Difficulty: Easy-moderate. The hike is about 4.5 miles, out and back, and the majority of the walk is on wide, gravel multi-use roads that are used by horseback riders, bicyclists and walkers. At the far end of the hike, the road turns into a narrow footpath as it nears the shore of Hothole Pond. This section of the walk is a bit more rugged, with the surface of the trail being forest floor with plenty of exposed tree roots and rocks.
How to get there: From Route 1 in Orland, turn onto Upper Falls Road and drive 1.7 miles and turn right onto Mast Hill Road. Drive 2.2 miles and turn right onto Bald Mountain Road. Drive 2.9 miles and the North Gate to Great Pond Mountain Wildlands Hothole Valley Parcel will be on your right, with a small gravel parking area just beyond it. The hike starts at the gate, which remains closed to vehicle traffic year round.
Information: Hothole Pond Trail is one of the many public trails located in the Great Pond Mountain Wildlands, 4,500 acres of conserved forestland in East Orland.
Leading to the scenic Hothole Pond, Hothole Pond Trail is 1.2 miles long and much of it is a wide, gravel multi-use trail. However, the closest parking area to this trail is at the Wildland’s North Gate. From there, you must hike in 1 mile on a section of the gravel Valley Road that is closed to vehicles. Therefore, out and back, hiking to Hothole Pond is about 4.5 miles.
Great Pond Mountain Conservation Trust acquired most of the Wildlands in June 2005, adding another 200 acres in 2012-13. Managed for low-impact recreation and wildlife habitat, the conserved land is a popular place for hiking, mountain biking, paddling, cross-country skiing, snowshoeing and horseback riding.
The Wildlands is in two separate pieces: the 1,075-acre Dead River Parcel and the 3,420-acre Hothole Valley Parcel.
The Dead River Section includes the western and southern slopes of Great Pond Mountain, a popular hiking destination, as well as two miles of shoreline on the Dead River, the northern arm of Alamoosook Lake.
The Hothole Valley Parcel is considerably larger and includes the wooded valley between the peaks of Great Pond Mountain, Oak Hill, Flag Hill, Flying Moose Mountain, Hothole Mountain, Condon Hill and Hedgehog Hill. The valley is bisected by Hothole Brook, which winds north three miles through swamps and beaver meadows to empty into Hothole Pond.
The many mountains, hills, wetlands and other bodies of water in the Hothole Valley Parcel can be explored by a number of blazed footpaths and 14 miles of gravel roads, some of which are open to vehicle traffic on summer and fall weekends or snowmobiles in the winter. All of the gravel roads are open year round to horses, bicycles and foot traffic, and the narrow hiking trails are only open to foot traffic.
Dogs are permitted on leash on all but a couple trails — the Hothole Brook Trail and the Great Meadow Trail, which are especially abundant in porcupines.
For more information, visit greatponttrust.org or call Great Pond Mountain Conservation Trust at 469-6929.
Personal note: The black flies were out, dive bombing into our eyes and pinging off the camera lens, on Saturday, May 7, when my husband and I went for a quick afternoon stroll to Hothole Pond. I’d done my research and knew that the majority of the hike would be along smooth, gravel multi-use roads, allowing us to walk quickly, which helps a lot when it comes to avoiding black flies.
Under a blanket of clouds, we entered the Wildlands, following the hoofprints of horses and white-tailed deer down Valley Road. Keeping up a good pace, I paused only a few times to snap photos of spring-like scenes — the white blossoms of wild strawberries, fiddleheads unfurling in the ditch and anthills blooming from the gravel road. Every time I crouched to take a photo, black flies flew down the neck of my fleece, but at least my baseball cap kept them out of my hair.
We had left our dog, Oreo, at home, though he would have been permitted on this hike. He still had a sore foot — god only knows from what — and he needed to take it easy if it was ever going to heal.
As it turned out, it was a good thing we left Oreo at home. As we power-walked along the multi-use roads, we came across not one but three porcupine foraging beside the trail. All three didn’t see us until we were just feet away, then lumbered off, their quills puffed up in defense.
Also along the way, we came across wetlands formed by giant beaver dams. Though the black flies were especially thick near the water, we took time to inspect the impressive structures, and through a stand of half-submerged dead trees, we spotted a giant beaver lodge. Derek was determined to spot the animal itself, but we never did. Beavers are typically more active at night than during the day, I explained to him, though they don’t adhere to that schedule like some nocturnal animals do.
The Hothole Pond Trail dead-ended at the edge of Hothole Pond, its surface as smooth as glass. Bright green grass bordered the pond’s edge. It was the type of scene where I’d expect a moose to wade into the water at any moment — even though the moose population is much lower near the coast than it is inland. Of course, no moose came. I didn’t even spot any waterfowl gliding over the smooth surface of the water. After a few moments enjoying the quiet scene, we turned around to speed walk back to the trailhead, leaving the black flies in the dust.
Derek took the wheel to drive back home in Fred the Forester as I sat in the passenger seat, scrolling through the many photos on my camera. As we traveled the hilly, bumpy Maine roads, I reached back to scratch at a tickle on my neck and picked off what I knew was a tick before I even looked at it. Nevertheless, seeing the little brown pest struggling between my fingers, I panicked and shook it off my hand and — accidently — onto Derek’s shorts. Wide eyed, I stared as the tick as it crawled down the side of his shorts toward his bare leg.
“What? What is it?” he asked, then glanced down and saw the problem.
“Get it off me!” he yelled, perhaps with some choice words added in there. We’re lucky he didn’t go off the road.
I snapped out of my shock and reluctantly plucked up the tick and placed it in the cupholder between us, then grabbed a stray tube of lipstick and crushed it. I know that’s not the best way to dispose of a tick. I’ve heard if you have a cut on your finger and a tick’s innards squirt into the cut, you can pick up any disease it carries. But in this case, I wasn’t exactly thinking straight. There’s something about being in the confines of a car that makes finding a possibly disease-ridden insect on you even more terrifying.
All the way home Derek and I were itching at our skin and running our hands through our hair. In the front yard, we stripped down (we live in the woods without any close neighbors), checked our bodies for more ticks, then ran inside to shower. Fortunately, we didn’t find any more of the dangerous pests that day.