Difficulty: Moderate. The 1-mile trail to the ice caves has tricky footing due to large, exposed roots and glacial erratics. This trail is easy and short enough for children, but the ice caves themselves may be dangerous for children because of the ladders and slippery ice.
How to get there: Take the Golden Road in Millinocket to Abol Bridge (about 18 miles). After crossing the bridge, turn onto the dirt road on the left and follow the road for a little less than 3 miles. Bear left when the road splits and drive about a mile to the parking area on the right. The trail starts a short distance from the parking area, on the other side of a rock barrier. The trail is blue-blazed. About half way down the trail, the trail intersects with a wide, grassy trail. Turn left. A blue blaze on a boulder will confirm you’re going the right direction. Look for the trail to head back into the woods. Always follow the blue blazes.
Information: In the shadow of Mount Katahdin, just south of Baxter State Park, the Nature Conservancy’s Debsconeag Lakes Wilderness Area (DLWA) is a vital link in nearly 500,000 acres of contiguous conservation land. The conservancy acquired the 46,271-acre preserve in 2002. Debsconeag means “carrying place,” named by native people for the portage sites where they carried their birch bark canoes around the rapids and waterfalls. The DLWA contains the highest concentration of pristine, remote ponds in New England, as well as thousands of acres of mature forests.
The trail to the ice caves is just over 1 mile and weaves through tall pines and large glacial erratics covered in moss and ferns. The caves are talus, meaning a pile of heavy boulders that were plowed together by glaciers during the last ice age. There are metal rungs, courtesy of the Nature Conservancy, to climb down into the cave. As you descend, the temperature drops – a sensation much like stepping into a freezer. During the spring and summer, the ice coating the walls of the caves start to melts and form icicles. From the large main room (big enough to stand up and look around), hikers can clamber over boulders and shimmy into smaller rooms – though this type of exploration is not for people afraid of confined spaces. People aiming to spend time in the caves would be more comfortable bringing mittens and pants.
For information, visit www.nature.org.
Personal note: The trail to the ice caves was one of the most beautiful trails I’ve hiked this season (tall pines, moss-coated boulders and remote lakes). The entrance of the ice caves is icier in the spring and early summer. In July and August, some of the ice melts at the entrance, making the caves more accessible. If you do decide to visit the caves in the spring, wear ice cleats. If several hikers spend time in the caves, notice that the ice begins to melt and drip down from the ceiling. Even if you don’t plan on climbing down into the caves, the mossy trail to the caves and the side trail to the first Debsconeag Lake is well worth the drive down the Golden Road.