There’s not much to Greenville, Maine, and that’s the beauty of it. The outpost town (population 1,600) sits at the southernmost point of Moose-head Lake, which, at more than 30 miles long, is the second-largest lake entirely within one state east of the Mississippi River. The region is the least populated area in the East — there are three moose for every person. Most visitors use the village as a jumping-off point or resupply station for outdoor adventures such as hunting, fishing, backpacking, white-water rafting, or canoeing. But even those who aren’t the outdoors sort will appreciate this area for its stunning landscape.
The best views of Moosehead Lake, its deep-blue waters dotted with islands and edged by forest-green mountains, are from The Lodge at Moosehead Lake and the Blair Hill Inn, Green-ville’s plushest accommodations. At Blair Hill, an estate built in 1891, eight elegant bedrooms offer space for a private getaway, while the 90-foot veranda is the place for socializing. Here, spectacular sunsets paint pale colors across an endless sky; the lake easily takes up a third of the panorama.
Since there is no way to circumnavigate the lake by car, the best way to see Moosehead is from the water.
Get on board the Katahdin. The portly white steamship (converted to diesel) has been plying Moosehead’s waters since 1914. Familiarly known as the Kate, the boat originally carried cargo, mail, and passengers; later, it towed rafts of pulpwood until the last log drive in 1976. In the summer of 1983, it was relaunched as a passenger cruise vessel.
Today the Kate takes up to 225 passengers on trips five days a week from June 24 through Columbus Day (except for two weeks in mid-September when it runs just three days a week). Once a year, it runs the entire length of the lake, from Greenville to Seboomook (Northwest Carry). The eight-hour Head of the Lake Cruise is always the last Saturday in September (this year, September 30) and promises striking fall color.
The bellow of a long whistle signals the Kate‘s arrival and departure from the town harbor. As the boat chugs away, signs of civilization quickly dissipate. “Except for the towns of Greenville and Rockwood, any development is pretty well concealed,” says Bob Hammer of the Moosehead Lake Region Chamber of Commerce, “and much of that land [north of Rockwood] is in reserve or easement.” Moosehead Lake has hundreds of miles of undeveloped shoreline.
The ship points toward Mount Kineo, which rests distinctly on the horizon — a bit like a whale with its massive squarish head. It’s a little more than halfway up the lake.
Seaplanes come and go overhead. (This is a nice way to get another perspective on the region. Take a scenic ride with Currier’s Flying Service or one of the other long-established seaplane bases.)
Past Deer and Sugar Islands, the lake measures its widest point and the waves are at their highest. The Kate doesn’t flinch; the ride is even and smooth. But the wind is enough to send people inside, where food is being prepared onboard in the galley. For this cruise, volunteers serve a full Thanksgiving menu buffet-style. All of the pies are deliciously homemade.
From the bow, there is the first sight of Mount Katahdin, some 40 miles away. Its profile is even more distinct and stunning when seen later in the day from North Bay.
But it’s the arrival at Mount Kineo, with its impressive 700-foot cliff, that gets the most attention. Because of the depth of the surrounding water, boats and ships, even the Kate, can motor right up beside the sheer rock wall. The base of the 1,789-foot mountain, accessible only by water, is home to a few vacation houses and a golf course, throwbacks to when one of America’s largest grand hotels stood here. (There’s a five-hour cruise to this destination.)
Beyond Kineo, the hours are spent basking in the late-summer sun until reaching Seboomook outlet, where the boat begins its return. The captain peppers the day with history about the boat, the lake, and the area. Here, he tells us, during World War II, there was a POW camp. Little barbed wire was needed, because the remote landscape was threat enough to the prisoners.
We arrive back in Greenville just in time for dinner at the Blair Hill Inn. It’s the perfect place to linger over apple cider cheesecake at the end of a five-course meal while considering tomorrow’s explorations — a moose safari, bird-watching, hiking, shopping…. No matter the choice, Moosehead Lake’s waters will sparkle, testament to the region’s lasting natural beauty.