Difficulty: Easy-moderate. The Dead River Trail is 2.5 miles in length, wide and travels over several gentle hills.
How to get there: From the intersection of Route 1 and Route 15 in Orland, drive east on Route 1 for approximately 1.6 miles, then turn left onto Hatchery Road. Drive 1.4 miles and you will see the Craig Brook National Fish Hatchery on your left. Continue past the hatchery and over a small bridge and the road will become the Don Fish Road. Drive 0.5 miles up Don Fish Road and a small parking area for the Dead River Gate will be on the left.
Information: The Dead River Trail is located in the Dead River Parcel of the 45,000-acre Great Pond Mountain Wildlands in Orland. Managed for wildlife habitat and low-impact recreation — such as hiking, biking, fishing and hunting — the Wildlands includes several small mountains, wetland and two miles of shoreline on the Dead River, the northern arm of Alamoosook Lake.
Of the many trails in the Wildlands, Dead River Trail is popular for easy hiking, biking, cross-country skiing and snowshoeing. While the trail doesn’t lead to any mountaintop, it does climb a few hills and offers several stunning views of the Dead River and the low ridge of Dressers Mountain to the west.
The trail is approximately 2.5 miles in length, according to a sign at the trailhead, and forms an “V” shape, first traveling north along the side of the Dead River, then striking southeast and traveling along the west slope of Great Pond Mountain.
At about 0.7 mile from the trailhead, you’ll find a side trail called the Picnic Path on your left (if you’re walking away from the trailhead). The 0.3-mile Picnic Path is marked with blue blazes and leads down to a picnic table on the shore of the river.
The Picnic Path, while short, should be considered moderately difficult because of several steep sections as it descends to the shore. This small trail travels through a beautiful section of woods, with towering evergreens. In the summer, the path is covered in grass, according to the Great Pond Mountain Conservation Trust.
At about 1.6 miles is a trail intersection marked with a sign that reads “Dead River Trail, Great Pond Mountain Summit.” Turn right to continue on the Dead River Trail. On the Wildlands trail map, this section of trail is labeled as the Gold Brook Trail and is about 0.8 mile long. (If instead you continue straight at the intersection, the trail will come to a dead end in a few tenths of a mile, according to the the Great Pond Mountain Conservation Trust trail map.)
Dead River Trail (and thus Gold Brook Trail) ends at a trail intersection and a cairn. If you turn around at the intersection, it will make for a hike that is about 5 miles long.
To hike a loop that is about 3.5 miles in length, turn left at the intersection and hike about 0.3 mile on a connector trail, then turn right. Hike a short distance and take Stuart Gross Path, on the left. Stuart Gross Path leads to Don Fish Road in 0.3 mile. At the road, turn right and walk about 0.4 mile back to the Dead River Gate, completing the loop.
To hike to the summit of Great Pond Mountain, turn left at the intersection at the end of Dead River Trail. Hike about 0.3 mile, then turn left onto Mountain Trail, which leads to the summit of Great Pond Mountain in 1.1 mile. You must descend the mountain the same way. If you complete the hike by taking the Stuart Gross Path to Don Fish Road, then walking back to Dead River Gate, the hike will be about 5.5 miles in total length, according to mileages on the trail map.
Great Pond Mountain Wildlands is in two pieces: the 1,075-acre Dead River Section and the 3,420-acre Hothole Valley Section. Hiking trails and multi-use trails are located on both sections, though not all trails are easily accessible in the winter or during weekdays. Some roads are open to vehicle traffic only on summer and fall weekends. Year round, visitors may use parking lots at Dead River Gate, North Gate (off Bald Mountain Road) or South Gate (off Route 1).
The land is owned and maintained by the Great Pond Mountain Conservation Trust, a nonprofit organization founded in 1993 to conserve wilderness for the communities of northwestern Hancock County.
Visiting the Wildlands is free, though donations are welcome in the iron rangers located at the North Gate and South Gate. Welcome uses of the Wildlands include hiking, bicycling, horseback riding, fishing, hunting, paddling, berry-picking, cross country skiing, snowshoeing and snowmobiling, though specific trails are open to only certain activities. For example, some trails are open to foot traffic only. Hunters are asked to register with Great Pond Mountain Conservation Trust.
ATVS, dirt bikes and other off-road vehicles (aside from snowmobiles) are not allowed. Dogs are allowed on leash only, except for the Hothole Brook Trail and Great Meadow Trail, which are abundant in porcupine and fragile wildlife habitat. Owners are expected to pick up after their dogs. Carry in, carry out.
Camping and fires are by permission only in two designated campsites for a small fee.
Geocaching is permitted. To search for Wildland caches, visit www.geocaching.com. If you want to place a cache, contact the Great Pond Mountain Conservation Trust first.
For information about the Wildlands, including printable trail maps, visit greatpondtrust.org. For answers to specific questions, call 460-7190 or email email@example.com. A map of designated snowmobiling trails can be found at www.familysnowmobileclub.com.
Personal note: After days of subzero temperatures, I was enthusiastic to get outside Sunday, Jan. 5, when temperatures rose to a balmy 30 degrees Fahrenheit. The “warm” temperatures allowed my dog Oreo to join my boyfriend Derek and me on our snowshoeing expedition of Dead River Trail.
During the snowshoe, we passed two cross-country skiers and their black Lab, and while we didn’t come across any other recreationists, we knew they were out there based on the four vehicles parked at the trailhead. The snowshoe and cross country tracks also spoke of the popularity of the Wildlands in the winter.
My favorite part of the hike was the side trail, the 0.3-mile Picnic Path leading to the river. Steep and narrow, the trail led through old evergreens that looked especially majestic coated in snow and ice. Also on the side trail, the human footprints were outnumbered by animal tracks — most notably deer and snowshoe hare.