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Away to Franklin: Off-the-grid cabin on Great Pond + lots of great hikes nearby

++ Get out (but, like, not too far). We all love and appreciate the positive effects of the Maine outdoors. Hopefully we’ll be back to all kinds of adventuring soon. But for now, press pause. The Maine Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry has some great advice: stay close to home, steer clear of busy locations, keep your distance (and stick to walking/hiking with folks from your household). ++

Away to Franklin: Off-the-grid cabin on Great Pond + lots of great hikes nearby

There’s a cabin at the end of a dirt road in Maine, crouched among the maples and pines like it’s playing hide-and-seek with the pond. Or maybe it’s just idling there, all quiet and still, so it can listen to the loud-talking crows and the delicate splash of pond water on rocks.

There are countless Maine cabins just like this, built for welcome respites and weekend getaways, oftentimes generations ago. Maybe your family has such a place. Lucky you.

If you don’t, not to worry. You can still partake in long summer days floating on the pond or catching fish from the dock. You can still toast marshmallows over a popping campfire, doze to the sound of loons, and wake up to the early sun rising pink and orange over the water.

You can do that at any number of cabins listed for rent online. But this story is about one in particular: a rustic cabin on a pond in Franklin.

I met this cabin by happenstance. Or at least with a hopeful search on airbnb to find a quiet late-spring retreat somewhere by some body of water (and within a modest budget).

And dang, did I luck out.

>> Before I get into the particulars, let’s talk coronavirus. It’s still true that staying closer to home is recommended, which means many out-of-state vacations have been cancelled. But we live in Vacationland, so it’s a fine time to explore new-to-us places within a few hours drive. That said, ask about the protocols in effect at any place you might be visiting, stay home if you don’t feel well, wash your dang hands, and limit your interactions best you can. For example: I brought all my food/gear from home, made no stops on the way, brought my own linens/pillow, and did all my hiking midweek on quiet trails and barely saw another soul.

Now, back to the cabin.

The Cabin

The car tires will kick up plenty of dust as you make your way down the long gravel road to the cabin, which sits on the edge of Great Pond. Your GPS will get you there, but just in case, there are signs along the way pointing you in the right direction.

There’s a turn here, a turn there, and then there it is.

The cabin sits on property – 125 acres – that’s been in the owner’s family for more than 100 years. It wasn’t until 20 years ago that the road was built. Prior to that, they accessed the cabin by water.

There are other homes nearby, but this cabin’s position on a small swath of land that interjects into the pond makes it feel like a solitary place. From the deck, there’s nothing to see but trees and water on three sides.

Out front, a fire pit. Steps away is the private dock. There are canoes and kayaks to borrow during your stay. I brought my own so I’d be ready for an impromptu paddle elsewhere, but having these readily accessible is a nice perk.

Inside is cozy, colorful, and efficient. There’s a big bed for two (I slept like a dream every night) and a small loft with two cots that’d be great for kids. There’s a futon on the main floor, too. The kitchen area has a sink (with hand-pump drawing pond water for washing), stove, and small fridge.

An efficient setup all around. Shannon Bryan photo

 

The bed, ladder to the loft on the right, and the bathroom (shower + sink) to the left. Shannon Bryan photo

 

Flotation devices are essentially for safety AND make for functional decor. Shannon Bryan photo

All the necessities are there: plates and pans, a broom and washcloths, lighters and a cooler for water, games, bug spray, and tin foil. The bathroom has running water – a shower and sink – and the toilet comes by way of an outhouse not far from the cabin (the outhouse isn’t currently being used, but there’s a porta-potty that’s serviced weekly for the interim).

The view from the loft, the view OF the loft, the cabin at sunrise, and the bathroom with sink and shower. Not included: the toilet. Use the outhouse for that. Shannon Bryan photos

The entire cabin is off the grid: gas lights and stove, a battery for the fridge, solar-operated pump for the water. At the kitchen sink, there’s a hand pump that draws water from the pond for dish washing.

It’s rustic perfection.

Campfire and water views. Shannon Bryan photo
The cabin at night, with solar lights on the deck and the gas lights on inside (for the record, I only turned them on when needed and while I was inside to conserve fuel, but did pop out for a quick photo).

The Pond

Great Pond is a modest pond. You could probably paddle its entire perimeter in an hour. But it holds a great deal of wildlife and wonder within its unassuming confines.

At its edges I spotted two osprey, a flock of cedar waxwings, a downy woodpecker, robins, grackles, and three bald eagles (including an immature bald eagle who spent 20 minutes overseeing the pond from a tree branch 30 feet from where I was sitting). A pair of loons dove for fish together in the late afternoon and in the early morning I watched a doe and two fawns casually sauntering along the shoreline.

Under the surface swim largemouth bass, yellow perch, white perch, black crappie, sunfish, chain pickerel, and horned pout.

Sunrise and fog on Great Pond in Franklin. Shannon Bryan photo
Some of the flora and fauna near the cabin. Shannon Bryan photos

The sun comes up bright and early over the pond. It’ll wake you up through the window in time to scuttle down to the water to snag some photos from the dock or launch a kayak and enjoy the sunrise from the pond.

Evening paddle to the other end of Great Pond. Shannon Bryan photo
Dead ahead: Schoodic Mountain. Shannon Bryan photo


For more info on the cabin or to book a stay (looks like much of the summer is booked already, but fall in Maine is stupendous)! www.airbnb.com/rooms/34972231

The hikes

Hiking in this region is a “pick your pleasure” situation. The options are abundant, especially with MDI not far away. I opted to stick close to Franklin and explore new-to-me terrain.

Schoodic Mountain
Schoodic Mountain was an obvious first choice. I’d spent two days spying it from across the pond – the end of the cabin dock frames it perfectly – so it only made sense that I’d want to see the view in reverse.

It’s a 1.5-mile hike going the beach route (0.5 miles to Schoodic Beach, then another mile up the mountain). There’s a slightly shorter trail that goes from the parking area to the summit, but who wouldn’t want to check out that beach?

The trail leading up to Schoodic Beach. Shannon Bryan photo

The trail begins on a wide Jeep trail – mostly flat but with a perceptible tilt toward the water.

The beach would be a fine destination for an afternoon of swimming and lounging. There are also campsites at the water’s edge, where I spotted some campers snoozing in hammocks slung between the trees.

I’d already done lots of lounging by Great Pond, so I followed the signs to the Schoodic Mountain trailhead.

Schoodic Beach. Shannon Bryan photo
The mellow morning waters of Donnell Pond. Shannon Bryan photo

Those signs led me straight through the aforementioned campsite – the trailhead was just beyond it – but since the campers were still sleeping I just crept quietly through.

From the beach, the trail shifts immediately upward. It’s steep enough that I paused two minutes in to catch my breath and think, “Damn, staying home all spring sure did do a number on my hiking endurance.” And then I laughed because I pant and sweat heavily even when I’m hiking on the regular. It’s a talent.

You cairn do it! A pile of rocks leads the way on the trail up Schoodic Mountain. Shannon Bryan photo

Along the way, views of Frenchman’s Bay and Mount Desert Island as the forest gives way to rock.

Many cedar waxwings in the trees. Shannon Bryan photo

A communications tower at the summit.

A structure of unknown origin.

I saw no one else on the trail during my hike, but did run into a big crowd of cedar waxwings playing musical chairs in the trees, plus some honey bees and a turkey vulture circling overhead. The views up top go all the way ’round and are splendid in every direction – but particularly splendid toward Frenchman’s Bay and MDI.

I tried to locate Great Pond from the summit – and think I might have seen it. Maybe. It would have been tiny from here and I’d forgot my binoculars in the car. But it was nice to know it was out there, calming waiting.

Schoodic Mountain:
2.5-mile loop. 954 feet elevation. About 40 mins from cabin.
Schoodic Mountain on Alltrails.com
Maine Trail Finder

Black Mountain

Conveniently located right next to Schoodic Mountain, the Black Mountain Cliffs trail is a nice add-on to a Schoodic hike (if I had to choose one or the other, I’d choose Schoodic without hesitation).

From the same Schoodic parking lot, I hiked in the other direction, following that Jeep trail toward Black Mountain. The loop trail includes a spin-off trail to the actual summit, which I skipped (in hindsight, I wish I hadn’t), and also joins up with Schoodic Beach (which I didn’t skip, even though I’d just been there).

The entire loop and jaunt to summit is 3.6 miles

It’s mossy and boulder-strewn and steep in bits. The views on the cliffs are more like sporadic peeks through the trees. Things open up immensely closer to the summit. So don’t be like me and skip that part because you’re eager to get back to the cabin and drink beers on the dock and watch the sun go now. Go to the summit. To see the views from the summit, check out this story from Aislinn Sarnacki at the BDN.

Black Mountain Cliff Trail
3.6 miles. 905 feet elevation. About 40 minutes from cabin (same trailhead as Schoodic Mountain above)
– Black Mountain on alltrails.com
Maine Trail Finder

Catherine Mountain
Catherine Mountain is a sweet and scenic 2.5-mile out-and-back hike in Franklin. This was another random pick I’m glad I chose. With a little over 500 feet in elevation gain, it’s an easy-moderate hike that’s pretty the whole way, particularly when the trees give way to let in the view. There are several consecutive spots where you can pull over and peer out (the trail is well marked, although there were some downed trees to walk around, and when you get near the top the trail seems to disappear into brambles. Fear not and forge through: you’ll be treated to this:

The trail to Catherine Mountain starts at the trailhead to Caribou (the small side-of-the-road parking area has a sign for Caribou and doesn’t mention Catherine, but it is the right place). At the junction, follow the sign and go left.

Catherine Mountain
2.5 miles. 547 feet elevation gain. About 30 minutes from cabin.
– Catherine Mountain on alltrails.com
Some fun folklore about “Catherine Hill” from Aislinn Sarnacki at the BDN

Shannon Bryan

Shannon Bryan

I don't like "exercise" any more than you do. But you know what I do like? Paddleboarding with a friend all afternoon (and then sitting in the grass to drink chardonnay). Bike rides and nachos, hikes, yoga classes held in breweries, group paddles to Fort Gorges, you get the idea. Because Maine is my gym.