Difficulty: Easy to strenuous, depending on how much of the trail you hike. The trail is currently about 23 miles long, and the plan is for it to grow to be about 45 miles long. Along the way, the trail varies greatly in difficulty and remoteness. Some of the trail follows a flat, smooth, multi-use railroad bed, while other sections are narrow footpaths traveling over forest floor and uneven terrain, deep in the Maine woods.
How to get there: There are several trailheads. In Phillips, the trail begins with a walk through historic downtown Phillips, starting at Phillips Area Community Center at 21 Depot Street. In Madrid, a trailhead is at the junction of Fish Hatchery Road and Reeds Mills Road. In Sandy River Plantation, a trailhead is at Saddleback Mountain Resort, at the end of Rocky Pond Road. You’ll find a kiosk at each of these trailheads. And as the trail expands, other trailheads will be established.
Information: The Fly Rod Crosby Trail is a heritage trail that connects several communities in the High Peaks Region and was named after the famous Cornelia “Fly Rod” Crosby (1854-1946), Maine’s first registered guide. Crosby was known for her skill in fly fishing and shooting sports, and her efforts in promoting the Maine woods as a tourist destination.
Local residents began constructing the trail in 2010, led by the High Peaks Alliance, a nonprofit organization with the mission of ensuring and enhancing public access and opportunities for recreation in Maine’s High Peaks, a region that encompasses some 200,000 acres in western Maine. So far, the group has mapped out and constructed approximately 23 miles of the trail, which they estimate will eventually reach 45 miles in length.
The trail highlights outdoor destinations and communities that were important in Crosby’s life. The plan is for the southern terminus to be in Strong, where Crosby was buried, and the northern terminus to be in Oquossoc, where the Outdoor Sporting Heritage Museum features a permanent Fly Rod Crosby exhibit. Oquossoc is also the location of a Catholic church that Crosby helped fund.
However, the trail is still a work in progress. As of July 2018, the southern terminus was in downtown Phillips, where it passes by the house Crosby grew up in and the office where she wrote her widely syndicated column “Fly Rod’s Notebook,” which appeared in newspapers in New York, Boston and Chicago. In Phillips a trailhead kiosk with interpretive brochures for the downtown Phillips section of the trail is located at the Phillips Area Community Center.
Traveling north out of town, the trail follows the abandoned railroad beds of what was once the Sandy River & Rangeley Lakes Narrow Gauge Railroad (1879-1935). Today, the railroad bed is a multi-use trail that follows the banks of Sandy River, then strikes through the forest to visit Longcove Pond and Toothaker Pond on its way to Madrid.
In Madrid, another trailhead kiosk is located at the intersection of Reeds Mill Road and Fish Hatchery Road, not far from Star Barn B&B. This Madrid kiosk is about 7.3 miles from the trailhead kiosk in Phillips.
From there, the trail continues north, following Orbeton Stream, a popular swimming location with plenty of pools. For this section of the trail, you have the option of following a multi-use trail on the east side of the stream, or a footpath on the west side of the stream. The multi-use trail has easier access to the swimming holes, but the footpath is a quieter walk, and 1.8 miles from the Madrid kiosk is a location where you can access the water for a swim at the confluence of Orbeton Stream and Perham Stream.
About four miles north of Madrid, the trail hops over to Hardy Stream, which is follows west for about 3 miles, then turns away from to connect with an ATV trail that travels along the base of Saddleback Mountain for 3 miles to cross the Appalachian Trail near Eddy Pond. About 0.6 mile after crossing the AT, the trail leaves the ATV trail to visit Midway and Rock Pond before ending at Saddleback Mountain Resort at the end of Rock Pond Road. This section from Madrid to Saddleback is 12.6 miles.
From there, bits and pieces of the trail have already been established and blazed, and if all goes as planned, the trail will extend north to Rangeley Lake, then crosses the lake as a water trail to Oquossoc.
“Last summer, the museum voted to be the northern terminus, which is great,” said Betsy Squibb, a member of the High Peaks Alliance on the committee for the Fly Rod Crosby Trail. “There will be a kiosk there, and the trail will go a block or two farther to the Catholic church she helped fund.”
While much of the trail crosses public land, some of it is located on private land with landowner permission. Therefore, it’s especially important to stay on the designated trail, which is marked with small diamond-shaped signs.
Dogs are permitted if kept under control at all times. For more information, visit https://highpeaksalliance.org or call Betsy Squibb at 207-639-3432.
Personal note: I first heard about Cornelia Crosby in 2012, while attending a three-day festival in the Rangeley Lakes Region. And while I didn’t look into her story much at the time, what little I did learn fascinated me.
Born in 1854, Crosby was a delicate child who was told by doctors to spend as much time outside as possible to improve her health — something I think many people can relate to — and so she took to the woods, learning how to hunt and fish. Eventually, her path led her to become a walking advertisement of Maine, attending sportsmen’s shows in Boston and New York, and writing stories that enticed people to visit Maine.
So when I planned a recent weekend trip to the Rangeley Lakes Region with my husband, Derek, and our dog, Oreo, I knew that one of our destinations would be the Fly Rod Crosby Trail.
We arrived at Echo Lake Cabins in Phillips on Friday evening, whipped together some pulled chicken sandwiches and played board games and card games until bed. The next morning, after a breakfast of eggs and bacon, we drove to Saddleback Mountain Resort to jump on the Fly Rod Crosby Trail. I selected that section of the trail to explore because it seemed more remote than other sections, included ponds where Oreo could go swimming, and featured a hilltop view of the Rangeley Lakes Region.
That particular section of the trail ended up being a nice, quiet walk, though we did pass by a couple other trail users. Oreo swam in the ponds, which will filled with yellow water-lilies, also known as spatterdock. Near a battered up old boat at Rock Pond, Derek found a Narragansett “half quart” beer can from the 70s beside an equally old Budweiser can. And near the shore, I found a mink frog perched on a log, possibly waiting for one of the dragonflies or damselflies to fly just a bit closer.
Along sunny sections of the trail, we found a variety of wildflowers, including buttercups and lupines. While in the shady woods were tall ferns, bunchberry and bright yellow-orange mushrooms, spotted with white. And the viewpoints atop the hill near the ponds were well worth the short climb.
To further our Fly Rod Crosby experience, we stopped at the Outdoor Sporting Heritage Museum the next day to look at her display and purchase “Fly Rod Crosby: The Woman Who Marketed Maine” by Julia Hunter and Earle Shettleworth.
Someday soon, I plan to return to the region to hike some of the Fly Rod Crosby Trail in Madrid, where it follows Orbeton Stream. I’ve been told you can do a nice loop hike in that area by following the footpath 1.8 miles to the confluence of Orbeton and Perham streams, then crossing the stream to hike back on the multi-use trail.