Cutler Coast Public Lands (Cutler, ME)

Fall foliage on Coastal Trail near Black Point
Fall foliage on Coastal Trail near Black Point.

The “Bold Coast” of Maine is the area of coastal Washington County stretching from approximately Milbridge to Calais, and accessible through a route designated as the Bold Coast Scenic Byway (see map here from Maine DOT), which largely follows U.S. 1 North.  Bold Coast Maine, a collaboration by the Washington County Council of Governments and Downeast-Acadia Regional Tourism, has an extensive site dedicated to the many attractions of this region, with a great interactive map, searchable by interest (Arts and Culture, Food and Drink, Recreation, etc.).  For some area context, including post-hike food and drink, see the post on this blog on Quoddy Head State Park in Lubec.

For hikers, the centerpiece of this great region has to be the Cutler Coast Public Lands, managed by the Maine Bureau of Parks and Lands, which publishes an excellent guide and map. An important update to this map, however, is a rerouting of the Inland Trail, just east of the junction with the Black Point Brook Cutoff, which adds 1.2 miles to any loop using this segment, and was still in place as of October 2018.

Inland Trail Reroute (note 1.2 mile change in yellow), Cutler Coast Public Lands
Inland Trail Reroute (note 1.2 mile change in yellow), Cutler Coast Public Lands

These lands, overlooking the Bay of Fundy, have 10 miles of trails and three remote tent sites (first come, first serve) for hiking and camping with unparalleled views.  We started on the Coastal Trail, which is a 1.4 mile hike east from the parking area off Route 191 in Cutler to the ocean.  According to the guide, this is the easiest segment, and the remainder of the trails are “moderately difficult.”

None of the trails we explored here were particularly strenuous, but the paths are winding and require some climbing up and down over the rolling terrain.  Like Quoddy Head, however, there are sudden cliffs that make it a potentially dangerous place for younger children.  The rocky coastal sections are steep, and footing could be treacherous in rainy periods.  And given the boggy inland areas, the insects in May and June must be fairly aggressive.

Coastal Trail view to south of Cutler Coast Public Lands
Coastal Trail view to south of Cutler Coast Public Lands.

The payoff upon reaching the coast, however, is instantaneous, as the dark rocky cliffs and forested coastline meet dramatically with the ocean in a stimulation of the five senses that can only be experienced firsthand.  We picked our way slowly down the Coastal Trail toward Black Point, stopping at each short side overlook trail to listen to the powerful rumble of the waves and smell the mix of sea spray and pine.

Maine's Bold Coast, Cutler Coast Public Lands.
Maine’s Bold Coast, Cutler Coast Public Lands.

The Black Point Brook Loop, with a turnaround at the beach at Black Point Cove, is normally 5.5 miles, but with the reroute on the Inland Trail, was closer to 6.7 miles, which took us about four hours at a slow pace, with many stops.

We agreed that a better (delayed gratification) itinerary for us would have been to take the Inland Trail first to the Black Point Brook Cutoff, have lunch at Black Point Cove, then hike up the Coastal Trail, so that our route back would take us along the shore (rather than having the forested trail and circuitous reroute on the return trip).

Rocky beach at Black Point, Cutler Coast Public Lands.
Rocky beach at Black Point, Cutler Coast Public Lands.

The Inland Trail was impressive in its own way, however, with variety in flora and fauna, rocky sections, mossy green hummocks, and some open meadows.  The fall colors were much more pronounced in this section, with many deciduous trees and colorful bushes.  We also saw many birds, including a noisy pair of Canada jays near the path.

For those looking for a longer route, or an overnight trip, the Fairy Head Loop is 9.2 miles (10.4 miles with current reroute), including 3.8 miles along the shore front, and this route accesses the three permitted campsites.

This quiet section of Maine’s Bold Coast, where the woods and the ocean come together, instantly became one of our favorite hikes.  Any time a hike ends at a beach (see Morse Mountain), it’s special, and the Cutler Coast rivals any scenery on the East Coast, without the crowds of Acadia.

Quoddy Head State Park (Lubec, ME)

The word “Easternmost” is prominently advertised in many places across Lubec, including Quoddy Head State Park, which comprises 541 acres at the tip of the U.S.’s eastern reach.  By the time you reach Quoddy Head State Park, off South Lubec Road, you will likely have seen many advertisements for all things “easternmost” (campgrounds, gift shops, etc).  But beyond the quick tour stop and lighthouse “selfies,” this park offers an array of trails for all abilities with impressive ocean views and a variety of coastal vegetation.  The best guide to the park’s trails is the map provided by the state of Maine: Quoddy Head State Park Guide & Map.

We started with the Coast Guard Trail, a 1-mile trail north of the entrance, which includes an overlook of the Lubec Channel, as well as a view of the town of Lubec back to the west, after a short climb up a wooden staircase.  According to the Quoddy Head Guide, the first .5 miles of the western part of this trail is accessible by motorized wheelchair. After the lookout, the Coast Guard Trail then descends through the thick coastal woods to the lighthouse, passing several viewpoints along the volcanic rocks.  The path was full of birds and squirrels gathering food on this warm, sunny October day.

West Quoddy Head Lighthouse, Lubec, ME
West Quoddy Head Lighthouse, Lubec, ME

The small lighthouse museum (free, but donations always help) includes displays featuring the history of the lighthouse, flora and fauna of the area, and a guide to whales, commonly sighted off the coast.  The area around the lighthouse contains a large number of picnic tables with excellent views, and the only restrooms in the park (easternmost privies in the U.S.?  Probably).  From the lighthouse area and most of the coastal trails, the cliffs of the Canadian island of Grand Manan are visible across the Quoddy Channel.

The terrain was impressive, and those with small children need to keep them close, as there are plenty of dizzying cliffs on the U.S. side, as well.  The beaches are rocky, but make a far more interesting sound than sand beaches, combining the tidal roar with a rattling, suction sound as the rocks move together when the waves recede.

Coastal Trail at Quoddy Head State Park, Lubec, ME
Coastal Trail at Quoddy Head State Park, Lubec, ME.

The Coastal Trail travels west along the shore past incredible views and scenic points like Gulliver’s Hole, High Ledge, and Green Point, with frequent stops in between to take in the powerful ocean.  We did not linger at Green Point, a ledge with paths down to a beach, as we may have interrupted two hikers in some sort of extracurricular activity there (The trails became more and more empty the farther we got from the lighthouse).

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At Carrying Place Cove, Thompson Trail heads back east, inland towards the parking area, with the short .2 mile spur of Bog Trail along the way.  This side of the trail, in particular the sand beach at Carrying Place Cove, is also accessible from South Lubec Road.  The Bog Trail includes a boardwalk and interpretive signs explaining the coastal plateau bog, also called a heath, according to the Quoddy Head Guide.

Thompson Trail is, for the most part, an easier walk than the coastal trail, with a few brief climbs.  The best feature of this trail was the scent of pine, which created a perfumed evergreen tunnel in the narrower sections, redolent with notes of citrus and vanilla.

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We completed most of the trails in the park, and stopped plenty of times to relax and take photos, making this about a three-hour visit.  The difficulty level is described in the park guide as moderate, which seems about right. There are no strenuous climbs, but consistent steps over rocks and roots could make this more difficult for some hikers. There weren’t any bugs during this Columbus Day weekend, but the boggy areas guarantee mosquitoes and black flies in late spring and summer, and repellent would be a must.  I would also suggest waterproof shoes, or at least wearing something on your feet that you don’t mind getting wet or muddy.  Depending on your roaming plan, you may want to put your phone in airplane mode, as it will likely be using Canadian towers along this shore.

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Lubec fishing fleet at dusk

Lubec, across a narrow channel from Canada’s Campobello Island, is the closest town nearby, but Machias is not that far away, and many smaller towns in Downeast Maine and the Cobscook Bay region are worth a visit.  After the hike, if you can catch them open during fall hours, try the craft beer and pizza at Lubec Brewing Company or upscale pub cuisine at Cohill’s Inn on Water Street in Lubec.  If you are headed south, go to Skywalker’s Bar and Grille in Machias (try the fish tacos) for a great menu and Machias River Brewing Company beers.

Quoddy Head, though remote, is hardly a secret anymore- we joked that AirBnB renters and vacationers from New York outnumbered locals in Lubec. But steps beyond the famous lighthouse is a surprisingly wild Maine coast to explore.

100 Mile Wilderness, Days 9 and 10 (Lake Nahmakanta to Abol Bridge)

[Note: this is the ninth and final part of a series begun in summer 2017 of an attempt at the 100 Mile Wilderness by dad, 41, and daughter, 12]

Should it take ten days to do the 100 Mile Wilderness? Probably not.  Should it take eight days in 2017, and two days in 2018?  Doesn’t matter- it did.  As described on the 100 Mile Wilderness page, we started in 2017, had a great time together, but dad and daughter decided after 75 miles that we would continue some other time.  This summer, we were dying to get back out there, and when the last weekend in September 2018 opened up for us, we jumped at the chance to complete the final 25 miles.

By definition, it’s a wilderness, so starting 25 miles south of Abol Bridge took logistical support.  For that, we were helped by the friendly people at the Appalachian Trail Lodge in Millinocket, a hostel open during the hiking season until October 15th.  We were greeted by Ole Man (these are trail names) upon our arrival, stayed at the Earl Shaffer Room (clean, two twin beds, shared bathroom, WiFi) for $55 the night before, got delicious breakfast sandwiches and a massive chocolate donut down the street at the Appalachian Trail Cafe the morning we left, and used the reasonably priced Appalachian Trail Lodge shuttle service to leave our truck at Abol Bridge, and get dropped off at the south end of Lake Nahmakanta.  We swapped shuttles halfway, as the larger van we rode back to Millinocket from Abol Bridge was needed for the eager thru-hikers headed to Baxter State Park, and we traveled south in an SUV that had recently been repaired after a charging moose had broken off the driver’s side mirror.

We learned a lot on our shuttle ride from NoKey, a 2012 AT thru-hiker working at the Appalachian Trail Lodge, who was friendly, professional, and added all kinds of value to what otherwise would have been just a cab ride over logging roads.  We had just missed a large bull moose on the Golden Road, of which NoKey showed us a picture.  We got the scoop on good (most) and bad (very few) shuttle services/guides, places to stay near Millinocket, the effect of the Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument on tourism, area wildlife and history, saw a lynx crossing the road, got an update on bear activity in the area, and even got a lesser-known trail recommendation (Turtle Ridge Trail in Nahmakanta Public Lands). We also passed a large encampment by Cooper Brook, which was the location of an L.L. Bean promotional “Trail Magic” campaign along the AT.

The beach at the south end of Lake Nahmakanta.

With that preamble, we got a mid-morning start at the south end of Lake Nahmakanta, and after a nostalgic moment on the windy beach, started walking north through the remote Nahmakanta Public Lands. Quickly, we saw large moose tracks and fresh droppings along the trail, and quickened our pace to try to see this animal, without success.  We grudgingly adapted to having the heavy packs on our backs, and adjusted our day-hiker pace downward to accommodate the extra weight (we packed too much food). We stopped briefly at Wadleigh Stream Lean-to to crack open our Peanut Butter M&M’s, and noticed a plaque inside the lean-to honoring a hiker named Buffalo Bobby, who had passed away near this spot exactly 7 years before, 38 miles from finishing his third AT thru-hike. Wow.  Rest in peace, BB.

Landscape and foliage views from north summit of Nesuntabunt Mountain.

By about 1 pm, we had reached the north summit of Nesuntabunt Mountain, and took the short side trail to view Nahmakanta Lake and far-off peaks. Then we sat down to make ourselves lunch, the same peanut butter, banana, and Nutella wraps we had used for energy on Katahdin a couple weeks before. A quick descent took us to the base of the mountain and around Crescent Pond to Pollywog Gorge.

Fall colors on the AT near Pollywog Gorge
Changing leaves along Pollywog Stream.

The cliffs surrounding the gorge were impressive, but we were beginning to wear down, and didn’t linger. We crossed Pollywog Stream on a bridge, and made our way up Rainbow Stream to Rainbow Stream Lean-to a little before 5 pm, where a male thru-hiker and two female multi-day hikers we had seen earlier were getting ready for the night. This made it only a 10.7 mile day for us, but it felt like a lot more. The lean-to area quickly filled up with thru-hikers as the sun set. The thru-hikers we saw were exhausted, broken, and profane, but unfailingly friendly, polite, and focused on the last stretch of trail to Katahdin.

We set up our tent, which was complicated by a broken pole, repaired with a mostly ineffective combination of duct tape, twine, and tent stakes.  We lay out our bedding, refilled our water, cooked dinner (Chicken Teriyaki Mountain House meal), hung our food in a bear bag, and were in our sleeping bags by 7 pm, fading into sleep despite the loud conversations by the lean-to campfire.

Crossing Rainbow Stream to check out an animal den.
Log bridge and animal den.

It was a cold night, and we were uncomfortable, with neither of us sleeping well. Our sleeping bags and pads were up to the task, but we both agreed in the morning that we need to figure out how to pack pillows with us. Also, dad’s snoring woke up daughter, and daughter poking dad to stop his snoring woke up dad, creating the worst sort of perpetual motion machine throughout the night.

Daughter explored the campsite area in the morning, finding a precarious log bridge across Rainbow Stream to an animal den in a rock cave, possibly the former resting place of a bear. We peeked inside the den, seeing the small skull of an unfortunate prey animal.  Dad made instant coffee and mixed in one of daughter’s hot chocolate packets for some more flavor in an attempt to wake up.

Morning light on the Rainbow Deadwaters.

We packed quickly and got moving around 7:30 AM, moving along the edge of the Rainbow Deadwaters. The trail was beautiful, and we marveled at spiderwebs covered in dew, and the unique morning light in the North Woods.  We also heard late-season loons calling from Rainbow Lake.

Illuminated trail by Rainbow Lake.

Daughter said that the Hobbit movies could have been filmed here, a recognition of the dramatic, colorful terrain that we tend to associate with movies, and so rarely see in person. We saw a root formation overtaking a tree that looked like a giant spider.  As far as mythical creatures go, the west end of Rainbow Lake was the site of what can only be described as a beaver Armageddon, with fallen trees every which way across the trail.

Beaver Armageddon

We stopped for a break by Rainbow Spring Campsite. The privy there was filled with trail graffiti, including the signature of someone whose trail name was “The Privy Destroyer.” This harkened back to irreverent trail names scrawled inside the Appalachian Trail Cafe that had amused daughter, including “Swamp Butt.”

We continued past side trails to Rainbow Mountain and Big Beaver Pond in the Debsconeag Lakes Wilderness Area, stopping to check out Rainbow Lake (the largest lake on the 100 MW) from several rocky openings along the trail.  On one stop, we cooked a Mountain House chicken and rice meal for lunch, and let it cool while we walked.  When we sat down about fifteen minutes later to eat, it was perfect.  Daughter was already sick of the Nutella and lavash bread, so the hot lunch was a good change-up.  We also used this time to air out our feet, and change into clean, dry socks.

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View of Katahdin from Rainbow Ledges.

Rainbow Ledges was a steady climb, with colorful foliage and views from the high point back to the White Cap range, and forward, towards Katahdin. We remembered crossing the White Cap range a year ago on the 4th of July, and the pea soup fog that hindered our summit views that day.  Sadly, we ran out of Peanut Butter M&M’s during this Rainbow Ledges ascent, which had a devastating effect on morale.  From here, we descended through the ever-changing forest and down well-set rock staircases to Hurd Brook Lean-To.

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Different vegetation, incline, and make-up of the trail over just a 25-mile section.

The last few miles seemed to last the longest, as they always do.  There weren’t many landmarks on the home stretch to Abol Bridge.  The descriptive note, “Interesting area of large boulders and large hemlock trees,” on AT Map 1 at 2.2 miles from Abol Bridge, seemed superfluous after 100 miles of interesting rocks and trees.  Suddenly, we were faced with a sign warning us that we were 100 miles north of Monson, and that we should have a minimum of 10 days supplies if we were heading south.  We realized we were almost done, and saw the Golden Road peeking through the trees ahead.

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Katahdin and the West Branch of the Penobscot from Abol Bridge.

We trudged across Abol Bridge in the late afternoon, completing our 15 mile day.  We stopped by the Abol Bridge Campground store to buy some Gatorade, then got back in our truck, and drove out the Golden Road towards Millinocket.  The Millinocket House of Pizza is daughter’s restaurant of choice, and she called in an order enroute for a large Hawaiian pizza as soon as cell service returned.

The soreness in our shoulders and knees and the chafing from the packs would fade in time, but completing the 100 Mile Wilderness together had been important to both of us.  The cool, bug-free fall weather and colorful foliage were unexpected bonuses.  To immerse yourself into the Wilderness, to walk there, sleep there on the ground, listen to the sounds of birds, bathe in the lakes, and then bring back out everything you came in with, is to feel shared ownership of this special place, where most people never go.  Even in our weary haste at the end to finish, we had talked about new challenges, and also bringing memories of this hike back with us.  As we split the pizza, we talked about our hike, and planned a lazy day for tomorrow.

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Mt. Katahdin: Knife Edge Trail

We had hiked Katahdin, but daughter had never taken the legendary Knife Edge Trail, the narrow 1.1 mile stretch (and Maine rite of passage) from Pamola Peak to Baxter Peak. At age 12, it was time. On September 9, 2018, we hiked together to Baxter Peak on Mt. Katahdin via the Helon Taylor Trail to cross the Knife Edge. On the way down, dad and daughter took the Saddle and Chimney Pond Trails (total R/T appx 10.2 mi). (For maps, other routes, and links to Baxter State Park’s great resources, see our September 2017 Mt. Katahdin post.)

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On the way in to Millinocket the night before, we stopped at Hannaford to stock up on supplies before staying at the Parks Edge Inn. In preparation, we went with a chocolate and peanut butter theme, and for our lunches, wrapped Nutella, peanut butter, and bananas in lavash bread like some Willy Wonka burritos, and grabbed peanut butter chocolate chip Larabars and peanut butter M&M’s to snack on.

To get into line at the Baxter State Park gate the next morning, we woke up around 5 am, and signed in to start hiking at Roaring Brook at 6:47 am. The $5 Day Use parking pass for Maine residents has to be the most value Mainers can get for $5. This easy online step is essential to guarantee a spot in the park, which is kept wild in many ways, including the limitation on daily access to the park.

The climb up Helon Taylor Trail was steady and tough, but we took our time, and enjoyed the changing vegetation and ubiquitous chattering of red squirrels, often looking back to enjoy the views behind us to the east, as we slowly emerged from the forest, patches of scrub pine, and finally above the tree line, reaching Pamola Peak around 10 am.

Getting ready to descend into the beginning of the Knife Edge.

The first step of the Knife Edge was the descent into the chimney adjoining Pamola, then a quick climb back up, setting the tone for a fun traverse. We saw several other groups of people crossing the Knife Edge, including some coming from the direction of Baxter Peak, one of which contained the only other child we saw, a nimble little boy, younger than daughter, leaping from rock to rock.

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The Knife Edge Trail is a dizzying series of up and down climbs.

After the climb up Helon Taylor, exposed to the wind, and steeply ascending until our legs ached, we agreed that the Knife Edge was more mentally than physically challenging, and stopped frequently to gaze down into the bowl created by the steep cliffs of Katahdin, look at rock slides down the cliffs to the south, and watch ravens wheel and glide on the air currents below us.

We did not spend long on the summit of Baxter Peak, which was crowded with thru-hikers and large groups, with a long line to take pictures at the summit sign. Millennial-types used the cell service available due to the summit’s elevation to FaceTime with friends (“You’ll never guess where I am right now”) and send Instagram pictures ad nauseam. Daughter waited for a quick break in the action and snapped a ghost summit photo.

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A weather-worn sign cautions hikers on the Saddle to take care with alpine plants.

Much more interesting was our meeting on the way down to the Saddle Trail with a Baxter State Park ranger, who educated us about the fragility of alpine plants. She told us that even a small patch can take up to one hundred years to grow back, and can be killed by as few as seven footsteps on it. We asked a number of questions we had gathered during our hike, including why some slides looked different- she explained that the slides where the trees were laying downhill were caused by avalanches in the winter, but that when the mountainside was denuded of vegetation, it meant that a rockslide had occurred. This ranger, from Asheville, North Carolina, works at Baxter from May to October educating hikers, conducting rescues, and sometimes climbs Katahdin every day.

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Relaxing on the descent by Chimney Pond.

Our descent of the Saddle Trail was slowed by the onerous process of passing what looked like a large school group, and we got to Chimney Pond around 1:40 PM, where we took a long break to enjoy the sunshine, air out our feet, and birdwatch.

From there, it was a downhill walk over rocks and roots to Roaring Brook and our car, getting back around 3:30, for a total of almost nine hours of hiking. During this last stretch, one of dad’s hiking poles snapped, but our hike was otherwise uneventful.

So what worked? Obviously, chocolate and peanut butter. But daughter felt good about her hiking and running in the weeks leading up to the Knife Edge, and it got her into shape for the climb.

Mentally, we had talked about the challenges, and even used technology to our advantage, watching YouTube videos of the Knife Edge (the volume was quickly muted) to dispel fears. We started hiking with the agreement that we would not stupidly try to push through bad weather, and even reserved another parking spot for the following day, just in case.

We had a ton of water, using our 3 Liter Osprey hydration systems (Dad still ran out with a mile or two left to go). Dad carried a light pack with extra clothing layers and food. Daughter stayed with a Camelbak pack that allowed her to carry water and a few energy bars, but didn’t hinder her while climbing.

We shared a great hike, and daughter enjoyed being the tallest thing in Maine, even for a few seconds. With the right attitude, preparation, and training, the Knife Edge can be an incredible, unforgettable experience for kids, as part of an exploration of Maine’s tallest mountain and the limits within themselves. Even an unsuccessful attempt, safely and properly handled, can create a goal for future conquest, and build decision-making and risk management skills.

Cliff Walk at Prouts Neck (Scarborough, Maine)

If you like dramatic cliffs, ocean views, rocky beaches and stunning homes, this may be your walk! The residents at Prouts Neck harbor a secret gem in their gated community – but fret not – while the entrances are hidden and parking is complicated, it is still possible (and legal) to walk that same 1-mile route that Winslow Homer did, even if you are not an “insider.” This is definitely categorized as a Sunday stroll-type of walk, a walk with a good friend that you haven’t seen in a while or a lone walk with a camera or sketch book. The uneven terrain and sometimes narrow path demand a leisurely pace. The smell of rugosa roses, the salty ocean breeze and the lobster boats are center stage and require frequent pauses. The views are unbeatable. The only problem is logistics.

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Based on previous reviews online, I noticed that there are a lot of complaints about accessibility. This is real. At the end of Black Point Road, where it becomes Winslow Homer Road, you will be stopped by a gate and a keypad, signaling a private road (And likely a member of the Scarborough Police Department just idling in his car). Winslow Homer’s old studio (owned by Portland Museum of Art and open to public with a ticket purchased in advance) is in this development, as well as a myriad of super wealthy people who don’t want the riff-raff. Just before that gate on your right, you will see a driveway and about twenty feet down the driveway on your left is a crooked sign that says “Cliff Walk” with an overgrown-looking trail. While this is one entrance, this does you almost no good because you can’t park here. In fact, there is no parking at all around here. This is some of the most prestigious real estate in Maine – they certainly don’t want more cars. I had a cop follow me nearly the entire way down the road until I got to the gate. 

My best advice is to have lunch at the Black Point Inn, which is on Black Point Road and they will let you park in their lot if you are a guest of the hotel. Once you are done with lunch, ask them where the entrance to the cliff walk is (you have to walk towards the back of the Black Point Inn property), change into some walking shoes and get going. The Black Point Inn restaurant closes after the summer, so keep that in mind.

Second best advice is to get an uber. Lastly, perhaps you make nice with that co-worker of yours who says her in-laws have a place on Prouts Neck.

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If you are not deterred by the parking issue, press on to marvel at the splendor that is the Maine coast. The trail is not marked by signs along the way but there is only one trail and you will know soon enough if you have strayed from it – you will either be on someone’s back porch or in the ocean (If you do end up in someone’s back yard by accident, get back on the trail. It must be really annoying having tourists wander on your property and on a gorgeous Saturday, you do see this, unfortunately).

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There are opportunities to walk out along the jutting cliffs and take in the crashing Atlantic waves and there are a couple of small, rocky beaches where you can sit and admire the squawking sea birds and perhaps even see a seal while listening to the hypnotic sounds of water receding over stones.

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This may not be the best walk for a small child who likes to run, as this is a cliff walk with no barriers. This is also not appropriate for your relative who walks with a cane, as there are exposed roots and  rocks on the path.  But if you can make it on the trail, you are in for a mile of coastal Maine beauty.

Note: Others noted that they paid the fees at Scarborough or Ferry Beach to park and were able to do a 4.3 mile loop which included the cliff walk and stunning beaches. This will require a map of the area, as there is no sign helping you to find your way from the end of Ferry Beach to the beginning of the Cliff Walk.

Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument (Katahdin Loop Road)

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During a visit to Baxter State Park, dad and daughter found ourselves with sore legs and a half-day to explore, and we decided to check out Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument via the Katahdin Loop Road.  We got our direction from a Katahdin Chamber of Commerce visitor’s guide and a pamphlet from Natural Resources Council of Maine (NRCM), but we had followed the progress of the Monument since its creation in August 2016.

The standard route into the South Entrance is via Route 11 from E. Millinocket/Medway to the Swift Brook Road along the Katahdin Woods and Waters Scenic Byway, but we were feeling adventurous, and took the Stacyville Road north from Millinocket to where it meets the Swift Brook Road.  We savored the lonely ride along this quiet logging road, occasionally startling game birds (this is not the way to take a low-clearance or non 4×4 vehicle).

The 17-mile loop of Katahdin Loop Road is punctuated by meadows, bogs, and ridges, and the south and west parts of the loop boast excellent views of Katahdin and the surrounding area.  This is an opportunity to see the Monument and cover distance in a vehicle, while having the chance to get out and explore at a variety of hiking paths and overlooks.  The best map of the loop we found (which I wish we had when we were there, as it is also an excellent interpretive guide) was from the Friends of Katahdin Woods and Waters, and can be found here.

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Lynx Pond

The Lynx Pond Walk is shortly past the Loop Road Gate, on the right just past the Mile 2 marker.  Shortly after the trailhead is a parking area on the left of the Loop Road.  This is a very short walk through the woods to a small boardwalk by the pond, and a spot for quiet reflection and wildlife viewing.

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Looking south from The Overlook on Katahdin Loop Road.  The large lake is Millinocket Lake.
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Views of Katahdin from The Overlook on Katahdin Loop Road

Katahdin towers over the loop, and there are multiple spots around the Loop Road with views of the lakes and mountains to the west and south, particularly The Overlook, between Miles 6 and 7, which conveniently has a picnic spot and a toilet.

We continued around the Loop Road, and got out to stretch our legs again at the International Appalachian Trail (IAT) and trail to Barnard Mountain, passing over Katahdin Brook and by the IAT lean-to.  This wide logging road made for a sunny trail, and though we did not make the turn towards the Barnard Mountain summit, we enjoyed the walk, and the familiar plants and animals that inhabit newly overgrown woodcuts, with blue jays diving across our path and into the trees.  The Barnard Mountain trail itself is a moderate 4-mile round trip with summit views of Katahdin and Katahdin Lake to the west.

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Late summer flowers and plants along the IAT

The IAT continues from the northern terminus of the Appalachian Trail at Baxter Peak across Maine, into Canada, across to Greenland, and Europe, to the Atlas Mountains of Morocco.  For a great exploration of the concept of the IAT, see On Trails by Robert Moor, reviewed on this blog.

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Moose tracks and droppings on the IAT

There are seven mountains in the Monument to hike, including Barnard, as well as paddling opportunities and waterfalls.  The Loop Road was quiet, as were the trails, with natural sounds, and only a few others exploring the area.  A bumpy drive back down Stacyville Road took us to Millinocket, where we devoured a Hawaiian pizza without remorse at the Millinocket House of Pizza.

Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument is a special place, and we will be back there for hiking, biking, and paddling.  The views during peak foliage season must be spectacular.  Ensure you plan ahead, bring maps, and a cooler with water and snacks, as there are no facilities at the Monument, and cell coverage ranges from little to non-existent.  But that’s probably what you’re looking for in the first place.

Morse Mountain to Seawall Beach (Phippsburg, ME)

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Your five-year old could do this, but everyone in the family will love it. It’s the Bates-Morse Mountain Conservation Area near Phippsburg, Maine.  Wife here again to report that I think I may have found my favorite “hike” so far! (Full disclosure: while I love the outdoors, I am not on the hard-core side of the hiking spectrum, preferring instead to walk at a steady pace for up to three hours in nice weather. Furthermore, I do not get an adrenaline rush from dangerous climbs so I avoid them.) Hike is in quotations here because this particular adventure may be more of a beautiful walk, given the minimal altitude (433 feet) and the terrain (paved) and the distance (3.8 miles round trip). This hike checks all the boxes for me. Let’s begin!

This trailhead is well-marked. From Bath, you follow Route 209 south to Route 216 to Morse Mountain Road where there is a small parking lot on your left. We chose a peach of a day and arrived early, which is a necessity because parking is limited. When we arrived at about 8:30 am on the Saturday of Labor Day weekend, people were trickling in but there were still plenty of spots available. When we left about noon, there was one car waiting for a space, as all the spots were full.  There was a friendly attendant there, giving maps, selling crafts and answering questions (donations accepted).

The entire trail is paved, as this is a service road, so it is wide enough for a bunch of people to walk together and chat (I doubt you will need a trail map, but if you do: Morse Mountain Map). Shortly after departing the lot, you notice the area is quite well maintained by the Bates-Morse Mountain Conservation Corporation with members from the St. John Family (who originally conserved the area), Bates College and the public.

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We enjoyed the views of the Sprague River Salt Marsh.

Based on the reviews by other hikers, bugs can normally be a big problem here. There was enough of a breeze that they didn’t seem to bother us too much. We are Deet fans, so that also helped to keep them away, too. About halfway into the hike, you will see a fork in the road and you head right to get to the summit. “Morse Mountain” is really not much more than a hill, yet there are fantastic views at the lookout: the snaking Sprague River, the cliffs in the distance and the gorgeous…drum roll…beach and ocean!

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Yeah, I really can’t wait any longer to tell you that this hike ends at Seawall Beach and for those of you who thought you died and went to heaven when you saw nearby Popham Beach, you will be counting your blessings when you see this two-mile stretch of gorgeous sand that is Seawall Beach. After you leave the summit and return to the main path, you have roughly a mile to go to reach the beach. Then, kick off your shoes and enjoy this huge, uncrowded beach. We headed right upon entering the beach area and walked for approximately a mile to the “red pole” which is marked on the map and signals the end of the conservation area. Try to hit this beach at low tide if you can so you will have plenty of room to roam. Daughter loved the large clam shells, sand dollars, sea gulls, ospreys, and little plovers.

Since access is limited, there are so few people on this beach! For three people who hate crowds and love the ocean and the sand, it was kind of hard to leave. The trail is easy and beautiful so the 33 minutes it took to walk back were very pleasant. Here is my advice for your trip to Morse Mountain:

  1. Go to the bathroom before you get on the trail and do not plan to drink much liquid unless you are a camel. There are no restrooms and since the trail was fairly crowded, you cannot just “pop of the trail” and go behind a tree very easily without being seen. You also cannot just “pop” into the ocean unless you are part seal. It’s freezing.
  2. Bring bug spray.
  3. Consider staying a while at the beach, which means that you might need a towel, sunscreen, hat, and snacks! The beach is that good.
  4. Go early in the day to get a parking spot.
  5. Try to hit low tide.

This truly is a Maine gem and when visitors come and ask where to go, this is going to be on the top of my list as it showcases the beauty that Maine has to offer without the crowds. A little exercise, fresh air, woods, marsh, beach, snacks, family and friends – you can’t beat it.