Imagine a pristine, scarcely touched stretch of Maine coastline. Imagine vistas of ocean and islands, stretching out from uncrowded beaches and bluffs. Imagine scenic hiking trails through old-growth woods, teeming with wildlife and birdsong.

There’s a good chance you’re imagining something that looks a lot like Holbrook Island Sanctuary in Brooksville.

In 1971, Anita Harris willed 1,230 acres of property in Brooksville – on the peninsula north of Deer Isle – to the state of Maine for the creation of a nature sanctuary. A longtime resident of the area, Harris dreamed of protecting this special place “to preserve for the future a piece of the unspoiled Maine that I used to know.”

While managed by the Maine Bureau of Parks and Lands, Holbrook Island Sanctuary is unique in that it’s a nature sanctuary, not a traditional state park with a fee gate, paved roads, campsites and modern facilities. Dirt roads, paths and animal trails crisscross the sanctuary, taking visitors to the shoreline, marshes, ponds and forests, populated by a diverse array of animals and flora. Per Harris’ wishes, it will not be altered by modern park facilities or management techniques, offering visitors an experience quite unlike any other on the coast.

To get to the Sanctuary, head south from Bucksport on Route 175 for about 22 miles – passing through Orland and Penobscot – before turning right onto Route 176 in Brooksville, where signs will lead you to the entrance. At the Holbrook Island Sanctuary sign, I suggest turning right onto Back Road and making a counter-clockwise loop that will bring you through the sanctuary, Goose Falls and Harborside, then back by way of Cape Rosier on Cape Rosier Road.

The start of the Summit Trail. Scenic hiking trails, old-growth woods, plentiful wildlife and birdsong – these are what you’ll find at Holbrook Island Sanctuary. Photo by Jake Christie

Traveling this direction, the first trailhead you’ll reach is the Summit Trail about a half-mile down the dirt road. This 0.9-mile trail travels up quite steeply, over rough, rocky footing, to deposit you on the summit of Bakeman Mountain (also called “Backwoods Mountain” in older maps). The view from here is quite obscure, but through the trees you’ll get a peek at the interior of the Sanctuary and the surrounding coastline – plus, you might get to savor a bit of breeze after the leg-pumping climb up the trail.

For a gentler hike, you also can use the Summit Trail trailhead to access the Mountain Loop Trail, a 1.7-mile stroll around the base of the mountain. While there are no ocean views, the beautiful trail is lined with thick, verdant moss and carpeted with orange pine needles. Just watch your step – while the trail isn’t strenuous, there are rooty and rocky stretches, especially on the eastern side.

Continuing through the Sanctuary on Back Road, you’ll come to an intersection with Indian Bar Road, which leads to the Sanctuary Headquarters and picnic area. A few dozen feet down the road is the Backshore Trail, a fascinating and easy walk through old estate fields and foundations. The 0.7-mile trail passes almost 40 points of interest, marked on the sign at the trailhead, including the foundations of farm buildings, a root cellar, a still-standing smokehouse and old flower gardens. The trail ends at a small beach – one of the three you can visit in the Sanctuary.

At the height of Indian Bar Road, there’s a sign for a scenic view but I couldn’t seem to find it. I think the trees may have grown so tall that they have obscured a westward-looking view toward Holbrook Island and Penobscot Bay, which is unfortunate for shutterbugs but quite fortunate for the trees. This is a sanctuary, after all, created to protect these sentinels from interlopers like us.

The view west from Indian Bar Beach, with Camden Hills in the background. Photo by Jake Christie

The picnic area at the end of Indian Bar Road features a number of picnic tables with standing charcoal grills, and access to two beaches: one looking east, across Smith Cove toward the mainland; and one looking west, toward Ram Island and Holbrook Island, with Islesboro and the Camden Hills across Penobscot Bay in the distance.

Back Road continues past Indian Bar Road and dips down to cross a bridge at the edge of a large, scenic beaver flowage, with views of Bakeman Mountain. An easy 1.1-mile trail with trailheads on either side of the flowage makes for a relaxing walk around the beaver pond through open woods.

A short road on the right marked “Dock Area” leads to a stunning boat launch, where you can put in and paddle a half-mile to Holbrook Island proper – also part of the state sanctuary. The dock on the 115-acre island is easy to spot from the mainland, and provides access to about a mile of trails exploring rocky ledges, sandy beaches, woods, fields and mud flats. Harris lived on this island until she died in 1985, and the Harris family barn still looks back toward her bequest from the island’s eastern shore.

Back Road continues to the western edge of the sanctuary at Goose Falls, which also can be reached from the dock by way of the rocky, shoreline-hugging 0.8-mile Goose Falls Trail. Once you hit pavement again, turn left onto Harborside Road, then another left onto Cape Rosier Road to complete the loop back to the sanctuary entrance. Along the way you’ll pass trailheads for the 0.6-mile Bakeman Farm Trail – which offers views of another beaver flowage – and the 1.4-mile Fresh Pond Trail (on Ollis Gray Road, near the Cape Rosier Methodist Church), an interpretive nature trail that loops around Fresh Pond.

In all, more than 7.5 miles of trails – more than I have space to mention – offer many opportunities to explore this unspoiled bit of land poking into Penobscot Bay. If you’d like to help support the sanctuary, consider a donation to Friends of Holbrook Island Sanctuary (www.friendsofholbrookisland.org).

Jake Christie is a freelance writer living in Portland. Along with his brother, Josh, he writes about great Maine destinations for outdoors enthusiasts. Jake can be reached at:

[email protected]


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