Certainly, you want to see a moose. They’re the tallest mammals in North America, totemic of New England, and magnificent to behold. But tracking one down isn’t easy. Even though they’re huge — a bull moose can be about 6 feet tall and weigh well over 1,000 pounds — they’re surprisingly stealthy and don’t usually travel in a herd. Moose are most active at sunup and sundown, and you’ll likely find them wading in muddy bogs, marshes, and near wetlands.
If you’re lucky enough to spot one, remember: keep a safe distance, stay quiet, and try to stay out of sight. “More often than not, most people will encounter moose in a vehicle. Pull over, give the moose space,” says Steven Tatko, the Appalachian Mountain Club’s director of Maine conservation and land management and a frequent moose spotter. “Moose are not aggressive, but they are easily spooked.” Here are the prime places to start your search — in Maine and across the Northeast — depending on how you like to spend your time.
Best for Hikers Baxter State Park, Maine
While you’re looking for moose at Baxter State Park, you can also top out on Maine’s highest peak, 5,267-foot Katahdin, the northern terminus of the Appalachian Trail, or hike any of the park’s more than 220 miles of trails. Baxter is known as a breeding ground for moose, the official state mammal, so look out for them in the fall near wetlands along the Russell Pond Trail. Or get a “moose pass” at Togue Pond Gatehouse, 17 miles northwest of Millinocket, to take the quick, 1.5-mile round-trip hike into Sandy Stream Pond, though note that rangers limit the number of visitors to reduce crowds. Campsites in the park open in July, and visitors must make reservations online or by phone.
Best for Mountain Bikers Northeast Kingdom, Vermont
Most of Vermont’s moose population resides in the marshy forests of the state’s Northeast Kingdom. If you’re on a quest for moose, start at Brighton State Park, just outside the town of Island Pond, where you can pitch a tent at one of 54 tent sites or bed down at 23 lean-tos on the shores of Spectacle Pond. From there, kayak, paddleboard, or canoe the pond, or walk the park’s short hiking trails in search of moose. The Kingdom Trails — a haven for mountain bikers with 100-plus-miles of tracks — is a half-hour south and has reopened to in-state and out-of-state riders who have self-quarantined for 14 days (check out the COVID-19 restrictions here). If you want to stay in your car, Route 105 from Island Pond to Bloomfield has a moose-viewing platform along the way.
Best for Whitewater Rafters U.S. Route 201, Maine
Maine’s Kennebec Valley is flush with moose. If you time it right — dawn or dusk in the late summer or early fall — you’ve got a good chance of seeing one. The historic scenic byway of U.S. Route 201, called the Old Canada Road, covers 78 miles from Fairfield to the Canadian border. Along the way, make a stopover at the Forks, the confluence of the Kennebec and Dead Rivers that’s famed for its whitewater rafting. Camping and cabin rentals at Northern Outdoors, an adventure base camp located downriver, are restricted to residents of Maine, New Hampshire, and Vermont through June 26, along with private RV parks and campgrounds in the area.
Best for Road Trippers Route 3, New Hampshire
You’ll see signs along the northernmost section of Route 3 reminding you to “Brake for moose.” And for good reason: this stretch of roadway, nicknamed Moose Alley, has a thriving population of them and is popular with car-bound sightseers. From the Granite State’s most northerly town, Pittsburg, at the headwaters of the Connecticut River, drive north toward Canada. Be sure to take it slowly so you don’t miss them. This vast corner of the Great North Woods region is teeming with moose. As of mid-June, state park and private campgrounds are currently restricted to residents.
Best for Anglers Quabbin Reservoir, Massachusetts
Moose reside in select locations in western and central Massachusetts, but the woodlands and ponds around Quabbin Reservoir, 40 miles northeast of Springfield, might be your best bet. The reservoir, which holds hundreds of billions of gallons of water, is a main drinking supply for many residents in eastern Massachusetts. Hiking trails around the reservoir vary in length and start at designated gates, fishing is permitted with a valid fishing license, and the bird-watching is stellar here, too. As of July 1, private and state campgrounds are opening on a case-by-case basis, so be sure to check with individual sites for the latest status.
Best for Paddlers Allagash Wilderness Waterway, Maine & Saint Regis Canoe Area, New York
It’s not uncommon to count moose in the dozens during a few days paddling along the 92-mile Allagash Wilderness Waterway. The marshy bits of the waterway’s 40 or so lakes and ponds offer some of New England’s best habitat for not only moose, but beaver, muskrat, and waterfowl too. The Allagash remains open, with dozens of riverside, first-come-first-serve campsites; paddlers pay overnight fees at staffed checkpoints before putting in. And while New York is outside of New England, moose are making a comeback in the northern Adirondacks. The best place to spot them is within the 8,400-acre Saint Regis Canoe Area, New York’s only designated canoe wilderness. With 26 miles of hiking trails and more than 20 ponds, you’ll paddle from lake to lake with short portages in between, then pitch a tent at one of 70 designated primitive camping sites along the waterfront. While the Department of Environmental Conservation has suspended overnight camping on certain state lands and backcountry permits for more than ten people, Saint Regis Canoe Area remains open to visitors. Just be sure to monitor the official site for changes.
This summer’s travels require some extra prudence: staying informed of health advisories and closures, observing respectful distancing, being willing to adapt your plans. But with a little care and caution, you’ll find the Maine outdoors as welcoming as ever. Maine businesses are adapting their plans as the summer progresses — call or check the web before you show up. Until June 26, travel in Maine is restricted to residents of Maine, New Hampshire, and Vermont. Out-of-state visitors must follow quarantine and/or testing guidelines thereafter and complete a Certificate of Compliance form. Read up on the state’s Keep Maine Healthy plan for details.