Moosehorn National Wildlife Refuge is the easternmost such refuge in the United States and part of a vast federal system designed to protect wildlife and its habitat while providing for wildlife-related education and recreation opportunities.
One of the 11 refuge units in Maine managed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Moosehorn encompasses 30,000 acres of remote woods and waters – a little over 20,000 acres in Baring Plantation and just under 9,000 acres in nearby Edmunds Township, located about 100 miles east of Bangor and less than 25 miles from the Canadian border crossing in Lubec.
At Baring Plantation, there is a diverse landscape of hills, ledge outcrops, streams, lakes, bogs and marshes. The northern hardwood and spruce-fir forests, along with old-growth white pines, are home to a bounty of bird life, as well as black bears, white-tailed deer and coyotes. The American woodcock is intensively studied and managed at Moosehorn to better understand and help reverse its population decline.
A variety of hiking trails emanate from the area around the refuge headquarters, located just off Charlotte Road in the Baring unit. Woodcock Trail is a short accessible path that introduces visitors to the namesake bird. Bird Walk is a short jaunt for birding enthusiasts interested in some of the more than 220 avian species that have been identified in the refuge. Raven Trail is a 1.25-mile interpretive route that describes the importance of maintaining proper wildlife habitat.
Fifty miles of old gravel roads, many slowly reverting back to the forest and all closed to vehicles, offer plenty of access to the sights and sounds of Moosehorn, roughly one-third of which is federally designated wilderness. The Headquarters Loop is a popular 2.5-mile interpretive track following the Two-Mile Meadow and Mile Bridge roads.
For a good introduction to the Moosehorn backcountry, hikers will want to shoulder day packs and strike off for the Headquarters Road Trail and then the Tower Trail, a wonderful 5.4-mile out-and-back journey that leads to the wooded summit of Bald Mountain and its ruined wooden firetower.
The section of Headquarters Road Trail between the trailhead and Mullen Meadow is signed as part East Coast Greenway, a nearly 3,000-mile multi-use pathway stretching from Key West, Florida to nearby Calais, Maine. Along here, hikers will pass several areas that have been clear-cut, a forest management tool used to create openings in the woods to help spur the young, brushy growth that offers both food and cover for wildlife. Fire is another important habitat enhancement tool used at Moosehorn.
Beyond the extensive wetlands of Mullen Meadow, the trail narrows to enter the National Wilderness Area. Just ahead is the Bertrand E. Smith Natural Area, 160 glorious acres set aside in the late 1940’s to preserve a representative sample of old growth white pines, which, along with many impressive red pines – many exceeding two feet in diameter – dominate the forest canopy.
Tower Trail is a 0.7-mile spur that ends atop 448-foot Bald Mountain, where the downed remains of the former 100-foot firetower lie amid the thick woods. The old concrete stanchions, bolts, cables, a barrel, steps and a cabin frame all show a bygone era in forest fire protection.
Hikers will find plenty more opportunities to explore Moosehorn. A few miles north of the refuge headquarters on the outskirts of Calais is Magurrewock Mountain, a 384-foot peak accessed by a one-mile trail. To the south, Bells Mountain and Crane Mountain in the Edmunds unit of the refuge offer two fun loop hikes just shy of a mile each.
Given that the Moosehorn National Wildlife Refuge in far Downeast Maine is a healthy drive for a good many Maine hikers (it’s about 230 miles from Portland, for example), it’s probably a good idea to consider making it a weekend camping extravaganza. Cobscook Bay State Park in Edmunds has 125 fabulous campsites, many situated right on Whiting Bay. Hot showers are a bonus. The park also features pleasant foot trails leading to Littles and Cunningham mountains.