Suckfish Brook Conservation Area (Falmouth, ME)

Bench by beaver dam and pond, Suckfish Brook Conservation Area, Falmouth, ME

Suckfish Brook Conservation Area is a two-part preserve in Falmouth and Westbrook to the east of Highland Lake, a total of about 132 acres in size. On a mid-December day, I explored the 94-acre preserve in Falmouth by the Falmouth Land Trust, with a trail system maintained by the Town of Falmouth that begins in the Conservation Area and connects to trails made possible by neighboring landowners. The Conservation Area is named for the white sucker fish, which spawns in the eponymous brook. The small parking area is at the end of Upland Road, off Mast Road close to the Falmouth/Westbrook line. Navigation through Suckfish Brook Conservation Area can be difficult, as the maps are good, but some of the trails, particularly those through the Christmas tree farm owned by Skillins, are unsigned. I typically use the AllTrails application to navigate and track hikes, but in this case, the best way I found to navigate was using the QR code on the trail sign to access the Google Maps version of the trail map, showing my position relative to my anticipated route. In addition, the AllTrails trailhead directions tried to send me towards the wrong side of Falmouth.

Stone wall, Suckfish Brook Conservation Area, Falmouth, ME

I made a loop by taking the Huston Trail clockwise to the Stone Ridge Trail, the Presidential Trail, the Red Tail Trail, and back north on the Presidential Trail to the Huston Trail, with a quick stop at the Beaver Trail. This route along the edges of the Conservation Area was about 2.6 miles, and easily completed in an hour. A sign and map kiosk mark the beginning of the trails, which are open sunrise to sunset. Shortly after the parking lot, a series of plank bridges led to the right, with a view over a small pond, a bench, and a beaver dam at the pond’s outlet. Returning to the main trail, white-blazed Huston Trail splits to the north and south, and I went left/north. Leaves rattled on the trees and crunched underfoot, frozen under a thin carpet of snow. There are periodic placards along the trail with notices and QR codes regarding the history of the area. The Huston Trail is named for William Huston and his family, the historical landowners. Huston was a forester working for the King of England’s mast agent for Maine, and white pines were harvested for Royal Navy masts here, hence the name of Mast Road, as well.

View of White Mountains from Presidential Trail, Suckfish Brook Conservation Area, Falmouth, ME

The Huston Trail turned right along a low stone wall and intersected with the yellow-blazed Stone Ridge Trail near a monument in the memory of William Huston and family next to a No Trespassing sign. This part of the trail was closed at the request of the landowner. A hand-printed sign and yellow diamonds on the trees denoted the “new yellow” section, along with small orange flags on the right margin of the trail. This new section switches back and forth across a low hill, crossing a wide gas pipeline corridor and then a power line corridor. On the east side of the corridor, the trail re-enters the woods, running concurrently downhill with a snowmobile trail through a long, wide tunnel of birches. This rolls across a series of brooks, before skirting the edge of the Christmas tree farm. A sign that is on the other side of the farm advises the property is actively hunted from October 15th to December 1st, and that during that time, visitors should only walk between 10 am and 2 pm.

Beaver Trail, Suckfish Brook Conservation Area, Falmouth, ME

The trail turns into a path through the farm, climbing the hillside with views to the west of the White Mountains, with the snowy cap of Mount Washington clearly visible. Here were the only icy parts of the hike, as rain and melt had frozen in the ruts of the road, creating a slick track. At the top of the hill, there was finally a trail sign denoting the Presidential Trail, and I started downhill on the road. Shortly before the base of the hill, I found a fallen sign for the Red Tail Trail and followed it to the left, curving around the edge of the farm and back to the Presidential Trail. Every now and again, the wind picked up the pleasant scent of the small pines being cultivated. The trail, marked with orange diamonds, eventually pops back into the forest, crossing a small brook, and then moves back across the power lines, through a small tree line, and to the gas line corridor, following this wide gap briefly before turning left through a small break in the stone wall. A sign announced the return to the Suckfish Brook Conservation Area, and I turned left onto the Huston Trail to the small Beaver Trail spur, which is across the marshy pond from the beaver dam and the parking area. From here, it was a short walk around the edge of the pond to my starting point. The trailhead parking, empty when I arrived, was full when I returned.

Suckfish Brook Conservation Area, Falmouth, ME

Edwin L. Smith Preserve (Kennebunkport, ME)

Morning light, Steele Trail, Edwin L. Smith Preserve, Kennebunkport, ME

The surprisingly big Edwin L. Smith Preserve in Kennebunk, Maine is the largest holding of the Kennebunkport Conservation Trust (KCT) and sits on over 1,100 acres. Smith Preserve, known for birding and biking, is part of an undeveloped 3,000-acre block of land which KCT’s web site describes as the largest such coastal block between Kittery and Brunswick. The provenance of this area is unique – a large 1947 fire destroyed multiple homes and farms, resulting in an eventual tax default. The land then reverted to the town of Kennebunkport as the town forest, but in 2002, Kennebunkport residents voted to transfer 741 of these acres to KCT. On the first weekend of December, I hiked a long counterclockwise lollipop loop through Smith Preserve, using the Steele Trail, Bobcat Ridge extension, Bobcat Ridge Trail, and the Trolley Trail to return to the Steele Trail. This easy 8-mile loop over rolling terrain took about two and a half hours. A printable map is available from the KCT site.

Batson River crossing, Steele Trail, Edwin L. Smith Preserve, Kennebunkport, ME

The trailhead is on Guinea Road in Kennebunkport, marked by a tasteful engraved stone with a parking area opposite. This lot has a capacity of about 15-20 cars, and on this early winter morning, most of the license plates were from New Hampshire. The well-signed trail begins in a marshy area paralleling the road. Up-to-date maps with “you are here” points are placed strategically at trail intersections, and there are small periodic alternate flourishes off the trail for mountain bikes. The yellow-blazed Steele Trail is the “main drag,” but longer or shorter loop hikes can be created by using the loop trails along the way, like the Brook Trail, Fox Den Trail, and Beacon Trail. A Forestry Management Project is underway in a 20-acre section of the trail, and placards educate visitors regarding its purpose.

Bobcat Ridge Extension Trail, Edwin L. Smith Preserve, Kennebunkport, ME

The Fox Den Trail intersection signals the beginning of a slight uphill leading all the way to the high points of Bobcat Ridge, with large boulders throughout. The Round Swamps Brook runs parallel to the trail until slightly after Fox Ridge. The trail twists and curves, using switchbacks over a series of low ridges, and low-lying areas, eventually crossing the Batson River. I ran into a healthy mix of mountain bikers, dog walkers, and trail runners throughout the hike. The birds were quiet for the most part, but I finally heard some chickadees and sparrows about 2 1/2 miles down the Steele Trail. Slightly after a small bridge crossing the Batson River for the second time, I reached the intersection of the Bobcat Ridge Extension Trail. This area can look confusing on the map, but stay straight to tackle the Bobcat Ridge Extension, or left to continue on the Steele Trail (right leads to private property).

Bobcat Ridge Extension Trail, Edwin L. Smith Preserve, Kennebunkport, ME

The Bobcat Ridge Trail leads past well-named points like “Lichen Ledge”, which likely serve as rallying points for mountain bikers (the trails are, in fact, marked with ski symbols for difficulty). As a hiker, I didn’t have any issues with the bikers – they were universally audible and courteous. The Trolley Trail was a bit flooded, and a kitschy Christmas tree sat in front of a bench at one point of the trail, but this, along with the drone of a single-engine plane and the blast of a foghorn, was one of the few signs of civilization on the forested trail, located in an otherwise populous area of southeastern Maine. I finished the hike refreshed, returning to a full parking lot.

Trolley Trail, Edwin L. Smith Preserve, Kennebunkport, ME

Cooley Preserve at Center Pond (Phippsburg, ME)

Tree overlooking Center Pond, Cooley Preserve at Center Pond, Phippsburg, ME

Cooley Preserve at Center Pond, also known as Center Pond Preserve, is located in Phippsburg and maintained by the Phippsburg Land Trust. Cooley Preserve, known for its bird habitat and wildflowers, contains 253 acres of woods, ledges, a beaver pond turned into a marsh, and the shoreline of Center Pond. A friend and I explored the trails on a cold but sunny late November day. The trailhead off Parker House Road is just south of a narrow neck between Center Pond and the Kennebec River, directly across the river from Squirrel Point light. The parking area has a sign-in notebook, with space for trail brochures (none when we visited), and a sign lists access to McKay Farm Preserve via the South Perimeter Trail. Online, the brochure notes that the Preserve is named for Mrs. Eleanor Cooley, from whom Phippsburg Land Trust acquired this, its first property, in 1995.

Trail map at Cooley Center Pond Preserve, Phippsburg, ME

Atop the trail guide box was a laminated version of the only map of the Preserve’s trails that I’ve seen, which is incomplete (no link to McKay Farm can be found off the South Perimeter Trail, and other new trails are not listed), and not aligned with north at the top like a traditional map. A sign encouraged hikers to wear blaze orange, which we took to heart on this late November day, the last day of deer hunting season. We navigated using the guide box map, as well as the AllTrails application and dead reckoning. Combining the Drummond Loop, Andy’s Way (signed, but not on the map), Schoolhouse Trail, Elbow Hill Trail, Perimeter Trail South, and Perimeter Trail North, we cobbled together a loop around the perimeter of the Preserve totaling about 5.5 miles.

AllTrails map of route taken through Center Pond Preserve, Phippsburg, ME

This easy hike took us a little over two hours, with plenty of time to stop and enjoy the various viewpoints. Near the trailhead, there are petroglyphs, or rock carvings, which you can find for yourself by following purple blazes or read about on Phippsburg Land Trust’s site (we are more aligned with a Leave No Trace philosophy, and these definitely aren’t our thing). The Drummond Loop led uphill from the parking area, then downhill to a left turn to pick up the loop. Shortly thereafter, we encountered a new sign for Andy’s Way, a blazed trail leading southeast, and followed this path over mixed forest, past tall ledges, until it reached the Schoolhouse Trail. There were vestiges of the farmland this used to be, with stone walls, and old barbed wire growing slowly back into the landscape.

View from Elbow Hill, Cooley Center Pond Preserve, Phippsburg, ME

We turned left again on the Schoolhouse Trail, and eventually crossed Elbow Hill Road, up to the small loop overlooking Mill Pond and the Kennebec, a height of land which was anonymously donated to Phippsburg Land Trust in 2009. We then doubled back down the Schoolhouse Trail, a wide, mossy former woods road, until reaching the Perimeter Trail South, where we turned left, headed toward the southern end of the Preserve. The link to the McKay Farm Preserve trails are at this southern end, but we bypassed this trail, not having any map or sense of their direction. A map on the Phippsburg Land Trust site lists the distance of the McKay Farm Preserve Trail as 4.8 miles round-trip from the Cooley parking lot, and currently only accessible through Cooley Center Pond Preserve.

Center Pond, Cooley Center Pond Preserve, Phippsburg, ME

The Perimeter Trail South continues north through a low-lying swampy area, coalescing into a wider stream bounding the west side of the Preserve, as it leads toward Center Pond. Along this stretch, the forest was surprisingly green for late November, with many ferns and other flora maintaining their verdant colors. On the broad, shallow pond, we saw common eider ducks making slow black-and-white turns on the icy water, with the wave movements making tinkling sounds of the ice collecting near the shoreline.

Beaver Pond, Cooley Center Pond Preserve, Phippsburg, ME

We briefly picked up the Drummond Trail, which encircles the beaver pond, then doubled back onto the Perimeter Trail North, which led to a small point of land facing south onto Center Pond. As the trail followed the shoreline, it began to climb the ledges at the northern end of the pond, with some steep climbing. Then we moved inland, through a series of high ledges, back to the Drummond Trail, and the parking area. We did not encounter anyone else on the trails, and while visible houses and road noise sometimes punctuated the hike, there were long stretches in which one would have no idea that they were that close to civilization.

Ledges, Cooley Center Pond Preserve, Phippsburg, ME

Pineland Public Reserved Lands

North Loop, Pineland Public Reserved Lands, New Gloucester, ME

The Pineland Public Reserved Lands trailhead is located in New Gloucester, Maine, just south of the Pineland Farms complex on Depot Road, with year-round trails on either side of the road making a figure-eight loop, with Depot Road as the fulcrum at the center. The Lands themselves consist of over 600 acres of undeveloped forest in New Gloucester, Gray, and North Yarmouth. The best maps and descriptions can be found on Maine Trail Finder or Maine By Foot. The southern end of the trails connects to a much longer network of Pineland Corridor mixed use trails leading to Bradbury Mountain State Park, used primarily in the summer by mountain bikers.

Fall colors on North Loop, Pineland Public Reserved Lands, New Gloucester, ME

We completed this leisurely 3.2-mile loop in about an hour and twenty minutes in early October’s peak foliage, taking the northern (1.7 mi) and then southern (1.5 mi) loops each in a clockwise direction before returning to the trailhead. The trailhead is marked by a prominent brown sign on Depot Road with a pine tree on it, with a wide dirt/gravel parking area. A picnic area is adjacent to the trailhead. Plank walkways cover low or wet areas in the North Loop path, as the trail winds mostly downhill through mixed forest, with abundant ferns. Crows, black-capped chickadees, and blue jays called loudly through the widely-spaced trees.

Royal River rail bridge, North Loop, Pineland Public Reserved Lands, New Gloucester, ME

The blue-blazed North Loop crosses a couple pleasant brooks before reaching their outlet, with a 350-foot spur trail leading to the Royal River. Here, a rail bridge spanned the quiet flow, and the conically chewed signs of beaver activity were evident. A slight uphill grade led back toward Depot Road, which we carefully crossed to access the South Loop.

North Loop, Pineland Public Reserved Lands, New Gloucester, ME

This trail opened up substantially around a large area that looked like a former gravel pit or quarry, then became more narrow upon crossing an old logging road, leading back towards Depot Road, with Town Farm Road bounding the Lands to the west. Maine Trail Finder lists this as a fairly busy trail, particularly on weekend days, and there was plenty of foot traffic (both two- and four-footed), particularly on the North Loop. Upon return to the trailhead, we headed towards the Pineland Farms complex, where we had lunch at The Market at Pineland Farms, a great place for fresh soups, sandwiches, and baked goods.

Fall colors on South Loop, Pineland Public Reserved Lands, New Gloucester, ME

Orono Bog Boardwalk

Orono Bog Boardwalk, Orono, ME

The Orono Bog Boardwalk, adjacent to the Bangor City Forest, is located off Stillwater Avenue just north of the Bangor Mall area. The easy, flat 1-mile Boardwalk, celebrating its 20th year in 2022, is a joint venture of the University of Maine, the City of Bangor, and the Orono Land Trust. Updates on conditions and opening hours are available through the Boardwalk’s Facebook page. The Boardwalk is closed during the winter, and from the designated opening day in the spring through Labor Day, open from 7 am to 6:30 pm, with hours gradually getting shorter in September and October until closing for winter the Sunday after Thanksgiving, when it is 8 am to 3:30 pm. We had visited the Boardwalk before as a stopover to stretch our legs on the way back south from Katahdin.

Orono Bog Boardwalk, Orono, ME

On a rainy late September morning, I parked at the Bangor City Forest parking lot on Tripp Road and turned immediately right onto the wide flat East-West Loop Trail through the trees. It was quiet, except for red squirrels, and a little over a quarter mile to the Boardwalk, the entrance situated behind an information kiosk, a picnic table, and a bike rack. There are restroom facilities available, close by and clearly marked. The Boardwalk elevates over the bog, which is filled with large, lush ferns, wide leaves of skunk cabbage, and ash and maple trees perched on hummocks, with periodic benches to sit and watch the plants and wildlife. I heard but didn’t see a white-breasted nuthatch and a hairy woodpecker.

Pitcher plants, Orono Bog Boardwalk, Orono, ME

After moving through the trees, the Boardwalk opens wide onto the 616-acre Orono Bog itself, with blueberries, cranberries, exotic-looking pitcher plants of all colors, and red peat moss, an almost impossible variety and density of life that looks like a Hollywood CGI version of another planet. I saw many low-lying bog rosemary plants, named only for their resemblance to the herb, as they are poisonous members of the Andromeda family.

Fall colors at Orono Bog Boardwalk, Orono, ME

In this wider area, I heard the frequent sound of jays and smaller birds. A small brown bird disappeared into a hummock right in front of me, and I puzzled over its disappearance, until it zoomed out on the other side, circling in watching me: a small, bobbing palm warbler. A series of educational placards dotted the Boardwalk, with relevant plants and wildlife. On the return I took a slightly different route after leaving the Boardwalk loop back to the parking area for the end of this short hike.

Orono Bog Boardwalk, Orono, ME

Barrell Ridge

View of North Traveler from Barrell Ridge Trail, Baxter State Park, ME

On the last day of a mid-September weekend hiking trip to Baxter State Park, I snuck in a morning hike before I packed up my South Branch Pond campsite, heading to Barrell Ridge (2085 ft) via Middle Fowler Pond Trail. I got the route for this moderate six mile out-and-back hike from Hiking Maine’s Baxter State Park and the suggestion of the South Branch Pond ranger. You can navigate using the South Branch Pond printable map from Baxter State Park. The trailhead is shared with the Ledges Trail and South Branch Nature Trail, a short walk north from South Branch Pond Campground, and branches off toward Middle Fowler Pond after about a third of a mile.

View northwest from ledges on Middle Fowler Pond Trail, Baxter State Park, ME

The fall morning was quiet and wet with dew, and the only forest sounds were jays and red squirrels hopping about their business. The sun was up but had not yet climbed over the Traveler Mountain massif, the blazing orange outline of which was visible through the deciduous trees to the right of the path. The thick trees briefly opened up above a creek bed with more expansive views of the North Ridge and North Traveler Mountain facing me to the south. The trail climbed steadily uphill, changing to ledges and scrub pine, with more views of the Traveler, then popped back into the fern and maple-filled forest, before emerging back onto a ledge on the side of Little Peaked Mountain with a panorama to the north and west.

Barrell Ridge rock face from Middle Fowler Pond Trail, Baxter State Park, ME

Coming off another ledge into the forest, I observed large moose prints in the mud that appeared to be recent and later, fresh dark moose poop. As the trail winds along the side of a ridge in the woods, it briefly becomes more of a goat path, periodically opening up to more ledges. Shortly after a couple stream crossings of Dry Brook, including a waterfall view, the trail bears left and up, getting steep as it climbs the last ridge before the trail intersection, with great views, then a quick descent.

Sharp, rugged rhyolite on Barrell Ridge Trail, Baxter State Park, ME

After the intersection with the Barrell Ridge Trail, it’s a short steep climb of about a third of a mile to the top of the ridge, sometimes clamoring hand over hand. The hard, striated rhyolite rock made me glad I was wearing boots, rather than trailrunners. Here at the summit, marked by a sign propped up by a rock cairn, were sweeping views and a cool breeze. After a snack, I picked my way back down to the trail and turned right to head back on the Middle Fowler Pond Trail to pack up, a total hike of about 6.3 miles, completed in about two hours and 45 minutes.

Views from Barrell Ridge, Baxter State Park, ME

(Disclaimer: This post contains affiliate links, and as an Amazon Associate Hiking in Maine blog earns from qualifying purchases.)

Gear Review: Venustas Heated Vest 7.4V (Women’s)

Venustas Heated Vest, Women’s M

We recently tested a Venustas Heated Vest, which has become a Fall staple. In the Maine mornings and evenings beginning in September, there is a chill in the air (even in my house!). Because I tend to be a cold person, any extra heat I can get, I will take it. The Venustas Heated Vest has six heating elements to generate warmth in the left & right shoulders, mid-back, left & right pockets, and collar. There are three settings indicated by an illuminated LED around a button on the chest– high (red), white (medium) and blue (low). Generally, when I go for heat, I go all-in, which means I usually have it on the hottest setting. The battery lasts about three hours in this mode. I can turn it down to medium or low if I am wearing it to rake leaves or hike or do something which gets my body heat up. Venustas advertises five to six hours of use on medium level, eight to ten hours on low setting. If I’m just going for my slow morning walk, I keep it at high.

Venustas Heated Vest, Women’s M

My favorite part about this vest is the heat on my neck – it reminds me of when I get a shirt out of the dryer and put it on – so cozy. I think as the winter sets in here in Maine, I will be pairing this with a parka on top of it because I will need extra warmth in my arms. However, for September, October and November I will be wearing this with a long-sleeve shirt and maybe a thin fleece. You will never get the sense that this vest will burn you. Even at the highest setting, it is not too hot. It is very easy to use – push the button for three seconds, it turns on. Push it again, it turns the temperature down. Push and hold for three seconds and it will turn off. When the light goes off on your vest, the battery will need to be recharged, which takes 6-7 hours.

Venustas Heated Vest, Women’s M

I’m happy with the Venustas vest and my only critique besides the long recharge time is that I don’t care for the company name written on it so prominently (because I don’t like writing on clothes). Overall, though, I’m loving this heat!! The 100% nylon vest water and wind-resistant exterior is machine-washable (minus the battery, obviously), and comes with a one-year warranty on the battery and two years on the heating elements.

Find Venustas Women’s Heated Vest here or more at


Machias River Preserve

Railroad Trestle Bridge, Machias River Preserve, ME

Machias River Preserve, located on the banks of its namesake, is a 917-acre area protected by the Downeast Coastal Conservancy (DCC), part of the Two Rivers Conservation Area (see description and map here). On a late September day, I used the parking area on 1A in Whitneyville to walk a lollipop-type loop using the Money Island, Homestead, and Hemlock Trails of about 3.3 miles, taking about an hour and twenty minutes. The Machias River Preserve can also be accessed from a small parking lot off 1A in the town of Machias. According to DCC’s site, “Machias” comes from a Passamaquoddy word meaning “bad little falls,” and I had taken this loop on before as part of the Bad Little Trail run sponsored by DCC and Bold Coast Runners.

Abandoned car on Money Island Trail, Machias River Preserve, Whitneyville, ME

Shortly after the entrance from the small parking area to the blue-blazed Money Island Trail, I saw the telltale signs of bushwhacking and circles in the grass indicating deer had slept here last night. I was almost immediately hit with the pleasant scent of wet pine and sweet fern. The trail narrowed, leading into a root-covered path along a healthy rust colored stream. At about a third of a mile in, just after the hulk of an old, abandoned car, a small side trail leads to the left to a series of pleasant moss-covered cascades where black-capped chickadees serenaded from the surrounding trees. Shortly after returning to the main trail, a small wooden bridge leads back over the stream, and a small spur trail can be taken to the right, for views of the Machias, flowing around Money Island in the middle of the river. The familiar clicking call of a belted kingfisher filled the cool river air.

Waterfall on Money Island Trail, Machias River Preserve, ME

The trail intersection here with the Homestead Trail leads inland, and the Hemlock Trail along the river. I opted to go inland and save the reward of the river views for the return loop. The Homestead Trail quickly opened on a field and a marsh populated by songbirds, including common yellowthroat. The trail, covered in roots, rolled over the forest terrain at the edge of the large marshy field, before turning back into the forest. This trail crossed gurgling brooks lined with moss and led to a piney single-track path watched over by rows of trees dripping Old Man’s Beard and lichen.

Homestead Trail, Machias River Preserve, ME

The path widened then, passing over the old bed of a woods road, running past and through a former apple orchard, with some gnarled old trees still retaining fruit. The trail opened on an area with more apple trees that was clearly popular with deer. I turned right at the sign for the yellow-blazed Meadow Farm loop to continue my smaller loop on the Homestead Trail. According to DCC, the property was owned by William Albee, a Revolutionary War veteran who established the farm after the war. From here, the trail wound its way downhill to the Downeast Sunrise Trail, where I turned left to use the multi-use path briefly until turning right to pick up the Hemlock Trail.

Marsh along Hemlock Trail, Machias River Preserve, ME

About midway along this half-moon loop, I scared a large hawk out of a tree along the trail, and it broke several branches as it become a brown mass of feathers shooting skyward and away, leaving the grisly remains of a small songbird in the trail. This portion of the trail was full of the musty scent of elderberries and opened on a large marsh. Here I saw withe rod viburnum and wrinkle-leaf goldenrod, as well as rugosa roses lining the path as glimpses of the Machias River appeared through the thick brush to my left. A small handmade sign warned of poison ivy, and it turns out they weren’t kidding. I wound up with a good-sized poison ivy rash on my arm that hung on for about a week, despite no memory of brushing against anything.

Natural gateway along Hemlock Trail, Machias River Preserve, ME

I followed the Machias around the bend, where large hemlocks stood as a natural gateway on the trail, which curved back towards the railroad trestle bridge and the Downeast Sunrise Trail. At this intersection, an open area with picnic tables sits next to a shaded grove, and a small path down to the shoreline. Crossing the Sunrise Trail, it was a short walk along the riverbank to rejoin the Money Island Trail, and back to the parking area.

Money Island on Machias River, Machias River Preserve, ME

Mount Coe, South Brother, and North Brother

Sun rising on the way up Mount Coe, Baxter State Park, ME

Having explored other difficult but rewarding long hikes in Baxter State Park, I decided to finally try a challenging early fall hike of Mount Coe (3,760 ft), South Brother (3,963 ft), and North Brother (4,052 ft), a 10.1 mi loop (extendable to about 12.5 mi if you include Fort Mountain in the spur hike from North Brother). This exhilarating trek begins with its most difficult ascent first, and hits peaks (including a 4,000 footer) that allow for views on a clear day in all directions of Baxter State Park and its surroundings. I started this hike based upon a route recommended by the book Hiking Maine’s Baxter State Park, a relatively new volume which I have dog-eared, bookmarked, and annotated in pen/pencil. As recommended in that book, every other guidebook, and the Baxter State Park ranger I consulted, I took the loop counterclockwise, in order to tackle the Mount Coe slides uphill, rather than trying to descend (more on that later). To navigate, you can use the free downloadable Kidney-Daicey map from Baxter State Park, or the more durable (my choice) Map Adventures’ Katahdin Baxter State Park Waterproof Trail Map.

Clear brook along Mount Coe Trail, Baxter State Park, ME

The parking area for Mount Coe and the Brothers is on the Park Tote Road just south of Slide Dam picnic area, on the east side of the road. I took a long, quiet morning drive south from South Branch Campground, with the windows down to breathe in the foggy morning dew and listen for about an hour. No moose crossed in front of me, but I saw several ruffed grouse scurrying into the undergrowth lining the Tote Road. At the parking lot, across from Nesowadnehunk Stream, a large hiking group was meeting and beginning to pack up breakfast and coffee in preparation for a hike in smaller pairs and trios. The hike started easily enough on a relatively flat grade, with the trail going across a couple low streambeds. The temperature began to increase as I climbed up and out of the valley, ascending a narrow staircase with the pretty runoff of the stream to my left. At about 1.2 miles, I reached the intersection of the Marston and Mount Coe trails and turned right towards Mount Coe. Almost immediately, I started seeing moose droppings. The trail was flat and mossy, almost downhill at the beginning, with quiet, green Eden-like surroundings of mossy hummocks and clear, cascading brooks.

View of Doubletop and beyond from Mount Coe slides, Baxter State Park, ME

I had arrived at the trailhead about an hour after sunrise, but the sun had still not summited the peaks to the east, so when it did, at around 8 AM, it peered over like a death ray. So, when the trail crisscrossed the cool stream and moved uphill, I missed the air conditioning that the cold running water had provided. Here, I passed a friendly group of three on my way to the final ascent of Mount Coe, then another, even more amiable group of three making their way up the slick, steep slides. It’s difficult to find grumpy people at Baxter State Park. Back to the slides – they were as advertised, difficult, slick with morning dew and runoff, and sharp (I left some blood there on a handhold). I had planned to only use my hiking poles, collapsed and stowed on my pack, on the descent, but thought twice about that plan while navigating the steep, slippery surface. I can’t imagine the difficulty of climbing down this stretch on coltish, tired legs on a clockwise hike. Thankfully, the slide gave way to a thin path through thin spruce with roots and trees for handholds, leading to the Mount Coe summit, with unbelievable views in all directions.

Trail up to South Brother summit, Baxter State Park, ME
Continue reading

Doubletop Mountain

View of Doubletop Mountain from Nesowadnehunk Stream bridge to the south near Kidney Pond Campground, Baxter State Park, ME

Doubletop Mountain (north peak 3,489 feet, south peak 3,455 ft) guards the western edge of Baxter State Park (BSP), its tufted, twin summit ridge looming like the profile of a slumped, pudgy Dark Knight. The views of this signature BSP mountain are impressive, as its unique profile and steep drops make for a formidable photo over Nesowadnehunk Stream or from the rugged peaks to its east. On a sunny mid-September afternoon, I ascended it for the first time, using a challenging 7 mile out-and-back route from the parking area at Nesowadnehunk Field Campground, which took me about three hours and forty minutes.

Nesowadnehunk Stream from bridge at Nesowadnehunk Field Campground by Doubletop Mountain Trail, Baxter State Park, ME

The summit is also accessible from the south, sharing the trailhead for Slaughter Pond. I used the route from the north recommended by the book Hiking Maine’s Baxter State Park, which advised that the southern route included a South Peak descent that was among the “steepest trails in the state.” Portions of the trail are visible on the downloadable Kidney-Daicey map from Baxter State Park or the Katahdin Baxter State Park Waterproof Trail Map, but the Nesowadnehunk Field Campground is at the far northern edge of the popular Kidney-Daicey area, so that area is not shown in as much detail.

Colorful early fall flora from Doubletop Mountain Trail, Baxter State Park, ME

The parking area to the north is close to the Nesowadnehunk Field ranger station, where some tree work was in progress when I moved through. A bridge crosses the clear flowage of Nesowadnehunk Stream, where a belted kingfisher gave me a look, then moved south, giving a rattling cry. After crossing the bridge, the first quarter mile or so of Doubletop Mountain Trail was flat and straight, passing campsites protected by pines and birch. This mostly shaded trail paralleled the stream through moss and ferns, then began to wind up through the forest over a series of moss-covered brooks, the surface twisted with roots. An amazing variety of flowers and mushrooms lined the path.

Moss-lined path near summit ridge, Doubletop Mountain, Baxter State Park, ME

At about 1.7 miles the trail became more hemmed in by evergreens, and I began to hear rushing water as the trail headed downhill, crossed Doubletop Stream, and then climbed steeply up the other side of the ravine. At this point, strap in for leg day, as the elevation increases rapidly, with some roots and rocks needed for handholds. Hiking with a compromised left wrist, I was forced to use my forearm as a hook. On this stretch, I saw a multi-generational family descending, looking exhausted in varying degrees, but in good spirits. I found myself periodically exhaling audibly with a chuffing sound like a puzzled bear, which seemed to help psychologically with the climbing effort.

View south from North Peak across saddle to South Peak, Doubletop Mountain, Baxter State Park, ME

Around 2.4 miles the trail leveled out a bit, becoming greener and a bit more manageable, a quiet ridge hike through an enchanted forest. The climb became steady again, but at about 3.2 miles, the trees thinned out and I could begin to see the views to the east of the valley bisected by the Park Tote Road. Here I saw the last people on my hike, a descending couple who seemed surprised to see another hiker this late in the afternoon. Iron rungs and one last rocky scramble completed the climb to the taller North Peak, opening on truly dizzying views of O-J-I, Katahdin, and the rest of the park, with a sheer drop from the summit. Just below the North Peak, a plaque commemorates the memory of Keppele Hall, whose ashes were “given to the winds at this place August 20, 1926, at sunset by his wife,” which would have predated Baxter State Park.

View west across Moose Mountain to Allagash Wilderness Waterway from South Peak, Doubletop Mountain, Baxter State Park, ME

A short rolling scramble of about a quarter mile separated the north and south peaks and sweeping views of the Allagash were available from the south terminus over neighboring Moose Mountain to the west, as well as the 100 Mile Wilderness to the south. Unfortunately, each peak was patrolled by its own swarming cloud of biting flies, all undaunted by the stiff breeze, so I didn’t stick around long. I picked my way downward in the fading light, thinking of a campfire and roasting meat later at the South Branch Campground. By the time I reached my car, the memory of the effort and struggle of the climb was already forgotten, replaced by the calm of the expansive views and soothing sounds of nature.

View south and east from South Peak, Doubletop Mountain, Baxter State Park, ME

(Disclaimer: This post contains affiliate links, and as an Amazon Associate Hiking in Maine blog earns from qualifying purchases.)