Solitude on the trail is a little hard to come by these days. The pandemic has fueled an increase in outdoor activity that hasn’t been seen in this country since perhaps the 1970s, and for hikers that has meant jammed trailheads and crowded trails. So, if you want a little more peace and quiet out there in the woods and mountains, you’ve just got to look further afield.

The little town of Danforth (pop. 578) is tucked into the far northeastern corner of Washington County, bumped up against the Aroostook County line and right next to the New Brunswick, Canada border. Danforth may seem like an unlikely place to find hiking trails, but I’d gotten wind of a land trust out that way and their relatively new network of footpaths and had to go myself for a good look-see.

The Woodie Wheaton Land Trust has been protecting lands and waters in the region around the Chiputneticook Chain of Lakes – North Lake, East Grand Lake, Mud Lake, Spednic Lake and Palfrey Lake – for almost 30 years. The trust has “played a key role, both independently and in partnerships, in the conservation of over 330,000 acres of eastern Maine land and 96 miles of river and lake shore through purchases and conservation easements,” Madison Shaw, WWLT’s office manager, said in a recent email. “The trust itself owns eight properties and one conservation easement, totaling 3,955 acres.”

The East Grand Highlands Hiking Trails features three trails and 6 miles of hiking. Carey Kish photo

The East Grand Highlands Hiking Trails system is comprised of three connected pathways totaling about 6 miles of hiking. Overlook Trail leads to a fabulous viewing platform on Greenland Ridge which looks out over East Grand Lake, an expansive affair that’s 22 miles long, four miles wide and covers over 16,000 acres. Boulder Ridge Trail features, well, lots of large, fern-covered boulders or glacial erratics that were deposited here eons ago, while Sucker Lake Trail winds down to a pretty little cove on the east shore of the namesake lake.

I meandered about the land in no particular hurry, following the various colored metal markers, kicking brush to the trailside and stopping often for snacks and water (and to reapply bug dope) and some blueberry picking. It was 3 1/2 hours later when I emerged from the woods with a huge smile, having seen exactly zero other people. Solitude? Oh yeah, right here.

The East Grand Highlands trails were developed over three years from 2017-19, according to Steve Mine of Danforth, who served as a trust director from 2013 to 2018. It took the hard work and dedication of many volunteers, trust staff and interns and local businesses – as well as support of the Greater East Grand Lake Chamber of Commerce – to make this first trail building adventure in the area a reality.

“We thought we should work on infrastructure to attract more visitors,” Mine said. “And since there were no trails in the area, we thought that hiking trails might be a good idea.”

Plenty of huge, fern-covered erratics are found along the aptly named Boulder Ridge Trail. Carey Kish photo

The trails are located on land owned by the David B. Snow Jr. Family Trust, which granted WWLT an easement for the project. The 5,000-acre property had been purchased around 2016 to thwart a proposed wind farm. A $5,000 grant from the Davis Conservation Foundation helped kick-start the trail-building effort.

Overlook Trail follows an old gravel-based logging road that has grown in, and that’s where the trust started, clearing the route, building the observation platform and adding an interpretive display and a picnic table. The other trails that followed required some figuring out to locate a suitable route, and Mine spent a lot of time rooting around in the woods, GPS in hand.

The trailhead kiosk features a color trail map, trail descriptions, brochures and a register box for comments.

“We’ve gotten a lot of nice feedback from visitors, which are split about 50-50 between locals and hikers from away. They often mention seeing moose, bear and partridge,” noted Mine, who moved to Danforth from upstate New York in 2010 “for a slower pace of life and the vast areas of untouched land, the woods, lakes and solitude.”

That’s a ringing endorsement, for sure, and reason enough to make the journey to discover for yourself this beautiful border region the Passamaquoddy call Chiputneticook, or “lakes between high hills.” Get started at woodiewheaton.org.

Carey Kish of Mount Desert Island is the author of AMC’s Best Day Hikes Along the Maine Coast and editor of the AMC Maine Mountain Guide. Follow Carey’s adventures on Facebook @CareyKish

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