*Please note that some areas specifically listed are not accessible in the winter due to plowing–specifically Mud Pond Rd.*
By Darryl Wood
Any time of year in Maine offers an abundance of choices to the outdoor enthusiast. Of course, the challenge is choosing one activity over another in what is a limited amount of free time for most of us. Sure, you want to have fun, but some type of physical activity should also be on the agenda, particularly if your day job is of the sedentary variety. So why not do both?
The Western Maine Mountains and High Peaks region offer numerous day trips to challenge all of our senses of adventure. For me, hiking and fishing provide the best of both worlds. Here are a few of my favorite adventure combos that you should consider for your next day-trip into the woods:
Cupsuptic Lake Area. On Route 16, west of Oquossoc, you will find the Forest Legacy Trails. These trails take you through gently rolling woods to the shores of Cupsuptic Lake. They are part of a large group of conservation efforts by the Rangeley Lakes Heritage Trust. Approximately 9 miles out of Oquossoc Village, you will see a sign for these trails. The next left on the top of the hill is Mud Pond Road (unmarked), and the trailhead is a half mile or so down this road. From the trailhead, there are several routes you can take to get to the lake. The shortest route to the lake is via the Timberland trail to Raven Point, approximately 2 miles round trip. From Raven Point, you can go north or south along the lakeshore. These trails cover miles of prime brook trout waters, with campsite destinations at Smudge Cove to the north, and Cold Brook, Cedar Cove, and Eagle Bay to the south. These sites are remote in nature and provide an authentic wilderness experience for those willing to do the work to get there and set up. They do have picnic tables and outhouses. These sites must be reserved for overnight use by calling 864-2003, but day use is free; the day I visited, there was not another soul in sight. These trails are well marked and easy to follow, but this is a big area and be sure to have a pack with food, water compass, GPS, and matches.
Cupsuptic Lake Park and Campground. Photo from Rangeley Lakes Heritage Trust.
Azischohos Mountain. Sticking to that neck of the woods, this next day-trip will leave you ready for bed by the time you get home. Azischohos Mountain lies a few miles down the road from Cupsuptic Lake, just south of the beautiful Maine Village of Wilsons Mills. This 3249-foot mountain provides a moderate 2-hour climb through mixed hardwoods, dense spruce, and hemlock to a scrubby alpine summit. From the top, you are rewarded with pristine mountain vistas, dozens of lakes and ponds, and a true sense of Maine and New Hampshire wilderness. The day we were last there, it was a clear bright day. Mount Washington and the Presidential Range to the southwest balanced the panorama, including Sugarloaf, Saddleback, and Mount Abraham to the southeast. The view from the top of this lesser-known mountain is genuinely one of the best in Maine, and the trail is a classic Maine woods walk.
Once off the mountain, it’s time to have lunch down the road at a picnic area on Azischohos lake, an astounding body of water over 12 miles long and teaming with trout and salmon. Three types of fishing opportunities come to mind here. If you enjoy fly fishing–and have enough energy remaining from your earlier hike–the Magalloway River exits Azischohos lake just past the aforementioned picnic area and follows the Western side of Route 16. This is a classic boulder-strewn stream with many hiding holes for the multitude of brook trout (and some salmon) inhabiting these waters. A great sport for those with the skill or luck to coax them to the fly. Even if the fish aren’t biting, the act of tossing a fly, hearing the rush of water, and drinking in the scents of wilderness is like a mental massage to cleanse the soul.
The Magalloway River is a fly fisherman’s heaven.
A second option would be to pick a small pond in the area, launch a canoe or kayak and try your luck on native squaretails. This is my own personal nirvana. As the afternoon progresses to evening, the winds die down, and the trout slurp up various species of mayflies and caddis as they emerge from the mud bottom of the pond. Laying a perfect cast over one of these rises and feeling the tug of a scrappy trout as he inhales your fly makes this just about the perfect scenario. Listening to the calls of a randy loon pair or watching a moose or deer in the shallows with the setting sun makes it one of those rare special days.
Shoreline Trail into the Forest Legacy Conservation Area.
One of my favorite ponds in the area for this type of adventure is West Richardson Pond, located in Maine Atlas & Gazetteer on Map 28, E1. Part of the adventure will be finding the access point to this carry-in pond, but I will tell you it is off the road on the way into the famous Upper Dam Pool on Richardson Lake. For those interested in a more leisurely afternoon of recovery from the morning hike, bring the boat and launch on Upper Richardson or Azischohos lakes. Both large lakes are long and oriented north to south and can get rough if the breeze is up. The public launch on Azischohos is through the Black Brook Cove Campground, which charges a modest 2-dollar fee to park your trailer. In addition to stellar trolling for trout and salmon, numerous remote campsites are available on the lake and dozens of sandy beaches to explore and stretch your legs. The remote sites are managed by Black Brook Cove Campground. Upper Richardson lake has a public boat launch (Maine Atlas & Gazeteer, Map 18, A1), and the fishing is good right off the launch. Try trolling flies or smelt imitations in any direction as soon as you hit the water. A depth finder or keen eye is requisite here, as you want to fish as close to shore as possible. Expect to catch brook trout up to 16″ with much larger specimens possible at any time. Togue (lake trout) and salmon are plentiful in this large, coldwater lake. Much like Azischohos, Richardson has numerous remote campsites available on the lake. These sites have tenting areas, picnic tables, and outhouses and are managed by South Arm Campground, call for reservations.
These days of splendor can be challenging to carve out of our busy lifestyles, so if you only get one day, double the adventure and make it a full one. You’ll never regret the things you did, only those you didn’t. Even better, spend some time looking over maps and exploring to find your own adventures. See you out there!