QUICK TRAIL FACTS
- Preserve Size: 46,271 acres
- Trail Mileage: 1.2 miles to the ice cave
- Pets: yes
- Difficulty: moderate
- Sights: ice cave, view, First Debsconeag Lake
The ice caves in the 46,271-acre Debsconeag Lakes Wilderness Area, an ecological reserve owned by The Nature Conservancy, are a favorite destination in this region south of Baxter Park. They’re unusual and also relatively easy to get to.
It’s very important to bring a good flashlight if you want to check out the main ice cave! Additionally, to see any ice that resists melting well into summer, it’s best to visit before August.
The ice caves are about 1.1 miles from the trailhead and parking area along an uneven, rocky path. The trail begins behind a gate at the far end of the parking lot. You’ll cross a bridge and see the footpath heading into the woods immediately on your left. Along the way to the caves, you’ll pass many glacial erratics topped with mosses and ferns, like awkwardly napping trolls.
At 1 mile in, you can take a short spur trail to a view of First Debsconeag Lake from an open ledge. Be careful as the drop-off is steep. Return to the main trail and go 0.1 farther to the short side trail on the right to reach the main ice caves. I only saw one cave, but I read that there is at least one other small one in the vicinity. I did see a sign discouraging further exploration of the area and dusk was also approaching, so I didn’t try to find more.
The main cave’s entrance, like a hole descending into the underground, is outfitted with iron rungs. If the entrance is not blocked with ice (which it likely will be in winter and early spring), you can descend 10 or so feet into the depths to appreciate the frigid temperatures. If you have a flashlight, you can explore its contours. The cavern is not terribly large.
The cave is known as a talus or boulder cave. It was formed when the movement of glaciers during the last ice age piled up huge granite boulders.
If you continue along the main path for another quarter mile, descending downhill, you’ll reach the bouldery shores of First Debsconeag Lake.
Directions: Take the Golden Road to a dirt road called Water Way on Google maps. It’s about 19 miles from Millinocket. If you’re coming from the east, you’ll cross a one-lane bridge and see the large opening to the road on your left. When I visited in 2023, the road was in really good shape for a dirt road. Drive a bit more than four miles to the end of the road (you’ll pass Hurd Pond Road to your right at roughly 2 miles) and you’ll arrive at the large parking area and trailhead. The trail begins beyond the gate.