Places We Protect

Debsconeag Lakes Wilderness Area


View from the stern of a canoe as the boat moves toward the setting sun.
Paddling toward the sunset on a remote lake in the Debsconeag Lakes Wilderness Area. © Ian Patterson

The Debsconeag Lakes Wilderness Area contains the highest concentration of pristine, remote ponds in New England, and thousands of acres of mature forests.



Nestled 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.

Debsconeag means "carrying place," named by native people for the portage sites where they carried their birch bark canoes around 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.

Except for some areas around pre-existing camps, DLWA is managed as an ecological reserve. Ecological reserves are areas set aside for conservation and study of Maine’s ecosystems. Ideally, reserves are large enough to withstand storms, diseases and other natural disturbances and to provide secure habitat for wide-ranging species like moose, fisher, bobcat and pine marten. Ecological reserves are important to scientists studying how nature responds to challenges such as climate change, forest pests and diseases, and airborne pollution.

With your help, the Conservancy acquired this 46,271-acre preserve in 2002 and simultaneously helped secure a working forest conservation easement on 195,000 acres adjacent to the Debsconeags and Baxter State Park.




Paddle and fish on pristine lakes, hike to the ice caves or on the Appalacian Trail, or search the woods and waters for wildlife.


46,271 acres

Explore our work in this region

Nearly half the forests in the DLWA show no signs of past logging. Trees as old as 300 years have been found in more remote areas. Old, undisturbed forests like these are rich in diversity and complexity. The forest floor is covered with logs and mosses and ancient trees, whether standing or fallen, provide habitat for many woodland creatures.

To date, 215 plant species have been documented in the DLWA. Wildlife inhabiting the property’s rich forests includes pine marten, spruce grouse, moose, bobcat, black bear, and boreal chickadees.

The magical lakes for which the DLWA is named are home to lake and brook trout, arctic char, and rare freshwater mussels. Bald Eagles are a common sight along the shoreline of the West Branch Penobscot River.


Horsrace Pond, Blue and Rainbow Loop Trails: Parking for these trails is on the south side of the Golden Road about five miles west of Abol Bridge. The turn is an unmarked road at the top of the hill just west of the sign for Horserace Brook campsite. Follow the dirt road several hundred yards and park at the trailhead near Horserace Brook. Rainbow Loop Trail Map

Horserace Pond Trail (4 miles round trip) travels .5 mile along a small stream before the intersection with the Blue Trail. Turning right yields a 1.5-mile hike to Horserace Pond. The trail continues to meander along the picturesque Horserace Brook that drains the pond, as well as through a stand of old-growth hemlock. The pristine Horserace Pond is surrounded by deep green conifers and granite cliffs and boulders. There are three backcountry campsites on the banks of the pond.

Blue Trail is the left fork and is a steeper 2.3-mile hike past Clifford and Woodman ponds, ending at Rainbow Lake. The Rainbow Loop Trail enters on the right 1.5 miles from the trailhead. The Blue Trail continues through some remarkable stands of old-growth forest, loops around Clifford and Woodman ponds and terminates at Rainbow Lake, the largest lake in the Debsconeag Lakes Wilderness Area. This is a great spot to see Loons and Bald Eagles. It is also one of seven lakes in Maine with arctic char, a native fish related to salmon and trout. This trail is strenuous, so be prepared with solid footwear and plenty of drinking water.

Rainbow Loop Trail (2 miles) connects the Horserace Pond Trail with the Blue Trail to form a fantastic 5-mile circuit hike. The trail passes through many different forest types, past a remote pond, and over open ledges that afford beautiful views of Rainbow Lake, Mt. Katahdin, a number of distant peaks, and the hundred-mile-wilderness section of the Appalachian Trail. The hike is strenuous and includes steep climbs and drops that less experienced hikers will likely find very challenging.

Ice Caves Trail (2 miles round trip): This quick, 1-mile trail offers three separate destinations. The parking lot is located at the end of the Hurd Pond Road, a left turn off of the Golden Road immediately after crossing Abol Bridge. Keep left at the fork and drive about four miles to reach the trailhead. The trail leads up and down through granite boulders, leftovers of the last Ice Age’s glacial activity. The first turnoff on the right leads to a scenic lookout, which offers a vista of First Debsconeag Lake and the Debsconeag Deadwater. Continuing down the Ice Cave Trail (left at the fork), will bring you to another fork. Veer right to see the Ice Cave – a deep hole under a jumble of boulders with a cool environment that retains ice sometimes as late as August. This is a great spot to cool off in some of Nature’s best air conditioning. Turning left at the fork will bring you to the shore of First Debsconeag Lake. 

Canoe and Kayak Access

There are three carry-in boat launches in the Debsconeag Lakes Wilderness Area. The Hurd Pond boat launch can be reached by Hurd Pond road, as if you were going to the Ice Caves Trailhead. Instead of turning left at the fork, swing right and drive about one mile to the end of the road to reach the put-in. There is a Nature Conservancy campsite on the northwestern tip of the pond.

The second put-in is at Little Holbrook Pond, at the western end of the Debsconeag Lakes Wilderness Area. After crossing Abol Bridge, drive 9.9 miles west on the Golden Road and turn left. Drive about 1/2 mile to the end of the road, and the put-in is a short carry to Little Holbrook Pond.

The last put-in, which is at Omaha Beach, is located on land managed by Katahdin Forest Management. The turn-off for Omaha Beach is approximately four miles past Ambajejus Lake, and the left turn is marked by a small wooden sign. Little Omaha Beach and the boat landing is reached by a right turn about 2.5 miles down the road. The road travels across private timberland managed by Katahdin Forest Management, so be respectful of logging vehicles and road conditions. A vehicle with good clearance is recommended. From the landing and Debsconeag Deadwater, it is a quick paddle into First Debsconeag Lake, where there are three campsites on the eastern shore and one campsite on the northwestern shore.


There are a number of designated campsites in the wilderness area with fire rings and latrines. Camp sites are indicated on the preserve map linked below. Camping is only permitted at these sites and available on a first-come, first served basis. Please follow all preserve guidelines when enjoying your camping experience.

Preserve Guidelines

  • Hunting and fishing are allowed according to state laws and regulations.
  • Vehicles are restricted to designated roads; ATVs are not allowed anywhere on the property.
  • Mountain bikes are not permitted on hiking trails.
  • Horses, pets, and other domestic animals are not permitted.
  • Fires are allowed by permit only in existing fire rings at designated locations. Use only dead and down wood.
  • Do not collect or remove plants or animals.
  • Camp only in designated campsites. No reservations or fees required.
  • Camping at any one site is limited to a two-week maximum stay.
  • Please use the latrines installed at campsites.
  • Carry water for washing at least 200 feet away from streams or lakes and use small amounts of biodegradable soap.
  • Pack it in, pack it out! Remove all trash and leave your campsite looking better than when you arrived.

Download a full-sized map of Debsconeag Lakes Wilderness Area and a map of the Rainbow Loop Trails.