(Update: On June 1, 2020, the Bates-Morse Mountain Conservation Area re-opened to the public, with parking lot capacity reduced to allow for social distancing between vehicles. They advise to plan your trip accordingly, and note that they “turn cars away once the parking lot is full.” You can check the status of the lot online at https://www.bmmparking.com/)
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, a 3.8 mile out-and-back hike over Morse Mountain (433 feet) to Seawall Beach. 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, the terrain (mostly paved) and the distance. This hike checks all the boxes for me. Let’s begin!
This trailhead is well-marked. From Route 1 in Bath, you follow Route 209 south to Route 216 to Morse Mountain Road where there is a small parking lot on your left. Arrive early, particularly on summer weekends, because parking is limited (see note and link at beginning to check on it last-minute, particularly with less parking lot capacity due to social distancing). We have been turned away on Father’s Day weekend. At about 8:30 am on a summer Saturday, people are trickling in, but there are usually still spots available. By half an hour to an hour later, all the spots can be full. There is 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.
Bugs can be a big problem here. Very early or late in the season, or with enough of a breeze, they won’t bother you too much. Otherwise, bring strong (Deet-based) insect repellent, and walk fast. 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!
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. A left turn will eventually bring you to Popham Beach. 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. On a July trip, we saw plenty of seals, as well.
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:
- 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 off the trail” and go behind a tree very easily without being seen. The ocean is an option, but it’s Maine-cold.
- Bring bug spray.
- Consider staying a while at the beach, which means that you might need a towel, sunscreen, hat, and snacks! The beach is that good.
- Go early in the day to get a parking spot. If it’s full, you can wait, go to Popham Beach State Park, or try a nearby hike, like one through Basin Preserve.
- 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.
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