Cliff Trail (Harpswell, ME)

Henry Creek lookout, Cliff Trail, Harpswell, ME

The Cliff Trail in Harpswell is an approximately 2.3 mile loop, with expansive views of the Long Reach, a long finger of a bay extending from Casco Bay inland. The popular trail, with parking at the Harpswell Town Office, is well-marked and maintained by the town of Harpswell (see printable map and description here at town website). I started the white-blazed trail clockwise at sunrise on a mid-January morning. It was dark and a little muddy, with plenty of roots to trip over, but no snow had accumulated, and no traction devices were necessary. Strawberry Creek, to the west of the trail, narrows to a quiet, scenic cascade, and the trail turns inland.

Cliff Trail, Harpswell, ME

Low pines and white birch bark lend an enchanted forest feel, with periodic fairy house “zones” adding to the effect on the way to the Henry Creek lookout. After this viewpoint, the incline of the trail begins, a series of switchbacks through rocks and mossy hummocks that takes you up and down the ridge of the eponymous cliff.

Sunrise at Long Reach, Cliff Trail, Harpswell, ME

Here, the smells and sounds of humanity are still present, through whiffs of woodsmoke and the sounds of cars. These quickly gave way, however, to extended views of the Long Reach from the cliff tops and the sounds of morning birds. I would normally have lingered, but could hear the sound of voices behind me, other early morning hikers, and wanted to preserve that solitary feeling, so I kept going.

Cliff Trail, Harpswell, ME

The trail skirts the Long Reach (and another “fairy house zone”) before turning west and descending through the Harpswell transfer station back to the parking lot (follow the paw prints on the ground). The town’s map lists the trail as challenging, but daughter and I did this trail together back when she was five or six, and the only real challenge was an unexpected nest of yellow jackets along our route that tagged her a few times.

Cliff Trail, Harpswell, ME

Exercise caution, however, on or near the cliff faces of the Long Reach side, as there are sheer drops that could be very treacherous for unsupervised young children. I finished this loop in about an hour, with plenty of energy to tackle other seaside hikes in the Midcoast area.

Mackworth Island (Falmouth, ME)

Halfway Rock and Great Diamond Island from Mackworth Island, Falmouth, ME

Mackworth Island, connected to the Falmouth mainland by a causeway off Andrews Avenue, is a State Park donated to the State of Maine in 1946 by Governor Percival Baxter for state public purposes and “as a sanctuary for wild beasts and birds.” The island, which also contains the Baxter School for the Deaf, is open daily 9 am to sunset. Parking is limited, so have a backup plan (the nearby Gilsland Farm Audobon is nice), or be prepared to wait. The visitor fee is currently $3 for Maine residents, $4 for non-Maine residents, and $1 for non-resident seniors and children 5-11 (Maine residents over 65 and children under 5 are free). An outhouse is available by the parking lot.

Mackworth Island, Falmouth, ME

The flat, easy trail (handicap-accessible) that rings the island for about 1.4 miles is maintained by the Maine Bureau of Parks and Lands, and the rocky beach surrounding the island is fun to explore, particularly at low tide. You will see seagulls and osprey, and the eastern end of Portland across the bay, as well as Fort Gorges and the islands. You won’t need a trail map, but if you are into those, you can find them at Portland Trails website or the Maine State Parks and Lands site for Mackworth Island.

Casco Bay through the trees, Mackworth Island, Falmouth, ME
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Mount Will (Bethel, ME)

Icicles on the Nature Trail section of Mt. Will Trail, Bethel, ME

Mount Will (1,726 ft), which spans across the town lines of Newry and Bethel, Maine is a lesser-traveled peak, accessed through a loop trail, with a small parking area across the road from the Town of Bethel transfer station. This trail, marked with bright blue blazes, was developed by the Bethel Conservation Commission, and is maintained by the Town of Bethel. Detailed description can be found in Maine Hikes Off The Beaten Path or the AMC Maine Mountain Guide.

Androscoggin River Valley from North Ledges, Mt. Will Trail

On a cold January day, I took the loop counter-clockwise, for a total of about 3.2 miles, taking about an hour and forty minutes. The snow was recent and shallow, and I had good traction throughout the hike with microspikes and hiking poles. Later in the season, or with more snowfall, this would be a snowshoe trail. The Nature Trail section, which runs through the Bethel Town Forest, has placards throughout with facts about flora and fauna. The water from recent rains had frozen in serrated rows on rocky outcroppings, giving the mountain icy fangs.

View through the trees, Mt. Will Trail
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Pleasant Hill Preserve (Scarborough, ME)

Eleanor’s Trail, Pleasant Hill Preserve, Scarborough, ME

Tucked between the Pleasant Hill neighborhood and the Rachel Carson National Wildlife Refuge, Scarborough’s Pleasant Hill Preserve is 135 acres of land, with over 1.5 miles of trails, held and maintained by the Scarborough Land Trust (SLT). No hunting or bicycles are allowed on the trails, dogs must be leashed, and the .25 mile Eleanor’s Trail is ADA accessible. The trailhead, at 270 Pleasant Hill Road in Scarborough, has year-round parking and a map kiosk.

Swallow Barn, and intersection with Monty’s Trail, Pleasant Hill Preserve, Scarborough, ME
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Black Cat Mountain (Poland, ME)

Access road to the summit of Black Cat Mountain, Poland, Maine.

This easy mountain hike, actually more of a road walk to a hilltop where is a cell tower, made for a simple First Day 2021 winter stroll. Black Cat Mountain (820 ft) in Poland, Maine (not to be confused with the larger Black Cat Mountain in Baxter State Park), is accessible from North Raymond Road, where a small gated road marked with yellow cell tower signs and the number 72 has limited parking (with overflow on the road’s shoulder).

Afternoon light through the trees, road to Black Cat Mountain, Poland, ME.

From there up the wide, well-maintained road to the summit, it’s approximately 1.5 miles, for a three mile total out-and-back trip. The route is simple and direct (don’t get distracted by the snowmobile trails, just stay on the main road), which would allow kids to range ahead. No special gear was needed, although some better traction would have helped on the icy sections of the road.

Frozen pond enroute to Black Cat Mountain summit, Poland, ME.
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Burnt Meadow Mountain (Brownfield, ME)

Descending from the North Peak via the Twin Brook Trail, headed toward the White Mountains
Descending from the North Peak via the Twin Brook Trail, headed toward the White Mountains.


(Update: According to the Town of Brownfield website, the Burnt Meadow Mountain trail has been reopened and Public Works will remove the barriers when they are able.)

Burnt Meadow Mountain in Brownfield, Maine, is a favorite hike of ours in all seasons, including when daughter was much younger.  Brownfield is less than an hour from Portland, and during mid-late summer, the wild blueberries all the way to the summit make for a pleasant distraction and motivator for younger children.  In winter, the moderate climb through vanished foliage yields great views of the White Mountains.

Burnt Meadow Mountain map and trail description from trailhead kiosk along Rte 160 in Brownfield.
Burnt Meadow Mountain map and trail description from trailhead kiosk along Rte 160 in Brownfield.

Our preferred route is via the Burnt Meadow Mountain Trail (blue blazes) and Twin Brook Trail (yellow blazes), an approximately 3.6 mile loop, which took us about 2.5 hours at a relaxed pace in summer, and 2 hrs, 10 mins in winter.  The spur trail up to Stone Mountain (blue blazes) from the Twin Brook Trail adds about another 1.4 miles round-trip, which was about an hour added to the loop hike in the winter time.  These trails are well-marked and maintained by the Appalachian Mountain Club (AMC) and the Friends of Burnt Meadow Mountain.

As usual, the best description of this hike is in the AMC Maine Mountain Guide.  And in the new 11th edition of this guide, Burnt Meadow gets its own map.  In winter, the parking lot is small and icy, and hikers may have to find a parking spot on the narrow shoulder of Route 160.  For updated winter trail conditions, check the Burnt Meadow Mountain Trail page on All Trails.  On the January 2019 day I went, the snow on the trail was packed, and micro-spikes helped with some of the resulting ice on rocks.  The only deeper snow was on the Stone Mountain trail.

Not quite ready yet
Not quite ready yet in June.

The Burnt Meadow Trail passes through shaded woods and over exposed rock faces up a short, steep climb to the North Peak (1,575 ft).  On the way, we saw hawks wheeling below us, and visibility was outstanding on a sunny, cool June day.  In winter, the climb had the effect of being a pleasantly continuous ridge hike without the leaves to obscure views.

Watching three hawks (a pair and a loner) hunt in the valley below the Burnt Mountain Trail
Watching three hawks (a pair and a loner) hunt in the valley below the Burnt Mountain Trail in summer.

While the blueberries weren’t ready in June, we saw vultures, crows, many lady slippers in peak color, and also ran across a few toads.  We used plenty of bug spray, but didn’t hit large clouds of black flies or mosquitoes, except in low-lying areas along the Twin Brook Trail (obviously, no bugs in the wintertime).

Winter ascent up to the North Peak, Burnt Meadow Mountain
Winter ascent up to the North Peak, Burnt Meadow Mountain

The broad, open summit of Burnt Meadow is a great place for a picnic.  We didn’t linger too long in summer, though, just enjoyed some jerky and proceeded across to the Twin Brook Trail.  A large cairn marked the point to start our descent.  The Twin Brook Trail was a rolling course back to its junction with the Burnt Meadow Mountain Trail, and from there back to the parking lot.

A cairn marks the descent from the North Peak to the Twin Brook Trail
A cairn marks the descent from the North Peak to the Twin Brook Trail.

In winter, I took the Stone Mountain Trail, as the surrounding area from the summit is easier to see without the leaves.  This trail is substantially less traveled than the North Peak or Twin Brook Trails, and required some travel through deeper snow, but nothing requiring snowshoes as of January 2019.

Follow blue blazes through a birch forest to the Stone Mountain summit
Follow blue blazes through a birch forest to the Stone Mountain summit.

One of the reasons we love this hike in the summertime is its proximity to the Brownfield Town Beach, which is a great place to cool off (Note: While dogs are plentiful on Burnt Meadow Mountain trails, they are not allowed at the beach after June 1st).

Brownfield Town Beach
Brownfield Town Beach

Sweetie’s Ice Cream in Standish is a great way to cool off on the way back to the Portland area in the summer.  Another option is the Whistle Stop General Store in Baldwin to grab food – open all winter for snowmobilers and other travelers.

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Libby River Farm Preserve Trails (Scarborough, ME)

Access Trail, Libby River Farm Preserve, Scarborough Land Trust

Close to Prouts Neck and Scarborough Beach, the 75-acre Libby River Farm Preserve, tucked between Camp Ketcha and the Libby River, has about a mile of trails to explore. While well-attended, it is not as crowded as Ferry Beach and Scarborough Beach, and can be a good option if these places are busy.

Libby River Farm Preserve, owned and maintained by the Scarborough Land Trust, with a small parking area at 320 Black Point Road provided by Camp Ketcha, is open year-round for hiking, snowshoeing, and cross-country skiing. Dogs must be leashed, and bow-hunting (with Scarborough Land Trust permission) is allowed, so blaze orange is always a good fall idea.

Shrubland, Libby River Farm Preserve, Scarborough Land Trust

On a sunny late fall day, we combined the Access Trail and Lucy R. Sprague Memorial Trail for about 1.6 miles of hiking that took us about half an hour. The sunny, open woods made wildlife viewing easy, and we saw a large pileated woodpecker almost immediately. Trails are flat and well-marked, with signs at many intersections, and another kiosk and map are located at the intersection between the Access Trail and the Sprague Memorial Trail.

Observation Deck, Libby River Farm Preserve, Scarborough Land Trust

The observation deck overlooks the Libby River and surrounding shrublands of Scarborough Marsh, where seasonal bird viewing is excellent. We took the Lucy R. Sprague Memorial Trail on the return, a pleasant walk through the woods, over winding creeks and plank bridges.

Lucy R. Sprague Memorial Trail, Libby River Farm Preserve, Scarborough Land Trust

A weekend in Baxter State Park’s northern half

View west on North Traveler Trail, Baxter State Park

(Note: As of October 23, 2020, Baxter State Park offices and headquarters remain closed to the public, but reservations can still be made online and by calling (207) 723-5140. Togue and Matagamon Gates are open 6am to 7pm. Katahdin and Traveler trails are closed at their trailheads to protect alpine resources.)

The last couple years, dad and daughter have picked a late-summer weekend to climb Mount Katahdin together at Baxter State Park (BSP). On last year’s trip, we diverted to explore some easier trails from Katahdin Stream Campground, and this year, due to daughter’s same lingering knee injury from last year and her recovery from late August knee surgery, it was a solo trip for dad. Not wanting to climb Katahdin without my hiking buddy, I set my sights on the Traveler Loop. South Branch Pond Campground was full, so I canceled our mid-September Roaring Brook parking reservation, and found a tent site instead at Trout Brook Farm Campground.

Katahdin from I-95 Overlook, Medway, Maine

The drive in to Matagamon Gate from the south was a gradual journey back in time. I stopped at the scenic overlook off I-95 in Medway to peer through the morning clouds at the Katahdin massif looming ever larger to the west, over Salmon Stream Lake and the East Branch of the Penobscot. Off the highway, I slowed on Rte 11 for Amish horse-drawn carriages and tractors, and passed through the vintage downtown of Patten. Turning west toward Baxter State Park, I made mental notes as I drove by interesting spots for future hikes – Mount Chase, Owl’s Head, Seboeis River Trail, and Mount Deasey and Barnard in Katahdin Woods and Waters.

View from Horse Mountain, Baxter State Park

Being an early riser, I got through Matagamon Gate too early to check in at my campsite (check-in is at 1 PM), so I turned into the first available trailhead, for Horse Mountain. Following a great view and a quick descent, I signed in at the ranger station, and began to set up camp at Trout Brook. The site, with a picnic table and fire ring, was on Park Tote Road, but far enough away from other campsites, and with the tent spot recessed sufficiently to provide some privacy. A large apple tree stood in the tree line and attracted woodland animals, remnant of a long-ago orchard. The site was also very close to the trailheads for Trout Brook Mountain and the Five Ponds Loop.

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Celia and Jackson Ponds (Baxter State Park)

View across Kidney Pond, Baxter State Park

(Note: As of October 23, 2020, Baxter State Park offices and headquarters remain closed to the public, but reservations can still be made online and by calling (207) 723-5140. Togue and Matagamon Gates are open 6am to 7pm. Katahdin and Traveler trails are closed at their trailheads to protect alpine resources.)

Having completed two strenuous hiking days in the northern part of Baxter State Park, I wanted to explore an easier path on my long, scenic way out through the Togue Pond Gate. Celia and Jackson Ponds, reached in that order, are accessed from the Kidney Pond campground day-use trailhead via a 3.2 mile (1.5 to 2 hours) out-and-back hike using the Sentinel Connector Trail, and Celia and Jackson Ponds Trail. I found this hike using Falcon Guides’ Hiking Maine’s Baxter State Park.

The pleasant smell of woodsmoke from the campground quickly gave way to that of pine, and the path has a definite enchanted woods feel, with soft, greenish light cast on the moss surrounding the trail. Shortly after the trail’s beginning, a large boulder on the left is whimsically marked “Kidney Stone – do not remove.” Kidney Pond can be seen through the trees, and then a small side trail to the shore provides excellent views of Katahdin to the west.

Giant boulder, Celia and Jackson Ponds Trail, Baxter State Park

Turn right at the well-marked trail intersection towards Celia and Jackson Ponds on a piney path with mossy hummocks on each side. A giant, incongruous wedge-shaped boulder is visible shortly along on the right, like an alien spacecraft that crashed to earth. Fresh moose poop (again) littered the trail, but never materialized into a moose sighting.

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Five Ponds Loop (Baxter State Park)

September greenery, Five Ponds Loop, Baxter State Park

(Note: As of October 23, 2020, Baxter State Park offices and headquarters remain closed to the public, but reservations can still be made online and by calling (207) 723-5140. Togue and Matagamon Gates are open 6am to 7pm. Katahdin and Traveler trails are closed at their trailheads to protect alpine resources.)

The day after a strenuous Traveler Mountain hike at Baxter State Park, I chose to take the approximately seven mile Five Ponds Loop, both for its relative ease and for morning opportunities to see wildlife. A detailed description of the trail can be found in the AMC Maine Mountain Guide and Falcon Guides’ Hiking Maine’s Baxter State Park.

I hiked the loop in a clockwise direction from its trailhead at the Trout Brook Farm Campground, familiar to me from my hike of Trout Brook Mountain two days prior. The ponds, in that east to west sequence, are Littlefield Pond, Billfish Pond, Round Pond, High Pond, and Long Pond, accessed through a series of side trails. Billfish and Long each have canoe rentals (through the ranger at Trout Brook Farm campsite).

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