Updated: Jun 28, 2021
A mountain surrounded by water and the secret way to reach it without using the boat shuttle...
They may tell you that this trail is "only accessible by boat", but after getting ourselves lost on our drive to the boat shuttle dock, we discovered a way to walk ourselves over to the trailhead. That's right, we arrived at the mountain via car then foot. No boat required.
"Not all who wander are lost" is a J.R.R. Tolkien quote that I use often, as I am often lost...only to discover something amazing. Once you realize you're lost, the key is to let go of expectations and remember that every path leads somewhere, even if it's not the journey you'd planned. In my experience, things usually work out.
If you're lost on a 4,000 footer while hiking alone in the winter, well that's another story. What I'm referring to is getting lost on small, family-friendly hikes with others around to help re-direct, as was the case on this particular adventure.
We left our campsite early for the hour long drive to the Rockwood Town Landing, where you pick up the commercial boat shuttle to the Mount Kineo trailhead. We typed our destination into GPS (or so we thought) and opened up our Maine Atlas/Gazetteer to the Moosehead Lake page, just to double check our route. Yup, looked good. It also passed through Kokadjo, the location of a popular bog for moose sightings. A moose, a boat ride and a beautiful hike...the day was looking pretty spectacular. Little did we know, that our GPS was leading us around the right side of Moosehead Lake, instead of the left side, which would have brought us to the boat launch in Rockwood.
Our first clue should have been the old logging road we found ourselves on. I actually commented out loud, "I'm surprised no one mentioned the rough road conditions. I mean, what if we'd driven here in a Hyundai Accent or something?" Luckily, my minivan is a beast of a car with all wheel drive, so we managed the drive just fine.
We also saw a moose!! For this reason, I'm so grateful we went the wrong way. It's quite magical seeing a real live moose, in person. Maybe you've seen one, but I'd only seen a moose walking away from a distance, once in my life. My kids had never seen a moose and my husband had only seen one as a teenager in Baxer State Park. Here's the picture my son took.
Buoyed by the moose sighting, we carried on down the long LONG, bumpy logging road until we arrived at the end - a few large rock boulders, blocking cars from continuing on. There were a couple of large pickup trucks at this spot, so we just parked next to them.
"I guess we walk from here?" None of us questioned this, which makes me laugh out loud now. I mean, would GPS mislead us? Of course it would, but that thought did not cross our minds. Maybe it was the magical moose that left our awe struck brains in la la land. Regardless, we exited the car and headed out on foot. There were no signs for the boat shuttle. Only private property signs. Hmmmm...red flags everywhere. Still, we carried on. After about ten minutes of walking, it struck us that we may be lost. Luckily, an older couple in a golf cart came along just in time.
"Can you tell us how to get to the Mount Kineo boat shuttle?", we asked. They told us that it was on the other side of the "island", about a mile further. Ok. None of this made any sense. Still, we soldiered on because it was a beautiful place and we really had nothing else planned. After a long walk past some gorgeous private homes, we finally arrived at a golf course where I spotted a man leisurely riding his bicycle towards us.
"Can you tell us how to get to the boat shuttle for Mount Kineo?" we once again asked. He looked at us, pointed towards a towering mountain to our right and informed us that, "You are ON Mount Kineo".
Come again? Now we were really confused. I thought you could only access this mountain via boat?? What I later learned is that Mount Kineo is actually located on a peninsula, not an island. It is connected to the mainland by a causeway. The one we traveled on from the logging road. The logging road route was a secret and we were told by the cashier at the golf club store that the loggers keep the road in rough condition to keep it to themselves. Aha. This all suddenly made perfect sense. Nowhere will you read about the driving route to Mount Kineo. And to be honest, the boat shuttle is likely much more enjoyable. That said, if you miss the shuttle, just know that there is another way. Type Mount Kineo into your GPS and if it takes you around the right side of Moosehead Lake, past Kokadjo, you're heading for the logging road. It's a backup plan and maybe not the best route, but always nice to have options.
Now I will tell you about this unique hike with breathtaking views of Moosehead Lake. There are a couple of ways to reach the summit, but we took the Indian Trail up and the Bridle Trail down. It was almost 4 miles total and took us less than two hours. Side note, we didn't need to wait around for the next boat, since we were just walking ourselves back to the car. If you're catching the shuttle, you will likely have some time to kill, which is no problem since the place is beautiful. Dogs are also allowed here, on leash.
The trail starts out flat, walking along the water the entire time.
You will come to the Indian Trail marker on the right and immediately start climbing, heart working hard.
This trail ascends along the steep cliffs with plenty of rock scrambling and some stellar views.
At the summit, you will come to a very tall fire tower. The tallest I've ever seen. Too tall for me to climb...or any of my family members for that matter. Even Finn, the only McMahon not afraid of heights, could only make it to the second set of stairs. Rickety, old towers do not instill confidence. This tower was used until 1960 by the Maine Forest Service. They clearly have not used it since.
Relieved from the family decision to not climb the fire tower, we started our descent via the Bridle Trail, which was much easier than Indian and a bit longer. At the bottom, we passed by the boat launch where the Mount Kineo shuttle ferries passengers four times a day for this incredible hike. Passengers who understand how to follow a map and use GPS.
If you choose to take the boat shuttle, which I recommend, you can find a current schedule here: https://destinationmooseheadlake.com/kineo-shuttle-schedule/
Lastly, I'll leave you with a little history of this peninsula. The name Kineo comes from the Wabanaki warrior, Kinneho. Native Americans used the flit-like felsite and rhyolite from Mount Kineo to make stone tools. It's truly a magical place and I hope you find yourself here one day. We will certainly return during another Moosehead Lake camping trip. Maybe we'll take the boat shuttle next time, or maybe we'll continue to forge our own path. The great news is that you get to choose how, when and where your adventure unfolds. This is your life. Take the wandering path or the straight one. Whatever makes you happy.