A short distance from downtown Lubec, the easternmost town in the U.S., Mowry Beach is a quiet 48-acre conservation area overlooking Deep Cove, Lubec Channel and Canada’s Campobello Island. This area, managed by the Downeast Coastal Conservancy (DCC), offers a .4 mile trail from Lubec’s Consolidated School on South Street to a parking area at the end of Pleasant Street, including a 1,700 foot boardwalk. The DCC publishes a map and brochure, available on their website.
We learned of this beach through a great Cobscook Trails Map and Guide published by Cobscook Trails, with hikes throughout the Cobscook Bay region, a free and widely available (at local businesses) pamphlet which I would recommend for anyone exploring the area. At the Pleasant Street end of the trail, which we accessed via a short walk from downtown, is 1,800 feet of shorefront along a sand beach. According to guides, ancient tree stumps can be seen along the lower portions of the beach at low tide, a forest that was present during an era with lower water levels.
On the October day we visited, seals were active, using the rapidly outgoing tide to move swiftly east at waterskiing speeds in the Lubec Channel in search of food. For sea-glass collectors, this working waterfront has a variety of shiny objects along the shore. During our walk, we also encountered two people helpfully picking up any garbage left on the beach.
We turned into the trail, passing bright beach rose bushes. The trail and boardwalk are alive with birds, and we startled a large bird of prey that had been resting in a tree next to the boardwalk, which took off almost straight up, like a rocket (which, in turn, startled us). DCC’s guide lists rough-legged hawks, northern harriers, and northern shrikes as frequent visitors to the conservation area.
We continued through the coastal bog and an area lined with cattails and small trees, emerging behind the Lubec Consolidated School. For those with mobility issues, intimidated by longer hikes, or entertaining smaller children, this relatively short walk on wide paths and boardwalk is a great side excursion from the village of Lubec.
The “Bold Coast” of Maine is the area of coastal Washington County stretching from approximately Milbridge to Calais, and accessible through a route designated as the Bold Coast Scenic Byway (see map here from Maine DOT), which largely follows U.S. 1 North. Bold Coast Maine, a collaboration by the Washington County Council of Governments and Downeast-Acadia Regional Tourism, has an extensive site dedicated to the many attractions of this region, with a great interactive map, searchable by interest (Arts and Culture, Food and Drink, Recreation, etc.). For some area context, including post-hike food and drink, see the post on this blog on Quoddy Head State Park in Lubec.
For hikers, the centerpiece of this great region has to be the Cutler Coast Public Lands, managed by the Maine Bureau of Parks and Lands, which publishes an excellent guide and map. An important update to this map, however, is a rerouting of the Inland Trail, just east of the junction with the Black Point Brook Cutoff, which adds 1.2 miles to any loop using this segment, and was still in place as of October 2018.
These lands, overlooking the Bay of Fundy, have 10 miles of trails and three remote tent sites (first come, first serve) for hiking and camping with unparalleled views. We started on the Coastal Trail, which is a 1.4 mile hike east from the parking area off Route 191 in Cutler to the ocean. According to the guide, this is the easiest segment, and the remainder of the trails are “moderately difficult.”
None of the trails we explored here were particularly strenuous, but the paths are winding and require some climbing up and down over the rolling terrain. Like Quoddy Head, however, there are sudden cliffs that make it a potentially dangerous place for younger children. The rocky coastal sections are steep, and footing could be treacherous in rainy periods. And given the boggy inland areas, the insects in May and June must be fairly aggressive.
The payoff upon reaching the coast, however, is instantaneous, as the dark rocky cliffs and forested coastline meet dramatically with the ocean in a stimulation of the five senses that can only be experienced firsthand. We picked our way slowly down the Coastal Trail toward Black Point, stopping at each short side overlook trail to listen to the powerful rumble of the waves and smell the mix of sea spray and pine.
The Black Point Brook Loop, with a turnaround at the beach at Black Point Cove, is normally 5.5 miles, but with the reroute on the Inland Trail, was closer to 6.7 miles, which took us about four hours at a slow pace, with many stops.
We agreed that a better (delayed gratification) itinerary for us would have been to take the Inland Trail first to the Black Point Brook Cutoff, have lunch at Black Point Cove, then hike up the Coastal Trail, so that our route back would take us along the shore (rather than having the forested trail and circuitous reroute on the return trip).
The Inland Trail was impressive in its own way, however, with variety in flora and fauna, rocky sections, mossy green hummocks, and some open meadows. The fall colors were much more pronounced in this section, with many deciduous trees and colorful bushes. We also saw many birds, including a noisy pair of Canada jays near the path.
For those looking for a longer route, or an overnight trip, the Fairy Head Loop is 9.2 miles (10.4 miles with current reroute), including 3.8 miles along the shore front, and this route accesses the three permitted campsites.
This quiet section of Maine’s Bold Coast, where the woods and the ocean come together, instantly became one of our favorite hikes. Any time a hike ends at a beach (see Morse Mountain), it’s special, and the Cutler Coast rivals any scenery on the East Coast, without the crowds of Acadia.
The word “Easternmost” is prominently advertised in many places across Lubec, including Quoddy Head State Park, which comprises 541 acres at the tip of the U.S.’s eastern reach. By the time you reach Quoddy Head State Park, off South Lubec Road, you will likely have seen many advertisements for all things “easternmost” (campgrounds, gift shops, etc). But beyond the quick tour stop and lighthouse “selfies,” this park offers an array of trails for all abilities with impressive ocean views and a variety of coastal vegetation. The best guide to the park’s trails is the map provided by the state of Maine: Quoddy Head State Park Guide & Map.
We started with the Coast Guard Trail, a 1-mile trail north of the entrance, which includes an overlook of the Lubec Channel, as well as a view of the town of Lubec back to the west, after a short climb up a wooden staircase. According to the Quoddy Head Guide, the first .5 miles of the western part of this trail is accessible by motorized wheelchair. After the lookout, the Coast Guard Trail then descends through the thick coastal woods to the lighthouse, passing several viewpoints along the volcanic rocks. The path was full of birds and squirrels gathering food on this warm, sunny October day.
The small lighthouse museum (free, but donations always help) includes displays featuring the history of the lighthouse, flora and fauna of the area, and a guide to whales, commonly sighted off the coast. The area around the lighthouse contains a large number of picnic tables with excellent views, and the only restrooms in the park (easternmost privies in the U.S.? Probably). From the lighthouse area and most of the coastal trails, the cliffs of the Canadian island of Grand Manan are visible across the Quoddy Channel.
The terrain was impressive, and those with small children need to keep them close, as there are plenty of dizzying cliffs on the U.S. side, as well. The beaches are rocky, but make a far more interesting sound than sand beaches, combining the tidal roar with a rattling, suction sound as the rocks move together when the waves recede.
The Coastal Trail travels west along the shore past incredible views and scenic points like Gulliver’s Hole, High Ledge, and Green Point, with frequent stops in between to take in the powerful ocean. We did not linger at Green Point, a ledge with paths down to a beach, as we may have interrupted two hikers in some sort of extracurricular activity there (The trails became more and more empty the farther we got from the lighthouse).
At Carrying Place Cove, Thompson Trail heads back east, inland towards the parking area, with the short .2 mile spur of Bog Trail along the way. This side of the trail, in particular the sand beach at Carrying Place Cove, is also accessible from South Lubec Road. The Bog Trail includes a boardwalk and interpretive signs explaining the coastal plateau bog, also called a heath, according to the Quoddy Head Guide.
Thompson Trail is, for the most part, an easier walk than the coastal trail, with a few brief climbs. The best feature of this trail was the scent of pine, which created a perfumed evergreen tunnel in the narrower sections, redolent with notes of citrus and vanilla.
We completed most of the trails in the park, and stopped plenty of times to relax and take photos, making this about a three-hour visit. The difficulty level is described in the park guide as moderate, which seems about right. There are no strenuous climbs, but consistent steps over rocks and roots could make this more difficult for some hikers. There weren’t any bugs during this Columbus Day weekend, but the boggy areas guarantee mosquitoes and black flies in late spring and summer, and repellent would be a must. I would also suggest waterproof shoes, or at least wearing something on your feet that you don’t mind getting wet or muddy. Depending on your roaming plan, you may want to put your phone in airplane mode, as it will likely be using Canadian towers along this shore.
Lubec, across a narrow channel from Canada’s Campobello Island, is the closest town nearby, but Machias is not that far away, and many smaller towns in Downeast Maine and the Cobscook Bay region are worth a visit. After the hike, if you can catch them open during fall hours, try the craft beer and pizza at Lubec Brewing Company or upscale pub cuisine at Cohill’s Inn on Water Street in Lubec. If you are headed south, go to Skywalker’s Bar and Grille in Machias (try the fish tacos) for a great menu and Machias River Brewing Company beers.
Quoddy Head, though remote, is hardly a secret anymore- we joked that AirBnB renters and vacationers from New York outnumbered locals in Lubec. But steps beyond the famous lighthouse is a surprisingly wild Maine coast to explore.
[Note: this is the ninth and final part of a series begun in summer 2017 of an attempt at the 100 Mile Wilderness by dad, 41, and daughter, 12]
Should it take ten days to do the 100 Mile Wilderness? Probably not. Should it take eight days in 2017, and two days in 2018? Doesn’t matter- it did. As described on the 100 Mile Wilderness page, we started in 2017, had a great time together, but dad and daughter decided after 75 miles that we would continue some other time. This summer, we were dying to get back out there, and when the last weekend in September 2018 opened up for us, we jumped at the chance to complete the final 25 miles.
By definition, it’s a wilderness, so starting 25 miles south of Abol Bridge took logistical support. For that, we were helped by the friendly people at the Appalachian Trail Lodge in Millinocket, a hostel open during the hiking season until October 15th. We were greeted by Ole Man (these are trail names) upon our arrival, stayed at the Earl Shaffer Room (clean, two twin beds, shared bathroom, WiFi) for $55 the night before, got delicious breakfast sandwiches and a massive chocolate donut down the street at the Appalachian Trail Cafe the morning we left, and used the reasonably priced Appalachian Trail Lodge shuttle service to leave our truck at Abol Bridge, and get dropped off at the south end of Lake Nahmakanta. We swapped shuttles halfway, as the larger van we rode back to Millinocket from Abol Bridge was needed for the eager thru-hikers headed to Baxter State Park, and we traveled south in an SUV that had recently been repaired after a charging moose had broken off the driver’s side mirror.
We learned a lot on our shuttle ride from NoKey, a 2012 AT thru-hiker working at the Appalachian Trail Lodge, who was friendly, professional, and added all kinds of value to what otherwise would have been just a cab ride over logging roads. We had just missed a large bull moose on the Golden Road, of which NoKey showed us a picture. We got the scoop on good (most) and bad (very few) shuttle services/guides, places to stay near Millinocket, the effect of the Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument on tourism, area wildlife and history, saw a lynx crossing the road, got an update on bear activity in the area, and even got a lesser-known trail recommendation (Turtle Ridge Trail in Nahmakanta Public Lands). We also passed a large encampment by Cooper Brook, which was the location of an L.L. Bean promotional “Trail Magic” campaign along the AT.
With that preamble, we got a mid-morning start at the south end of Lake Nahmakanta, and after a nostalgic moment on the windy beach, started walking north through the remote Nahmakanta Public Lands. Quickly, we saw large moose tracks and fresh droppings along the trail, and quickened our pace to try to see this animal, without success. We grudgingly adapted to having the heavy packs on our backs, and adjusted our day-hiker pace downward to accommodate the extra weight (we packed too much food). We stopped briefly at Wadleigh Stream Lean-to to crack open our Peanut Butter M&M’s, and noticed a plaque inside the lean-to honoring a hiker named Buffalo Bobby, who had passed away near this spot exactly 7 years before, 38 miles from finishing his third AT thru-hike. Wow. Rest in peace, BB.
By about 1 pm, we had reached the north summit of Nesuntabunt Mountain, and took the short side trail to view Nahmakanta Lake and far-off peaks. Then we sat down to make ourselves lunch, the same peanut butter, banana, and Nutella wraps we had used for energy on Katahdin a couple weeks before. A quick descent took us to the base of the mountain and around Crescent Pond to Pollywog Gorge.
The cliffs surrounding the gorge were impressive, but we were beginning to wear down, and didn’t linger. We crossed Pollywog Stream on a bridge, and made our way up Rainbow Stream to Rainbow Stream Lean-to a little before 5 pm, where a male thru-hiker and two female multi-day hikers we had seen earlier were getting ready for the night. This made it only a 10.7 mile day for us, but it felt like a lot more. The lean-to area quickly filled up with thru-hikers as the sun set. The thru-hikers we saw were exhausted, broken, and profane, but unfailingly friendly, polite, and focused on the last stretch of trail to Katahdin.
We set up our tent, which was complicated by a broken pole, repaired with a mostly ineffective combination of duct tape, twine, and tent stakes. We lay out our bedding, refilled our water, cooked dinner (Chicken Teriyaki Mountain House meal), hung our food in a bear bag, and were in our sleeping bags by 7 pm, fading into sleep despite the loud conversations by the lean-to campfire.
It was a cold night, and we were uncomfortable, with neither of us sleeping well. Our sleeping bags and pads were up to the task, but we both agreed in the morning that we need to figure out how to pack pillows with us. Also, dad’s snoring woke up daughter, and daughter poking dad to stop his snoring woke up dad, creating the worst sort of perpetual motion machine throughout the night.
Daughter explored the campsite area in the morning, finding a precarious log bridge across Rainbow Stream to an animal den in a rock cave, possibly the former resting place of a bear. We peeked inside the den, seeing the small skull of an unfortunate prey animal. Dad made instant coffee and mixed in one of daughter’s hot chocolate packets for some more flavor in an attempt to wake up.
We packed quickly and got moving around 7:30 AM, moving along the edge of the Rainbow Deadwaters. The trail was beautiful, and we marveled at spiderwebs covered in dew, and the unique morning light in the North Woods. We also heard late-season loons calling from Rainbow Lake.
Daughter said that the Hobbit movies could have been filmed here, a recognition of the dramatic, colorful terrain that we tend to associate with movies, and so rarely see in person. We saw a root formation overtaking a tree that looked like a giant spider. As far as mythical creatures go, the west end of Rainbow Lake was the site of what can only be described as a beaver Armageddon, with fallen trees every which way across the trail.
We stopped for a break by Rainbow Spring Campsite. The privy there was filled with trail graffiti, including the signature of someone whose trail name was “The Privy Destroyer.” This harkened back to irreverent trail names scrawled inside the Appalachian Trail Cafe that had amused daughter, including “Swamp Butt.”
We continued past side trails to Rainbow Mountain and Big Beaver Pond in the Debsconeag Lakes Wilderness Area, stopping to check out Rainbow Lake (the largest lake on the 100 MW) from several rocky openings along the trail. On one stop, we cooked a Mountain House chicken and rice meal for lunch, and let it cool while we walked. When we sat down about fifteen minutes later to eat, it was perfect. Daughter was already sick of the Nutella and lavash bread, so the hot lunch was a good change-up. We also used this time to air out our feet, and change into clean, dry socks.
Rainbow Ledges was a steady climb, with colorful foliage and views from the high point back to the White Cap range, and forward, towards Katahdin. We remembered crossing the White Cap range a year ago on the 4th of July, and the pea soup fog that hindered our summit views that day. Sadly, we ran out of Peanut Butter M&M’s during this Rainbow Ledges ascent, which had a devastating effect on morale. From here, we descended through the ever-changing forest and down well-set rock staircases to Hurd Brook Lean-To.
The last few miles seemed to last the longest, as they always do. There weren’t many landmarks on the home stretch to Abol Bridge. The descriptive note, “Interesting area of large boulders and large hemlock trees,” on AT Map 1 at 2.2 miles from Abol Bridge, seemed superfluous after 100 miles of interesting rocks and trees. Suddenly, we were faced with a sign warning us that we were 100 miles north of Monson, and that we should have a minimum of 10 days supplies if we were heading south. We realized we were almost done, and saw the Golden Road peeking through the trees ahead.
We trudged across Abol Bridge in the late afternoon, completing our 15 mile day. We stopped by the Abol Bridge Campground store to buy some Gatorade, then got back in our truck, and drove out the Golden Road towards Millinocket. The Millinocket House of Pizza is daughter’s restaurant of choice, and she called in an order enroute for a large Hawaiian pizza as soon as cell service returned.
The soreness in our shoulders and knees and the chafing from the packs would fade in time, but completing the 100 Mile Wilderness together had been important to both of us. The cool, bug-free fall weather and colorful foliage were unexpected bonuses. To immerse yourself into the Wilderness, to walk there, sleep there on the ground, listen to the sounds of birds, bathe in the lakes, and then bring back out everything you came in with, is to feel shared ownership of this special place, where most people never go. Even in our weary haste at the end to finish, we had talked about new challenges, and also bringing memories of this hike back with us. As we split the pizza, we talked about our hike, and planned a lazy day for tomorrow.
Katahdin is the grandfather of Maine mountains, and the northern terminus of the Appalachian Trail. It’s hard to describe the way Katahdin’s bulk dominates the landscape without actually seeing it for yourself. Dad and daughter climbed Katahdin’s Baxter Peak (5,268 ft) via the Chimney Pond, Cathedral, and Saddle Trails (total R/T appx 10.5 mi) on September 9, 2017 to cap off our spring and summer of hiking. Dad had previously hiked Katahdin via the Hunt Trail (11 mi R/T), and via the Helon Taylor, Knife Edge, Saddle, and Chimney Pond Trails (total R/T appx 10.2 mi), but this was daughter’s first ascent.
(Note: for a deeper dive on the Knife Edge Trail, check out this update in September 2018.)
Here is the Katahdin trail map from the Baxter State Park website, which wisely suggests allowing 8 to 12 hours for a Katahdin hike, and has all the info you will need for a successful hike:
Climbing Katahdin requires some prior planning, due to the remoteness of Baxter State Park. We stayed in Millinocket the night before our climb, as well as the night after, as not much was available for campsites within the park. We booked late, and due to a good deal, stayed both nights at a large suite in the Parks Edge Inn, which was more space than we needed, but it would be a perfect arrangement for a larger group of hikers, as it was cozy, friendly, there was a kitchen, and there were plenty of places to sleep.
Our day started early, with the drive out to wait in line by the park’s gate. Luckily, dad had secured a parking pass for the Roaring Brook campground beforehand, and we weren’t turned away, as some in line were. Definitely plan ahead, and allow yourself the time to get to Baxter State Park’s gate, as well as the time for the slow drive on the Park’s dirt roads to wherever your trailhead is, as this will always take longer than you think.
We parked at Roaring Brook, took a look at the scale model of the mountain at the ranger station there, signed the log, and began our trek beside Roaring Brook on the Chimney Pond trail.
Chimney Pond is beautiful, and a great jumping-off point for multiple hikes, as well as family-friendly ranger-led programs in the summertime. With ominous clouds moving in, we signed the trail log, got advice from the ranger at Chimney Pond to avoid descending the Cathedral Trail, and decided to make our push up Cathedral, and to return via the Saddle Trail. We decided we would forgo the Knife Edge, and take it the next time the weather allowed us to.
Dad and daughter started the steep climb, and mom, who had accompanied us on this trip and hiked with us as far as the Chimney Pond Campground, then turned back to wait at the Roaring Brook lot for us as we climbed to the top. We felt strong, and our packs were intentionally light, focused on water, food, and light rain gear (in that order).
Dad/daughter each carried a 3 Liter Osprey water bladder (dad is one of those humans who just flat-out uses a lot of water), and we left daughter’s less full to reduce weight. Water on Katahdin is crucial, as straining leg muscles can easily dehydrate and cramp up, making for a difficult trip. In addition to water, eating bananas, and/or taking small amounts of salt and magnesium with food can help counter this cramping.
We encountered several other pairs of hikers, who we spoke to briefly as we leap-frogged our way past and then behind them again during rest breaks. Cathedral was a serious climb, with a few hand-over-hand scrambles to follow the blue blazes.
We didn’t linger long at the summit of Baxter Peak, or stay for our planned lunch break. There was a large crowd that had come up the Hunt Trail, and the clouds did not look friendly. When dad did this hike the first time, it had been an icy affair, with stinging hail and ice, combined with a steady rain, and sure enough, we heard distant thunder, and started to feel a few drops.
We scrambled down the Saddle Trail as the rain began to pick up, and about halfway down, dad’s feet went out from under him on a wet rock, and he took the weight on his wrist. The pain was dazzling, and we looked at the joint and the hand, but besides the discomfort, it appeared to be fine, so dad pulled it into his stomach to minimize the jostling as we descended, and we kept going.
The rain really began coming down, and we stopped in the treeline to put covers on our packs, and for daughter to don her rain jacket. The rain began to lighten while we stopped to enjoy some PB+J in a covered shelter at the Chimney Pond Campground. From there, we covered the ground quickly down the Chimney Pond Trail to the Roaring Brook lot, and our truck.
Getting back in the truck, dad realized that he couldn’t shift, steer, or turn the keys in the ignition with his right hand, and used his left to reach over the wheel for these tasks. As we wrote in our brief post on this hike to start this blog back in September 2017, it turned out, after X-rays a couple weeks later, that the wrist was broken. Bummer. Again, a great argument for the utility of hiking poles on a slippery descent, which would likely have mitigated this injury.
Daughter and dad agreed that Katahdin was the most challenging mountain of the summer, far surpassing Washington. We were happy with our route, and would suggest it to those tackling Katahdin when the Knife Edge is not a good idea due to weather. Cathedral offered us incredible views, and we used our rest breaks to turn and survey our progress and the landscape. We are looking forward to hiking Katahdin again, as well as exploring more of the newly established Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument.
A Post Script….
We did enjoy a great mini-hike the following day on the way home, as we had a full day available to us. We stopped on the way south at the Orono Bog Walk, a 1-mile boardwalk loop that starts at the Bangor City Forest.
This was fascinating, particularly for the opportunity to see pitcher plants, which we had seen in the Barren-Chairback range during our 100 Mile hike, and for the many varieties of birds along the route.
It was also a relatively easy loop, and an opportunity to stretch our legs after Katahdin the day before. Larger loops are well-marked and available for running and walking within the adjacent City Forest. Just get there early- parking was at a premium.
The standard route into the South Entrance is via Route 11 from E. Millinocket/Medway to the Swift Brook Road along the Katahdin Woods and Waters Scenic Byway, but we were feeling adventurous, and took the Stacyville Road north from Millinocket to where it meets the Swift Brook Road. We savored the lonely ride along this quiet logging road, occasionally startling game birds (this is not the way to take a low-clearance or non 4×4 vehicle).
The 17-mile loop of Katahdin Loop Road is punctuated by meadows, bogs, and ridges, and the south and west parts of the loop boast excellent views of Katahdin and the surrounding area. This is an opportunity to see the Monument and cover distance in a vehicle, while having the chance to get out and explore at a variety of hiking paths and overlooks. The best map of the loop we found (which I wish we had when we were there, as it is also an excellent interpretive guide) was from the Friends of Katahdin Woods and Waters, and can be found here.
The Lynx Pond Walk is shortly past the Loop Road Gate, on the right just past the Mile 2 marker. Shortly after the trailhead is a parking area on the left of the Loop Road. This is a very short walk through the woods to a small boardwalk by the pond, and a spot for quiet reflection and wildlife viewing.
Katahdin towers over the loop, and there are multiple spots around the Loop Road with views of the lakes and mountains to the west and south, particularly The Overlook, between Miles 6 and 7, which conveniently has a picnic spot and a toilet.
The IAT and trail to Barnard Mountain
IAT Lean-To (toilet is behind lean-to)
We continued around the Loop Road, and got out to stretch our legs again at the International Appalachian Trail (IAT) and trail to Barnard Mountain, passing over Katahdin Brook and by the IAT lean-to. This wide logging road made for a sunny trail, and though we did not make the turn towards the Barnard Mountain summit, we enjoyed the walk, and the familiar plants and animals that inhabit newly overgrown woodcuts, with blue jays diving across our path and into the trees. The Barnard Mountain trail itself is a moderate 4-mile round trip with summit views of Katahdin and Katahdin Lake to the west.
The IAT continues from the northern terminus of the Appalachian Trail at Baxter Peak across Maine, into Canada, across to Greenland, and Europe, to the Atlas Mountains of Morocco. For a great exploration of the concept of the IAT, see On Trails by Robert Moor, reviewed on this blog.
There are seven mountains in the Monument to hike, including Barnard, as well as paddling opportunities and waterfalls. The Loop Road was quiet, as were the trails, with natural sounds, and only a few others exploring the area. A bumpy drive back down Stacyville Road took us to Millinocket, where we devoured a Hawaiian pizza without remorse at the Millinocket House of Pizza.
Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument is a special place, and we will be back there for hiking, biking, and paddling. The views during peak foliage season must be spectacular. Ensure you plan ahead, bring maps, and a cooler with water and snacks, as there are no facilities at the Monument, and cell coverage ranges from little to non-existent. But that’s probably what you’re looking for in the first place.
Your five-year old could do this, but everyone in the family will love it. It’s the Bates-Morse Mountain Conservation Area near Phippsburg, Maine. Wife here again to report that I think I may have found my favorite “hike” so far! (Full disclosure: while I love the outdoors, I am not on the hard-core side of the hiking spectrum, preferring instead to walk at a steady pace for up to three hours in nice weather. Furthermore, I do not get an adrenaline rush from dangerous climbs so I avoid them.) Hike is in quotations here because this particular adventure may be more of a beautiful walk, given the minimal altitude (433 feet) and the terrain (paved) and the distance (3.8 miles round trip). This hike checks all the boxes for me. Let’s begin!
This trailhead is well-marked. From Bath, you follow Route 209 south to Route 216 to Morse Mountain Road where there is a small parking lot on your left. We chose a peach of a day and arrived early, which is a necessity because parking is limited. When we arrived at about 8:30 am on the Saturday of Labor Day weekend, people were trickling in but there were still plenty of spots available. When we left about noon, there was one car waiting for a space, as all the spots were full. There was a friendly attendant there, giving maps, selling crafts and answering questions (donations accepted).
The entire trail is paved, as this is a service road, so it is wide enough for a bunch of people to walk together and chat (I doubt you will need a trail map, but if you do: Morse Mountain Map). Shortly after departing the lot, you notice the area is quite well maintained by the Bates-Morse Mountain Conservation Corporation with members from the St. John Family (who originally conserved the area), Bates College and the public.
We enjoyed the views of the Sprague River Salt Marsh.
Based on the reviews by other hikers, bugs can normally be a big problem here. There was enough of a breeze that they didn’t seem to bother us too much. We are Deet fans, so that also helped to keep them away, too. About halfway into the hike, you will see a fork in the road and you head right to get to the summit. “Morse Mountain” is really not much more than a hill, yet there are fantastic views at the lookout: the snaking Sprague River, the cliffs in the distance and the gorgeous…drum roll…beach and ocean!
Yeah, I really can’t wait any longer to tell you that this hike ends at Seawall Beach and for those of you who thought you died and went to heaven when you saw nearby Popham Beach, you will be counting your blessings when you see this two-mile stretch of gorgeous sand that is Seawall Beach. After you leave the summit and return to the main path, you have roughly a mile to go to reach the beach. Then, kick off your shoes and enjoy this huge, uncrowded beach. We headed right upon entering the beach area and walked for approximately a mile to the “red pole” which is marked on the map and signals the end of the conservation area. Try to hit this beach at low tide if you can so you will have plenty of room to roam. Daughter loved the large clam shells, sand dollars, sea gulls, ospreys, and little plovers.
Since access is limited, there are so few people on this beach! For three people who hate crowds and love the ocean and the sand, it was kind of hard to leave. The trail is easy and beautiful so the 33 minutes it took to walk back were very pleasant. Here is my advice for your trip to Morse Mountain:
Go to the bathroom before you get on the trail and do not plan to drink much liquid unless you are a camel. There are no restrooms and since the trail was fairly crowded, you cannot just “pop of the trail” and go behind a tree very easily without being seen. You also cannot just “pop” into the ocean unless you are part seal. It’s freezing.
Bring bug spray.
Consider staying a while at the beach, which means that you might need a towel, sunscreen, hat, and snacks! The beach is that good.
Go early in the day to get a parking spot.
Try to hit low tide.
This truly is a Maine gem and when visitors come and ask where to go, this is going to be on the top of my list as it showcases the beauty that Maine has to offer without the crowds. A little exercise, fresh air, woods, marsh, beach, snacks, family and friends – you can’t beat it.