on to the ridge. I crossed the outlet to the pond and gradually ascended to the base of the ridge.
The trail led to another intersection that formed a loop to Henderson Pond. I headed to the right to the ridge. After a short, steep climb under the base of the cliffs that form the south side of the ridge, I popped out on top. There I was greeted by an expansive view of Katahdin to the north. Looking south, the view overlooked Harding Pond at the base of the cliffs. Farther in the distance lay Whitecap Mountain on the Appalachian Trail. The entire scene was one full of late summer scenery; forest, pond, mountains and sky.
Crossing the ridge was outstanding. The exposed face of the cliff was in the view looking down the length of the ridge. The trail crossed the ridge at times close to the cliffs and more views. Other places along the trail took me away from the cliffs and into the forest at the top.
Once I’d crossed the ridge, I started the descent at the south shore of Harding Pond and could look back to Turtle Ridge, which I just crossed. I saw only one other hiker on the trail, and he was near the start, on his way out. The trail led to the outlet of the pond and across the small brook. After the crossing, the trail turned back to follow the shore back in the trees. The going was fairly easy, and soon I reached another intersection. This one led either right to a gate at the west end of the trail network, or left, back to the first couple of intersections that I passed on the way in.
After arriving at the truck and the end of the hike, it occurred to me that the views, the ponds, Turtle Ridge and the forest all worked together that day to impress upon me the special character of the place. The views, in particular, of rugged mountains in the distance, created this thought: If it’s this nice in summer looking out from the top of Turtle Ridge, fall’s colors on the trees should be awesome. I’m going back to find out.
Turtle Ridge Trails in the Nahmakanta Public Lands can be found on Map 42, Grid A3, in DeLorme’s The Maine Atlas and Gazetteer. Check the Maine Bureau of Public Lands website at www.maine.gov/doc/parks for detailed maps, rules and regulations.