Water gently lapped the shore of Little Long Pond, a cool breeze stirring the smallest of waves. Standing shoulder deep in the water, my dog, Juno, waited for us to throw a stick, her icy blue eyes wide with excitement.
She wasn’t the only pup playing fetch in the water that day. Just a bit south of us, at another water access point, two dogs were retrieving as well. And across the pond, we watched two more dogs — with their people in tow — follow a trail through one of the property’s scenic meadows.
Little Long Pond Natural Lands is a slice of heaven for dogs and people alike. Covering 1,000 acres on Mount Desert Island, the preserve abuts Acadia National Park. It features wide gravel paths, water access points for swimmers and rugged hiking trails with scenic footbridges and granite staircases.
From left (clockwise): Granite blocks, spaced apart, make a path through a wet area in the forest of Little Long Pond Natural Lands on Mount Desert Island; Lily pads float on the surface of Little Long Pond on Sept. 1, on Mount Desert Island. Penobscot Mountain can be seen in the background; Derek Runnells and Joyce Clark Sarnacki walk along a wide gravel path in Little Long Pond Natural Lands on Mount Desert Island. Credit: Courtesy of Aislinn Sarnacki.
The property was owned by the famous Rockefeller family for many years, and even though it was privately owned, the family welcomed the public onto the land for horseback riding, walking and cross-country skiing. In 2015, in celebration of David Rockefeller Sr.’s 100th birthday, the family donated the property to the Land & Garden Preserve, a nonprofit organization that also owns and manages neighboring properties such as the Asticou Azalea Garden.
I remember visiting the property back in 2015 to explore after it was donated, and I’ve returned several times since. It’s one of those places I go when I want to enjoy a nice, quiet walk through lovely scenery — nothing too challenging. It’s also a great spot for anyone who enjoys photographing the outdoors, whether it’s landscapes or birds or wildflowers.
During my recent visit in early September, I was joined by my mother, Joyce, and my husband, Derek, plus Juno. Starting at the main parking area off Route 3 in Seal Harbor, we walked through a gate to follow a wide gravel path along the east side of Little Long Pond.
Bright yellow clumps of goldenrod and purple asters danced in the breeze. Little brown birds hopped about in the bushes, emerging now and again to perch on a fence. It was an idyllic late summer day.
A large, stately boathouse is perched at the edge of the pond. It was there that we found a tiny sand beach and easy water access. Securing Juno on a long rope, we tossed sticks out into the pond for her to fetch.
Dogs are allowed off leash on the property. But we choose to keep Juno on a leash everywhere we go, regardless of the rules. We’ve learned that she follows her nose and has a stubborn streak that makes recalling her difficult. We don’t want to lose her in the woods before her first birthday.
Once Juno grew tired of fetch and started chewing on plants in the shallows, we decided it was time to continue our walk around the pond. At its north end, we took a side trail that threaded through a meadow before plunging into the woods. From that point onward, the route was narrow with the typical roots and rocks you’d find on most Maine hiking trails.
Reaching an intersection with signs, I used the property’s trail map to determine that we wanted to hike toward the David & Neva Trail, which follows the west shore of the pond. That way we could walk a big loop.
Along the way, we marveled at the often whimsical man-made trail features, which included wooden footbridges and winding staircases built of granite blocks. Clusters of bright white coral mushrooms, which truly resemble ocean coral, stood out against the dark forest floor. The tips of their many branch-like growths were tinged gold.
I also found a massive growth of thin, shelf-like mushrooms growing from the rotten core of a long-dead tree. Dark brown and edged with white, the mushrooms were so numerous and crowded together that they reminded me of a “Magic Eye” book. The intricate pattern made my vision swim.
In soggy sections of the forest, we kept our feet dry by walking over long stretches of narrow wooden walkways known as bog bridges. A sign beside the trail stated that work was being done to improve the trails. I just can’t imagine what those improvements will be. The trails are already awesome.
From left (clockwise): Derek Runnells and his dog, Juno, walk across a wooden footbridge in the woods of Little Long Pond Natural Lands on Mount Desert Island; A fence lines a wide path that travels along the east side of Little Long Pond Natural Lands on Mount Desert Island; A coral mushroom stands out against the dark forest floor in Little Long Pond Natural Lands on Mount Desert Island. Credit: Courtesy of Aislinn Sarnacki.
It’s important to remember that while the preserve looks a lot like Acadia National Park, with its granite blocks and wooden signs, it’s owned and managed separately. It has its own special rules, based on traditional use of the land. For example, biking is not permitted on the trails, but horseback riding is. And while dogs are allowed off leash, they must be under strict voice control of their owners, and they’re only allowed to swim at four designated swim spots.
We finished our 2-mile loop by walking along the southern edge of Little Long Pond, where we met a local resident walking two little dogs. Juno made friends while we made small talk about the beauty of property.
Just across the road, the ocean crashed against a rocky beach. Other fun places to visit nearby include the Asticou Azalea Garden and Thuya Garden, though both are off limits to dogs. And if you’re looking for a challenging hike that’s OK for dogs, the trailhead for Cadillac Mountain’s South Ridge Trail is just 3 miles east on Route 3. The island is filled with adventures.