Belgrade Lakes, Maine Vacation Guide
Sometimes authors are inspired by a twist of history, a chance meeting with an interesting stranger or even the natural beauty of a particular place. Ernest Thompson visited Belgrade Lakes and the tranquility of the wildlife rich area, not to mention the fishing, led to his Academy Award winning play turned movie “On Golden Pond.” Is it possible that the varied souls he met in Belgrade Lakes helped to form his characters? Perhaps.
Fishing is a cherished sport in this part of Maine and it is enjoyed by the young, the old and those in-between. Lakeside cottages and vacation homes welcome residents and visitors year after year. As for history, Belgrade Lakes has tales of its own and friendly locals ready to share their stories.
Belgrade, Maine – The Basics
Belgrade Lakes is part of the Kennebec & Moose River Valley region. It is named for a city half a world away in what is now Serbia. Belgrade is the capital of that Adriatic country and was once capital of the former Yugoslavia. Founded in 1774, the town is made up of three separate areas, North Belgrade, Belgrade Depot and Belgrade Lakes, all sitting around and/or between several lakes. All three areas, as well as the surrounding towns of Rome, Oakland and Smithfield are an easy drive from Maine’s capital Augusta, roughly 12 miles south.
Belgrade Lakes is home to the Belgrade Lakes Golf Club, with challenging greens offering views of Long Pond and Great Pond. Designed by Clive Clark, the course made Golf Digest’s 1999 list of the five best courses in the United States. Three years later, in 2002, Golf Digest gave the course five-star status. It remains Maine’s number one course.
Belgrade Depot is north of Belgrade’s town core near Hamilton Pond. The Sunny Hill Airport, a private facility, is nearby. North Belgrade is squeezed between the western end of Messalonskee Lake and part of Great Pond. Most restaurants and shops are along the area’s roadways, particularly along Route 27 on the way to Belgrade Lakes.
Fishing is high on the list of things to do when visiting Belgrade. A total of seven lakes and ponds, each with boat launches, are well stocked with fish. In winter ice fishing takes the place of open water boat fishing. Licenses may be obtained online from the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife or through sports vendors or fishing camps in the region. All lakes offer various species of trout, bass and perch, while the larger waterways also are home to salmon and northern pike.
The largest lake is Great Pond, at 8239 acres, accessed by Belgrade and Rome. Next is Messalonskee Lake, at 3510 acres, fronting Belgrade, Oakland and Sidney, followed by Long Pond at 2714 acres, surrounded by Belgrade, Mt. Vernon and Rome. North Pond can be entered at Mercer or Springfield and measures 2115 acres.
East Pond fronts Oakland and Smithfield and covers 1823 acres. Salmon Pond, one of the smaller waterways, is 562 acres and is accessed by Belgrade and Oakland as is the slightly smaller McGrath Pond, at 486 acres.
Annual Events in Belgrade
The first Saturday in December marks the Christmas Stroll. This is an old fashioned kick-off to the holiday season with horse drawn wagon and/or sleigh rides, Christmas carolers, vendors selling hot spiced cider and Santa entertaining the little ones. Shops have their best Christmas finery displayed and village restaurants offer seasonal menus.
Fourth of July is marked with music, local foods, craft fairs, games, a frog jumping contest, boat parade and an evening fireworks display. The first Saturday in August brings the Loon Calling Contest. Held at the dam that separates Long and Great Ponds in the Belgrade Lakes Village area, this is small town entertainment. Come and hear kids of all ages try to imitate the distinctive call of the Common Loon, a pure laugh riot. You are welcome to make your own unique vocal contribution. Afterwards gather at the local Fire Department for the annual Bean Supper.
October brings the fall colors and the annual Oktoberfest celebration. Brews are part of the fun but so are hay rides, face painting, pony rides, craft shows and live entertainment. Not to mention the food. Local vendors and participating restaurants offer special fall treats. Sample baked apple strudel, apple dumplings with ice cream and gingersnaps with cider. Don’t forget to try a crisp apple dipped in sweet, creamy fudge.
Rome was incorporated in 1804 and sits north of Belgrade Lakes. Its name also has European roots, named after Rome, Italy. During the winter just over 1,000 people call this place home, but in summer vacation cottages are filled with nature-loving guests. Bear Springs Camps has been an icon in Rome sine 1910. It maintains its smattering of cottages and the main dining hall, just as the founders intended. Wings Hill Inn, on the border between Rome and Belgrade Lakes, is vintage cottage that won the Editor’s Choice Award at Yankee Magazine in both 2005 and 2006.
Rome is known for its hiking trails leading to some of the areas most panoramic lake views. French Mountain is off Route 27 on Watson Pond Road. It is known for its views of Long and Great Pond. Mt. Philip, sits at the northern edge of Great Pond. The trail begins in Rome on Starbird Lane and leads to the top of the 755-foot tall peak. Another peak, simply called the Mountain, rises 663 feet above Great Pond. It is also off Route 27, with the trail starting on Mountain Drive. Rome also has a swimming beach on Great Pond.
The township of Oakland surrounds the northern tip of Messalonskee Lake and borders the eastern end of Salmon Pond. The town started out as West Waterville but in 1883 city fathers changed the name to Oakland after the area’s large number of oak trees. Fertile soil enticed farmers and the abundance of trees and water power brought a sawmill to town. Once the Androscoggin and Kennebec Railroad arrived, Oakland’s place on the map was assured.
The Memorial Hall, built in 1870 is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Built of marble, brick, stone and granite, the building is an elegant example of Italian-Gothic architecture. The Oakland Area Historical Society operates the Macartney House Museum on Main Street. The home itself, built in 1815 was part of the Macartney farm, and was actually picked up and moved to its current location.
A number of privately owned vacation rentals are nearby, but there is one unusually shaped B&B within town limits. The Pressey House, built in the mid 1850s, has eight sides. Think of it as an overgrown gazebo with walls. Also onsite is an L-shaped wing and a revamped barn. The property, open year-round, is on the shores of Lake Messalonskee and offers modern creature comforts combined with 19th century charm.
Named after early settler Rev. Henry Smith in 1840, Smithfield is the only Maine town that was founded on Leap Day. It is north of Rome and sits between North and East Ponds reached by Routes 137 and 8 from Augusta. This is the place for those wanting to relax, do a bit of fishing or boating or maybe take a bike-ride around the lakes.
The town is smaller now than it was in late 1800s and early 1900s because of Greeley’s Mill. Lumber was the main industry, but over time, people discovered the sleepy town, its year round vacation rentals and abundant wildlife and the tourist industry took hold.
A number of family oriented lakeside camps are available, including Pine Tree Camps for children with disabilities and Acting Manitou, a camp for those interested in the theater arts. At the end of each session, campers stage their own production. Past performances include “Annie,” “The Crucible,” and “Footloose.” Performance day also includes a barbeque and picnic.
Belgrade Lakes Region Directories
Visit the following directories to find lodging, dining, attractions, shops, services and recreational activities in the Belgrade, Maine area.