Fish River Falls (Fort Kent)

Entry to Fish River Falls Trail at the end of the runway, Fort Kent Municipal Airport

The Fish River, popular with fishermen and boaters, completes its run north to the St. John River in Fort Kent in a line roughly parallel to Route 11 in Aroostook County, Maine. This portion of the road, beginning at Portage Lake to the south, is the Fish River Scenic Byway. According to a link on the site of the Northern Door Inn, a quiet, clean hotel where we spent a couple nights, locals bring inner tubes to the base of Fish River Falls to float down the approximately four miles to Fort Kent. But even if you don’t have the time or equipment to navigate this stretch, the hike to Fish River Falls is an easy twenty to forty minute round trip with great views.

Descending Fish River Falls Trail, Fort Kent, ME

The Falls, which are listed as a Unique Natural Feature (UNF) in the Maine Atlas and Gazetteer, themselves lie at the end of an approximately half-mile downhill trail originating at a parking area by the Fort Kent Municipal Airport (at the end of Airport Road). Confusingly, their location is listed in the Gazetteer as T14 R8 WELS, the unincorporated township at the source of the Fish River, but the falls themselves are marked as a UNF on the map (page 67) containing Fort Kent. You will see signs for the trail, and (carefully) cross the end of the runway into the woods by a covered picnic table and a toilet facility.

Fish River Falls from an overlook near the picnic area, Fort Kent, ME

The entire loop is only about 1.2 miles, moving from the central trail up to the falls and down to a portage launch spot below them. On the day we visited, a fly fishing lesson was ongoing at the sheltered table, and we passed several people, including small children, while we were heading down to the falls and on our way back. To spend more time in this pretty spot, pack a lunch, and use the picnic area at the terminus of the trail. The trail winds briefly through pine woods, and over a small stream, reaching the banks of the Fish River.

Fish River Falls, Fort Kent, ME

The falls themselves were impressive, even in a dry early summer, and must rage in the spring thaw. According to a Fort Kent comprehensive use plan on the Maine Department of Agriculture, Conservation, and Forestry (DACF) site, six river drivers were killed running logs through these falls during logging days, and their names are inscribed on a ledge near the falls. While the river driving days are over, we saw a lone, battered kayak pinned to a rock by the torrent, and wondered what the story was behind its abandonment. Unfortunately, other items were left behind, including multiple discarded beer/liquor cans. These did not, however, distract from the sounds of the river, the scent of the evergreens by the trail, and the quiet green meadow by the portage launch at the base of the falls. The Fish River Falls are a wonderful spot, too easily accessible to miss out on when visiting Fort Kent.

Portage launch at base of Fish River Falls, Fort Kent, ME

Burnt Meadow Mountain (Brownfield, ME)

Descending from North Peak via the Twin Brook Trail, Burnt Meadow Mountain, Brownfield, ME
Descending from North Peak via the Twin Brook Trail, Burnt Meadow Mountain, Brownfield, Maine

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 at the town boat launch down Route 160.  For updated winter trail conditions, check the Burnt Meadow Mountain Trail page on All Trails.  On winter days, the snow on the trail is usually packed, and micro-spikes help with some of the resulting ice on rocks.  The only deeper snow lies on the lesser-used 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 clear days, you will see hawks wheeling below, and the green, serrated sharks’ teeth rows of the surrounding hills and ridges.  In winter, the climb has 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. Along the way in June 2021, I saw two red-shouldered hawks patrolling the area recently harvested for lumber, looking for small mammals. These open cuts allow for the growth of fragrant sweet fern, and blossoms promised blackberries later in the season. Shortly before returning to the trail junction, I spooked a herd of small deer, who disappeared into the thick forest.

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.

The Stone Mountain Trail is better in winter, 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 may require some travel through deeper snow, with snowshoes being possibly necessary.

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

The Whistle Stop General Store in Baldwin is a good place to grab food – open all winter for snowmobilers and other travelers. Alternately, according to a recent Press Herald article, Gneiss Brewing in Limerick has food truck options on summer days.

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

Baldface Circle Trail (Chatham, NH)

Bicknell Ridge and beyond, from Baldface Circle Trail, Chatham, NH

The Baldfaces (North and South) are a difficult but rewarding hike just over the (Maine) border in Chatham, NH, part of the White Mountain National Forest (WMNF). I used the Baldface Circle Trail, with stops at the spur for Emerald Pool, and a short diversion through Chandler Gorge, for a challenging 10.1 mile clockwise “lollipop” loop that took a little under five hours, and hit the peaks of South Baldface (3,570 ft) and North Baldface (3,610 ft). To navigate, I used my well-worn AMC White Mountain Guide, with the Baldface Loop on Map 5. A digital map is also available on the WMNF U.S. Forest Service site. The well-maintained parking area (with toilets) is located on NH route 113 in Chatham, with parking for approximately fifteen cars, and is usually full on summer days and weekends.

Emerald Pool, Baldface Circle Trail, WMNF, Chatham, NH

If, like me, you take topgraphical maps literally, completely disregard the map kiosk at the parking area, which shows the parking area directly across 113 from the trail. Walk north on the shoulder about sixty yards to take the trail upward, following yellow blazes through a pine forest which gives way slowly to birch and other deciduous trees, with the sound of thrushes and robins busy with their morning business. I stopped by the short spur trail to gaze down into Emerald Pool, which was deep, green, cool and clear, living up to expectations.

Chandler Brook, Chandler Gorge Loop, WMNF, Chatham, NH

I rejoined the Baldface Circle Trail, and turned south (go straight across from Emerald Pool spur, for those not into cardinal directions), taking the loop in a clockwise direction, based upon the advice of the White Mountain Guide and online articles, which describe the steep scrambles of South Baldface as being difficult on descent. After a slow upward climb, I reached the Chandler Gorge Loop trail, which adds a little distance, but reconnects with the Baldface Circle. I was soon rewarded with views of quiet Chandler Brook cascading down deeper and deeper defilades. As always, absent a compelling reason not to, take the side trails and overlooks.

The long, steep trail up South Baldface, WMNF, Chatham, NH

Returning to the main Baldface Circle Trail, I began an extended climb up steep stone staircases, eventually leading to the Baldface Shelter on the right. This shelter is well-located in a network of WMNF trails where you can choose several multi-day hikes. I saw several shrouded forms sleeping in the morning sun, and kept moving quietly by. Shortly after that began the alpine zone, denoted by signs. This is where the climbing really starts, and you can see how this would be difficult to descend, particularly in wet weather. Given how exposed to the elements the middle part of this loop is, it would be advisable to just pick another hike in bad weather (or probability of thunderstorms) or with recent rain.

White Mountain wildlife, Baldface Circle Trail

But the degree of difficulty yields rewards as well, as a fantastic ridge hike begins here, with expansive views for much of the time above timberline. From South Baldface Summit you can see a 360° panoramic view of the Whites in New Hampshire and Maine, including Mount Washington’s weather station and some remaining snow at Tuckerman’s Ravine. The alpine zone was full of sunlight, flowers, butterflies, bees, and birds. Brief intervals of alpine scrub forests allow for shade in the rolling terrain between the South and North peaks.

North Baldface summit, Baldface Circle Trail, WMNF, Chatham, NH

From North Baldface, follow trail signs for Eagle Crag, as the Bicknell Ridge Trail is unsigned, and it would be easy to get a ways down there thinking you are still on the Baldface Circle Trail. The steep descent leads to fields of light green ferns below the alpine zone, then the varied greens of a deciduous forest with sprawling broad-leafed hobblebush. The trail was uncrowded on this mid-June morning, with just a few friendly hikers passing in the opposite direction. Bugs were not bad at all, with an occasional mosquito settling on me when I happened to stop, but otherwise clear, even in some of the few marshy sections.

Baldface Circle Trail, WMNF, Chatham, NH

I saw moose droppings of mixed vintage along the trail near streams, and heard sounds in the forest, but no large animal image resolved itself through the trees. The foliage changed back to birch and pine as I descended, and I stopped on the way in a quiet area to cool off in a large, deep pool in the stream adjoining the trail, and felt refreshed and enervated. Passing the intersections with the Eagle Cascade Link, Bicknell Ridge Trail, and Emerald Pool spur, I continued back to the parking lot, now full of vehicles.

Charles Brook, Baldface Circle Trail, WMNF, Chatham, NH

Peaks Island Loop

Casco Bay Lines Ferry Terminal, Portland, Maine

What is a hike, really, but a long walk, preferably in the countryside? Sometimes the sense of getting away can be amplified by the journey to get to the hike’s starting point, whether it be a long drive through strange places, a bus ride, or in this case, a boat trip. While it may seem hard to escape the (relative) bustle of Maine’s largest city, a 4-mile loop with birds, flowers, and ocean vistas is only seventeen minutes away via Casco Bay Lines. Like Moosehead’s Mount Kineo, this hike begins after a short ferry ride, a trip across Portland Harbor to Peaks Island, part of the city of Portland. The Casco Bay Lines Terminal is located at 56 Commercial Street, Portland, Maine, and the ferry schedule is posted here. As of May 2021, round-trip tickets are $7.70 for adults (14 and over), $3.85 for kids/seniors/disabled, and free for children under 5. You can bring bikes for a small fee, or rent them on-island (golf carts can also be rented, but that’s not hiking). The voyage from Portland to Peaks allows views of Fort Gorges, the harbor, seabirds, and occasional seals.

Rugosa roses and view of Cushing Island from Peaks Island, Maine

Portland Trails has a map on their site of the approximately 4-mile Peaks Island Loop. For more detail, check out the Peaks Island Land Preserve, which maintains the small, wild and/or historical places along the way. On a place like Peaks, time for visitors and businesses is measured by the ferry schedule, so allow a couple hours to fully explore the island before catching a ferry back. Simply turn right or left upon walking up the hill from the ferry, and follow the shoreline. If you get off-track, respect private property, and signs will typically get you back on the route which traces the perimeter of the island, predominantly along Island Ave and Seashore Ave.

East side of Peaks Island, with view of Ram Island Ledge Light Station in the distance

Bring a small bag or backpack with you, with water and sunscreen, as most of the places to get those items lie within a stone’s throw of the ferry terminal. Hannigan’s Island Market has everything you need for an ad hoc picnic. For those with younger children who don’t think a long, sunny walk would be the best option, follow Island Ave to the left to City Point Road and the boat ramp. The beaches there are full of barnacle-covered rocks, sea glass, and skittering crabs. This part of the walk is somewhat of a home and garden tour. The shore of the island’s eastern side is more dramatic, with large waves crashing on rocks.

Entrance to Battery Steele Conservation Area, Peaks Island, Maine

Battery Steele, about halfway around the island on the eastern side, is a World War II-era gun emplacement, part of the former Peaks Island Military Reservation (PIMR). The PIMR used to cover a quarter of the island’s land area, and served to guard Portland Harbor and Casco Bay against the threat of enemy ships and submarines. Now overgrown by vines and shrubs, these recessed turrets and tunnels can be explored by flashlight. Daughter used to challenge herself to see how far she could walk down these dark, spooky walkways without using a flashlight.

Battery Steele, Peaks Island, Maine

Central Avenue can be used as a mid-island cutoff, if trying to make it to a ferry, and leads to some quiet trails in the Hundred Acre Wood. While waiting for the ferry ride back, hopefully you’ve left yourself time for lunch or a drink, maybe even an ice cream. Our favorite is the friendly Island Lobster Company, on Island Ave just south of Peaks’ main intersection by the ferry. The beach adjoining the ferry pier will give up sea glass if you search for it, which makes a good distraction for kids. A trip to Peaks Island is a day well-spent, a unique ocean walk.

View across Portland Harbor from Peaks Island, Maine

Evergreen Trails (Portland, ME)

Evergreen Loop Trail, Evergreen Cemetery, Portland, Maine

Evergreen Cemetery in Portland is Maine’s second largest, checking in at 239 acres. The combination of green space habitat and (relative) solitude make it a popular birdwatching and walking area, located directly behind the University of New England (UNE) Portland Campus. The small ponds at the northwest edge of Evergreen are places to observe tadpoles, frogs, newts, turtles, snakes, large snapping turtles, and waterfowl throughout the warmer seasons. In addition to the paved, gravel, and dirt roads of the cemetery itself, Evergreen is traversed by Portland Trails’ extensive network, including the 10-mile Forest City Trail, which runs from the Presumpscot River to the Stroudwater.

Ledges in Evergreen Woods, Evergreen Cemetery, Portland, Maine

On a sunny April day, we hiked through the cemetery to Evergreen Woods, using the Evergreen Loop Trail to make a circuit. Trail maps and information are available from Portland Trails. The cemetery is open daily from 7am to dusk (if you park inside the cemetery, check the hours, as the gates typically close around 6:30 or so, and your vehicle could be locked in). We parked on Stevens Avenue, and used the Baxter Trail by the chapel to access the Loop Trail from its entrance by the duck ponds. Access is also available at the end of Woodvale Street, and from the Brentwood neighborhood. Map kiosks are available at each trail intersection, but they appear new enough that they do not include the critical “You are here” dot, so pay attention to your route.

Marshy area, Evergreen Loop Trail, Portland, Maine

The trails, however, are well-marked, well-maintained, and provide a gateway to forests and ledges that are surprisingly wild, within the boundaries of the city of Portland. The Ledges Trail, in particular, is popular with mountain bikers seeking some rocks and elevation. On-leash dogs are also welcome (and plentiful) in this area. We enjoyed seeing new spring buds, including blossoming trout lilies. Robins, jays, and chickadees called and flew through the woods, and we even saw a large hawk scouring the cemetery for the many squirrels and chipmunks who make it their home.

Great Horned Owl, Evergreen Cemetery, Portland, Maine

As a special bonus, Great Horned Owls often use the large trees and open hunting grounds offered by the Cemetery for nests. This May, we saw them in trees overhanging the Westin and Gage plots, near the intersection of Sunset Drive and Basswood.

The Evergreen Cemetery trails are a perfect afternoon or lunch break hike for those in the Portland area, looking for green space.

Edge of Evergreen Cemetery, Evergreen Loop Trail, Portland, Maine

Step Falls Preserve (Newry, ME)

Afternoon sunlight on Wight Brook, Step Falls Preserve, Newry, Maine

Step Falls Preserve is a twenty-four acre parcel hugging the banks of Wight Brook in Newry, Maine. We visited at the beginning of May, during a road trip to see waterfalls during the spring melt. In the summer months, the shallow pools and falls are refreshing places to cool off with a dip, wade, or swim. Parking is available in a lot off Bear River Road/Route 26. The 3/4 mile trail to the top of the falls is fairly easy, with some roots and steep spots towards the end. Due to the popularity of this spot, it often fills up quickly on weekends and nice summer days.

Step Falls, Wight Brook, Newry, Maine

Parking is not allowed on Route 26, and visitors are also required to observe the signage and boundaries. If the lot is full, try instead the trails and sights of Bethel or Grafton Notch State Park, between which Step Falls is located. The nearest restroom facilities are at Screw Auger Falls, 1.6 miles north on Route 26. A trail map and information regarding the Preserve are available on the website of Mahoosuc Land Trust, which received ownership of Step Falls Preserve from The Nature Conservancy in 2012.

Step Falls, Newry, Maine

Cathance River Nature Preserve (Topsham, ME)

Cathance River Trail (West), Topsham, Maine

The Cathance River Trails are a surprising green space, with a wild river ravine, in Topsham tucked next to the Highland Green development, within the sound of I-295. These are part of the Cathance River Nature Preserve, a 235 acre preserve composed of private land held in a conservation easement by the Brunswick-Topsham Land Trust. Closed due to COVID-19 restrictions for much of 2020, they are now partially re-opened, as of April 2021. Up-to-date information regarding the best places to park and map with trail closures can be found on the Cathance River Education Alliance webpage. The trails described in this post are mostly open. Dogs are not permitted in Cathance River Nature Preserve.

Cathance River Trail, Topsham, Maine

For a great loop hike using the available trails, just use the Rapids Trail to cut off the route described. On a mid-January day, I started with the Vernal Pool Trail, connecting past its namesake, a flat pond with a dock and nature signage, to the Highland Trail (blue blazes). This pleasant woodlands walk led over rocky hills with moss and patches of snow to a rolling, pleasant descent to the Cathance River. Here, it connected to the white-blazed Cathance River Trail (West), passing the intersection with the Barnes Leap Trail.

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Knight’s Pond Preserve

White Trail, Knight’s Pond Preserve, Cumberland, Maine

Knight’s Pond Preserve is a 334-acre preserve that straddles the town lines of Cumberland and North Yarmouth, with the 46-acre Knight’s Pond as the focal point. Parking is available in a small lot at 477 Greely Road Extension just short of Mill Brook, and on the street at the end of Greely Road Extension. The most current map is located on the Royal River Conservation Trust (RRCT) website, and includes more details and place names than the printed ones you will likely find in the kiosk at the parking lot. The property is managed by the Towns of Cumberland and North Yarmouth, the Chebeague & Cumberland Land Trust (CCLT), which has a printable scavenger hunt for kids, as well as the RRCT. The trails are well-marked and maintained, with trail map kiosks at most intersections.

Blue Trail leading to Bobcat Mountain, Knight’s Pond Preserve, Cumberland, Maine

We chose a sunny early April day for a full circuit of the Preserve, which took an hour and a half to two hours, about 4.6 miles or so, going up to Bobcat “Mountain” then back around the pond to the western side of the Preserve. Dog walkers, hikers, kids, and mountain bikers were all out enjoying the sunny day. The pond was teeming with waterfowl, and we saw mallards, Canada geese, red-winged blackbirds, and smaller ducks too far away to identify. Beaver lodges are visible on the pond, as well, and the muddy shore is full of animal tracks. Looking at the photos taken by others, it appears Knight’s Pond is also a popular ice skating destination in the winter. Bobcat Mountain (350 feet) is at the northwest corner of the Preserve, and the gap in the trees created by power lines allows for views east to the smoke stacks of Cousins Island.

Knight’s Pond from northwest corner, Knight’s Pond Preserve, Cumberland, Maine
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Rines Forest

Light through the trees, Rines Forest, Cumberland, Maine

In mid-March, I hiked a loop using the Loop, Perimeter, and Waterfall Trails in Rines Forest in Cumberland, as a part of a longer loop including Hadlock Forest (Falmouth), which is connected through the Rines Trail. Rines Forest is a 268-acre woodland owned by the Town of Cumberland, and preserved through a conservation easement with the Chebeague & Cumberland Land Trust (CCLT). The Forest has a network of about 3 miles of trails open for hiking, cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, fishing, hunting, picnicking, horseback riding, and snowmobiling as designated (some trails are winter-only).

Loop Trail, Rines Forest, Cumberland, Maine

Parking is available on Range Road, on the south side of the Forest, about 1.2 miles from the intersection with Winn Road. Next to the parking area is a Frog Pond & Salamander Swamp. CCLT’s website includes a printable scavenger hunt for kids. Having begun across Range Road, I continued to follow the green CCLT markings for the trail, until reaching the white blazes of the Loop Trail. The spring thaw still incomplete, I wore micro spikes for the duration of the hike, and in the ice and snow, saw the frozen tracks of a large deer, or possibly a moose.

Waterfall Trail, Rines Forest, Cumberland, Maine
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Cliff Trail (Harpswell, ME)

Henry Creek lookout, Cliff Trail, Harpswell, ME

Note from Town of Harpswell website: from May 1, 2021 to October 1, 2021, the first 1/2 mile of Cliff Trail will be closed to hikers due to a Maine Conservation Corps construction project to make it ADA accessible. The remainder of the trail is open. Park at the Town Office (263 Mountain Road) and walk up the path behind the building to access the trail entrance/exit on Community Drive. There will be temporary signs and maps installed to help hikers with the changes while the work is being completed.

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 on Mountain Road, 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
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