Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Kayaking and Camping on Moosehead Lake

One of my favorite places in Maine and all of New England is Moosehead Lake.  With an area of more than 75,000 acres and 280 miles of shoreline, Moosehead Lake is the largest in Maine and the largest mountain lake in the eastern United States.  The lake is 40 miles long and more than 10 miles wide at it widest point.  The  Moosehead Lake region is largely wilderness with fine scenery in all directions.  A large chunk of the lake is undeveloped giving much of it a wild feel.

Moosehead Lake.  Sugar Island which I will talk about
shortly is easy to see.  Lily Bay State Park is across a narrow channel
from the lower point of Sugar Island.

The region is also a great place for outdoor recreation.  I probably spent more days playing in the outdoors in the Moosehead Lake region than anywhere else since I lived in Maine. The region mountains offer miles of trails for hiking, mountain biking, and cross country skiing. Others enjoy the regions lakes and streams for fishing.   And with a huge lake, the options for kayaking are nearly endless. 

Moosehead Lake was one of the first place Puma and I visited together in Maine nearly ten years ago and perhaps our inspiration to move to Maine in the first place.  Each year we try to visit the region to camp and relax by the lakeside.  For those that have read my blog before know I spend most of time camping in the backcountry.  Moosehead Lake is one of the places I like to unwind with Puma camping at an established campground.  We typically stay at Lily Bay State Park.  The park is located right on the lake and offers campsites along the shore.  We still keep it relatively simple.  We sleep in a tent and cook on a campfire. We enjoy the sound of the loons calling and the waves lapping on the shore.

Our campsite was just a few feet from the water

With only a couple of week remaining before we leave Maine to move to Colorado, we wanted to visit this beautiful place one last time and relax before the stress of a cross country move.  Last week the forecast was looking promising for a few days at the lake.  To sweeten the deal, it was my birthday.  A few days of relaxation camping on the lake sounded like a nice way to spend my birthday.  

Even though it was still raining when we left our house, it had cleared by the time we got to Lily Bay State Park.  In fact it remained clear the full three days we were camping.  The first day, after setting up our campsite, we took it easy sitting by the lake enjoying the views of the Squaw (Moose) Range and hearing the loons laugh.

Big Squaw (Moose) from our campsite

The next morning was my birthday and I wanted to enjoy some time on the water kayaking.  Like I mentioned before, Moosehead Lake is big.  Because of its size, the lake can be very choppy.  The water is not calm too often.  More than once I have paddled on Moosehead Lake with large waves or stiff winds.  On this morning, the lake and the wind were very calm.  To make the day even better, there was hardly a cloud in the sky and the visibility was nearly endless.

My goal was to paddle around Sugar Island.  That may not sound too impressive but Sugar Island is a fairly big island.  At more than 4200 acres, it is the largest island in Moosehead Lake.  It is nearly 5 miles long and 2.5 miles wide.  The total trip is about 14 miles from our campsite.  Because of the lakes size, the currents and wind can be completely different depending on the side of the island you're on.  With cold water (ice out was just a couple weeks earlier), and little traffic on the lake, it's very possible to get into trouble if conditions change suddenly.  I was fortunate to have almost perfect conditions my entire outing. 

Unusually calm water for Moosehead Lake

Looking at Sugar Island

Rocky shoreline on Sugar Island

This trip turned out to be quite a scenic paddle.  During every section there is beautiful scenery and mountains to see.  The trip started out heading toward the Squaw (Moose) Mountain Range.  Just as the Squaw Mountains ridge line gets out of sight, the stunning 700 foot cliffs of Kineo come into view.  At the north end of Sugar Island, Lobster Mountain comes into view just before the 3000 foot masses of Little and Big Spencer Mountains rise above the lake.  Finally the Lily Bay Range serves as the lakes backdrop on the final stretch of the trip standing 2500 feet above the lake.  Looking over your shoulder, Katahdin can be seen with snow still visible some 40 or miles away.  At most times several of these mountains were visible at once.  To add to nature's show, the loons were quite active diving nearby before popping up again in a totally different area.

Heading toward Squaw Mountain near our campsite

Getting closer to Squaw Mountain.  Small Island is 5 Acre Birch Island and the land
on the right is part of Deer Island

Boundary Bald Mountain in the distance just a few miles to the south
of the Canadian border above Jackman, Maine


Kineo, Shaw Mountain, and Little Kineo 
from left to right over the calm waters

Left to Right: Lobster Mountain, Little Spencer, and Big Spencer

The Spencers

Lily Bay Range on east side of the lake

Not entirely sure what to expect on the outing, I paddled with a strong and consistent pace.  I didn't stop too long at any time.  I took several breaks to take photos of the scenery or watch the pairs of loons frolic and dive.  My 14 miles of paddling took just 3 hours.  I would recommend experience paddling large lakes before attempting the same route solo.  Another variation of this trip would be to camp on Sugar Island.  There are at least five free, primitive campsites on the island each with a fire ring and picnic table all accessible only by boat.  Most of the campsites had  views of the surrounding mountains.

A Sugar Island campsite on the west side of the island

One of the Sugar Island campsites on the
opposite side of the island

The view of the Lily Bay Range from one of the campsites
on Sugar Island


Pair of loons

After returning to my campsite at Lily Bay State Park, I continued to get some rest and relaxation.  Puma and I spent our day relaxing by the lake during the day and sitting around the campfire by night.  Occasionally we would break our routine by taking a walk along the lake or the nearby woods.  Throughout our time at the campsite we were visited by wild ducks scavenging for food.  One duck was so bold that she tried to jump up and grab our food from our hands.

Relaxing and enjoying the scenery from our campsite

Our fire on the second night

A trio loons entertaining us
while we relax

A pair of mallards scavenging for anything edible
we may have dropped

 A particularly pesky duck waiting for a handout

She grew impatient and leaped toward Puma's food

We headed out the following morning after two nights at the lake.  On the ride home we even saw a couple of moose.  For me it was a great way to spend my birthday, surrounded by nature and spending time with Puma.  It was a peaceful and relaxing few days.  Since it was early in the season for the North Woods, the campground was pretty empty and we had our section of the park to ourselves.  I think only 9 of the 45 sites were occupied.  Our personal recommendation from years of visiting Lily Bay State Park is campsite 222 on the Dunn Point side of the park for a nice lakeside campsite.  I know peace and relaxation will be hard to come by the next few weeks as Puma and I head into the next chapter of our lives.  With several beautiful days, I could not have asked for a better farewell to one of my favorite places in New England.  Although I am looking forward to many new adventures in Colorado, Moosehead Lake will be one of the places I will miss in the east.


  1. Fabulous photos! We are going in a few weeks for our annual trip.....will be our first time staying at site 222. Our goal is to paddle Sugar Island as well.

    1. Glad you enjoyed the photos. You should enjoy that campsite. I was just in Greenville today and it was still pretty dead so you may get some privacy at Lily Bay. I hope the weather and lake are calm for your trip and paddle.

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  3. Hello
    Is the camping ground is free or any fee?
    And was it large enough for like 40 people?
    We are looking for free camping ground that has large area for our group.

    1. I stayed at Lily Bay State Park which has a fee but it's inexpensive. I believe they have a group area that will accommodate large groups but don't know specifics. There are Maine Forest Service campsites that are free around the lake including the ones on Sugar Island but I don't know if they have space for such a large group. Squaw Brook or Moose Brook is a free site with a fair amount of space but these are all first come sites and fairly popular.

  4. Great pictures and a wonderful area. Glad to see someone mention the difficulties or dangers of lake kayaking. I kayak a little bit on lakes and rivers and on the ocean but I had never kayaked on a really large lake before I came to Maine and didn't take it too seriously. Not until I almost lost a small kayak on the Pemadumcook lake a couple years ago. I knew the ocean was dangerous but never thought about a lake, it's just a lake after all. Big mistake. With continuous wind and odd currents these lakes can be tough traveling. Thanks.