When I first looked through the 35 trails listed in Aislinn Sarnacki’s book Maine Hikes Off the Beaten Path: 35 Trails Waiting to be Discovered, (Down East Books, 2018) I remembered how much in Maine is left to be hiked, a realization which is both humbling and encouraging. Sarnacki, the outdoor columnist for the Bangor Daily News, has assembled an eclectic, formidable line-up of trails spanning the Pine Tree State. Her introduction to the book spells out her goal in writing this book, starting with her journey into hiking, detailing a mixed experience ascending Katahdin at age sixteen, when she was “far from hooked on the activity.”
Sarnacki discusses how hiking subsequently got her through tough times, culminating in an undergraduate thesis on the positive ways it can affect a person’s holistic health, and a job at the Bangor Daily News writing Outdoors features. Sarnacki explains the changing map of trails in Maine, and her navigation of information provided by state parks, land trusts and other non-profit organizations to find these trails (did you know there are more than 40 other peaks besides Katahdin in Baxter State Park? I didn’t).
Sarnacki continues the introduction with a wonderful explanation of the value of Leave No Trace, with a description of Abol Pond during a Leave No Trace trainer course, and the change in enjoyment of natural beauty with the observation of the policy, versus without. She then provides helpful sections entitled Staying Safe While Hiking (all good tips – “Spoil Your Feet” and the limited use of helpful technology in particular) and At War With Ticks (common-sense strategies for dealing with an emerging problem).
The 35 hikes described by Sarnacki are spread across the state, bracketed by Wells Barren Preserve in in the south, Moosehorn National Wildlife Refuge to the east, Scopan Mountain near Presque Isle to the north, and Aziscohos Mountain in Lincoln Plantation to the west (man, I hope I got that right). Each includes a detailed description, detailing the Difficulty, Dogs (permitted or no?), any Cost or fee, Access (accessible overnight? four seasons?), Wheelchair accessibility, Hunting, Restrooms, How to get to the trailhead, and precise GPS coordinates.
Each trail has a clear, accurate map (take a photo of the map with your cellphone if you don’t feel like carrying the book with you on a hike), and excellent photos that give you an idea of the trail’s surroundings and vista points. Sarnacki describes the plants and animals to be encountered, gemstones and rocks, trail markings (or lack thereof), interpretive signs, and everything in between. To the extent there are land trusts, a town office, or other caretakers of the trail, Sarnacki provides web addresses and telephone numbers for more information, and personal notes with helpful anecdotes for the area or the trail.
These detailed vignettes brought back the best part of talking about hiking and trails, the part that is mostly lost in the technical focus of apps and guidebooks: word-of-mouth referrals for hidden outdoor gems, and personal stories about these special places. It is these connections that keep us coming back, and Sarnacki’s writing does an excellent job of capturing that idea. Having just come back from the Grand Lake Stream area, where we enjoyed the Baxter Outdoors New England Trail Series Downeast Lakes 5-Miler, I particularly liked Hike 25, the Little Mayberry Cove Trail, managed by the Downeast Lakes Land Trust (I agree with Sarnacki that the tiny silver and blue trail signs are aesthetically pleasing), and the photos capturing the changing light along the trails.
Reading through this book, I found myself continually reaching for my Maine Gazetteer to look at the hikes, and running through road trips in my head. As a result, this new book is already dog-eared and bookmarked with ideas, which is the mark of a truly adventurous guide. As Sarnacki concluded in her introduction, I was inspired “to get out there, off the beaten path.”
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