Difficulty: Moderate to strenuous. The hike is 4 miles, out and back, and includes a long stretch of easy walking along the shore of Deboullie Pond, followed by a steep, rocky climb to the top of Deboullie Mountain, with a total elevation gain of about 800 feet. The trail includes several rock staircases but no hand-over-foot climbing or ladders — unless you want to climb to the top of the fire lookout tower at the summit. The hike can be lengthened into a 5.5-mile loop that includes a ridgewalk along the neighboring Black Mountain.
How to get there: The gravel woods roads to Deboullie Public Lands are open late spring through fall, weather depending. Yield to oncoming logging trucks.
From the north, take Route 161 to the St. Francis checkpoint, paying the North Maine Woods user fee, then proceed south approximately 8 miles on St. Francis Road to reach the western boundary of Deboullie Public Lands.
From the south, take Route 11 north from Ashland to Portage and turn left onto West Road (before Portage Lake). Drive a little less than 1 mile, then turn left onto Fish Lake Road-Rocky Brook Road (at the entrance of which you’ll see signs for several sporting camps). Drive about 4 miles and stop at the Fish River Checkpoint to pay the North Maine Woods user fee. Past the checkpoint, drive just under 2 miles, then turn right onto Hewes Brook Road and follow it for 12.5 miles, then turn left onto T15 R9 Road-Red River Road. Drive about 7 miles to the eastern boundary of Deboullie Public Lands. There are some intersections throughout this route that may confuse you. When it doubt, follow the red “RRC” signs with a white fish on them. These signs are for Red River Camps, which lie in the heart of Deboullie.
Once in Deboullie Public Lands, navigate the gravel roads to the parking area and boat launch at the east end of Deboullie Pond. The trailhead, marked with a sign and map, is at the second parking area.
Information: Nestled in the heart of the North Maine Woods, Deboullie Mountain is one of several hiking destinations in Deboullie Public Lands, a state-owned property characterized by its small, rugged mountains, mossy forests and remote ponds and streams that are popular for fishing.
Topping off at 1,981 feet above sea level, Deboullie Mountain is slightly taller than the rest of the mountains in the area, and on its summit sits a historic fire lookout tower that provides an unobstructed 360-degree view. And for those who don’t want to climb the tower, there’s a nice overlook near the top of the mountain, and another partial overlook near the tower.
The hike begins with a 1.3-mile walk on the Deboullie Loop Trail near the shore of Deboullie Pond, which is home to brook trout and blueblack trout, an unusual variety that is the world’s northernmost freshwater fish. Along the way, the trail passes tiny ice caves, narrow, shaded crevasses where snow and ice can remain year round. There you can crouch low to the ground and feel the cold seeping out, a sensation similar to standing in front of an open refrigerator.
Also on this section of the hike, the trail passes over an impressive rock slide trailing down the steep south slope of Deboullie Mountain. The name “Deboullie” is an adaptation of the French word “debouler,” which means to tumble down, referring to the talus (rock) fields on the mountain and bordering many of the ponds in the area.
Not long after crossing the rock slide, the trail comes to an intersection where you’ll turn right into the 0.7-mile Tower Trail for a steep climb up the mountain that features switchbacks, rock staircases, a footbridge and rocky slopes.
Just before reaching the summit, the trail visits an overlook. And from there, it’s just a short walk through the woods and one final rock staircase before a clearing where you’ll find a reconstructed ranger’s cabin, the old fire tower and a picnic table. This is a great place to stop for lunch, even in inclement weather, since there’s a nice, sturdy table inside the cabin, as well.
The fire lookout atop Deboullie Mountain was originally established in 1919 in a tree, according to the Forest Fire Lookout Association Maine Chapter. In 1921, a 12-foot-tall steel fire lookout tower was constructed on top of the mountain. And less than a decade later, in 1929, that tower was replaced with a much larger, 49-foot-tall tower topped with a wooden cab. This tower, reinforced in recent years, is what you’ll find atop the mountain today. Some people climb the tower’s steel ladder to access the cab, where you can open four windows — one on each side — for breathtaking views of the region.
From there, you can head back down the way you came for a 4-mile out-and-back hike, or you can make it into a 5.5-mile loop by continuing past the tower on the 3-mile Black Mountain Trail, which travels along the ridge of Black Mountain. Along the way, there are two viewpoints, one just north of the summit of Black Mountain (1,901 feet above sea level) and one looking over Black Pond. And for those looking for even more adventure, there’s a 0.5-mile side trail that visits Little Black Ponds just 0.6 mile before the loop closes near Deboullie Pond boat launch.
Deep in the woods of northern Maine, Deboullie Public Lands covers 21,871 acres and features about 30 miles of hiking trails and 30 primitive campsites. Dogs are permitted but must be leashed and attended at all times while at campsites. On trails, dogs can be off leash but must be under their owner’s strict control. Keep in mind that hunting and trapping are permitted on the property, though state law dictates that firearms cannot be discharged within 300 feet of any camping area, trail or other developed area.
To learn more, visit maine.gov/deboullie or call Northern Public Lands Office for the Maine Bureau of Parks and Lands at 207-435-7963.
Personal note: “Do you think these could snap?” I called down to my husband Derek, imagining one of the steel rungs of the ladder breaking free in my hand or falling from under my feet.
“No,” Derek called back. That’s all the reassurance I’d get.
Halfway up the tower atop Deboullie Mountain, I was starting to lose courage.
“I think I’ll stop here,” I called down to Derek, to which he replied something along the lines of, “OK, if you’re too scared to continue…”
I was scared. My legs had started to shake. I clung to the ladder, inspecting the rust at the edges of the rung in front of my nose, trying to make a decision, when I noticed a tiny jumping spider on the steel beside my hand. That’s funny, I thought. I’m afraid of spiders, but I’ve worked to get over that irrational fear in recent years by photographing them. And it has worked — especially with jumping spiders, which are arguably the most adorable of all spiders, with two big eyes at the front of their heads that resemble goggles. In a way, those tiny little spiders symbolize to me my ability to confront my fears, big or small … or tall.
On the ladder, 20 feet above ground, the coincidence wasn’t lost on me. Taking a deep breath, I looked up, focusing on the cab, and resumed my climb, and I didn’t stop until I reached the top.
Disclaimer: I’m not telling you to climb the tower atop Deboullie — or any tower, for that matter. The risks you take are up to you. When I reached the top, there were names and dates scrawled inside the wooden cab that told me that plenty of people had climbed to the top over the years. But I bet there are a lot of hikers who choose to keep their feet on the ground. Heights affect everyone differently. If my legs had been shaking any more — if I’d felt out of control in any way — I wouldn’t have continued to climb. When adventuring, always listen to your body and know your limits. Conquering your fears is liberating, but there’s no shame in backing down to stay safe.
After taking photos of the amazing view from the four windows of the cab, I climbed carefully down, then Derek went up. The climb wasn’t nearly as difficult for him. His legs didn’t shake. The height of the tower didn’t affect him the same way it did me, but that didn’t make me any less proud of my accomplishment — or his.
As for our dog, Oreo, he didn’t seem all that impressed with the tower, but he did enjoy rolling around in the grass at its base.