Peltoma Woods Loop (Pittsfield, ME)

Peltoma Woods, Pittsfield, Maine

Peltoma Woods is located in Pittsfield, on the Town Farm Property along the banks of the Sebasticook River. On a mid-May morning, I took the easy Outside Loop Trail counterclockwise from the trailhead kiosk, located at the DriftBusters Snowmobile Club on Peltoma Avenue. A sign on the kiosk (which has a trail map and other info) warned of vernal pools and wet areas, which proved quickly true, with much rerouting needed around dark pools, their surfaces cloudy with pollen and amphibian eggs. For a much deeper dive, including other nearby hikes and refreshments, check out this Press Herald article regarding Pittsfield.

Peltoma Woods, Pittsfield, Maine

The trails themselves were wide and sunlit, covered with soft pine needles. No people were on them, but I heard the trilling of a pine warbler, as well as the calls of a northern flicker and black-capped chickadee. The trail parallels Peltoma Avenue, a fairly busy road, but it is green and peaceful enough in the forest that you quickly forget where you are until a truck passes by. The loop trail pivots back toward the river at a recycling center, shortly after crossing the Peltoma Woods Trail, which looked green, wide and inviting.

Flooded area in Peltoma Woods, Pittsfield, Maine

I flipped around to continue on the Outside Loop Trail. Close to the river, there was a wide, swampy area where the banks had overflowed with the recent hard rains, and then the wide, peaceful Sebasticook. As I continued the turn on the loop to head back to the start, I skirted the trail into the woods several time, due to deep water across portions of the trail. This loop of 1.4 miles or so took less than half an hour, and is a great break from work or a Portland to Bangor drive, not that far from I-95.

Peltoma Woods along Sebasticook River, Pittsfield, Maine

Messalonskee Stream Trail (Oakland, ME)

Sun through the treetops, Messalonskee Stream Trail, Oakland, ME

The Messalonskee Stream Trail is listed alternately as a 3.2, 4 mile, or 6 mile total out-and-back trail along its namesake in Oakland, Maine, open from sunup to sundown. Description and maps are available at the site of Kennebec Messalonskee Trails. I completed this trail in mid-November, and again in early May. On both occasions, they were lightly trafficked, with an emphasis on dog walkers. In November, a notice was posted for hikers to wear orange, due to archery season. In May, there was more mud, more birds, and the streams were running much faster.

Wooden bridge and fall leaves, Messalonskee Stream Trail, Oakland, ME

Parking is available in a small fenced-in lot off Kennedy Memorial Drive, just before the bridge next to the Oakland Town Office. An alternate start point is at the north end, off Rice Rips Road. This is a very quiet, accessible trail for being relatively close to I-95. The trail, constructed by the Maine Conservation Corps, emerges from a gap in the fenced area, and climbs to a ridge overlooking the river. On the opposite side of the stream are the castle-like ruins of the Cascade Woolen Mill, with graffiti and tumbling walls, reminiscent of a Stephen King story.

Messalonskee Stream Trail, Oakland, ME

There was morning light through the trees, no bugs, and shortly past a large, sunlit glacial erratic, there is a picnic table in shaded area among the evergreens, on a slope overlooking the river. Many times throughout the hike, I heard the high-pitched, pleasant call of the black-throated green warbler.

Glacial erratic, Messalonskee Stream Trail, Oakland, ME

The north end of the trail follows a loop around a peninsula jutting into a flat, slow-moving section of the stream, where there is another picnic table a little less than 1.5 miles from the start, with beautiful views of the stream. Shortly after the peninsula’s tip, I saw a loon making slow, lazy, turns on the quiet surface.

Picnic spot, Messalonskee Stream Trail, Oakland, ME

None of the trail is difficult, but there are a substantial number of roots close to the shoreline, making boots better than trail runners for your ankles. Plank bridges cover low, marshy areas. Based upon the time I had, I used the powerlines as a turnaround point, at about 1 2/3 miles. The trail continues, however, past this via an ATV trail and road to a dam, and I will have to explore another time. My distance was about 3.4 miles, easily covered in a little over an hour.

Picnic table on peninsula, Messalonskee Stream Trail, Oakland, ME

Royal River Park (Yarmouth, ME)

Royal River Park, Yarmouth, ME

Yarmouth’s Royal River Park, located just outside the small town center, has a short out-and-back trail running alongside the falls of the Royal River. A detailed description is contained in Hiking Waterfalls Maine, including the downstream First Falls, which are separated by Bridge Street from the prior three along the trail. The water “trail” can be explored via canoe, and maps are available from the Royal River Conservation Trust. We walked the easy land route, about 1.4 miles total, in mid-March, taking us less than half an hour. The park itself, used for community concerts, is wide near the parking area, and includes picnic tables, to make a longer trip. A parking area is located across the street from the Yarmouth History Center.

Royal River Park, Yarmouth, ME

Along the river, interpretive signs describe the history of the mills located along the Royal River, and their stone remnants can be seen across and throughout the river. In 1909, the Forest Paper Company, contained in 10 buildings covering 10 acres, was the largest soda fibre mill in the world. The mill closed in 1923, and burned in 1931. In 1971, the Marine Corps Reserve tore down the factory and a Navy demolition team took down the remainder with 14 crates of dynamite, crushing most of the debris to use as fill for the park, which took shape in separate phases from 1979 to 1984, with the town of Yarmouth providing matching funds with the Federal Land and Water Conservation Fund.

Royal River Park, Yarmouth, ME

Today, the walk is filled with dogs and people, and we avoided some of the icy patches still covering the path. Just north of Route One, the Beth Condon Pathway, which is part of the East Coast Greenway, crosses the trail, continuing east across the Royal River via a pedestrian bridge. The path is named for a Yarmouth resident killed at age 15 by a drunk driver in 1993. The short but scenic trail along the Royal River dead-ends at Bridge Street. First Falls, where the river becomes a tidal flow, can be viewed following a short drive, from an overlook in Grist Mill Park, off East Main Street.

Royal River Park, Yarmouth, ME

Quaggy Jo Mountain

View east from North Peak of Quaggy Jo, Aroostook State Park

Quaggy Jo Mountain (1,213 ft) is located within Aroostook State Park, about 5 miles south of Presque Isle, and a detailed description of the hike is available in the Maine Mountain Guide. Aroostook State Park charges a $3 entry fee for Maine residents, payable via a drop box next to the gate on the May afternoon I came through. Online maps are always hard to come by for Maine state parks, so I’ve included a photo of the physical trail map placard.

Parking is available at a large lot next to Echo Lake, at the base of the Quaquajo Nature Trail. (The popular belief is that Quaggy Jo is the shortened from of “Qua Qua Jo” a native American phrase for “twin peaked”). Not having done enough research, I started the Quaggy Jo hike counterclockwise, starting with the Nature Trail, marked with blue blazes, and proceeding via the North Peak and Ridge Trails. Guides and maps recommend completing this loop in the opposite direction, due to the steep ledges on the South Peak Trail, which make descent difficult. I opted instead to double back on the Ridge Trail, then take the Notch Trail back to avoid the issue. This made for a loop of about 2.6 miles in an hour and 15 minutes, which I finished via the Nature and Novice Trails. On the Quaquajo Nature Trail, steps led up an incline and low spots were covered with wooden walkways. The spring trees were still sparse enough to see through, with small green buds indicating the greenery to come.

Lean-to on Ridge Trail, Aroostook State Park

The North Peak Trail crossed over the cross-country ski trail, then quickly turned to a steep series of switchbacks facing Echo Lake, reaching the North Peak summit (1,141 ft). The North Peak had several viewpoints, including a glimpse of snowy Katahdin through the trees. On the rocky Ridge Trail heading across the road from North Peak to South Peak (or vice versa, for those who follow instructions), there is a wooden lean-to with an expansive view of Aroostook County, and Canada beyond. As the Ridge trail dipped between the two peaks, the traverse required a series of hops over fallen trees, blowdowns after recent storms. Loose volcanic rock on portions of this climb show pieces of the rhyolite bedrock that created Quaggy Jo.

View from South Peak of Quaggy Jo, Aroostook State Park

Atop the mostly wooded South Peak (1,215 ft) is a cell tower and small building, but follow a short spur trail with blue blazes to reach a wooden platform with a great view to the west, just short of the summit. The Notch Trail was a pleasant sand and rock trail carved into the notch between the two peaks with the sound of a quiet, slow running brook at the bottom.  I criss-crossed the brook on a series of wooden bridges as the trail wound its way down to the South Peak Trail, and then a left onto the State Park Road. Just before the road, there were trillium and trout lilies in many variations of color and maturity.

Spring wildflowers, Quaggy Jo Mountain, Aroostook State Park

Headed downhill, I made another audible and used the Nature Trail and Novice Trail marked with green and blue blazes to take a slightly different route back to the parking lot, passing by more wildflowers and a “Castle Tree,” silhouetted against the late afternoon sun. Aroostook State Park, Maine’s first state park, is about 800 acres, and open all year, 9 am – sunset daily. Restroom facilities are available during season, and pets must be leashed at all times.

Castle Tree on Novice Trail, Aroostook State Park

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Suckfish Brook Conservation Area (Falmouth, ME)

Bench by beaver dam and pond, Suckfish Brook Conservation Area, Falmouth, ME

Suckfish Brook Conservation Area is a two-part preserve in Falmouth and Westbrook to the east of Highland Lake, a total of about 132 acres in size. On a mid-December day, I explored the 94-acre preserve in Falmouth by the Falmouth Land Trust, with a trail system maintained by the Town of Falmouth that begins in the Conservation Area and connects to trails made possible by neighboring landowners. The Conservation Area is named for the white sucker fish, which spawns in the eponymous brook. The small parking area is at the end of Upland Road, off Mast Road close to the Falmouth/Westbrook line. Navigation through Suckfish Brook Conservation Area can be difficult, as the maps are good, but some of the trails, particularly those through the Christmas tree farm owned by Skillins, are unsigned. I typically use the AllTrails application to navigate and track hikes, but in this case, the best way I found to navigate was using the QR code on the trail sign to access the Google Maps version of the trail map, showing my position relative to my anticipated route. In addition, the AllTrails trailhead directions tried to send me towards the wrong side of Falmouth.

Stone wall, Suckfish Brook Conservation Area, Falmouth, ME

I made a loop by taking the Huston Trail clockwise to the Stone Ridge Trail, the Presidential Trail, the Red Tail Trail, and back north on the Presidential Trail to the Huston Trail, with a quick stop at the Beaver Trail. This route along the edges of the Conservation Area was about 2.6 miles, and easily completed in an hour. A sign and map kiosk mark the beginning of the trails, which are open sunrise to sunset. Shortly after the parking lot, a series of plank bridges led to the right, with a view over a small pond, a bench, and a beaver dam at the pond’s outlet. Returning to the main trail, white-blazed Huston Trail splits to the north and south, and I went left/north. Leaves rattled on the trees and crunched underfoot, frozen under a thin carpet of snow. There are periodic placards along the trail with notices and QR codes regarding the history of the area. The Huston Trail is named for William Huston and his family, the historical landowners. Huston was a forester working for the King of England’s mast agent for Maine, and white pines were harvested for Royal Navy masts here, hence the name of Mast Road, as well.

View of White Mountains from Presidential Trail, Suckfish Brook Conservation Area, Falmouth, ME

The Huston Trail turned right along a low stone wall and intersected with the yellow-blazed Stone Ridge Trail near a monument in the memory of William Huston and family next to a No Trespassing sign. This part of the trail was closed at the request of the landowner. A hand-printed sign and yellow diamonds on the trees denoted the “new yellow” section, along with small orange flags on the right margin of the trail. This new section switches back and forth across a low hill, crossing a wide gas pipeline corridor and then a power line corridor. On the east side of the corridor, the trail re-enters the woods, running concurrently downhill with a snowmobile trail through a long, wide tunnel of birches. This rolls across a series of brooks, before skirting the edge of the Christmas tree farm. A sign that is on the other side of the farm advises the property is actively hunted from October 15th to December 1st, and that during that time, visitors should only walk between 10 am and 2 pm.

Beaver Trail, Suckfish Brook Conservation Area, Falmouth, ME

The trail turns into a path through the farm, climbing the hillside with views to the west of the White Mountains, with the snowy cap of Mount Washington clearly visible. Here were the only icy parts of the hike, as rain and melt had frozen in the ruts of the road, creating a slick track. At the top of the hill, there was finally a trail sign denoting the Presidential Trail, and I started downhill on the road. Shortly before the base of the hill, I found a fallen sign for the Red Tail Trail and followed it to the left, curving around the edge of the farm and back to the Presidential Trail. Every now and again, the wind picked up the pleasant scent of the small pines being cultivated. The trail, marked with orange diamonds, eventually pops back into the forest, crossing a small brook, and then moves back across the power lines, through a small tree line, and to the gas line corridor, following this wide gap briefly before turning left through a small break in the stone wall. A sign announced the return to the Suckfish Brook Conservation Area, and I turned left onto the Huston Trail to the small Beaver Trail spur, which is across the marshy pond from the beaver dam and the parking area. From here, it was a short walk around the edge of the pond to my starting point. The trailhead parking, empty when I arrived, was full when I returned.

Suckfish Brook Conservation Area, Falmouth, ME

Edwin L. Smith Preserve (Kennebunkport, ME)

Morning light, Steele Trail, Edwin L. Smith Preserve, Kennebunkport, ME

The surprisingly big Edwin L. Smith Preserve in Kennebunk, Maine is the largest holding of the Kennebunkport Conservation Trust (KCT) and sits on over 1,100 acres. Smith Preserve, known for birding and biking, is part of an undeveloped 3,000-acre block of land which KCT’s web site describes as the largest such coastal block between Kittery and Brunswick. The provenance of this area is unique – a large 1947 fire destroyed multiple homes and farms, resulting in an eventual tax default. The land then reverted to the town of Kennebunkport as the town forest, but in 2002, Kennebunkport residents voted to transfer 741 of these acres to KCT. On the first weekend of December, I hiked a long counterclockwise lollipop loop through Smith Preserve, using the Steele Trail, Bobcat Ridge extension, Bobcat Ridge Trail, and the Trolley Trail to return to the Steele Trail. This easy 8-mile loop over rolling terrain took about two and a half hours. A printable map is available from the KCT site.

Batson River crossing, Steele Trail, Edwin L. Smith Preserve, Kennebunkport, ME

The trailhead is on Guinea Road in Kennebunkport, marked by a tasteful engraved stone with a parking area opposite. This lot has a capacity of about 15-20 cars, and on this early winter morning, most of the license plates were from New Hampshire. The well-signed trail begins in a marshy area paralleling the road. Up-to-date maps with “you are here” points are placed strategically at trail intersections, and there are small periodic alternate flourishes off the trail for mountain bikes. The yellow-blazed Steele Trail is the “main drag,” but longer or shorter loop hikes can be created by using the loop trails along the way, like the Brook Trail, Fox Den Trail, and Beacon Trail. A Forestry Management Project is underway in a 20-acre section of the trail, and placards educate visitors regarding its purpose.

Bobcat Ridge Extension Trail, Edwin L. Smith Preserve, Kennebunkport, ME

The Fox Den Trail intersection signals the beginning of a slight uphill leading all the way to the high points of Bobcat Ridge, with large boulders throughout. The Round Swamps Brook runs parallel to the trail until slightly after Fox Ridge. The trail twists and curves, using switchbacks over a series of low ridges, and low-lying areas, eventually crossing the Batson River. I ran into a healthy mix of mountain bikers, dog walkers, and trail runners throughout the hike. The birds were quiet for the most part, but I finally heard some chickadees and sparrows about 2 1/2 miles down the Steele Trail. Slightly after a small bridge crossing the Batson River for the second time, I reached the intersection of the Bobcat Ridge Extension Trail. This area can look confusing on the map, but stay straight to tackle the Bobcat Ridge Extension, or left to continue on the Steele Trail (right leads to private property).

Bobcat Ridge Extension Trail, Edwin L. Smith Preserve, Kennebunkport, ME

The Bobcat Ridge Trail leads past well-named points like “Lichen Ledge”, which likely serve as rallying points for mountain bikers (the trails are, in fact, marked with ski symbols for difficulty). As a hiker, I didn’t have any issues with the bikers – they were universally audible and courteous. The Trolley Trail was a bit flooded, and a kitschy Christmas tree sat in front of a bench at one point of the trail, but this, along with the drone of a single-engine plane and the blast of a foghorn, was one of the few signs of civilization on the forested trail, located in an otherwise populous area of southeastern Maine. I finished the hike refreshed, returning to a full parking lot.

Trolley Trail, Edwin L. Smith Preserve, Kennebunkport, ME

Cooley Preserve at Center Pond (Phippsburg, ME)

Tree overlooking Center Pond, Cooley Preserve at Center Pond, Phippsburg, ME

Cooley Preserve at Center Pond, also known as Center Pond Preserve, is located in Phippsburg and maintained by the Phippsburg Land Trust. Cooley Preserve, known for its bird habitat and wildflowers, contains 253 acres of woods, ledges, a beaver pond turned into a marsh, and the shoreline of Center Pond. A friend and I explored the trails on a cold but sunny late November day. The trailhead off Parker House Road is just south of a narrow neck between Center Pond and the Kennebec River, directly across the river from Squirrel Point light. The parking area has a sign-in notebook, with space for trail brochures (none when we visited), and a sign lists access to McKay Farm Preserve via the South Perimeter Trail. Online, the brochure notes that the Preserve is named for Mrs. Eleanor Cooley, from whom Phippsburg Land Trust acquired this, its first property, in 1995.

Trail map at Cooley Center Pond Preserve, Phippsburg, ME

Atop the trail guide box was a laminated version of the only map of the Preserve’s trails that I’ve seen, which is incomplete (no link to McKay Farm can be found off the South Perimeter Trail, and other new trails are not listed), and not aligned with north at the top like a traditional map. A sign encouraged hikers to wear blaze orange, which we took to heart on this late November day, the last day of deer hunting season. We navigated using the guide box map, as well as the AllTrails application and dead reckoning. Combining the Drummond Loop, Andy’s Way (signed, but not on the map), Schoolhouse Trail, Elbow Hill Trail, Perimeter Trail South, and Perimeter Trail North, we cobbled together a loop around the perimeter of the Preserve totaling about 5.5 miles.

AllTrails map of route taken through Center Pond Preserve, Phippsburg, ME

This easy hike took us a little over two hours, with plenty of time to stop and enjoy the various viewpoints. Near the trailhead, there are petroglyphs, or rock carvings, which you can find for yourself by following purple blazes or read about on Phippsburg Land Trust’s site (we are more aligned with a Leave No Trace philosophy, and these definitely aren’t our thing). The Drummond Loop led uphill from the parking area, then downhill to a left turn to pick up the loop. Shortly thereafter, we encountered a new sign for Andy’s Way, a blazed trail leading southeast, and followed this path over mixed forest, past tall ledges, until it reached the Schoolhouse Trail. There were vestiges of the farmland this used to be, with stone walls, and old barbed wire growing slowly back into the landscape.

View from Elbow Hill, Cooley Center Pond Preserve, Phippsburg, ME

We turned left again on the Schoolhouse Trail, and eventually crossed Elbow Hill Road, up to the small loop overlooking Mill Pond and the Kennebec, a height of land which was anonymously donated to Phippsburg Land Trust in 2009. We then doubled back down the Schoolhouse Trail, a wide, mossy former woods road, until reaching the Perimeter Trail South, where we turned left, headed toward the southern end of the Preserve. The link to the McKay Farm Preserve trails are at this southern end, but we bypassed this trail, not having any map or sense of their direction. A map on the Phippsburg Land Trust site lists the distance of the McKay Farm Preserve Trail as 4.8 miles round-trip from the Cooley parking lot, and currently only accessible through Cooley Center Pond Preserve.

Center Pond, Cooley Center Pond Preserve, Phippsburg, ME

The Perimeter Trail South continues north through a low-lying swampy area, coalescing into a wider stream bounding the west side of the Preserve, as it leads toward Center Pond. Along this stretch, the forest was surprisingly green for late November, with many ferns and other flora maintaining their verdant colors. On the broad, shallow pond, we saw common eider ducks making slow black-and-white turns on the icy water, with the wave movements making tinkling sounds of the ice collecting near the shoreline.

Beaver Pond, Cooley Center Pond Preserve, Phippsburg, ME

We briefly picked up the Drummond Trail, which encircles the beaver pond, then doubled back onto the Perimeter Trail North, which led to a small point of land facing south onto Center Pond. As the trail followed the shoreline, it began to climb the ledges at the northern end of the pond, with some steep climbing. Then we moved inland, through a series of high ledges, back to the Drummond Trail, and the parking area. We did not encounter anyone else on the trails, and while visible houses and road noise sometimes punctuated the hike, there were long stretches in which one would have no idea that they were that close to civilization.

Ledges, Cooley Center Pond Preserve, Phippsburg, ME

Pineland Public Reserved Lands

North Loop, Pineland Public Reserved Lands, New Gloucester, ME

The Pineland Public Reserved Lands trailhead is located in New Gloucester, Maine, just south of the Pineland Farms complex on Depot Road, with year-round trails on either side of the road making a figure-eight loop, with Depot Road as the fulcrum at the center. The Lands themselves consist of over 600 acres of undeveloped forest in New Gloucester, Gray, and North Yarmouth. The best maps and descriptions can be found on Maine Trail Finder or Maine By Foot. The southern end of the trails connects to a much longer network of Pineland Corridor mixed use trails leading to Bradbury Mountain State Park, used primarily in the summer by mountain bikers.

Fall colors on North Loop, Pineland Public Reserved Lands, New Gloucester, ME

We completed this leisurely 3.2-mile loop in about an hour and twenty minutes in early October’s peak foliage, taking the northern (1.7 mi) and then southern (1.5 mi) loops each in a clockwise direction before returning to the trailhead. The trailhead is marked by a prominent brown sign on Depot Road with a pine tree on it, with a wide dirt/gravel parking area. A picnic area is adjacent to the trailhead. Plank walkways cover low or wet areas in the North Loop path, as the trail winds mostly downhill through mixed forest, with abundant ferns. Crows, black-capped chickadees, and blue jays called loudly through the widely-spaced trees.

Royal River rail bridge, North Loop, Pineland Public Reserved Lands, New Gloucester, ME

The blue-blazed North Loop crosses a couple pleasant brooks before reaching their outlet, with a 350-foot spur trail leading to the Royal River. Here, a rail bridge spanned the quiet flow, and the conically chewed signs of beaver activity were evident. A slight uphill grade led back toward Depot Road, which we carefully crossed to access the South Loop.

North Loop, Pineland Public Reserved Lands, New Gloucester, ME

This trail opened up substantially around a large area that looked like a former gravel pit or quarry, then became more narrow upon crossing an old logging road, leading back towards Depot Road, with Town Farm Road bounding the Lands to the west. Maine Trail Finder lists this as a fairly busy trail, particularly on weekend days, and there was plenty of foot traffic (both two- and four-footed), particularly on the North Loop. Upon return to the trailhead, we headed towards the Pineland Farms complex, where we had lunch at The Market at Pineland Farms, a great place for fresh soups, sandwiches, and baked goods.

Fall colors on South Loop, Pineland Public Reserved Lands, New Gloucester, ME

Orono Bog Boardwalk

Orono Bog Boardwalk, Orono, ME

The Orono Bog Boardwalk, adjacent to the Bangor City Forest, is located off Stillwater Avenue just north of the Bangor Mall area. The easy, flat 1-mile Boardwalk, celebrating its 20th year in 2022, is a joint venture of the University of Maine, the City of Bangor, and the Orono Land Trust. Updates on conditions and opening hours are available through the Boardwalk’s Facebook page. The Boardwalk is closed during the winter, and from the designated opening day in the spring through Labor Day, open from 7 am to 6:30 pm, with hours gradually getting shorter in September and October until closing for winter the Sunday after Thanksgiving, when it is 8 am to 3:30 pm. We had visited the Boardwalk before as a stopover to stretch our legs on the way back south from Katahdin.

Orono Bog Boardwalk, Orono, ME

On a rainy late September morning, I parked at the Bangor City Forest parking lot on Tripp Road and turned immediately right onto the wide flat East-West Loop Trail through the trees. It was quiet, except for red squirrels, and a little over a quarter mile to the Boardwalk, the entrance situated behind an information kiosk, a picnic table, and a bike rack. There are restroom facilities available, close by and clearly marked. The Boardwalk elevates over the bog, which is filled with large, lush ferns, wide leaves of skunk cabbage, and ash and maple trees perched on hummocks, with periodic benches to sit and watch the plants and wildlife. I heard but didn’t see a white-breasted nuthatch and a hairy woodpecker.

Pitcher plants, Orono Bog Boardwalk, Orono, ME

After moving through the trees, the Boardwalk opens wide onto the 616-acre Orono Bog itself, with blueberries, cranberries, exotic-looking pitcher plants of all colors, and red peat moss, an almost impossible variety and density of life that looks like a Hollywood CGI version of another planet. I saw many low-lying bog rosemary plants, named only for their resemblance to the herb, as they are poisonous members of the Andromeda family.

Fall colors at Orono Bog Boardwalk, Orono, ME

In this wider area, I heard the frequent sound of jays and smaller birds. A small brown bird disappeared into a hummock right in front of me, and I puzzled over its disappearance, until it zoomed out on the other side, circling in watching me: a small, bobbing palm warbler. A series of educational placards dotted the Boardwalk, with relevant plants and wildlife. On the return I took a slightly different route after leaving the Boardwalk loop back to the parking area for the end of this short hike.

Orono Bog Boardwalk, Orono, ME

Barrell Ridge

View of North Traveler from Barrell Ridge Trail, Baxter State Park, ME

On the last day of a mid-September weekend hiking trip to Baxter State Park, I snuck in a morning hike before I packed up my South Branch Pond campsite, heading to Barrell Ridge (2085 ft) via Middle Fowler Pond Trail. I got the route for this moderate six mile out-and-back hike from Hiking Maine’s Baxter State Park and the suggestion of the South Branch Pond ranger. You can navigate using the South Branch Pond printable map from Baxter State Park. The trailhead is shared with the Ledges Trail and South Branch Nature Trail, a short walk north from South Branch Pond Campground, and branches off toward Middle Fowler Pond after about a third of a mile.

View northwest from ledges on Middle Fowler Pond Trail, Baxter State Park, ME

The fall morning was quiet and wet with dew, and the only forest sounds were jays and red squirrels hopping about their business. The sun was up but had not yet climbed over the Traveler Mountain massif, the blazing orange outline of which was visible through the deciduous trees to the right of the path. The thick trees briefly opened up above a creek bed with more expansive views of the North Ridge and North Traveler Mountain facing me to the south. The trail climbed steadily uphill, changing to ledges and scrub pine, with more views of the Traveler, then popped back into the fern and maple-filled forest, before emerging back onto a ledge on the side of Little Peaked Mountain with a panorama to the north and west.

Barrell Ridge rock face from Middle Fowler Pond Trail, Baxter State Park, ME

Coming off another ledge into the forest, I observed large moose prints in the mud that appeared to be recent and later, fresh dark moose poop. As the trail winds along the side of a ridge in the woods, it briefly becomes more of a goat path, periodically opening up to more ledges. Shortly after a couple stream crossings of Dry Brook, including a waterfall view, the trail bears left and up, getting steep as it climbs the last ridge before the trail intersection, with great views, then a quick descent.

Sharp, rugged rhyolite on Barrell Ridge Trail, Baxter State Park, ME

After the intersection with the Barrell Ridge Trail, it’s a short steep climb of about a third of a mile to the top of the ridge, sometimes clamoring hand over hand. The hard, striated rhyolite rock made me glad I was wearing boots, rather than trailrunners. Here at the summit, marked by a sign propped up by a rock cairn, were sweeping views and a cool breeze. After a snack, I picked my way back down to the trail and turned right to head back on the Middle Fowler Pond Trail to pack up, a total hike of about 6.3 miles, completed in about two hours and 45 minutes.

Views from Barrell Ridge, Baxter State Park, ME

(Disclaimer: This post contains affiliate links, and as an Amazon Associate Hiking in Maine blog earns from qualifying purchases.)