Posted on October 10, 2023 and last updated on October 10, 2023

Rainbow Loop Trails, Debsconeag Lakes Wilderness Area


  • Preserve Size: 46,271 acres
  • Trail Mileage: ~7.5-mile loop
  • Pets: yes
  • Difficulty: challenging
  • Sights: views, mature forest, remote lakes

The Rainbow Loop trail system in The Nature’s Conservancy’s 46,271-acre preserve offers a 7.5-mile loop hike to remote ponds and nice views. (These distances are according to my GPS. TNC calculates the loop at 6 miles.) If you include the 1.8-mile spur to Rainbow Lake, the total mileage is about 11 miles. Either way, be prepared for a strenuous hike, with a fair amount of going down and up.

The short access road to the trailhead is in good shape and passable for most vehicles. At the trailhead, pay attention to the signs indicating where to park (along one side of the lot and nowhere else!). Once you start out on the hike by crossing a little brook, the first half mile is flat. When you reach the first junction, you can go left and start climbing right away, or go right and follow Horserace Brook for a very gentle ascent for just under 2 miles to Horserace Pond, a beautiful pond and a seemingly good spot for swimming. There are two campsites here.

From Horserace Pond, it is a steep 1.1-miles to the high point of this loop and, I am told, great views of Katahdin, the 100-mile wilderness and Rainbow Lake from open ledge! Unfortunately, I could not see anything but grayness due to the thick fog. Continue along the loop, you will descend to another small pond. From here, it’s a short ways to a second view from open ledge. Then you will walk down to the junction with the Blue Trail.

Here you can choose to tack on the approximately 3.4 additional miles it will take to get to and back from Rainbow Lake, passing Clifford and Woodman Ponds. Of these three water bodies, Clifford is in some ways most enchanting. It has a nice open spot by the water for boat access, and when I visited, there were two boats tied up nearby. From Clifford Pond, if you continue to Rainbow Lake (which might be most appealing to anglers), the trail narrows and seems to be less frequently trod then other paths in the system. Plus, if you are tired, you have to descend (and then, of course, re-ascend) a steepish hill to the lake shore.

Note: While you will be hiking to a summit on this trail system, it is not Rainbow Mountain, which is located farther south along the AT! I am not sure what the mountain’s name is in this trail system, perhaps it is also Rainbow?

Directions: The turnoff to Rainbow Loop Trails is off Golden Road, which can feel a bit like Fury Road from Mad Max (truck drivers go crazy fast on the dusty, gravelly, pitted road). From Millinocket, it is about 24.5 miles to the turnoff on the left to the trailhead, which is marked with a sign. Follow the dirt road for about 900 feet to the parking area and kiosk.

Let me know if you have any trail updates or corrections!