By Colin Brown
Deep in a quiet corner of Eastern Maine lies a paddler's dream destination: The Downeast Lakes. A largely undiscovered paddling destination, the rocky shores of over two dozen pristine lakes and miles of woodland streams are surrounded by private and public conservation land. If you are looking for beauty, solitude and a peaceful escape, you've come to the right place.
Surrounded by towering hemlock, pine, and spruce forests sits the charming village of Grand Lake Stream, perched on its namesake waterway that is a world-renowned fly fishing destination for landlocked salmon and brook trout. Traditional Maine lodges and fishing guides have sustained the town for over a century, attracting visitors from all over the world. When rumors of 21st century development surfaced in the late 1990s, the community joined together to protect the forests and waters they depend on. In only a few short years, the Downeast Lakes Land Trust (DLLT) was formed, working with partners to place conservation easements on over 370,000 acres, thus ensuring the future of this working wilderness for generations to come.
Since its inception, DLLT has encouraged all forms of public access to the 34,000-acre Farm Cove Community Forest. With nationwide interest in canoeing and kayaking on the rise, DLLT established the "Downeast Lakes Water Trail," building nine water-access campsites along routes that have been popular with native tribes and sportsmen for generations. The campsites, which are free to the public on a first-come, first-served basis, fill a geographic void that connects paddlers to other maintained campsites in the region. The Passamaquoddy Tribe and Maine's Bureau of Parks and Lands both have dozens of public campsites in the Machias, Penobscot, and St. Croix River watersheds, creating endless opportunities for multi-day trips. DLLT plans to build an additional 5 – 6 campsites upon closing the West Grand Lake Community Forest Project, a 22,000-acre addition to DLLT's existing land.
"The waterways of the Downeast Lakes region have been the lifeblood of these communities for centuries," says DLLT Executive Director, David Montague. "The broad variety of paddling opportunities here have long been a well-kept secret, but word is starting to get out."
From the landlocked salmon and lake trout of West Grand Lake to the smallmouth bass of Big Lake, there is something for anglers of all ages. Camping and fishing supplies, food, and more can be found at the Pine Tree Store in Grand Lake Stream – a must-see for its charm and local fish tales. Be sure to cook yourself a shore lunch with the morning's catch before moving on to your next campsite. The only problem will be deciding where to head next.
"My personal favorite sites are Flood Cove (next to a babbling brook and sandy beach) and the Fourth Machias Lake sites (situated on the remnants of an old logging dam)," says DLLT Education and Outreach Manager, Colin Brown. "But you really can't go wrong; they are all unique."
If fishing isn't your thing, DLLT maintains four hiking trails that highlight some of the more scenic areas of the forest. With many large animals such as moose, deer, bear, bobcat, and over 180 different species of birds recorded, wildlife viewing opportunities are almost a sure bet. Downeast Lakes Land Trust also hosts several education programs throughout the year, including a full moon paddle (July) and a flatwater race on West Grand Lake (August) that are fun for the whole family.
If you go:
Camping and access information, maps, and area knowledge: www.downeastlakes.org
Guides, Outfitters, and Lodging:
Grand Lake Stream Guides Association – a complete directory of all Registered Maine Guides in the region.
Grand Lake Stream Chamber of Commerce – local events, businesses, and area lodging.
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