Hiking Mt Kineo ~ Moosehead Lake Region
Mt Kineo, Moosehead Lake
Hiking Mt Kineo
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Map of Mt Kineo

One million years ago a glacier several thousand feet thick flowed south across the landscape of Maine toward the Atlantic Ocean. Today, the features of many of Maines mountains recount its passage: as it rode the upstream (northern) side of the mountains it left a gentle slope, yet while on the downstream (southern) side it chipped and tore the rock away, leaving slides, ledges, and occasionally cliffs.

Ten thousand years ago, after the retreat of the most recent ice age, a tribe of Native Americans known only as the "Red Paint People" ended a journey of thousands of miles, making their home amongst the mountains and lakes of Maine. One lake provided them with an abundant supply of fish, but the greater reward came from the 1,789 foot mountain which rose from its center: flint. The highly prized flint, for which Native Americans from the most distant corners of North America traveled thousands of miles to trade, was procured from the southern side of the mountain which would forever bear the greatest scar of the ice age's passage, an awesome 900-foot cliff of rhyolite, the tallest and largest in a land soon to become a nation called America.

Some years after that nation formed, one of the most celebrated naturalists in its history, Henry David Thoreau, visited the famed mountain and the lake from which it sprang. Impressed by the sheer cliff, he and his Native American guide climbed it and viewed the endless, unspoiled panorama. There he was entertained by his guide, who told the many legends of that mountain. Although the lake had many names - Ch'sebem by the natives, Great Lake by the early surveyors and finally, Moosehead Lake - the mountain was named after the most enduring legend of all: a harsh, unrepentant Native American chief. Expelled from the tribe for his cruelty, he lived out the rest of his life - and an afterlife of redemption - upon the peak of the mountain. His name was Kineo.

Legends of Mount Kineo have grown in the century and a half since Thoreaus own legendary visits. The Kineo Hotel, known also as Kineo House, evolved from a small tavern in 1844 into a world famous palace, with nearly 300 rooms and a dining room which could seat 400, by the advent of the twentieth century. It held everything those of wealth and royalty could want and they came in droves. A youthful Teddy Roosevelt stayed there in 1870 and legend has it he lost a fist fight with some boys from Greenville. In 1916, a Polish princess, Princess Radziwill, was picnicking atop Kineo when she received a "Dear John" letter from her love in Russia. After reading the letter of rejection from that man whom she planned to marry she strode to the edge of the precipice and jumped to her death.

In recent years the grand old hotel has been torn down and the land on which it stood, along with the entire mountain, purchased originally for thirty-five cents an acre, was sold back to the State Of Maine. But while so much is gone, the mountain still remains, and it is possible to touch its rich history by climbing it, knowing that as you do so you follow in the footsteps of Thoreau and even Chief Kineo himself.

Getting there: Sitting as it does on the shore opposite of the small town of Rockwood, Kineo can be difficult to get to. The most direct way to Kineo is by boat. The Kineo Shuttle leaves every hour from the public boat landing in Rockwood. A small fee is charged. The trailhead begins at the Kineo landing.

There is another way. Though less direct, it is possible to drive to within 1.5 miles of the trailhead. Start by following the directions to Little Spencer Mountain. Do not turn right at 8.4 miles (where there is a sign for Spencer Pond Camps), instead continue on the main road and follow signs to Maine Public Reserved Lands. When you come to the MPRL sign, continue past it on the main road. About 0.7 miles after you will pass a sign on the left which goes to Cowan Cove Campsite. 1.5 miles later you will come to a gate through which no vehicles are allowed to pass. Park on the right, off the road. If you do choose this option, keep in mind that you will have to walk over private land. Stay on the main road and respect the landowners wishes, as there are several camps in the area. When I walked this way in the fall of '98, I was too busy gawking at the sheer cliff of Kineo to want to trespass.

From the gate, it is still over a mile to the trailhead. As you walk down the hill there will be a second gate, go around it and continue along the peninsula (there may be a third gate midway through). There is a beautiful sandy beach which runs alongside it. Stay on the road which winds through the golf course. There will be a couple trails on the right which go up to Kineo, and further on there is a large field, but by keeping left and staying on the main road you will come to the dock, where the trailhead begins.

The Trails: From the dock, the trail skirts the shore of Moosehead Lake for 0.8 miles, and through birch and alders you can see Kineos awesome cliffs. Here the trail splits into two separate trails, the Bridle Trail and the Indian Trail. The Bridle Trail, while longer, is the easier of the two, winding up the gentle grade of the west side of the mountain through maple and yellow birch. Nearly a mile later it enters a forest of fir and spruce and joins the Indian Trail.

Not only is the Indian Trail steeper, but it follows the edge of the cliff, soon entering a stand of red pine. Nature has provided her own staircase to assist the hiker in the form of stratified layers of rock At the top of the first cliff there is a side trail which leads back to the hotel and the landing (it is called the Cliff Trail and will be mentioned later in this text). When you come to the final overlook to the southeast, the Bridal Trail joins the trail. From here you ascend a small rise on the mountain then descend into a diminutive valley which creates an impression of being deep in the forest instead of a lake. Soon you arrive at a fork and by bearing left you will come to the peak of Kineo and the recently restored fire tower which now serves solely as a lookout. From the lookout are grand, majestic views: Little Kineo, Big and Little Spencer Mountains in the northeast, the Lily Bay Mountains in the southeast, Big Squaw in the south, the conical peak of Coburn in the southwest behind Blue Ridge and Misery Ridge and the three rolly-poly humps of Boundary Bald Mountain in the west. Of course, all around Kineo is the grand expanse of Moosehead Lake, to the west is Brassua Lake and in the east is Spencer Pond.

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