Sabattus Mountain

Sabattus Mountain (1,253 ft) in Lovell, Maine is an easy, family-friendly hike with sweeping views of the Lakes Region and White Mountains.  Dad and Mom completed the 1.6 mile loop in about forty-five minutes at a relaxed pace, and Daughter went on ahead and finished in about half an hour.  You can find a detailed description of this hike in the AMC Maine Mountain Guide, or the AllTrails app (download the map beforehand – not much cell service near the mountain).

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Can you tell birches apart?  The Sabattus Mountain markers also help with ferns, mosses, and other trees.

 

The sign at the trailhead, located off Sabattus Mountain Road, credits cooperative efforts between the Maine Bureau of Parks and Lands and the Greater Lovell Land Trust (GLLT) with making possible public access to the area.  A look at GLLT’s web site shows they have many educational activities to offer, and multiple other trails.  The Sabattus Mountain loop trail, which passes through a variety of terrain, includes helpful markers identifying the flora.  We headed left at the loop to go up, and this seems like an easier ascent than the right/westerly path, which could be slick in rainy weather.

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The views from the summit were as advertised on this clear day at the end of June, and there are even a couple park benches from which to relax and enjoy the scenery.  Use caution with small children and dogs, as the cliffs drop off steeply.  An observation tower at the loop junction is no longer there – just the base exists now.

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Park bench on the summit

After a stop at the summit, we completed the loop, returning to the trailhead.  A great stop before or after this hike is the Center Lovell Market, which has everything you would want for a picnic, as well as a restaurant.  Sabattus Mountain is not that far from beautiful Pietree Orchard in Sweden, which has a farmstand, pick-your-own fruit options, and pizza.  And, as mentioned before on this blog, Ebenezer’s Pub in Lovell is the perfect place to enjoy a Belgian beer.

Douglas Mountain

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View from the stone tower at the summit

Douglas Mountain, the highest of the Saddleback hills near Sebago, is the third in a recent trio of Lakes Region hikes, preceded by Bald Pate Mountain and Holt Pond Preserve, all of which are in close proximity (I did the three hikes in a single day, so they are eminently achievable day hikes).  I hiked Douglas Mountain (1,416 ft) in Sebago in June 2018, via the Eagle Scout, Nature Loop, and Ledges Trails (2.3 miles, approximately one hour).  This is a hike we’ve done several times as a family.  These trails, part of the 169 acre Douglas Mountain Preserve, are maintained by the town of Sebago, which has a trail map and guide on its site. As usual, the AMC Maine Mountain Guide has a great description.  A fee of $3 is payable at a kiosk in the parking area.

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A mossy brook along the Eagle Scout Trail

The climb is a pleasant walk through the woods on a well-traveled path, with streams and beautiful trees.  On the Nature Loop, you can start to get a sense of height from the ledges, but for the most part, the foliage hides the horizon and longer views until you reach the summit.  As for Nature on the Loop, there were many mourning doves, plenty of wild blueberry plants, and innumerable chipmunks and red squirrels, who seemed suspiciously acclimated to humans.

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Two red squirrels hope for a handout along the Eagle Scout Trail

The summit’s stone tower allows for panoramic views, and a pictorial display helps to identify which peaks, lakes, and points of terrain you are able to see on a clear day.

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Entrance to the climb of the Ledges Trail, or the end of the trail, depending on your direction of travel

A steep descent down the Ledges Trail can be slippery in wet weather, so use caution in selecting your route.  The last .4 miles or so back to the parking lot is reached by walking along Douglas Mountain and Ledges Roads, past beautiful houses.  This route to the summit is substantially shorter than the Eagle Scout Trail, and would be a short, challenging scramble for younger hikers.

Holt Pond Preserve

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Boardwalk leading to Holt Pond

The Lakes Region of Maine continues to be a great place to hike.  I hiked Holt Pond Preserve in Bridgton, what turned out to be a 4.5 mile loop (approximately an hour and forty-five minutes), on a June morning after heavy rains.  Holt Pond Preserve is a preserve of over 400 acres, maintained by the Lakes Environmental Association (LEA), who have a site with interpretive guides and maps.

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LEA Map from website

No dogs, bicycles, or ATVs are allowed at Holt Pond. There is, however, a canoe launch, which looks like a great way to see Muddy River and Holt Pond.

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The preserve was alive with the sounds of waterfowl, including ducks and geese, and the distinctive calls of red-winged blackbirds and frogs.  The boardwalk allows for fascinating views of plants that you would normally need hip waders or a kayak to see, particularly pitcher plants.

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Pitcher plants next to the boardwalk

These carnivorous plants had flowers above them when I visited, something I had not yet seen. The bog breathed fetid air through the gaps in the boardwalk, a contrast to the cool breezes above.  Animals use the boardwalk pathways, too, and I tagged along at times behind a chipmunk and a small fledgling bird, both of whom were unable to yield the path until they reached solid ground.

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The trail’s path changed from bog to pine forest toward Grist Mill Road, and following it became more difficult, as it was overgrown, with a fair amount of upheaval to bridges and boardwalks from spring rains.

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The trail was a bit overgrown in places

This moisture also brought with it plenty of mosquitoes.  For those attempting the Southern Shore trail on the far side of Holt Pond, I would highly suggest pants and long sleeves, as well as insect repellent and a weather eye for poison ivy.

This stone wall on the trail bears the telltale sign of chipmunk dens – piles of pine cone scales

The trail skirts private property by moving onto Chaplins Mill Road briefly to the east of the preserve.  I clearly missed the turn back to the trail, so I took Grist Mill Road east (left) to make a loop back to the parking area.

While the full perimeter of Holt Pond might be a bit much for most kids, the boardwalk near the parking lot is a perfect excursion for young ones, particularly using the interpretive guide on LEA’s site.

And, as mentioned in the Bald Pate post, this trail network is connected to the Bald Pate Preserve via the Town Farm Brook Trail, which ascends Southwest to the Bob Chase Scenic Loop.

Bald Pate Mountain

The Lakes Region of Maine surrounding Sebago is a fantastic area for hiking, with many hikes in striking distance of lakefront idylls and other recreation.  Bald Pate Mountain (1,150 ft) is an easy to moderate hike in Bridgton, Maine, with many trail options, comprising 6.7 miles of trails.

On this June morning, I took the Bob Chase Scenic Loop to the summit, then the South Face Loop Trail, returning the same way to the parking lot, for an approximately 3 mile hike (about an hour and fifteen minutes at a relaxed pace).  Bald Pate trails are well-chronicled in the AMC Maine Mountain Guide, and the trail map and descriptions are available online from the Loon Echo Land Trust, which owns and manages the 486 acre Bald Pate Preserve.

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Bob Chase Trailhead at the parking lot/kiosk

Approaching Bald Pate from the south on Route 107, you can see the exposed rock that is the mountain’s namesake.  The parking lot is located on the east side of 107, just south of Five Fields Farm and XC Ski Center, at the top of a large hill.  The climb up 107 allowed the car to do a lot of the work of getting to the summit before I even started hiking.

When I arrived, the lot was empty, and a small circle of depressed grass and milkweed next to my car looked like a place where a deer had slept the night before.  I started up the Bob Chase Scenic Loop, with birch trees, lady slippers, wild blueberries, and ferns on either side, and red squirrels chattering loudly.

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Views west from the Bob Chase Trail

A wrong turn took me around a pleasant diversion/backtrack to the other side of the Bob Chase Scenic Loop, and I wound my way back to the summit.  This was not the fault of the trail maintainers, as the Bob Chase Loop is clearly marked in blue, and the South Face Loop is clearly marked in orange.

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View from the South Face Loop toward Peabody Pond

The summit is easy to reach in 25 minutes or less, with excellent views, and it looks like a riot of wild blueberries awaits those who hike it later in the summer.  The South Face Loop was much more challenging than the Bob Chase Trail, descending steeply, skirting the face of the mountain, and then ascending quickly to rejoin the summit (I thought several times, I already climbed this, didn’t I?).

 

The Pate Trail is a short, steep (.1 mi with 360 ft of elevation gain) trail connecting the summit to the South Face Loop, and I will have to try this one next time, as well as the Moose Trail, which can create a different loop back to the parking lot.

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Don’t forget to “tip your bartender.”  Conservation takes time and money.

This trail network is connected to the Holt Pond Preserve via the Town Farm Brook Trail, which descends northeast to the Holt Pond Trail, a link which could create a much longer hike in a very different environment (bog walkway). The Bald Pate summit is a nice, short hike, suitable for most age and skill levels, with great vistas along the way.

Burnt Meadow Mountain

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

On June 3, 2018, we hiked Burnt Meadow Mountain in Brownfield, Maine, via the Burnt Meadow Mountain Trail (blue blazes) and Twin Brook Trail (yellow blazes), an approximately 3.3 mile loop (took us about 2.5 hours at a relaxed pace).  These trails are well-maintained by the Appalachian Mountain Club (AMC) and the Friends of Burnt Meadow Mountain.

This is a favorite hike of ours, done many times before, 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.

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Map and trail description from trailhead kiosk along Rte 160 in Brownfield.

As usual, the best description of this hike is in the AMC Maine Mountain Guide.  An optional add-on to the loop is Stone Mountain, reached by a .7 mile spur off the Twin Brook Trail.  We decided to save that extra peak for when the blueberries are ready.

Not quite ready yet.

The Burnt Meadow Trail took us 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.

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

While the blueberries weren’t ready, 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.

 

The broad, open summit of Burnt Meadow is a great place for a picnic.  We didn’t linger too long, though, just enjoyed some jerky and proceeded across to the Twin Brook Trail.  A large cairn marked the point to start our descent.

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

 

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

Brownfield Town Beach

Sweetie’s Ice Cream in Standish is another great way to cool off on the way back to the Portland area.  We didn’t make it this time, as they weren’t open on our way home (they opened at noon, and we did a morning hike), but it’s a must-stop.  We did, however, stop at the Whistle Stop General Store in Baldwin to grab a hamburger, fries, and a coffee, all of which we enjoyed.

Hiking On The Road

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A bend in Quantico Creek at Prince William Forest Park

This blog has been quiet for a few weeks.  When you’re out of town, whether for business or vacation, you can easily get locked in to indoor spaces because of the comfort of a hotel room or the challenge of unfamiliar surroundings, particularly in a place that seems like it’s hopelessly locked in suburban sprawl.  But that would be a shame, as there are always new trails to explore via hiking and/or trail running which may hold surprisingly different flora and fauna.

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Bird’s nest at Locust Shade Park

I spent a few weeks in northern Virginia, and found that there are wild spaces to be found- not as wild as Maine, but still beautiful and historic, and blooming in what seemed to be a full season ahead of the Northeast.  I used the All Trails app, National Park Service, state and county government websites, and word-of-mouth to find parks.  Here are a few:

 

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South Valley Trail to North Valley Trail at Prince William Forest Park

Prince William Forest Park

A $7 admission fee (according to signs at the park, it was scheduled to go to $10 as of May 1, 2018, but I believe this was rolled back) gets you entrance to a beautiful forest sanctuary in Triangle, VA with miles of trails (see official park map here).  I chose a fairly aggressive loop from the Visitor Center parking lot, using the Laurel, South Valley and North Valley Trails, Burma Road, Scenic Drive, Oak Ridge and (again) South Valley and Laurel Trails to create a tour of the park that spanned almost 15 miles.

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Like the other trails and parks I will describe below, this park appeared to have sustained heavy trail damage from storms, and trail crews had been busy.  The loop took me through rolling hills, and included waterfalls, dogwood blossoms, and a large variety of wildflowers.

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There were also animals to be found, including birds, butterflies, frogs, and what looked like a large water snake (I had no idea what “large” was- more on that at Mason Neck).

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This was a beautiful, uncrowded, quiet park, minutes from terrible I-95 traffic and shopping malls, and a welcome respite.  Originally built by the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) as the Chopawamsic Recreational Demonstration Area (RDA), it is a triumph of land management, including the reclamation of an old pyrite mine and its former pollution of the surrounding streams.

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View from the Observation Blind overlooking Kane’s Creek at Mason Neck State Park

Mason Neck State Park

Mason Neck, located in Lorton, VA, is a peninsula on the Potomac River, with miles of hiking trails (see park map here), and water/paddling activities available, as part of the Occoquan Water Trail.  Again, $7 for out-of-state residents.  I was there on a weekday evening, and took the Kane’s Creek (1.2 mi) and Eagle Spur (1.29 mi) Trails, as well as the Bayview Trail (1.02 mi).  This is a place to see bald eagles, and an observation blind sits at the end of the Eagle Spur Trail.

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Bayview Trail, Mason Neck State Park

I didn’t see any eagles or osprey.  What I ended up seeing on the Bayview Trail were snakes.  Lots of snakes.  Big water snakes.

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But I didn’t bother the snakes, and they didn’t bother me.  Mason Neck is, again, right next to the I-95 corridor, but a beautiful, well-maintained park.  Each trail has its own self-guided tour, with brochures available at the map/kiosk next to each trailhead, and plenty of green space and benches to enjoy the scenery.


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Sunset at Locust Shade

Locust Shade Park

Locust Shade Park is sandwiched between I-95 and U.S. Route One, but has some great trails in between, with a listed length of four miles (see map here), full of birds, flowers, and lizards.  A word of caution – the AllTrails app appears to have this trail transposed a mile or so to the east, which would put someone who used the app for navigation at the gates of the Quantico Marine base.

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Yeah, you can see I-95 from the trails at Locust Shade

I visited this park in the late afternoon, and the nearby highway was jammed with traffic, making me feel lucky to walk or run on trails.  The terrain was rolling, with a few hills and streams, and made for a pleasant hike, rather than the usual rocky challenge of Maine trails.  The trail also has a Fitness Trail loop, with self-guided stations for exercises.

One thing that makes Locust Shade special is its proximity to the National Museum of the Marine Corps, and the Locust Shade trails connect at their northeast terminus to the silent looping trails of memorials looping around the museum by the side of well-laid brick walkways.  Nobody does tradition like the Marine Corps.

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Evening light at Locust Shade Park

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Trail Map at Government Island

Government Island

Government Island is a small park and historic site, originally a quarry purchased for the federal government in 1791 by Pierre L’Enfant, where freestone was extracted for construction of the White House and the Capitol.  Navigation using Google Maps can be difficult, but using the physical address, 191 Coal Landing Road, Stafford, Virginia, seemed to work.

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Admission is free, and the trails are only about a 1.5 mile out and back loop around the island on Aquia Creek (see the trail map above), full of birds and trees.

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Overlooking Aquia Creek from Government Island

 

So, next time you find yourself somewhere different with time on your hands, look up a trail, and start walking.  You never know what you might see.

Mt. Cutler

 

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The Whites from Ridge Walk

 

Mt. Cutler (1,232 ft.) is a relatively short (appx. 3 mi. loop) hike in Hiram, Maine, with impressive views along the way (here is a detailed map and guide: MtCutlerTrails2017Rev2C-1).  The trails, maintained by AMC volunteers, are made possible by private landowners.

The Barnes Trail, marked with red blazes, ascends from the former railroad depot off Mountain View Road through overgrown Merrill Park, where a (shallow) abandoned gold mine can be accessed from a side trail to the left.   The trail quickly ascends up rocky ledges to points overlooking Hiram and the Saco River below.

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The ridge walk contains great views and blueberries in the summer.  The Barnes trail does not extend to the actual summit of Mt. Cutler, which is on private land (there is no marked trail to the summit), but turns hard left at the notch below the summit, where it meets the Saco Ridge Trail, completing the loop down to the parking area.