South Branch Pond Loop

Lower South Branch Pond in the morning from trailhead, Baxter State Park, ME

The South Branch Pond Campground in Maine’s Baxter State Park overlooks two pristine ponds in the shadow of the surrounding mountains. The South Branch Pond Loop hike is a 6.6 mile loop that leaves from the southwest corner of the campground and includes South Branch Mountain (2630 ft) and Black Cat Mountain (2611 ft) in its counterclockwise circuit of these lower and upper ponds. A full description of the hike can be found in the Maine Mountain Guide, or as an out-and-back to Black Cat Mountain in Hiking Maine’s Baxter State Park. A map of the South Branch Pond area is available for download from BSP’s website. Leaving early from behind the ranger station, I started the hike with wet shoes, as South Branch Pond Brook, the outlet from Lower South Branch Pond, stands between the trailhead kiosk and the remaining trail, and was running high after the night’s rains. The trail was marked in intervals by fresh moose droppings. Less than a mile in, the first overlook faced the wilds to the north.

View of The Traveler from near peak of South Branch Mountain, Baxter State Park, ME

The thick forest quickly gave way to evergreens, birch, and a carpet of light green moss. More views to the north were visible from South Branch Mountain’s ledges and then a brief ridge hike led to the mountain’s summit, two miles in. It was only in the half mile between South Branch summit and Black Cat Mountain’s summit that I started hearing birds, and then they were suddenly everywhere. I climbed through a sparse field of sunlit birches to the soundtrack of Canada Jays. This was just before Black Cat’s summit, where wide-ranging views of the southern half of Baxter State Park, including Katahdin, filled the crisp morning air.

View of Baxter State Park from summit of Black Cat Mountain

The trail wound down the south side of Black Cat through slides and other obstacles, and I was happy for my hiking poles four or five times in the slick rock and mud. I took a break on a rocky slope looking up at Peak of the Ridges, part of Traveler Mountain, to enjoy a hearty Peak Refuel Beef Chili Mac meal I had cooked at the top of Black Cat. The trail leveled out, becoming flatter and flatter past the turn to the left for the Upper South Branch Pond lean-to, and crossed over some log bridges with the reflected morning light emanating from South Branch Pond to my left. A small path led to a rocky beach at the tip of Upper South Branch Pond, just before the intersection at 4.7 miles with the Pogy Notch Trail.

Upper South Branch Pond, Baxter State Park, ME

A small picnic area lay just north of this intersection on the shore of South Branch Pond. The trail was a pleasant walk through leafy forest with the placid South Branch ponds to the left. This became a bit of a scramble on the rocky ledges on the east side of the pond and leveled out into pine forest and the intersection with the Center Ridge Trail. Descending ledges brought me to another deciduous forest, green like it had been tinted by a filmmaker.

Clear water and cliffs, Upper South Branch Pond, Baxter State Park, ME

Here, a little over three hours into the hike, I saw my first human being, a solo hiker headed the other way, and then more people as I reached the intersection with the Howe Brook Trail (On this particular trip, I added on the Howe Brook Trail, which tacked on another four miles, and will cover that out-and-back waterfall trail in another post). I continued north a short distance along Upper South Branch Pond, moving past the North Traveler Trail, with views through the trees of the pond, ending the loop back at the Campground in under 4 hours. This quiet, secluded loop around glassy ponds in the shadow of Traveler Mountain is a fantastic day hike, with mountain views and wildlife.

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Sawtelle Falls

Sawtelle Falls Trail, T6R7 WELS, Maine

Sawtelle Falls, on Sawtelle Brook in unnamed township T6R7 WELS, northern Penobscot County, is at the end of an out-and-back trail departing from Scraggly Lake Road, a narrow woods road off the north side of Grand Lake Road. Remember: WELS just means “West of the Easterly Line of the State,” the straight north-south line of the U.S.-Canadian border in northern Maine that extends from Hamlin to Amity, and is a reference for unorganized territory. The trailhead, east of Baxter State Park’s north gate, is a short drive from both Shin Falls and the Seboeis River Trails, and the three waterfall hikes can easily be completed in an afternoon. Following the falls, Sawtelle Brook flows south to meet with the Seboeis River, which is then joined by Shin Brook as it flows further south.

Step ledges above Sawtelle Falls, T6R7 WELS, Maine

Scraggly Lake Road crosses Sawtelle Brook over a bridge which was decorated with an elaborately constructed scarecrow on the mid-September day I hiked. The trailhead is shortly after this bridge on the right hand side. A detailed description and map are available in the book Hiking Waterfalls Maine. A smaller brook passed over the trail through a log bridge that turned into a sluice. I surprised a downy woodpecker, and then twenty yards later, saw the flash of a white tail as a flicker yelped and flew away. The trail was hopelessly flooded at about a quarter of a mile, and I made my way through the woods on the perimeter. The smell of pine and cedar combined to make a scent approximating iced tea.

Sawtelle Falls, T6R7 WELS, Maine

Walking up the hill, I started to hear the roaring of the falls. I was briefly surrounded by golden-crowned kinglets, whose high-pitched call I had not heard before. A massive white pine with a Kindle No Fires In This Area sign tacked on it marks the final approach to Sawtelle Falls. The water cascades down in steps on the right side ending in a larger falls, and a frothy pool which is accessible if you climb down and scramble down the rocky bank. As I was hiking out, three fishermen were hiking in, so this could be a good spot to try your luck with a fly rod. The total out-and-back hike is only about half a mile, and easily completed in half an hour.

Pool at base of Sawtelle Falls, T6R7 WELS, Maine

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Seboeis River Trails

Picnic area at trailhead, Seboeis River Trails, T6R7 WELS, ME

I had first passed the sign for the Seboeis River Trails a year or so ago on the way through northern Penobscot County to Baxter State Park’s north entrance, and made a mental note to check them out. Not much exists online regarding this riverside hike from Grand Lake Road, part of the Seboeis River Gorge Preseve in T6R7 WELS, except the description of a 1.1 mile out-and-back trail along the Seboeis River, ending at the Grand Pitch. I had seen the sign, then saw that it was in the guide book Hiking Waterfalls Maine for the section of ledges at the Grand Pitch. So imagine my surprise to find that this trail now extends 6.75 miles, crossing Shin Brook and following the Seboeis downstream to Grondin Road.

Seboeis River Trails, T6R7 WELS, ME

The parking area, marked by a large wooden sign, is on the east bank of the Seboeis, shortly before the north entrance to Baxter State Park. A picnic table and a flat grassy area overlook a bend in the river, and an outhouse is available on a small hill above it in the woods. The trail itself begins across the street, on the south side of Grand Lake Road. On the day I visited, it was muddy and a bit flooded, due to recent rain and the equipment brought in to extend the trail network. The trail construction was ongoing, with a friendly trail steward building a picnic table out of split logs.

Rustic bench under cedars, Seboeis River Trails, T6R7 WELS, ME

The trail transitioned from this muddy woods road to a flat gravel path, and then a foot path marked by red square blazes. This winding path climbed above the riverbank on a small ridge, with a variety of frogs and toads hopping out of my way, and the continuous calls of woodpeckers and songbirds.

Seboeis River Trails, T6R7 WELS, ME

The Seboeis becomes louder as it narrows and descends, and the scent of cedars wafts up through the river mist. A portage trail is marked by a sign in a tree for boaters to walk around the rapids. The trail turns inland next to a large rock outcropping and a bend in the river.

Grand Pitch, Seboeis River Trails, T6R7 WELS, ME

After a brief, narrow climb you’ll find yourself on a cliff overlooking the rapids, then a winding trail downward to another bend in the river, at its confluence with Shin Brook. This intersection has a series of clearings with a picnic table, which allows a view of the nearby mountains. A brand new foot bridge leads over Shin Brook. I followed the trail briefly across the bridge where it appeared newly cut and fresh, but needing to get to my Baxter State Park campsite and not having an updated map, I eventually turned back.

Seboeis River meets Shin Brook, Seboeis River Trails, T6R7 WELS, ME

On the way back, the piercing call of a northern flicker high up in a pine tree and the songs of blue jays and sparrows blended again with the sounds of the rushing Seboeis River. This will definitely be a hike I return to, to check out the new, longer southern section. The out-and-back to the Grand Pitch, however, is a hugely rewarding one for being only about 2.2 miles, and can be easily done in about an hour.

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Shin Falls

Shin Falls, T6R7 WELS, Maine

The bulk of Sugarloaf Mountain rises above the dirt Shin Brook Falls Road (marked with a handwritten wooden sign), a left turn from the Patten area off Grand Lake Road just before the Seboeis River. Parking is available in an open area at the first hard right turn (1/3 mile) in the road, with the trail marked in the same way. These handwritten “Trail” or “To Falls” boards are the signage on this 3/4 mile total hike near Shin Pond Village (actual location is T6R7 WELS), and were vaguely reminiscent of internet memes with a sign scrawled “Candy” next to an abandoned building. A map and full description (along with many other Maine waterfall hikes) are found in the book Hiking Waterfalls Maine.

Shin Falls from above, Shin Brook, T6R7 WELS, Maine

The trail down to Shin Falls was wet and flooded, and the sound of chattering red squirrels was quickly drowned out by that of rushing water, audible immediately after climbing a small rise in the trail, leading to a downhill grade. The falls are truly impressive from above, and a hike of less than half a mile will take you to the base, where you can look up at the rushing torrent. After recent late-summer storms, the falls were overflowing the banks, and the leaves of the trees left standing were bent back in the cool breeze created by falling water. The pool at the base of the falls can be a swimming hole, but was likely too swift and full of debris on this day to be safe. A small winding footpath took me back up to the trailhead, amid the sounds of chickadees and pileated woodpeckers.

Shin Falls, T6R7 WELS, Maine

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Carter Meadow Trail (Sunkhaze Meadows NWR)

Rain-swollen Little Birch Stream near the trailhead, Carter Meadow Trail, Sunkhaze Meadows NWR, Milford, ME

Sunkhaze Meadows National Wildlife Refuge (NWR) is tucked away in the town of Milford, Maine, between Orono/Old Town and the remote Downeast Lakes area. This 11,485 acre refuge protects the Sunkhaze Meadows peat bog, and is unique for its concentration of birds, including a large population of neotropical migratory warblers, which typically arrive in May and June. The Carter Meadow Trail, marked by a small brown rectangular sign and a gate, is the first of three volunteer-maintained trails you will come to if accessing the NWR from the west (direction of Old Town and Milford). Parking is limited – there is one small spot in a clearing next to the gate, but space on the shoulder of Old County Road, which is a dirt road at this point. The best map and description is available from the Friends of Sunkhaze Meadows site. Blaze orange is suggested, as hunting is permitted here. The trailhead is right next to Little Birch Stream, which on this September day was overflowing with recent (and current) rain.

Carter Meadow Trail, Sunkhaze Meadows NWR, Milford, ME
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Peary Mountain

Ascent to ledges, Peary Mountain, Brownfield, ME

Peary Mountain (958 ft) in Brownfield, Maine, is named for Arctic explorer Admiral Robert E. Peary, Sr., a resident of neighboring Fryeburg from 1878 to 1879. The trailhead for this easy to moderate hike is located in Brownfield, Maine, off Route 113. The Maine Mountain Guide has a full description of this hike – I used the AllTrails app to follow the path. Follow Farnsworth Road about 1.3 miles from Route 113 to a small dirt/grass parking area on the right side of the road, just before a one-lane bridge over the Little Saco River. In the summer, this can also be reached from the west (Fryeburg) side, but the road can be closed in winter months.

View of White Mountains from ledges, Peary Mountain, Brownfield, ME

The signpost and trail through the woods at the parking area appear inviting, but these are for snowmobile trails (thanks, AllTrails), so cross Farnsworth Road and take a left into the woods just before the river (sign for Certified Family Forest). The quiet trail heads steadily uphill, turning from a woods road/snowmobile trail to a single track path (follow signs for summit) as it passes logging areas, and reaches the ledges facing the White Mountains. A well-placed stone slab bench surveys the panoramic view.

Trail to summit, Peary Mountain, Brownfield, ME

This is not, however, the summit (thanks again, AllTrails). Continue down the path, which winds east to the summit and a viewpoint facing Pleasant Mountain, distinctive for its mass (and its two cell towers). The whole out-and-back hike is about 2.7 miles total, and can be completed in about an hour or so, longer with smaller kids. We saw a couple small groups with kids and dogs on this hike, who did not seem to have a problem with the difficulty level. Blackberry bushes lined the open areas, and plenty of birds were out and about.

View of Pleasant Mountain massif from Peary Mountain summit, Brownfield, ME

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Moosehorn NWR Loop (Baring)

Mile Bridge Road, Moosehorn NWR, Baring, ME

Moosehorn National Wildlife Refuge (MNWR), comprised of separate divisions in the Downeast towns of Baring and Edmunds, is almost 30,000 acres of federally protected land. In mid-August, we stopped by the larger Baring Division, just south of the border outpost of Calais, to walk the trails near the MNWR Headquarters. The trails listed as Headquarters Trails are relatively short (see MNWR HQ trail map), but the .3 mile Woodcock Trail is handicap accessible. For those with substantial mobility issues (including tired, overheated children), viewing areas are located on Charlotte Road, and the eastern part of Moosehorn Baring is an Auto Tour option (just cross Charlotte Road from the Headquarters and follow signs on Goodall Heath Road), with views of beaver ponds, marshes, and meadows. You can also check out one of our favorite books, Maine Hikes Off the Beaten Path for an alternate loop option from the Headquarters.

Milkweed and wildflowers, Two Mile Meadow Road, Moosehorn NWR, Baring, ME
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Wabassus Mountain (T43 MD BPP)

Wabassus Mountain trailhead, Washington County, ME

It’s not easy to get to Wabassus Mountain (844 ft), part of the Downeast Lakes Land Trust (DLLT) in central Washington County. We stopped there to hike this short (1.5 mile total out/back) trail off Wabassus Mountain Road on the way to Grand Lake Stream. Township (T) 43 Machias District (MD) of Bingham’s Penobscot Purchase (BPP) is the clunky name of the mountain’s location, a naming remnant of old Massachusetts maps used to delineate areas of land survey. For detailed driving directions from Route 9, check out the DLLT Visitor Guide or the Maine Mountain Guide. Or use your Maine Gazetteer the way it was intended (see Map 35). Either way, don’t rely on cellular signal-based GPS, because you won’t have it. A small (2-3 vehicle) parking area is immediately on the left before the trailhead.

Wabassus Mountain trail, Washington County, ME

The Wabassus Mountain trailhead, marked with a wooden sign, is just past a moss-covered stream descending the mountain. The trail itself is attractively marked by the signature silver and blue pine tree logo used by DLLT. The trail register recorded the most recent visit as three or four days prior to ours. Due to recent August rains, mushrooms and other fungi were pushing through the wet forest floor like another world trying to emerge. I ignored them at first, then began to document the shapes poking through the leaves and pine needles, as they grew more varied and colorful.

Various mushrooms and fungi on Wabassus Mountain trail, Washington County, ME
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Ingersoll Point Preserve (Addison)

Ingersoll Point Preserve, Addison, ME

Sometimes Downeast Maine, particularly Acadia, can feel overrun by an invading force in the late summer, one equipped with out-of-state SUV’s and brand-new hiking gear. Even the formerly lesser-known Bold Coast oases of Lubec and Cutler seem to be, well, a little compromised in the crush of tourists seeking an authentic Maine experience. Ingersoll Point Preserve in Addison is a 145 acre corner of forest and ocean that has maintained its quiet pine coast aesthetic, thanks to its location, and the stewardship of the Downeast Coastal Conservancy. Trail maps and a brochure can be found on their website, or in the excellent book Maine Hikes Off the Beaten Path. Trailhead parking is at the rear of the South Addison Community of Christ Church at 316 Moosehorn Road in Addison, marked by a sign.

Adler Woods Trail, Ingersoll Point Preserve, Addison, ME

From the 3.5 mile trail network, we chose an outer loop, comprising the Adler Woods Trail (blue blazes), the Carrying Place Cove Trail (pink blazes), and the Wohoa Bay Trail (yellow blazes), a leisurely, approximately 3.2 mile hike, taking about an hour and a half. Shortly into the woods, through a narrow path lined by blackberries, the trail opens up, and a sign commemorates the gift by the trail’s namesake, Dorothy G. Adler, near a trail log. A quick check of the register disclosed a reported sighting of a bear and a coyote on the trails about a week or so prior. We didn’t see either of those things, but plenty of red squirrels and birds along the moss-lined paths.

Carrying Place Cove visible through the trees from Carrying Place Cove Trail, Ingersoll Point Preserve, Addison, ME
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Pride Preserve (Westbrook, ME)

Pride Preserve, Westbrook, Maine

Pride Preserve in Westbrook, Maine, is a beautiful newborn 188 acre forest and wetlands preserve, opened in 2020 and owned and managed by the Presumpscot Regional Land Trust (PRLT) (see map and info here). According to PRLT, it is “the largest conserved forestland in urban greater Portland.” The 3.5 miles of trails on the Preserve connect to Falmouth’s 63-acre Hardy Road Conservation Area trails. Parking is located in a lot off Duck Pond Road, as well as overflow on the side of Duck Pond Road itself. The 1 mile and 1.5 mile loop trails, joined by a connector, lead to a .5 mile out-and-back spur, and there are ponds, cascading streams, meadows, and a historic cemetery.

Blue Loop Trail, Pride Preserve, Westbrook, Maine

On a warm July morning, we explored a 3.8 mile loop through Pride Preserve and the Hardy Road trails, taking about an hour and a half. The PRLT trails were quiet, relatively flat, and well-marked, perfect for trailrunning. On the south side (closer to the trailhead) there are unfortunately some kitschy pre-fabricated fairy houses and castles on the trail. While some children may enjoy these things, the official Hiking in Maine position is that it detracts from the natural experience, like painted rocks and Bluetooth speakers. These brightly colored accents are thankfully few and far between.

Minnow Brook, Rapids Spur, Pride Preserve, Westbrook, Maine
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