How To Climb Kineo
John Gibson explains how to summit this Moosehead Lake mountain.
By John Gibson
Photogaph by Alan Lavallee
To approach Mount Kineo from Greenville, Maine, drive northwest on ME 15 and 6 (sometimes called the Rockwood Road) from a flashing light in Greenville center. At about 19.5 miles bear right (north) on a road with a sign indicating the Rockwood town landing. There is regular ferry service from the landing that will take you across the channel on Moosehead and to the trailhead on the peninsula of which Mount Kineo is a part. Service is frequent in high summer, less so in late spring and fall. There is a charge. For information call the Kineo Shuttle, 207-534-9012.
Kineo Township was once host to a grand hotel, begun as a tavern in 1844. Most of the structure is now gone, although the hotel’s links course is still in operation. The Land for Maine’s Future Program, with the involvement of the Nature Conservancy and the Maine Department of Conservation, funded the purchase of peninsula land in 1990. The Maine Bureau of Parks and Lands operates Mount Kineo State Park, which offers primitive campsites and hiking trails. There are still some private landholdings and residences on the peninsula as well.
The ferry service deposits hikers at the southwest corner of the peninsula, and trails begin from this site. From the landing point, where a trail board is located, walk northwest on an old carriage road that hugs the sandy shore. There are fine views over Moosehead Lake along the path. At 0.8 mile above the landing, the Indian Trail is on the right. This is the route Thoreau chose to ascend the mountain, one of three that directly or indirectly lead to Kineo’s summit. Go right (northeast) on the Indian Trail, which rises along the mountain’s southeastern precipice through stands of red pine. Grades here are moderate to steep in places, with occasional water views opening up as it ascends. About halfway up the rise, the trail passes the Bridle Trail on the left. This trail also begins at the carriage road and ascends easier grades through pretty hardwood cover. You may wish to take it on the descent. Continuing northeast and east, the Indian Trail climbs through mixed-growth forest and scrub, reaching a summit plateau bordered with conifers 0.9 mile above the carriage road. On top, a former Maine Forest Service tower offers a platform for taking in the vast expanse of land and water visible in all directions from this sublime place.
From the summit, views of Little Kineo, Big Spencer, and Little Spencer Mountains lie to the northeast. Mountains around Lily Bay are seen to the southeast, and prominent Boundary Bald Mountain stands to the west. The greatest canvas is, of course, Moosehead Lake itself. Dotted with many islands, the lake’s surface absorbs the marks of the rapidly changing winds and reflects the bold light of the northern Maine sky. In winter its vast whiteness is blinding. Kineo is certainly not the highest elevation in Maine’s North Country, but many have extolled the views from its summit, and it’s likely you will, too. The descent from Kineo can be made by following the Indian Trail back to the carriage road, then turning left (south) along the road. Alternatively, you can follow the Indian Trail partway down, then turn right (west) on the Bridle Trail and hike down to the shore and level ground. Turn left (south) on the carriage road, following it for about 1 mile to your starting point at the ferry landing.
Note: Be sure you are aware of the shuttle schedule and have conferred with shuttle service staff as to your expected return time. Carry adequate wind and rain gear plus food and water when you hike Mount Kineo. Use caution in the area near Kineo’s cliffs, and do not attempt to ascend or descend via “shortcuts.”
Excerpted from In High Places with Henry David Thoreau: A Hiker’s Guide with Routes and Maps by John Gibson; Countryman Press, Woodstock, Vermont, 196 pages, $18.95.