Estey Mountain is just a wooded bump on the horizon about a mile northwest of my location, which just happens to be in a kayak on the Orange River in the middle of Reynolds Marsh in Whiting. After going up American Route 1 – about 75 miles east of Ellsworth – and now east of Machias, there is a trail to the top of the small mountain and, with a GPS and a good map in hand I’m determined to find the trailhead and hike.
The Orange River Conservation Area, a project of the Downeast Coastal Conservancy, protects over 700 acres and incredible nine miles of undeveloped shoreline along the Orange River, Little Lake and Roaring Lake. A dam operated by the Maine Dept. of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife controls flow through the complex of marshes, bogs, swamps and rivers to maintain habitat for indoor waterfowl and wading birds.
A hand boat launch at Reynolds Marsh Overlook on Route 1 is one of two access points to the Orange River Water Trail. The other access point is 1-1 / 2 miles east at Orange River Landing, site of an old steam-powered sawmill on Landing Road, which is a short distance from the freeway via Playhouse Lane.
Paddle half a mile and turn the corner behind the low ridge and you’ve effectively left the hum of civilization behind, at least for a while. If you find yourself floating lazily with your paddle on the bow of your boat rather than making active strokes, well that’s understandable. There is a lot to absorb, after all, in this wonderfully wild and aquatic place.
DCC acquired the lands of the Orange River Conservation Area from 2003 to 2016. As one of the least developed river systems on the east coast of the United States, the ecological importance of its conservation was clear, not to mention its recreational value as an aquatic trail. . Ducks and geese, herons and egrets, beavers and muskrats, they’re pretty happy too, I’m sure. And as a paddler at the heart of it, well, I’m thrilled too. You will be too.
About a mile and a half from Reynolds Marsh Overlook there is a fork in the water trail. As you steer the boat west, it’s still a quarter of a mile along the narrow canal before you spot a small eroded sign on a tree, the start of the Estey Mountain Trail. We stop, haul the kayaks to shore, enjoy snacks, and swap sandals for hiking boots.
Delicate beds of moss and lichen line the path through aromatic spruce woods to a series of ledges atop Estey Mountain. Looking west from the summit, there is pretty Roaring Lake and the Orange River below, and beyond, a secluded section of narrow road, a red-roofed house, and a white church spire in the middle. from the vast sea of ââgreenery. It would be easy to sit here and watch for a long time, sure, but there is more river to explore.
The paddle is slow and smooth as we travel northeast along the peaceful Orange River. A picnic table on a point is a good place to stop and stretch your legs before continuing to the remote surroundings of Little Lake and another picnic spot. It’s possible to explore further north for about a mile, but on this beautiful, busy day it’s time to turn around. The takeaway count is 7 nautical miles, 1-1 / 2 miles on foot, and countless smiles of satisfaction.
The Orange River Conservation Area is part of a growing mosaic of conservation land in the surrounding area. On the west side of Reynolds Marsh is the new Reynolds Marsh-Orange River Wildlife Preserve. Part of Cobscook Shores’ network of 14 area parks being developed by the Butler Conservation Fund, the reserve includes a walking and biking trail, boat launch, and picnic site. Just west of the Butler Parcel is the Rocky Lake Preserve, 2,352 acres owned by the Maine Coast Heritage Trust which protects 6 miles of undeveloped shoreline on Rocky Lake, Orange Lake and Orange River and sports two locations Remote Campgrounds with Access to Water and a Short Trail.
Late summer and fall are a great time to recharge in Downeast Maine, so grab your hiking and paddling gear and head to the Whiting Wilds for some great outdoor adventures.
Carey Kish of Mount Desert Island is author of AMC’s Best Day Hikes along the Maine Coast and editor of AMC Maine Mountain Guide. Follow Carey’s adventures on Facebook @CareyKish