Take a Hike!
Maine has scores of trails and peaks to conquer. Here are twenty of our favorites.
- By: Cloe Chunn
The blackflies are gone, the fleece is back. Humidity is low, and visibility is endless. Autumn in Maine is hands-down the best time to take a hike and soak up the drop-dead color show that unfolds over our heads each year. To help you organize your expeditions we’ve put together a list of twenty of our favorite hikes, arranged from south to north as the crow flies. Each offers something special, whether it’s a level boardwalk that allows wheelchairs to access the view or an observation tower to lift hikers into an even loftier perch. So that you can pick the trail or path that’s right for you, we’ve marked them as easy, moderate, or strenuous. We’ve also
noted whether they’re wheelchair-accessible, offer the chance to take a refreshing dip in the ocean or a stream, and are able to accommodate a bicycle — or even the family minivan. If they offer a bit of insight for history buffs or are particularly popular with bird-watchers, we’ve marked them as such. Every hike can be done in less than a day, but you should still take plenty of water, wear sturdy boots, and soak up the fabulous foliage. And when you return, visit DownEast.com and share your adventure with your fellow travelers.
Bradbury Mountain State Park
Directions to trailhead: Situated on Route 9 about halfway between Portland and Lewiston-Auburn, the park is in Pownal, five miles from the Freeport/Durham exit 22 off Route 1.
Distance: 2 miles
Time: 1 hour
Bradbury Mountain State Park is a wonderful place to spend a day or afternoon exploring trails, taking in the magnificent view from the summit, or enjoying a picnic under a canopy of trees. One of the original five state parks, Bradbury Mountain was acquired by the Federal government in 1939. It now comprises 610 acres.
Bradbury Mountain, the park’s most outstanding natural feature, was sculpted by glaciers. Today the park’s forest is home to a wide variety of plants and animals. Fall is a busy time at the park, when visitors watch migrating hawks and eagles ride the thermals and enjoy the views of fall foliage from the summit.
A map is necessary for making your way through the maze of trails, each color-coded. Ask for one when you enter the park. A suggested hike that takes in great views would be on the west side of Route 9, starting at the entrance parking lot. Follow the Northern Loop (blue blazes) through tall trees as it climbs to a higher level and doubles back. A short side trail on the left takes you to the first of three overlooks. Back on the trail, continue another quarter-mile to the second, most dramatic overlook, worthy of a picnic lunch and a rest. From here, in another quarter-mile, turn left onto the South Ridge Trail (red blazes) and descend to a third overlook before following this path to its end at a different parking lot. From there it is a short walk back to the entry gate and where you parked.
Bradbury Mountain is forested with deciduous (hardwood) trees that turn flaming colors in mid-October, a good time to take this hike. It is the only state park in southern Maine to offer shared-use trails for horseback riders, mountain bikers, and snowmobilers. In winter, snowshoe rentals are available.
Directions to trailhead: Take River Road three miles south of downtown Newcastle. Parking and a kiosk are on the left.
Distance: 1.5 to 2.8 miles
Time: 1 to 2 hours
The 521-acre point has 1.5 miles of frontage on the western shore of the Damariscotta River, offering the hiker four easy trails from 1.5 to 2.8 miles in length. The most accessible trail for walking and baby strollers is the Old Farm Road circuit of 2.4 miles. It has limited views of the river, passes by a pond, and takes the hiker through a variety of habitats.
To see the shore, leave the Old Farm Road on the Shore Trail (Nature Discovery Trail) to three beaches: Pebble, Sand, and Brickyard. Take side trails down to the water to explore the intertidal zone and see hermit crabs, horseshoe crab shells, rock crabs, and seashells. This trail will rejoin the Old Farm Trail for a total of 2.8 miles. In summer and fall, a brochure at the kiosk will take you on a self-guided tour, showing you many species of plants along the way.
The Ravine Trail and Woods Trail are two shorter trails that connect with the others. Of historic interest are the Native American oyster shell middens along the shore. Brickyard Beach is also a historic site, one of thirty brickyards operating along the river in the late 1800s.
Pleasant Mountain Loop
Directions to trailhead: Follow Route 302 for about five miles west of Bridgton. Turn left onto Mountain Road and drive past Shawnee Peak Ski Area, three miles to the trailhead and parking area for Ledges Trail, adjacent to Fire Lane 54. Other trails up Pleasant Mountain begin from Wilton Warren Road and Lake Road.
Distance: 6 miles
Time: 4 hours
Pleasant Mountain, the highest mountain in southern Maine, crowns the Sebago Lake region. A mecca for hikers, birdwatchers, snowmobilers, hunters, and skiers, the mountain also provides unfragmented habitat for a variety of plants and animals, as well as resources for sustainable forestry. It is now protected as the Pleasant Mountain Preserve by Loon Echo Land Trust. Except for the summit itself, trails cross private land, and hikers should not wander off the trails.
The Ledges Trail from the east side, near the shore of Moose Pond, is the most interesting trail, climbing over some rocky outcrops 1.8 miles to the 2,006-foot summit. An old fire tower still stands at the peak, though it is boarded up. Scenic views of ponds and mountains open across a 180-degree span.
From the summit, you can simply return by the same trail, for a total of 3.6 miles. However, a good suggestion is to make a loop by following the Fire Warden’s Trail for 0.2 miles and taking a right onto the Bald Peak Trail. (Do not stay on the Fire Warden’s Trail, which goes in the opposite direction, leaving you far from your car.) The Bald Peak Trail takes you 1.4 miles north along the ridge to 1,932-foot Bald Peak, where it turns right and descends another mile to the Mountain Road, where you will be 1.5 miles from where you parked. Turn right on the road to walk back to your car.
Hidden Valley Nature Center
Directions to trailhead: All trails start at the gate on the west side of the Egypt Road in Jefferson, half a mile south of Route 215. A kiosk is located 0.3 miles from the parking lot and displays a map of the trails.
Distance: 3 to 6 miles round-trip
Time: 2 to 4 hours
Hidden Valley Nature Center is located in the town of Jefferson in the Jefferson-Whitefield State Wildlife Sanctuary. It offers more than twenty miles of hiking and cross-country ski trails and a range of low-impact sustainable forestry projects, both completed and under way. The sanctuary comprises eight hundred acres of diverse habitat, many small ponds and vernal pools.
Hiking and ski trails range from beginner to intermediate, and from one mile to three miles with endless possibilities for combining routes. The day can easily be spent exploring the trails’ various habitats and features. Membership at the center includes free trail use and a comprehensive trail map as well as discounts on yurt and canoe rentals. A suggested donation of five dollars per person per day helps support the trail work of volunteer staff. Visit www.hvnc.org for upcoming events and more information.
Some of our favorite hikes here:
Dyer Pond Trail (two miles one way) leads to remote and quiet Little Dyer Pond where canoes and camping are available for a modest fee. (Swimming and picnicking are free, of course.) The hilltop yurt offers a scenic, dry spot for lunch, a break, or even an overnight experience with bunk beds for six people.
Bowl Loop Trail (three miles one way) passes through mixed forest and encircles a major trail system that features choice wildlife habitat and picturesque glacial formations including a thirty-foot-high rock face.
Reed Meadow Trail (a mile and a half one way) meanders along a secluded wooded stream with wild calla lilies, opening into a mature beaver meadow and rising to pleasant glen overlooks.
Slick Rock Trail (2.2 miles one way) gently descends through canopied forest to Little Dyer Pond (a hundred acres).
Two Dog Pond Trail (a mile and a half one way) travels through sustainably harvested forest (Forest Stewardship Council certified “green”), pauses by a pair of delightful hidden forest pools near a glen overlook, and descends to meet Reed Meadow Trail.
Kidney Pond Trail (two miles one way) connects a trail system around Kidney Pond and Sugar Hill (in winter, a sweet ski trail) with a variety of forest and pond openings for wildlife viewing.
Location: Grafton Notch State Park
Directions to trailhead: From Bethel, drive Route 26 to Grafton Notch State Park. The parking lot is 3.5 miles in on the left.
Distance: 7.6 miles
Time: 5 hours
Maine’s third highest mountain does not boast about its presence, nestled among other mountains in the Mahoosuc Range. But Appalachian Trail backpackers certainly notice it, as their packs get heavier and heavier the higher they go. Looking up from Grafton Notch at the imposing northeast flank could persuade you to find an easier hike somewhere. Nevertheless, if you put one foot in front of the other, you can do it.
The best approach to Old Speck is the Appalachian Trail south from the parking lot in Grafton Notch State Park. The white-blazed trail encounters the old Eyebrow Trail twice as it winds very steeply up that imposing flank. Take a breather at the waterfalls along the way. In the 3.5 miles of climbing to the level ridge, the trail gains 2,700 feet in elevation. The last 0.3 miles uses the Mahoosuc Trail over the level ridge to the 4,180-foot summit. A twenty-eight-foot-tall observation tower, at the site of the old fire tower, lifts you above the trees. The dramatic panorama from the tower sweeps the western Maine mountains, Umbagog Lake, and the former paper mill town of Berlin, New Hampshire. Baldpate Mountain stands directly across the notch to the northeast, another great climb. Return by the same trail, and rejoice: it’s much easier on the way down.
For an easier family climb, Table Rock is the ledge across the notch. Baldpate is accessed by the Appalachian Trail north, across the road, and Table Rock is a side trail from it. Other sightseeing in the park includes Screw Auger Falls Gorge, Mother Walker Falls Gorge, and Moose Cave Gorge, each a short walk from the road.
Directions to trailhead: The trailhead is located at a small parking area at the end of Megunticook Street, one block north of Route 52 in Camden. The auto road is located at the gatehouse to Camden Hills State Park on Route 1 in Camden.
Distance: 1.8 miles round-trip
Time: 1 to 2 hours
Mount Battie stands like a sentinel above Camden Harbor, the vanguard of the Camden Hills along the coast. Both an auto road and a hiking trail lead to the summit, where views from the stone observation tower are unparalleled. At the Camden Hills State Park gatehouse, a map of the entire trail system is available. You could spend several days hiking in these amazing hills.
The 1.5-mile auto road begins at the gatehouse, where a fee is charged (three dollars per person for adults) to drive up the paved road, suitable for any vehicle. There is plenty of parking at the top. Interpretive displays identify local landmarks as well as islands in the ocean. The harbor is picturesque, with its sailboat masts and church steeples pointing skyward.
For more of a workout, the Mount Battie hiking trail, just under a mile, is very challenging. Its steepness requires sturdy shoes with good tread, and the use of handholds in places. The trail rises abruptly past a couple of intermittent brooks and up steep rocky cliffs. Take it slowly. After all, it is short. Views get better and better as you get higher. Take a long rest at the top before going back down the same trail. Drinking water is not available at the top. Use extra caution on the descent, which is when most accidents happen.
Directions to trailhead: From Route 1 at Lincolnville Beach, take Route 173 north 2.2 miles, turn left on Youngtown Road, and go another 2.7 miles to Route 52. Turn right on Route 52, go 0.2 miles, and turn left onto Fernalds Neck Road. Questions about the preserve may be directed to Coastal Mountains Land Trust, 207-236-7091.
Distance: 6.2 miles, divided into 4 trails.
Time: 2 to 3 hours
Fernalds Neck, a Coastal Mountains Land Trust preserve, is an undeveloped peninsula spreading into Megunticook Lake north of Camden, situated at the boundary of Knox and Waldo counties. The preserve protects nearly three miles of shoreline, and may be approached by boat or car. The 328-acre preserve is composed of the separate thirty-six-acre Hattie Lamb Fernald section and the 290-acre main section. Together they offer a variety of mature and maturing forests, shoreline, cliffs, bog, and meadow for plant and animal life, as well as for the hiker. No dogs are allowed in this preserve.
The Hattie Lamb Fernald section trailhead is 0.2 miles down Fernalds Neck Road on the left. No parking is allowed on the road, but the extra walk of 0.6 miles from the main preserve parking area is well worth it. This section has a red-blazed trail (0.6 miles round-trip) to the shore of Megunticook Lake, where you can swim, watch loons, geese, and ducks, and enjoy the view of Bald Mountain behind the long, low peninsula of Fernalds Neck. Deer frequent this trail through fairly mature hardwoods, some very big pine, and a groundcover of several species of ferns.
The major section of the preserve is located another 0.6 miles in on Fernalds Neck Road. Take care to follow signs at forks. A kiosk holds hiking maps and a sign-in sheet. These maps are necessary for keeping your bearings in the maze of trails.
Sticking with the Blue Loop will take you 1.8 miles in a circuit of the northern half of the preserve, where you will hike under tall white pine, red pine, and hemlock. The trail runs atop sixty-foot cliffs towering over Megunticook Lake.
The 1.7-mile southern loop, the Orange Trail and Loop, has more hardwoods (red oak, beech, white birch) mixed with pine and fir. From both loops it is possible to find access to the water for a swim. A side trail off the Orange Trail will lead you to Balance Rock if you follow the sign (roundtrip 0.8 miles). This very large glacial erratic was carried here by the glacier and left behind when the glacier melted about 12,000 years ago. Mosses and lichens have spent the last ten thousand years colonizing the boulder.
Both loops return you to the parking area. The Great Bog, located between the two loop trails, can be seen from either trail as you pass near it. Sphagnum moss forms the bog surface, which holds an array of bog plants.
Directions to trailhead: Take Route 1 north through Searsport, turn right on Sears Island Road, and drive a mile to the gate across the causeway. Park near the gate, on the west side of the island.
Distance: 3 to 5 miles
Time: 2 to 3 hours
Sears Island, owned by the state, is a 280-acre island off Searsport. It is reached by a causeway built in 1986. Its location in northern Penobscot Bay makes it an important stopping place for migrating birds in spring. It was farmed in the past, but is uninhabited now and is used daily by walkers, joggers, and, in winter, cross-country skiers. It is possible to hike the five-mile coast of the island at low tide, and there are unmarked trails and a paved road on the island. The trails are nearly level, and great for cross-country skiing. The main trail in is on a paved road that can accommodate wheelchairs.
Pass through the gate onto the paved road. One choice is to stay on the paved road, which eventually turns to dirt, a mile and a half to the jetty on the west shore. This is the location of various controversial plans for a shipping port, but so far the island has escaped that fate.
The trail ends at the jetty, but if you follow the shoreline to the south (left), in about half a mile you will reach the radio tower, home to nesting ospreys. Here you can pick up a dirt road that leads two miles back to the gate where you parked. Along the way back, you can explore the Loop Road, a field, and then a side path to the old Sylvester homestead, now just a cellar hole. This side trail will also take you back to the paved road at the gate to the island.
The walk around the island is slow in places where the beach is rocky. However, if the tide permits, don’t miss walking on the shore a bit. The tremendous variety of rocks was left behind by the last glacier as it moved from northwest to southeast.
Location: Acadia National Park
Directions to trailhead: At the Acadia National Park Visitor Center, you can learn about the public bus route and obtain a map of hiking trails. The Summit Road (auto and bicycle) is on the two-way section of the Park Loop Road. Blackwoods Campground is on Route 3 about five miles south of Bar Harbor. Ask at the park entry gate for the Cadillac Mountain trailhead. To hike the North Ridge Trail, take Route 233 one mile west from Bar Harbor to the Park Loop Road. Turn left, and then bear left onto the one-way section of Park Loop Road that heads toward Sand Beach. In 0.6 miles at a sharp curve in the road, a small wooden trail sign marks the trailhead parking. The Bubble Pond Trail up Cadillac starts at the Bubble Pond parking area on the Park Loop Road 1.6 miles south of the Summit Road.
Distance: 2.6 miles, 4 miles, or 7 miles (round-trip hikes)
Time: 3 to 5 hours
Cadillac Mountain receives the first rays of sun hitting the U.S. at certain times of year. (Other locations, including Mars Hill in Aroostook County, have this claim to fame at other times.) Cadillac’s pink granite dome offers spectacular views of island-studded Frenchman’s Bay and the surrounding mountains on Mount Desert Island and the mainland. Best views are a short walk to the east on the ledges. There is a way for everybody to reach the top, either by automobile, bicycle, or by one of three trails. Public transportation is provided, offering a great way to see the island and hop on and off at hiking destinations. You could even ride to the top and hike down.
The longest, least steep approach is the 3.5-mile trail from Blackwoods Campground, for a seven-mile round-trip. It spreads the 1,500-foot rise over its length, starting in woods and cruising over open bedrock striped with dark dike rock filling cracks in the granite.
The North Ridge Trail is two miles long and much steeper. It starts at the Park Loop Road, going through spruce/birch woods alternating with open granite ledges. It comes near the summit road three times before breaking above tree line. At two miles it merges with the summit road for another three-hundred-yard walk to the finish.
Shortest and steepest of all is the 1.3-mile trail that spurts up from Bubble Pond. You will need your hands to scramble up the cliffs from the pond. After half a mile the climb eases, although it is still an uphill pull, and then joins the trail from Blackwoods about a quarter mile from the summit. Going back down this trail is extremely challenging, and can be dangerous in less than good weather.
The three and a half-mile auto road accommodates cyclists as well. The uphill bike ride is grueling, and your brakes had better work for the downhill. In either case, sunset is a popular time, although the road is busy all day in summer.
Great Wass Island
Location: Near Jonesport
Directions to trailhead: From Jonesport, cross the bridge to Beals, and continue three miles to Duck Cove on Great Wass Island. The parking area is on the left.
Distance: 5 miles
Time: 3 hours
Great Wass Island Preserve is a Nature Conservancy preserve of 1,540 acres of boreal (northern) forest and rocky coast covering most of the island, beyond Beals Island off Jonesport. The exposed granite bedrock shore on Red Head at the southern end juts farther out to sea than any other landmass in Maine. The Bay of Fundy’s colder currents keep the climate cool and moist, more like arctic conditions. This provides habitat for boreal plants and birds at the southern limit of their ranges. Boreal birds to look for are spruce grouse and boreal chickadees. Palm warblers and Lincoln’s sparrows nest here, too. The hike may be dangerous in bad weather, so come well prepared and wear sturdy shoes.
Two trails begin together at the parking lot, then diverge a hundred yards into the woods. They can be pieced together by walking the shoreline, to make a loop of amazing variety. There is no trail down to Red Head. The adventurer with plenty of time can walk the 2.5 miles of rocky shoreline to Red Head, which adds five miles, increasing the hike to ten miles.
The suggested five-mile loop begins at the parking lot. Hike in a hundred yards to the junction of the two trails and take Little Cape Point Trail, the right fork, through a sphagnum (peat moss) and spruce forest with jack pine stands on the dry ledges. Jack pine reaches its southern limit in Maine, growing on soil too thin for most other trees. After a mile, bog bridges take you through a bog of pitcher plants and tiny red sundews, both insect-eating plants. Boreal bog plants include baked apple berry (cloudberry) and dragon’s mouth orchid. When the trail reaches the shore, a short walk around Cape Cove takes you to Little Cape Point.
From the point, walk north (left) 1.5 miles along the shore of Eastern Bay, watching for seals and seabirds, to the rock cairn and red marker at the Mud Hole Trail. This trail takes you 1.5 miles along Mud Hole, a long, narrow cove back to the parking lot.
Schoodic Mountain and Beach Loop
Location: Near East Sullivan
Directions to trailhead: The Donnell Pond Management Unit is accessed from Route 1 in East Sullivan, east of Ellsworth. Drive north on Route 183 (Tunk Lake Road) approximately four miles, and turn left onto Donnell Pond Road. Follow signs to the parking area for Donnell Pond.
Distance: 2.3 miles
Time: 2 hours
Schoodic Mountain is the highest in a cluster of mountains surrounded by lake country in the wild lands east of Ellsworth. The Donnell Pond Unit of the Bureau of Parks and Lands is a 14,162-acre tract of remote forested land with crystal clear lakes, secluded ponds, and panoramic views. Between Franklin and Cherryfield in Hancock County, this place is the wild counterpoint to its neighbor, Acadia National Park. Campsites, accessible by foot or by water, and a beach with swimming and picnic facilities on Donnell Pond make this the ideal spot for uncrowded family recreation.
Several trails leave from the Donnell Pond Unit parking lot. One goes half a mile to the beach on Donnell Pond. This will be the way you return at the end. Take the trail that heads west (to the left) to Schoodic Mountain. At 0.9 miles, a trail from the beach joins your trail for another 0.4 miles to the top. Even though the tower is gone, there are great views all around the bare rocky summit. The many ponds sparkle, the ocean is not far, and the other peaks — Caribou, Black, Catherine, and Tunk — are scenic.
When you have basked enough at the top, head down the way you came up for the first 0.4 miles, but go left at the junction with the trail down to the beach. Half a mile and you are there for a swim. To return to your car, take the trail away from the beach for half a mile back to the parking lot.
Roque Bluffs State Park
Location: Near Machias
Directions to trailhead: Roque Bluffs State Park is in the town of Roque Bluffs on Schoppee Point Road, six miles south of Route 1 in Machias.
Distance: 5.5 miles on trails, 1 mile on beach
Time: 3 hours
Roque Bluffs is a 274-acre state park located south of Machias. The 1.5-mile stretch of sand and pebble beach is a scenic place to walk and swim. The intertidal zone is full of interesting arthropods, seaweed, periwinkles, sea stars, and hermit crabs. Simpson Pond behind the beach is a freshwater environment with its assortment of flora and fauna and a good place to swim from its beach. Both are of great interest to children and usually within their capabilities.
North of the pond is a series of easy hiking trails the whole family will enjoy. Pond Cove Trail (two miles), Houghton’s Hill Trail (1.5 miles), Larry’s Loop (0.3 miles), Blueberry Camp Trail (one mile), and Mihill Trail (two miles) can be combined or hiked separately, depending on how much hiking is desired. A suggested walk is to start in on the main trail for a mile, go left on Pond Cove Trail for two miles for a close look at Pond Cove, especially if the tide is low. Then turn back to the right on Houghton’s Hill Trail (1.5 miles) for views of Englishman Bay before returning on the main trail one mile, for a total of 5.5 miles. A board map and individual maps are available at the kiosk at the trailhead parking.
Directions to trailhead: From Weld, west of Farmington, drive north on Route 142 about two miles, and turn left onto Byron Road. Half a mile later, stay to the right at a fork, continuing on the Byron Road. Four miles in, you will pass the Brook Trail (where the hike ends), and five miles in you will come to the Loop Trail, where you start hiking. Park well out of the way of logging trucks, the reason this road exists. Start hiking on the blue-blazed Loop Trail.
Distance: 5 mile circuit
Time: 3 to 4 hours
Hiking Tumbledown is an experience in variety. Steep trails, open ledges, some boulder scrambling, beautiful forest, and to top it off, a sweet little pond at the summit. In the pond stands a tiny island, fun to swim to in summer.
The trail up the mountain, the Loop Trail, starts from the Byron Road in Weld, and the descent trail, the Brook Trail, ends up back on the Byron Road, about a mile from the Loop Trail, making a circuit of five miles. Taking the blue-blazed Loop Trail up is important because there are some tight spots and even a rocky constriction known as “Fat Man’s Misery” that are better negotiated on the ascent than on the descent. Most of the trail is steep, going through coniferous forest up through a boulder field, and you’ll need to use your hands to climb up the rocks of the final ascent of the west summit. Once up, you are “on top of the world” as you walk east (to the right) around and over the peaks and drop to the alpine pond. Wild trout have traditionally lived in this pond, and you may want to try your fishing luck.
To find the trail down, walk along the edge of the pond until you see the outlet brook flowing out from the pond. Look for blue blazes of the Brook Trail, which follows this brook most of the way steeply down the mountain to the road. At the road, turn right and walk one mile back to where you started at the Loop Trail.
Directions to trailhead: From Oquossoc, drive west on Route 4 toward Haines Landing. Turn left and go one mile. Trail signs on the left show where to park.
Distance: 2 miles
Time: 1 to 2 hours
Of the dozen or so Bald mountains in Maine, this one tops the list for panoramic views and exciting hiking. The short trail in the middle of the Rangeley lakes area has variety from woods to cliff walking, and its location on a peninsula between Rangeley and Mooselookmeguntic lakes makes it one of the most scenic hikes in the state.
The one-mile trail heads southeast out of Oquossoc, seeming to go to the former ski slope on the north flank. At the fork, take the right, heading instead for the top. The grade steepens as you climb to the 2,443-foot summit. The best views are a bit past the summit, down the south side to ledges. Mooselookmeguntic Lake spreads to the west, and Rangeley Lake to the east. To the northeast, the “sleeping giant” is Saddleback Mountain. Climb back up to the peak before heading back down on the same trail.
Location: Near The Forks
Directions to trailhead: At the bridge over the Kennebec River in The Forks, turn east onto Lake Moxie Road on the south side of the river. Follow the road 1.8 miles to a parking area with a Moxie Falls sign.
Distance: 2.5 miles
Time: 1 hour
At eighty-nine feet, Moxie Falls has been rated the highest waterfall in New England. Located in Moxie Gore near The Forks (where the Kennebec and the Dead rivers join), it is a place of astounding beauty for very little effort by the hiker. The wide, level path leads to a boardwalk to Moxie Stream, where upstream you will see the upper falls, which would have been enough, and then downstream you will find the breathtaking cascades of the lower falls. The boardwalk takes you to a platform for viewing the lower falls. Hold on to children.
The trail continues a bit farther around the rim of the falls to a knoll, the best vantage point for viewing the cascade. Winter is a wonderful time to visit Moxie Falls. The scene is an enchanted forest with snow on the dark spruce and rusty green cedars. Snowshoe tracks braid with tracks of red squirrel, deer, grouse, and snowshoe hare. The upper step falls are invisible under ice, but mink tracks leading from hole to hole reveal openings in the ice. The high falls appear frozen
in motion, but the rushing sound underneath tells you the water is moving fast. The ice can be topaz or aquamarine in color. The return trip is by the same trail.
Big Spencer Mountain
Location: Near Moosehead Lake
Directions to trailhead: From Greenville, drive north to Kokadjo, and 0.2 miles beyond it bear left at the fork. After five miles, check in at the Siras gate, pay a day use or camping fee, and ask for a map with directions to Big Spencer. From the gate, go 3.2 miles, turn left (to the northwest, if you’ve brought your compass or GPS with you), drive six miles (bearing right at 1.4 miles and left at 2.5 miles). At 6.1 miles, the trail, a woods road, takes off left (south). Park here and start hiking the woods road.
Distance: 4 miles
Time: 2 to 3 hours
Big Spencer stands like a fortress in the wilderness northeast of Moosehead Lake. Getting there is an adventure even before you start hiking. The mountain is visible from miles around, shaped like a long box against the sky, taller than Little Spencer, its neighbor, shaped like a whale, and also a good place to hike. Big Spencer’s lands are now protected by the Forest Society of Maine and the Bureau of Parks and Lands.
The two-mile trail starts gently enough and grows steep and quite challenging. It passes the sites of the former fire warden’s camp and the former forest ranger’s camp. Views of Katahdin open along the trail. From the last cabin site, the trail climbs a thousand feet in the last 0.7 miles. Ladders are placed to help you over hard places. Near the top several ladders help you up through dwarfed red spruce and sheep laurel to the rocky northeast summit of volcanic rhyolite.
The old fire tower is down after many years of service, replaced by communications towers instead.
Views from the 3,230-foot summit platform reveal the vast lake country surrounded by some of Maine’s highest mountains, including Katahdin past Ragged Lake to the northeast, southeast over Shaw Mountain to White Cap, south over First Roach Pond to Number Four Mountain, south to Big Moose with its ski slopes, southwest to Little Spencer and Mount Kineo beyond. Moosehead Lake is west-southwest. Take the same trail back, taking care on the ladders, and enjoy the descent.
Location: East of Moosehead Lake
Directions to trailhead: Drive four miles north from Brownville Junction on Route 11, and turn left (to the west) at a sign to Katahdin Iron Works. Drive seven miles to the iron works, register and pay a day-use fee, and ask for a map. Cross a bridge and take the right fork, go 3.4 miles and bear left. At seven miles, at the Appalachian Trail crossing, park in the parking area.
Distance: 9 miles
Time: 7 hours
Gulf Hagas is a well-hidden gem in the Hundred-Mile Wilderness of the Appalachian Trail in the geographic center of Maine. The scenic gorge through slate and other metamorphic rock is located near historic Katahdin Iron Works (known locally as K.I.), which you can visit on the way. The gorge, dubbed Maine’s Grand Canyon, is named for Gulf Hagas Brook, a small tributary to the West Branch of the Pleasant River, which has cut the gorge. The trail starts at a parking area and follows the Appalachain Trail’s white blazes north. At 0.7 miles, you must ford the West Branch of the Pleasant River on slippery rocks. Hiking poles or a stick are very helpful. Across the river, the trail goes through the Hermitage, a famous grove of stately white pine now preserved by the Nature Conservancy. At 1.2 miles, a blue-blazed side trail leaves the Appalachian Trail and goes half a mile to the Gulf Hagas Loop of 5.2 miles. Almost immediately, a short side trail to Screw Auger Falls should not be missed. When you get to the loop, go left first.
The loop takes a slow trail along the gorge with views to stop you every few minutes and very rugged terrain. Even though the vertical rise is minimal, every step is either up or down, requiring constant effort. The trail takes you near Hammond Street Pitch, past Indian Head and the Lower Jaws, where a Native American log driver was killed in a logjam in 1882. The Main Jaws is the narrowest place in the gorge, with side trails for climbing down to the water. However, you will soon be at a great place to swim, so save your energy unless you have plenty to spare. Buttermilk Falls, Stair Falls, and Billings Falls will each take your breath.
The end and turning back place of the trail is the Head of the Gulf, where the river divides around an island, cascading toward you from both sides. This is one of the most beautiful spots to swim in Maine. It is the last overlook before the trail leaves the river and loops back on the old Pleasant River Road, a much straighter path with faster, easier hiking. The loop returns you to the half-mile connector back to the Appalachian Trail, which you retrace to the parking area.
Before leaving, it is fun to explore Katadin Iron Works and learn some of the history of the iron industry and the thriving village it brought here in the 1840s.
Traveler Mountain Loop
Location: Baxter State Park
Directions to trailhead: South Branch Pond Campground is in the northern part of Baxter State Park.
Distance: 10.6 miles
Time: 10 hours
The Traveler Mountain Loop was opened in 2003 to attract some of the hordes of climbers from Mount Katahdin. Indeed, it rivals Katahdin in dramatic beauty, as well as in physical challenge. However, the crowds it was meant to attract are not there — yet. Hikers have the opportunity to walk for miles above tree line in solitude, with rock lichens, alpine birds, and sky. The trail links two older trails with a new trail, climbs three high peaks separated by deep cols, and supports a diverse array of animal and plant life in its still pristine microhabitats. Sturdy boots will make travel over the sharp boulders and scree more tolerable.
The Traveler was named by voyageurs who traveled the waterways of Maine and Canada trapping and logging. The large bulk and many radiating ridges of the mountain created the impression that the mountain moved or traveled along beside them.
Located in northern Baxter State Park, the hike begins at South Branch Pond Campground. It is important to have good weather for this hike. Much of the ten hours will be above treeline on ridges and peaks that offer no protection from wind, rain, or lightning. Carry rain gear, warm layers, a flashlight, at least two quarts of water, and extra food. Sign in at the ranger station before hiking from the campground (and sign out when finished).
The loop is best hiked in a counter-clockwise direction, ascending the steepest part, Center Ridge, first. The Center Ridge Trail is two miles of steep boulders and scree to Peak of the Ridges, 3,254 feet, the first of three alpine summits on the loop. The second summit, the Traveler, is 3,541 feet, and the third is North Traveler, 3,152 feet. Between these peaks, plunging dips make the trail very challenging. Take your time and enjoy being high above the forest for the day.
Quaggy Jo Mountain
Location: Presque Isle
Directions to trailhead: Aroostook State Park is located three miles south of Presque Isle just a mile west of Route 1.
Distance: 5.5 miles
Time: 2 to 3 hours
“Qua Qua Jo,” a Native American name meaning “Twin Peaked,” was the original name of Quaggy Jo Mountain in Aroostook State Park. Within two miles of Route 1, it is easy to get to and open all year. Echo Lake offers swimming, boating, canoe rentals, and brook trout fishing. The campground has plenty of campsites and is rarely full.
One end of the hiking trail up Quaggy Jo starts at the campground, goes first up South Peak and then up North Peak. It returns to the campground for a total of 3.5 miles. The other end is accessed from a dirt road in the park, going first to the North Peak, then the South. Even though the trail is fairly rugged, it is suitable for families with children, especially when they know a swim waits as their reward. In winter, groomed cross-country ski trails attract many day-use visitors.
Aroostook was the first state park in Maine, established in 1939.
It has grown to eight hundred acres over time. Near Route 1, it is a convenient starting point for discovering the north Maine woods and more remote parts of Aroostook County. The variety of activities in the park make it ideal for families with children who have interests in more than hiking.
Location: interior Aroostook County
Directions to trailhead: The Deboullie Management Unit includes all of Township 15 Range 9 WELS, located about thirty miles southwest of Fort Kent. Take Route 161 west twenty miles from Fort Kent to Saint Francis and turn south (to the left) at the checkpoint gate, where you pay a day use or camping fee. Be sure to confirm directions and ask for a map.
Distance: 5.5 miles
Time: 3 to 4 hours
Deboullie Mountain is as far off the beaten track as you can get, offering a true wilderness experience to the hiker who is able to get there. Its summit is the destination of one of several trails in the 22,000-acre Deboullie Management Unit protected by the Maine Bureau of Parks and Lands. It is located within the North Maine Woods Inc., an administrative system of checkpoints and fees for day use and camping in wild lands and paper company lands in Aroostook and Piscataquis counties. Once you have found the place, you can camp in certain primitive campsites on the shore of ponds or stay at the Red River Camps on Island Pond (Box 320, Portage, ME 04768). One day is not long enough to get there, hike, and leave.
The hike of Deboullie Mountain starts in two places, both at parking lots, one near Denny Pond, and one at the east end of Deboullie Pond near Pushineer Pond. The second is more scenic, taking you 2.5 miles along the north shore of Deboullie Pond past a huge rockslide. “Deboullie” is the French word for “fallen rock” for which the pond and mountain are named. At a place in Deboullie Slide called the “Ice Chest” the ice never melts, even in summer. After 2.5 miles, a side trail to the tower leaves the shore trail and heads steeply up the mountain for one mile to the 1,945-foot summit. Ice caves hide along this trail as well.
Instead of hiking around the pond, you could paddle a canoe across to the tower trail. Look for the trailhead by a campsite on the shore. The trail shoots steeply up to the summit, where the fire tower has been preserved as an observation tower, with a commanding view over Aroostook County and a view south to Mount Katahdin. Return by the same trail to Pushineer Pond.
The ponds and streams are habitat for moose, beaver, loons, fish, and amphibians. The forests are home to snowshoe hare, white-tailed deer, black bear, and red squirrel. Bald eagles fish the ponds, along with anglers.
- By: Cloe Chunn