Fall colors on the steep hillsides of Mt. Abram, as seen from South Pond in Locke Mills. Christine Wolfe photo

Maybe you will be making the trek up to Mt. Abram in Greenwood this winter to carve some turns on some of the best-groomed ski slopes in the east. For a fun preseason primer, put your canoe on your vehicle and make the trip up to Locke Mills to paddle the circumference of South Pond in October. You will enjoy the changing stages of foliage from the coast to the western Maine mountains on the drive up and back. We explored along the shoreline of the pond for three hours, covering 6 miles and sharing the vivid blue water with loons, kingfishers, and Canada geese.

South Pond has cottages along portions of the shoreline. This time of year things are quiet as docks are being taken out and camps are being shuttered for the winter. What makes this outing so outstanding are the steep hillsides of Mt. Abram plunging straight down to water’s edge on the western side of the pond. The fact that they could engineer a narrow road between water and hillside was a remarkable feat.

From the boat launch follow the channel along Route 26 to its far end. Paddle through the concrete passageway leading under the railroad tracks and into the pond. As you enter the pond you will see the steep northern face of Mt. Abram ahead of you with its ski trails seeming to plunge right down into the pond.

The small marsh at the southern tip of South Pond is dotted with a few ancient gnarled tree stumps. Christine Wolfe photo

Continue east along the northern shoreline passing by the long sandy beach of Littlefield Beaches Campground. The railroad tracks skirt along the eastern edge of the pond providing wilderness solitude. As you paddle farther south the pond narrows near its end. The steep hillside towers over you on your right. My wife remarked that she felt we were, “paddling into a Norwegian fjord wallpapered with New England foliage.” A bald eagle appeared out of the pines on our left and glided out over the water toward the hillsides ablaze in a rich tapestry of golds and browns. We sat and watched the brilliant white of its tail moving up through the canvas of colors.

The small marsh at the end of the pond is dotted with a few ancient gnarled tree stumps that will keep your camera busy. A blue heron, hunched over on a log, watched us approach. A dozen ducks lifted out of the pickerelweed shallows and arced out over the lake.

Heading back up the pond provides a different alpine panorama. You still have the steep western hillsides to marvel at, but now you also have the massive wall of vertical cliffs on Buck’s Ledge to enjoy north of the pond. You will also see to the northwest the mountains around the Bethel area starting to appear. These ridge lines form the gateway leading up into Grafton Notch.

Paddling along a paved road might seem contrary to a fine wilderness experience, but the traffic is minimal and the road construction is impressive. Carefully placed granite blocks hold the road elevated above the pond, and reminded us of the amazing road, also squeezed in between mountain and water, that passes under Maiden Cliff on Mt. Megunticook in the Camden Hills.

Back at the boat launch we made the easy decision to turn our outing into a loop trip by driving up through Bethel to Gilead and then following the Evans Notch Road (Route 113) down through the White Mountain National Forest.

Buck’s Ledge to the north as seen from South Pond. Christine Wolfe photo

In October the road is a colorful tunnel winding through the forest, dotted with pullouts where you can stop and enjoy the vast boulder-strewn channel of the Wild River rushing north toward its eventual rendezvous with the Androscoggin. Be sure to stop at the height of land and enjoy the view straight up to the rugged stone face of East Royce. A few cumulous clouds scraped the trees above the chiseled cliff. To the south we could see far down the valley toward the magnificent Baldface’s. The warm October sun coaxed us to stay another fifteen minutes before getting in the car for the glide down into the Saco River valley and Fryeburg.

Consult the Delorme Maine Atlas and Gazetteer (map #10) for help in getting to the easy to find boat launch at the intersection of Route 26 and Greenwood Road.

Michael Perry is the former director of the L.L.Bean Outdoor Discovery Schools, and founder of Dreams Unlimited, specializing in inspiring outdoor slide programs for civic groups, businesses, and schools. Contact: [email protected]

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