Libby Hill Forest Trails (Gray, ME)

Libby Hill Trails Trailhead in Gray, ME
Libby Hill Trails Trailhead in Gray, Maine

The Libby Hill Forest in Gray, Maine, maintained by the Friends of Libby Hill, contains nine miles of multi-use trails, spanning properties owned by the Town of Gray, Mathew Morrill Trust, SAD 15, and the Gray Community Endowment (GCE).  The parking area is not far off the Maine Turnpike and Route 26, located at 50 Libby Hill Road in Gray, and the trailhead is behind Gray-New Gloucester Middle School (see trail maps here).  These trails are open year-round, and are designated differently based on width, terrain, and season for hikers, bikers, cross-country skiers, and snowshoe travel.

Moose Odyssey Trail, Libby Hill Forest, Gray, Maine
Moose Odyssey Trail, Libby Hill Forest, Gray, Maine

On the July day we visited, we took the 3.1 mile Moose Odyssey Trail (white blazes), which loops through the center of the trail complex.  This broad, winding path is carpeted by grass and pine needles, and wide enough in most places for two people to walk abreast, making it more of a social trail.  The margins of the gently rolling trail are covered with wild blueberry and sweet fern.

Moose Odyssey Trail, Libby Hill Forest, Gray, Maine
Moose Odyssey Trail, Libby Hill Forest, Gray, Maine

The Libby Hill website contains a variety of maps on its Trail Maps page, including a digital smart phone map, Longest Day 5K race course map, individual trail descriptions and history, orienteering tour, Libby Farmstead tour, and a Tree ID Sign map, perfect for a 17-point scavenger hunt from American Beech (#3, #7) to Yellow Birch (#8).  The forest abounds with birds, and we saw an Eastern Towhee close to the trail.

Harold Libbey Memorial, Libby Hill Forest, Gray, Maine
Harold Libbey Memorial, Libby Hill Forest, Gray, Maine

Once you are on the trail network, navigation is self-correcting, with laminated maps at each intersection.  To the south, the Harold Libbey and Outback trails, accessible from the Moose Odyssey Trail near the Harold Libbey Memorial, continue over wetlands, and contain areas to look for wildlife, including beaver activity (according to the Libby Hill website, Harold’s father changed the spelling from Libby to Libbey to avoid being confused with two others with the same initials and last name).  A note of caution – ticks can abound in the grassy areas, so be sure to take the appropriate precautions, and check yourself after the hike.

For pre- and post-hike snacks, there is a Hannaford at the end of Libby Hill Road, which according to the Libby Hill website, is the former site of William Libby’s Revolutionary War-era farm.  For more outdoor activities, Libby Hill Forest is also in close proximity to the Maine Wildlife Park and Gillespie Farm (Pick Your Own).

Round Top Mountain (Rome, ME)

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View from the Kennebec Highlands Trail, Round Top Mountain, Rome, Maine

Round Top Mountain (1,133 ft) in Rome overlooks Belgrade Lakes and the Kennebec Highlands Public Reserved Lands. The route I chose on a sunny June day was an easy to moderate 4.7 mile counterclockwise loop using the Round Top Trail to the Kennebec Highlands Trail, the Round Top Spur, and then back down the Round Top Trail. I used the great guidebooks Maine Mountain Guide and Maine Hikes Off the Beaten Path for trail maps and hike descriptions. Visit the 7 Lakes Alliance website for a downloadable pdf map.

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Trailhead and Round Top Trail in Rome, Maine

From the trailhead parking lot, this is a pleasant rolling path over a bristling cushion of oak and beech leaves and pine needles to the junction with the Kennebec Highlands Trail. On the early summer day I was there, the air was filled with aggressive mosquitoes, but a combination of Deet and constant movement neutralized their effect.

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Morning light on the Round Top Trail, Rome, Maine
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Wildflowers on Round Top Mountain in Rome, Maine

Thanks to recent rains, the open areas to the margins of the Round Top Trail and of the wider woods road of the Kennebec Highlands were full of a variety of Maine wildflowers, with lady slippers dotting the sides of the more wooded areas.

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Rolling terrain on the Round Top Trail, Rome, Maine

From the left turn off the Kennebec Highlands Path, the ascent to the spur trail to the summit is a climb around switchbacks past blueberries and boulders, with views over the surrounding land.

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View from summit spur trail, Round Top Mountain, Rome, Maine

The (counterclockwise loop) descent down the Round Top Trail is more gradual than that of the Kennebec Highlands Trail, with fewer overlooks. The wooded path winds through the mixed forest, with large boulders lining the hillside like the spine of a dinosaur. The total loop took me about an hour and fifty minutes at a steady but leisurely pace.

This well-maintained trail network creates a unique family-friendly climb in an area of central Maine that is rich in lakes, but lacks the higher elevations of the highlands to the west. This does, however, create many options for a post-hike swim to cool off. For insight regarding things to do and places to stay in the Belgrade Lakes area, check out this great Downeast magazine article.

Rumford Whitecap (Rumford, ME)

View west from the Starr Trail, Rumford Whitecap
View west from the Starr Trail, Rumford Whitecap

Rumford Whitecap Mountain (2,214 ft) in Rumford is accessible through trails maintained by the Mahoosuc Land Trust (MLT), for a 4.9 mile out/back to the summit (slightly longer than five miles due to a trail diversion), or a longer traverse over Black Mountain via the Black/White Trail (requires spotting a car).  MLT’s website advertises Rumford Whitecap as a four-season destination for hiking, snowshoeing, and back country skiing, with blueberries in the summer.  I ascended via the Connector to the Starr Trail (marked with yellow blazes and flagging tape), and returned via the Red/Orange Trail.  I used the guidebooks Maine Mountain Guide and Maine Hikes Off the Beaten Path for detailed trail maps and descriptions.  You can also find a map on the AllTrails app or Maine Trailfinder (link at the MLT website above).

Spring waterfalls on the Connector between the Starr and Red/Orange Trails, Rumford Whitecap
Spring waterfalls on the Connector between the Starr and Red/Orange Trails, Rumford Whitecap

Both trails, divided by a pleasantly running brook in a valley between them, were muddy, but well-maintained.  The Connector crossed the brook, with spring runoff created small waterfalls along the way.  Recent rains created a morning fog, but had also spurred the growth of a variety of wildflowers from the trailhead to the summit.

Spring wildflowers, Rumford Whitecap, Rumford, Maine
Spring wildflowers, Rumford Whitecap, Rumford, Maine

The Starr Trail transitioned from a grassy woods road to a winding climb, becoming more strenuous as the deciduous forest changed to a more sparse, rocky pine forest, and opened up on ledges with spectacular views of the Mahoosucs and White Mountains.

Descent out of the woods into the clouds on the Starr Trail, Rumford Whitecap
Descent out of the woods into the clouds on the Starr Trail, Rumford Whitecap

After the junction with the Red/Orange Trail, the summit was only about another .5 miles, hopping over small cool rivulets of water running down the exposed rock face.  Close to the summit, there was what appeared to be a large deposit of bear poop, but a quick look around didn’t disclose any prints.  The summit itself is open in all directions, and a great spot for a picnic.

The long summit ridge of Rumford Whitecap
The long summit ridge of Rumford Whitecap

After a brief rest at the summit to enjoy the view and chew on some jerky, I headed down the Red/Orange Trail.  The trail ran like a creek in places, with the spring rains, and was diverted for a section.  The hike took about two and a half hours, with plenty of stops to listen to birdsong, inspect wildflowers, watch bumblebees at work, and pick up and inspect pieces of quartz.

Sawyer Mountain (Limerick, ME)

Town of Limington Scenic Overlook, Sawyer Mountain, Maine
Town of Limington Scenic Overlook, Sawyer Mountain, Maine

Sawyer Mountain (1,213 feet) is part of the Sawyer Mountain Highlands, 1400 acres of which is owned by the Francis Small Heritage Trust (see map here), which describes the Highlands as the single largest block of undeveloped land in York and Cumberland Counties.  This summit can be reached from trailheads in Limerick or Limington.  On the spring day we hiked it, we chose the Sawyer Mountain Trail from the Route 117 trailhead in Limington.  The trail is well-marked, with signs and red turtle blazes, and maps were available at a kiosk at the trailhead.

Sawyer Mountain Summit, Maine
Sawyer Mountain Summit, Maine

The Sawyer Mountain Road sections were rocky and covered in mud and running water, particular on the long uphill stretch preceding the last .3 mile push to the summit.  Black flies increased in number as we moved, but were never more than a minor nuisance.  Points of interest including the bright green spring vegetation surrounding streams and several cemeteries and burying grounds along the trail.

Cemeteries and burying grounds along the Sawyer Mountain Road Trail
Cemeteries and burying grounds along the Sawyer Mountain Road Trail

The summit offers views facing south, and another town of Limington scenic viewpoint is not far away along the trail, offering a more open view of southern York County.  The lollipop-shaped route (about 3.6 miles, an hour and forty-five minutes at an easy pace) we took was easier on the return, as the trail descending along the New Skidway Road was less muddy than Sawyer Mountain Road.  As previously mentioned, the summit can also be accessed from the west trailhead via a shorter route on the Smith Trail.

Mt. Cutler (Hiram, ME)

The Whites from Ridge Walk
The Whites from Ridge Walk.

Mt. Cutler (1,232 ft.), part of a newly established Mt. Cutler Park and Conservation Area, is a relatively short hike in Hiram, Maine, with impressive views along the way, and multiple options for shorter and longer walks along five miles of trails (here is a detailed map and guide: MtCutlerTrails2017Rev2C-1).  Additionally, in the new 11th edition of the Maine Mountain Guide, Mt. Cutler gets its own map.

View of Saco River Valley from Mt. Cutler, Hiram, Maine
View of Saco River Valley from Mt. Cutler, Hiram, Maine

The direct route is the Barnes Trail, marked with red blazes, which ascends from a parking area by the former railroad depot off Mountain View Road, up 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.

Looking down towards Hiram from Mt. Cutler
Looking down towards Hiram from the front ledges of Mt. Cutler

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 currently no marked trail to the summit, but respectful bushwhacking to it is apparently ok), and instead turns hard left at the notch below the summit, where it meets the Saco Ridge Trail, completing the loop down to the parking area.

In addition to the parking area by the Barnes Trail, a second parking area is planned to be constructed by July 2019, with capacity for twenty vehicles, at the trailhead for the North Trail (blue-paint blazes) on Hiram Hill Road.  This trail connects with the Moraine Trail, which climbs a glacial moraine, consisting of rock and other debris pushed into a ridge by a glacier (for those familiar with the Maine Ice Age Trail Downeast, check out this post on sites for western Maine’s Ice Age Trail).  North Trail also connects with the White Flag Trail, which joins the Barnes Trail near the front ledges.

Mount Agamenticus – First, Second, and Third Hill Loop (York, ME)

 

Mount Agamenticus summit
View of the Atlantic from the summit of First Hill, Mount Agamenticus

Mount Agamenticus, overlooking the southern Maine coast, apparently derives its name from an Algonqiuan coastal place name also used in Gloucester and Charlestown, Massachusetts.  It’s not a giant, only 691 feet tall, but is part of the Mount Agamenticus Conservation Region, which covers over 10,000 acres, including over 40 miles of trails, with a trail map here.  Its location in York makes it readily accessible from the Maine Turnpike and Route One.  I had never climbed Mount Agamenticus, and figured that a looping walk over rolling hills would be a perfect spring tune-up hike.

View towards Mount Washington from First Hill, Mount Agamenticus
View towards Mount Washington from First Hill, Mount Agamenticus

These trails allow for a variety of hikes by length and ability.  On this spring day, I traversed the First, Second, and Third Hills, using the Ring, Fisher, Big A, Sweet Fern, Chestnut Oak, Ridge, Wheel, Third Hill, and Great Marsh Trails, along with Old Mountain Road, Porcupine, Rocky Road, and, again, Ring Trails to complete a loop of around 7 miles.  Much shorter loops are available (the complete Ring Trail loop is only 1.9 miles), and the Ring (west) and Witch Hazel Trails contain a “Story Walk” that might keep younger hikers moving from storyboard to storyboard, up the hill.

Observation Deck, First Hill, Mount Agamenticus
Observation Deck, First Hill, Mount Agamenticus

It’s not a long hike from the Mountain Road trailhead to the top of First Hill via the Ring (west) and Fisher Trails – I covered it in fifteen to twenty minutes at a moderate pace.  For those with mobility issues, there are also parking lots closer to the top.  The open summit has observation decks to orient you to the sights in all directions, from the Atlantic to Mount Washington, and a Learning Lodge is open weekends from 11 am to 3 pm from Memorial Day to Columbus Day.

Picnic Tables, First Hill, Mount Agamenticus
Picnic Tables, First Hill, Mount Agamenticus

There are picnic tables with views of the ocean, and restroom facilities.  Songbirds abound, and I spotted an American Goldfinch near the old ski lift structures.  Descending toward Second Hill, the trail still held some ice in shaded places, the only sign of winter’s clutches.  The low points around Second and Third Hills were dotted with vernal pools, which were already riotous with the sounds of peepers.

Tree on Second Hill, Mount Agamenticus
Tree on Second Hill, Mount Agamenticus

While First Hill is well-trafficked, with trail runners and dog walkers, the only other human being I saw on Second and Third Hills was a mountain biker.  The trails here are not as well-marked as those on First Hill, and I had to double back several times to find the trail, particularly on the Ridge Trail, and Third Hill Trail.  In addition, the summits are wooded, with less spectacular views than that of First Hill.  But the hiking is not strenuous, and the scenery contains peaceful brooks and ample wildlife viewing opportunities.  I saw turkeys, deer, and innumerable songbirds, as well as sizable ant mounds on the way down Third Hill.

Mount Agamenticus is an easily accessible, family-friendly trail network which allows the user to build his/her own itinerary based on activity, ability, and time, and provides boundless opportunities for observing fauna and flora.

Seal on observation deck, First Hill, Mount Agamenticus
Seal on observation deck, First Hill, Mount Agamenticus

Pleasant Mountain (Bridgton, ME)

Dad and daughter atop Pleasant Mountain summit
Dad and daughter atop Pleasant Mountain summit

(Updated in February 2019 to include winter hiking details)

Pleasant Mountain (2,006 ft) is a mountain in Bridgton right next to Shawnee Peak ski area, with trails mostly on land owned by the Loon Echo Land Trust (see here for detailed maps).  Dad and daughter hiked this with our cousin in April 2017 as part of our preparation for our 100 Mile Wilderness trek via the (moderate) Southwest Ridge Trail (also known as the MacKay Pasture Trail), 5.8 miles up/back.  I hiked this most recently in February 2019.  Map and description are also available in the stellar Maine Mountain Guide.

This hike can be busy in summer, particular up the Ledges Trail, but a winter morning can provide solitude.  There were a few hikers, but I also saw woodpeckers, crows, and a herd of deer.  The deer were using the same path, and bounded away from me, big white tails flashing, every time they heard my footsteps crunching in the snow, coming no closer than about fifty yards.

Winter morning view of Moose Pond from near Southwest Summit, Pleasant Mountain
Winter morning view of Moose Pond from near Southwest Summit, Pleasant Mountain

We have hiked this mountain via the Ledges Trail from the east, and enjoy the western approach more, as the ridge hike provides wonderful views on the way up, including at the Southwest Summit (1,900 ft).  The parking area on Denmark Road is well-maintained, plowed in winter, and easy to find (for directions, use Google Maps to search “Pleasant Mountain Southwest Ridge Trail“), and it is a fairly steady climb to the top, with a steeper climb after the junction with the Ledges Trail, for the last .2 miles to the top.  A wood teepee structure near the Southwest Summit makes for a good point to take a break along the way.

Wood teepee near Southwest Summit, Pleasant Mountain
Wood teepee near Southwest Summit, Pleasant Mountain

 

A mix of sun, shade, and elevation provide different challenges throughout the hike in spring and summer, as the ridge northeast of the Southwest Summit blocks the sun during most of the morning.  As of February 2019, the trail was well-packed, and I used micro-spikes from the trailhead to the summit, with no need for snowshoes.  Steps to the right or left of the packed snow, particularly in the valley between the Southwest Summit and the Main Summit, will put you post-holed into deep snow. There were cross-country ski tracks parallel to the trail, providing more options.

View of the White Mountains from Pleasant Mountain main summit
View of the White Mountains from Pleasant Mountain main summit

A depressed area in the section between the Southwest Summit and Pleasant Mountain Summit is a vernal pool in spring, with incredibly loud peepers, a heavy covering of snow, and probably the first ticks of the year in April.  The pool gave us our first chance to use our water filtration system, the MSR Sweetwater, in April 2017.  A couple of pumps produced clear, cold water.

Pleasant Mountain summit in winter, with observation tower guideline and Mount Washington in background
Pleasant Mountain summit in winter, with observation tower guideline and Mount Washington in background

As seen above in the summit photo, the views of the White Mountains to the west, particularly Mount Washington, are wonderful on clear days.  An old fire tower still stands on the summit.  The descent requires a slight uphill climb in the valley between the main summit and the Southwest Summit, but it’s a quick downhill (careful of footing) after that, back to the trailhead, about a three-and-a-half hour out-and-back hike.  If you can time it right, stop by Standard Gastropub in Bridgton after the hike to enjoy craft beer and unbelievable food.