Smalls Falls

Smalls Falls, Franklin County, Maine

Smalls Falls is a part waterfall hike, part scenic rest area, located along Route 4 in Franklin County, Maine. Plenty of parking, charcoal grills, toilet facilities, and picnic tables along the river make this an ideal place to stop for a picnic lunch, walk around, and even get in the falls and pools to cool off in the Rangeley area.

Smalls Falls, Franklin County, Maine

The rest area, clearly marked with a sign on Route 4, is on the south side of the road, along the Sandy River, about 12 miles south of Rangeley. Smalls Falls are possibly named for Jesse Small, a Miller who lived in the area around the time of the Civil War.1

Smalls Falls, Franklin County, Maine

From the northwest corner of the parking lot, trails (about 1/2 mile total) crisscross the Sandy River waterfall area and Chandler Mill Stream, climbing to other sets of falls above, and ending at a gravel road north of the rest area. This area can be crowded in the summer, with ample cigarette smoke in the picnic area and a very different pollution inside the pit toilets, but can be very quiet at times, particularly weekday mornings.

Chandler Mill Stream near Smalls Falls, Franklin County, Maine

The water flow and temperature vary with the season and weather conditions, and in April, there is even an annual Smalls to the Wall Steep Creek Race (unfortunately canceled in 2020 due to COVID-19), in which kayakers brave the steep, narrow chutes.

1Van Baalen, M.R., Reusch, D.N., and Slack, J.F., 2017, Smalls Falls Revisted: A Journey Through a Paleozoic Sedimentary Basin in Johnson, B. and Eusden, J.D., ed., Guidebook for Field Trips in Western Maine and Northern New Hampshire: New England Intercollegiate Geological Conference, Bates College, p. 35-60. https://doi.org/10.26780/2017.001.0003

Horse Mountain (Baxter State Park)

Horse Mountain Trail, Baxter State Park

Horse Mountain (1,589 ft) is the first trail you will encounter through Baxter State Park’s Matagamon Gate. This hike, about 3.3 miles, taking about an hour and twenty minutes with the inclusion of the East Spur Overlook, starts uphill on a narrow track through a forest dominated by birch. Map and description are available from two indispensable books – the AMC Maine Mountain Guide and Falcon Guides’ Hiking Maine’s Baxter State Park by Greg Westrich. Throughout Baxter State Park, I used Map Adventures’ Katahdin Baxter State Park Waterproof Trail Map to navigate.  Baxter’s great website also has downloadable/printable trail maps, and the Trout Brook Farm map covers this area.

Horse Mountain Trail near summit, Baxter State Park

The sparsely recorded trail log and spiderwebs across the trail attest to its lesser-used nature. In fact, as I was getting ready to hike at the tiny parking area, a man stopped his vehicle and told me that he had hiked every mountain in Baxter State Park except Horse Mountain. I don’t know why he stopped to tell me this, but it provided the proper motivation for me to do something that he had not.

Continue reading

Tunk Mountain (T10 SD)

Plank bridges on Tunk Mountain trail

Located between the blueberry fields of Cherryfield and the Downeast coast, Tunk Mountain (1,157 feet) is part of the Donnell Pond Public Lands, managed by Maine’s Bureau of Parks and Lands (BPL), with the upper summit area on land owned by The Nature Conservancy (trail map). Parking for this moderate hike (about 3.9 miles out and back) is on the north side of the Blackwoods Scenic Byway (ME-182) between Sullivan and Cherryfield, consisting of a large lot, a pit toilet, and an information kiosk. This lot does fill up quickly, however, on weekends.

Boulders and caves, Tunk Mountain trail

The Tunk Mountain Trail is marked by blue blazes, and starts with a downward pitch, towards plank bridges, tree roots, chattering red squirrels and chipmunks, and the sound of birds, including mourning doves and hermit thrushes. The geologic past is clearly visible in the mixed forest along the trail, with boulders haphazardly strewn among the trees. About 1/3 of a mile along the trail, some of these boulders hold small caves accessed through short side trails.

Continue reading

Ragged Mountain (Rockport, ME)

Georges Highland Path, Ragged Mountain

At first, it seemed like it wasn’t the ideal day to climb Ragged Mountain (1,303 ft) in Rockport. The bank of fog covering the Midcoast in the early summer morning obscured any views. But hiking in a cloud has its advantages – on a day eventually headed above 90 degrees, a chill mist over the George’s Highland Path (GHP) operated like an air conditioner, keeping us cool on the trail.

Georges Highland Path, Ragged Mountain

We started and finished our moderately difficult hike from the Thorndike Brook trailhead at Hope Street in Rockport, using ME-17 to complete the return loop, about 6.5 miles in just under 3 hours. If we had it to do over (which we probably will – it’s a great hike), we agreed that a shorter out/back (about 4.8 mi) using the GHP would be better, as ME-17 is a fairly busy road. There are two other trailheads, at ME-17 and Barnestown Road, and it is good to keep all three in mind, due to summer crowding.

Continue reading

Morse Mountain to Seawall Beach (Phippsburg, ME)

IMG_5484 (Edited)
View from Morse Mountain, Phippsburg, Maine

(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!

Morning light through trees, trail over Morse Mountain to Seawall Beach

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).

Continue reading

Lowell Preserve (Windham, ME)

Lowell Preserve, Windham, Maine

The Roscoe and Elva Lowell Preserve in Windham, Maine is a 308 acre preserve managed by the Town of Windham, close to Little Duck Pond and the Falmouth town line. The trails in the northeast corner of the Preserve connect to the North Falmouth Community Forest. Trailhead parking is at the East Windham Fire Station, 45 Falmouth Road, Windham, and trail map is available here.

Roscoe & Elva Lowell Preserve, Windham, Maine

The trails constitute about eight miles of loops, which can be very difficult to navigate. On the July day we explored, we took about a 3.5 mile loop, using the Libby Hill Trail and the Roscoe Loop. There are self-correcting trail maps placed intermittently throughout the preserve, as well as wooden numbered signs that would be helpful if the numbers had any relation to the map.

Continue reading

Raymond Community Forest and Pismire Bluff

The Raymond Community Forest is a network of four trails over 356 acres between Crescent Lake and Pismire Mountain (833 ft), protected by the Loon Echo Land Trust (LELT). I decided to combine all four into a modified loop (approximately 4 miles/1.5 hrs) to try and see as much of the Forest as possible. The lower trails (Spiller Homestead and Grape Expectations) are open to pedestrians and mountain bikes, while the trails to the east of Conesca Road (Pismire Bluff and Highlands Loop) are pedestrian-only. Leashed dogs are welcome.

Wildflowers, Raymond Community Forest

The clearly marked trailhead, with parking, is located off Conesca Road in Raymond, and has a large kiosk with a map of the Forest and Raymond Community Forest trail maps available. On the warm July morning I visited, the field by the kiosk was bright with wildflowers.

Continue reading

Rattlesnake Mountain (Raymond, ME)

Bri-Mar trailhead at ME-85 in Raymond, Maine

Rattlesnake Mountain (1,035 ft) is an approximately 2.6 mile moderately difficult (but family-friendly) out-and-back hike in Raymond, Maine, with two good viewpoints overlooking the Lakes Region. Allow about an hour or two for this adventure, depending on the abilities of those in your group. The small, well-marked parking area for the Bri-Mar trailhead is off Webbs Mills Road (ME-85), and open from sunrise to sunset. No dogs are allowed on this trail.

Wildflowers on Bri-Mar Trail, Rattlesnake Mountain, Raymond, Maine

We had completed this hike several years ago as a family during the fall, and the early July day I chose for this attempt was much warmer, with the field at the beginning of the hike full of wildflowers and bees. The field gives way to a wide, pine-covered road through a swampy area, then progresses upward on a narrower path.

Continue reading

Shaker Woods Reserve (Alfred, ME)

img_7776
Shaker Woods Reserve, Alfred, ME

Shaker Woods Reserve is a short lollipop loop hike in Alfred, Maine, about 1.9 miles in total length (appx 45 minutes). The 34-acre Reserve, accessible from a small parking lot on Stone Road, is owned by the Town of Alfred, and is open from dawn to dusk, for foot traffic only (dogs must be leashed). A detailed map is available from Three Rivers Land Trust.

faaa50fc-3c56-4770-b3f6-230852147dd2
Shaker Woods Reserve trails, Alfred, ME

On a cool June morning (read: before mosquitoes woke up), I hiked this quiet, wooded trail, which winds through land bounded on the east by the Middle Branch of the Mousam River and on the south by Hay Brook. Deer tracks covered the trail, and throughout my walk, I could hear them bounding away from me intermittently, but never saw them. The trail was lined with ferns and the bright white flowers of berry bushes.

Continue reading

5 Best Hiking and Outdoor Podcast Episodes of May 2020

The best podcasts we listened to in May 2020 showed us different viewpoints, or new ways to look at familiar topics. How does vulnerability make us more powerful, how can positivity and the ability to make people laugh benefit us in the outdoors, how can we meditatively appreciate the changing seasons, and what does American wildlife management look like to a visitor from abroad?

Below are the five best hiking and outdoors podcast episodes we listened to in May 2020, with a brief description of each podcast.

A warning – playing podcasts or music on external speakers while hiking is basically a capital offense.  Playing podcasts or music through headphones/earbuds while hiking is somewhere in the spectrum of inadvisable to mortally dangerous.  Just from a common sense standpoint, why would you want to have your hearing and attention somewhere else if you want to maximize the benefits of being immersed in the outdoors (or, more basically, fail to hear the bear you just startled)?  All that being said, hike your own hike.

015b3ac04b3784015d9b9e6329cee4f42c948594e0


Rich Roll Podcast1. For Colin O’Brady, Infinite Love Fuels Human Potential (May 18, 2020) from The Rich Roll Podcast

Rich Roll’s podcast always digs deep, and this interview with elite adventure athlete Colin O’Brady covers O’Brady’s December 2019 human-powered ocean row with an intrepid crew of rowers 600 nautical miles across the Drake Passage from South America to Antarctica. This incredible feat was timed with the release of O’Brady’s memoir, The Impossible First, covering O’Brady’s journey into adventure sports, culminating in his solo crossing of Antarctica.

O’Brady is a skilled storyteller, and his rapport with Roll yields many nuggets from the experiences of both men. O’Brady talks about the difficult process of writing his book, finding inspiration, and the valuable practice of embracing vulnerability, which O’Brady has honed through a unique twelve year written correspondence with a group of twelve friends called “the fellas.” All this experience helped O’Brady through the book and the rowing journey, which included governmental roadblocks, freezing water, and massive waves.

At the end of the interview, Roll plays a later follow-up interview with O’Brady, in which Roll gives O’Brady a chance to respond to a February National Geographic article critical of O’Brady’s accomplishments. The segment is interesting and fair, but may be a little too “inside baseball” for most. What lingers is O’Brady’s gratitude, and the compelling story of his ascent to the highest levels of adventure racing (2 hrs 42 minutes).

Apple Podcast link: For Colin O’Brady, Infinite Love Fuels Human Potential


Backpacker_Radio_new_art2. Sean “Shug” Emery on Hammock Camping and Life as a Circus Clown (May 13, 2020) from Backpacker Radio

The Backpacker Radio interviews tend to be wide-ranging, but few are as broadly interesting as the story of Sean “Shug” Emery, a former circus clown for Ringling Brothers and currently a YouTuber, providing information and funny videos about hammock camping. Emery, an outstanding raconteur discusses how he became a clown, with wild stories from the dog-eat-dog world of Clown College, and his years traveling with the circus via train. This even includes a breakdown of the vaunted “clown car” trick.

Eventually, Emery transitions to his current life in Minnesota, where he backpacks (and still performs). Emery talks about the Boundary Waters, hammocks, art, and practical advice for new or older backpackers. As pointed out by hosts Chaunce and Badger, Emery’s antics are reminiscent (in a good way) of Robin Williams. The podcast closes with the obligatory Backpacker Radio poop story, a mailbag, and some backcountry matchmaking (3 hrs 1 minute).

Apple Podcast link: Sean “Shug” Emery on Hammock Camping and Life as a Circus Clown


Wild Ideas Worth Living

3. Finding Humor with Brendan Leonard (May 11, 2020) from Wild Ideas Worth Living Podcast

Shelby Stanger’s podcast is about turning ideas into reality, and in this episode, she talks to author/illustrator/adventurer Brendan Leonard about his comedic work and inspiration. Leonard’s website, Semi-Rad, contains his humorous drawings, essays, and adventure writing (try clicking through “100 Favorite Things” and not smiling or going down an internet rabbit hole). His comedic drawings mostly consist of charts and graphs, like a pro-con list of adopting a dog or a grizzly bear, or greeting other people on the trail.

Leonard talks about cooking during a pandemic, Instagram recommendations, cultivating humor, how his life informs his drawings and writings, and trying to meet the needs of his audience. This episode highlights Leonard’s uplifting outlook, which is relentlessly positive and humorous, with observations through the lens of the outdoors (32 minutes).

Apple Podcast link: Finding Humor with Brendan Leonard


logo-cropped-square4. Episode 123: Hobblebush (May 16, 2020) from The Nature of Phenology

Phenology is the study of the life cycles of plants and animals through the seasons. The delightful Nature of Phenology podcast, hosted by Hazel Stark, is a production of WERU, a community radio station serving Midcoast, Downeast, and Central Maine. This mid-May episode focuses on hobblebush, a flowering shrub whose white flowers are familiar to anyone who has spent time in the Maine woods.

The hobblebush’s large, flat leaves are sometimes known as “Boy Scout’s toilet paper,” and its name comes from its low-lying branches, which can easily ensnare a foot or an ankle. This episode is excellent, and anyone (particularly those in Northern New England) interested in learning more about the seasonal changes around them should subscribe to this easily digestible (5 minutes) weekly podcast filled with nature sounds and insights.

Apple Podcast link: Episode 123: Hobblebush


Scotland Outdoors

5. Wolves in Wyoming from Scotland Outdoors

To a New Englander, Euan McIlwraith and Mark Stephen’s excellent Scotland Outdoors podcast, produced by BBC Radio, often seems like a fascinating alternate natural history. What are the similarities we hold with an English-speaking area with a similar climate, populated by comparable or analogous plants and animals, but managed differently over time? Fitting, then, that this episode turns its gaze toward Wyoming, and the Scotland Outdoors crew explores the re-introduction of wolves into Yellowstone National Park with British ecologist and writer Philippa Forrester.

One of the best ways to evaluate our own surroundings is to see it through someone else’s eyes, in this case, a view of American wolves from the United Kingdom. Forrester discusses her book about the twenty-five year impact of wolves in the ecosystem, including the wolf archetype over time, and the reaction of humans to the re-introduction process. This episode, including an eloquent reading by Forrester from her book, blends anecdotes and science in a fascinating overview of man’s relationship to large predators (33 minutes).

Apple Podcast link: Wolves in Wyoming


Back in 2018, we ranked our top ten hiking and outdoors podcasts of 2018.  In 2019, we changed the format, listing our five favorite hiking and outdoors individual podcast episodes of 2019.  We consume a lot of podcasts, and those focused on being outdoors seem to have proliferated exponentially since we started listening.  That’s why, in 2020, we are trying something new.  This year, we will attempt to pick out the five best hiking and outdoors podcast episodes each month (or at least our favorites).

Disagree?  Have suggestions?  Leave a comment or Contact us.