One of my favorite activities from our summer adventures in Maine was a trip to the Highlands for a guided Moose safari.
Lake Moosehead is a huge lake, the biggest in Maine, and spans more than 120 square miles. In the winter it actually freezes over solid and Spring does not officially arrive in Greenville until the Katahdin steamship can safely travel across the lake, at which point the Ice-out date is declared, marking the beginning of the tourist season. Like in Virginia, Maine's winter was particularly harsh and long, and when we visited in early June, this sleepy little town was just waking up.
We stayed at the Chalet Moosehead Lakefront Motel, recommended by our tour guides at Northeast Whitewater Maine Moose Watching Tours, which offered two-bedroom accommodations. We have decided that suites are the way to sleep when away from home, even if that means we stay in the economy tiers—it beats the alternative of post-bedtime crowding in the darkness around a laptop on the floor (as we have survived in the past). Chalet Moosehead was a fine pick. Family owned, and offering beautiful views, easy access to town amenities, a kitchenette, and plenty of space to spread out.
After a relatively quick 3-hour drive from the coast, we checked-in and then set out to explore the property where we found breathtaking views of the lake, and paddleboats that we used to check out the docked floatplanes.
We went into town to grab some groceries at the Indian Hill Trading Post, which has a Hannaford's grocery store on one side and a sporting goods/gift store on the other. I love odds and ends stores like this one and they had two full aisles dedicated to a good assortment of quality kids toys so I grabbed an angry birds card game and a playdoh pack for evening entertainment, some lucky moose socks for the boys, as well as some breakfast and snack essentials to last us through lunchtime the next day.
On our way home we ordered takeout dinner from an inviting little restaurant called the Stress Free Moose Pub and Bar, and then headed back to our room to settle in, eat, and play before bed. The kids and I surprised Andy with a blueberry pie that we had stowed away. It was his birthday and I'm pretty sure we ate the whole thing.
Roscoe and Merritt went to bed well before the sun set around 9:00 and so Andy and I had our room and a lovely view to enjoy before the knowledge of our early morning wake-up call demanded sleep.
We woke up the next day at 4:45am, quickly dressed in layers, and drove a few minutes to the Northeast Whitewater lodge where we were greeted by our tour guide Jessica, and a welcome sign with our name on it. We chose a private half-day tour for flexibility to accommodate the kids' attention spans and moods, with the benefit of a dedicated tour guide to field all the questions I knew the boys would have.
We were only the 5th tour of the season, but our guide was encouraged by the success of previous tours despite Spring's late start, and the subsequent late hatching of the black flies that are the primary force to drive out the moose from the deep woods, where the cows have recently given birth, and nearer to the water's edge where they can more easily be viewed.
We moved the kids' carseats into her Suburban, distributed smoothies to the boys, and set off on a 45-minute drive up into the mountains.
|Foggy morning views in the highlands of Maine. Perfect moose weather!|
We exited the paved road after a while and drove on a gravel access for another 9 miles. When we reached the lake Jessica encouraged the kids to be quiet and to use inside voices. They sneaked down to the waters edge, but their excitement was hard to contain. I wasn't sure for how long they would be able to stay quiet.
|We don't moose safari without our lucky red moose socks.|
We put on life jackets and swatted at swarms of insects that had started to gather around us as Jessica made her first sighting: a young female timbering gracefully along the shoreline, digging up foliage from the lake's bottom. Very cool! The kids were happy but indifferent as the moose was pretty far away with a silhouette that was hard to distinguish from the surrounding mist.
|Looking for moose|
The lake was fantastically gorgeous. Serene, and peaceful. I love every angle of Maine.
We rowed along, the only visitors on the entire lake save for one fishing boat on a far edge. We paddled into a cove where we spied a young bull, maybe only a year old. We stopped and watched him as he made his way across the waters and into the woodland scrub. The kids were a little restless, requesting the paddles, and putting their hands in the water, and beginning to ask a lot of questions about things unrelated to moose.
Meanwhile, I noticed blood dripping down Andy's neck and pointed it out to Jessica. She said, "Oh, I guess those are the black flies." Then I noticed Roscoe had blood in his ear. Jessica assured us she never gets bit, and I wasn't feeling any bites yet. I kept an eye on the kids, and swatted around their heads just in case. Andy was in front paddling and unable to swat the flies away.
We decided since we were already out in the middle of the lake, to go for it, and check out one more cove before heading back to shore. We didn't find any moose there but on the way back we met a five year old bull up to his neck in the middle of the water. He was swimming through the deeper parts on his way to the other side. We slowed our paddle, and he stopped to watch us for a moment before continuing his morning routine.
Then it was only a few more paddles to the shore where we hauled our boat to dry land.
Jessica offered us homemade brownies, granola bars, and sweet tea to refuel before the drive home.
|Our tour guide was patient and great with the kids. It was a very kid friendly tour.|
A small gory note on the black fly: They are tiny and ferocious. They bite with a numbing agent so you don't feel them, and they leave open wounds that bleed and swell up in an alarming way. We all were bit to some extent (except for our guide, naturally), and Andy won with more than fifty bites on his head and neck alone. As it turns out, a lot of black fly bites at once can give a person the Black Fly Flu, and so Andy felt achy and off for the better part of the following two days. The bites itched horribly and took weeks to heal. WEEKS. Thankfully our bodies were almost entirely protected by our clothing, and, had we known, we most definitely would have brought some bug repellant, although I've read conflicting reports about it's effectiveness. The timing of our trip and the hatching of the hungry flies was an unfortunate coincidence and the boys have staunch opinions about the black fly, having declared they would never visit Maine or go on a moose safari again because of them. Really, though. The experience was very special and we got to see another side of Maine that we wouldn't have trekked up north for were it not for the moose, so my vote is that the flies get a pass. If you ever consider a moose safari remember the black flies, wear light clothing, and cover up as much skin as you can. Don't wear perfumes or wash with strongly scented shampoos or soaps, and look into a bug spray you feel comfortable wearing. I might also suggest a reservation later in the Summer after the birds have picked off most of the flies. This site, although from Milwaukee, has interesting facts about the black fly.