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.
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.
In an age of technology and enlightenment, physical borders remain enigmatically relevant. While information and intellectual property pass by on hidden virtual pathways, we are confronted daily with news of aggressive border incursions, walls, migration and separation. Porter Fox’s book Northland: A 4,000-Mile Journey Along America’s Forgotten Border (W.W. Norton and Company) navigates these troubled waters in a modern pilgrimage along the U.S.-Canadian border from Maine to Washington State.
Fox’s adventurous journey along the border (which splits both man-made and natural features, and has constantly been re-drawn and argued by the U.S. and Canada) was conceived during a 2014 lunch with Fox, his editor, and his agent, and brought to life “three years and four thousand miles later” by canoe, freighter, car, and foot. The fourth dimension of this journey is the history of tribal peoples and European exploration, which Fox weaves skillfully alongside his own narrative.
Fox divides the journey into five parts from east to west: the Dawnland, the Sweet-Water Seas, Boundary Waters, Seven Fires, and the Medicine Line. Not by accident, the origin of most of these names is drawn from the native populations who are omnipresent in the narrative, their proximity to the border a fateful combination of ancestry and displacement.
Fox finds commonality in all the populations banding the U.S.- Canadian border: social and personality traits mandated by the climate, economy, and the very nature of the stark world between two countries which these “northlanders” straddle. These commonalities include “[e]thnic communities with centuries-old histories, small towns that modern America skipped over, forgotten industries and Old World professions that rely on hands, not machines.”
The saga of these northlanders is not the only origin story: the birth of many things, from the U.S. Coast Guard to Thousand Island Dressing, is hidden within these pages. Fox takes the best approach in a travel book, making himself an observer, rather than an actor, and documenting the stories of those he encounters. This is not navel-gazing, this is journalism. Fox’s own story only emerges during brief memories of his own northland origins in Maine, or in humorous or poignant interactions with people along the way.
Fox also refrains from preaching or taking sides – any reasonable person can make their own conclusions regarding the effects of global warming, incompetent border management, marginalization of native peoples, or over-fishing and deforestation, making a diatribe superfluous. Fox observes:
It looked like night. The sky and land were dark. Flames blazed above tall, cylindrical smokestacks, casting orange light on the ship. The waterfront was barricaded by dunes of iron ore pellets and coal. It was nine in the morning. The water was oily green. I looked through the porthole in my cabin and saw a truck pour molten slag into a ditch. A bright-orange splash flew into the water and incinerated a duck swimming by.
Thus continues Fox’s story of his journey from the Saint Lambert Lock in Montreal up the Saint Lawrence Seaway through the Great Lakes (Ontario, Erie, Huron, Superior) to Thunder Bay, Ontario on the Algoma Equinox, a 740-foot freighter, reading like the opening of a post-apocalyptic version of Ben E. King’s Stand by Me.
It is in this excellent section on The Sweet-Water Seas that Fox truly hits his stride, capturing the chaotic, spooky world of the Equinox and its crew, as well as the unforeseen benefit of only traveling ten miles an hour. Fox writes beautifully, carefully, and sympathetically about the people and places along this route, interspersing modern vignettes with the movements of glaciers, floods, Champlain, La Salle, and inexorable commerce.
The book is full of these interactive moments that capture so much. Fox visits the Boundary Waters of Minnesota with Paul and Sue, legendary guides and explorers, watching Sue swing a canoe onto her shoulders for portage, “like putting on a sweater, except the sweater was a sixteen-foot Kevlar hull.” In North Dakota, Fox visits the Standing Rock protest camp of the Sioux Nation, against the Dakota Access Pipeline, and in Idaho, interviews a militia leader, who gives him “the kind of cheery welcome you’d expect from a car salesman.”
An otherwise-mundane guided tour (“The tour group itself was a thing of antiquity. I was the only one under the age of eighty. The comb-over on the man beside me was a work of art.”) of the Glacier Park Lodge in Browning, Montana yields an unexpected insight when the tour guide shows Fox and the group a large-format black-and-white photograph shot in the late 1800s:
The image was of two Blackfeet riders on a grassy knoll. Behind them were a forest and a few high peaks. Their hair was braided. The one in the front wore deerskins; the one behind wore blankets. Mist covered a valley at the foot of the mountains. There was no sun – just a dark line between earth and sky.
Amid the cedars, buffalo skulls, and antique china, the photo was indeed the only object in the lodge of extraordinary value. It was a split second in time from a lost world. “I like showing people this last,” the guide said. “I like them to know that we weren’t the first people to live here.”
By the time the journey ends, on a coastal Lummi tribal reservation at the western end of the border in Washington state, the reader has skillfully been transported stride-by-stride with Fox through the past, and across the northland. In his introduction, Fox explains that he wanted to visit the northland again before it changed for good. The borderlands seem to change more slowly than the center, giving us a glimpse into the past. In these margins, we see the cost of progress, and the stark natural beauty of the land that was, giving us pause about the right way forward.
The hardest part about replacing my earlier (10th) edition of the AMC Maine Mountain Guide, 11th Edition (Appalachian Mountain Club Books), compiled and edited by Carey Michael Kish, was carefully transferring all of my handwritten notes and highlighter marks. The smashed mosquitoes and coffee stains I will have to replace as I go. Kish recently posted an article on Maine Today regarding the new edition.
As referred to many times on this blog, this indispensable book has been the starting point for countless adventures over the last couple years. According to the back jacket of the new AMC Maine Mountain Guide, this new 11th edition features 175 new trails, 50 new mountains, and 17 additional in-text maps, “capturing Maine’s booming trail building and expansion during the past five years.” Additionally, the existing trails include more details and updates, including more than 450 trail revisions.
In his Foreword, Carey Kish relates his hiking history, with the interestingly prescient detail that Kish bought his first Maine Mountain Guide in 1976. The Acknowledgements section shows the true breadth and depth of the book, with tips of the cap to AMC staff, Maine state departments, and a long list of names from “Maine’s incredible community of land trusts, conservation organizations, environmental agencies, trail clubs, trail advocates, outdoor recreation groups, and other good friends of Maine trails.” And it really must take a village to compile this book.
The introduction includes helpful information and advice for hikers specific to Maine, including descriptions of Maine geography and geology, climate, vegetation, animals, and trail etiquette. For map and GPS nerds, the section on Maps and Navigation (at the tail end of “How To Use This Book” is packed with reference books and maps to use as companions to the guide, with a short segment on LiDAR data, and how it has been used to correct the summit height of peaks. There is even a sample packing list (you are going to want those convertible pants), and a common-sense primer on backcountry hazards.
So what changed? The first Section is on Maine’s showpiece, Baxter State Park and Katahdin, and the new layout is apparent. The Suggested Hikes, which were previously at the end of each Section, are now at the beginning, in order from least difficult to most. The Trail Descriptions of the sixteen trails to the six major summits of Katahdin are now each prefaced with a table showing distance, elevation gain, and projected time to allow yourself.
These information-age upgrades haven’t changed the narrative, however, or characterizations such as that of the Knife Edge: “The dizzying height, sheer cliffs, and extreme exposure combine to make this one of the most spectacular mountain trails in the eastern United States.” This descriptive prose, fortified with weather warnings, sources of water, and historical notes on the trails, is the continuing magic of this guide.
The Sections of Maine have been broadened from ten to twelve, with stand-alone sections for Mahoosuc Range and Grafton Notch (Section 5), and White Mountain National Forest and Evans Notch (Section 6). It really is an expansion, and I skipped to some recent hikes I’d done to see the differences. I noticed subtle edits in the Downeast hikes I’d done recently, and updated road names added to trailhead directions.
Viewing the Southwestern Maine portion (Section 8), I noticed six brand new in-text maps in that section alone, with popular trails Bradbury Mountain State Park, Douglas Mtn. Preserve, Bald Pate Preserve, Burnt Meadow Mtn., Mt. Cutler, and Mt. Agamenticus all getting their own cartography. New trails also debut, like the 47-mile Hills to Sea trail through eastern Waldo County from Unity to Belfast, which was opened to the public in 2016.
The book ends with Appendices listing alphabetical contacts for the trails and lands listed in the guide, from the Appalachian Mountain Club to the Woodstock Conservation Commission, and checklists for New England 4,000 footers and New England 100 Highest. And in the back of the book are two pull-out map sheets, containing a total of six large-scale trail maps of Baxter State Park, Maine Woods, Bigelow Range, Camden Hills, Eastern Mount Desert Island, and Mahoosuc Range-Evans Notch.
The 11th Edition of the AMC Maine Mountain Guide has been completely revised and updated while maintaining its essential character, an impressive achievement. This is truly the hiking handbook for the state of Maine, and a must-have for outdoor explorers of all levels.
When I first looked through the 35 trails listed in Aislinn Sarnacki’s book Maine Hikes Off the Beaten Path: 35 Trails Waiting to be Discovered, (Down East Books, 2018) I remembered how much in Maine is left to be hiked, a realization which is both humbling and encouraging. Sarnacki, the outdoor columnist for the Bangor Daily News, has assembled an eclectic, formidable line-up of trails spanning the Pine Tree State. Her introduction to the book spells out her goal in writing this book, starting with her journey into hiking, detailing a mixed experience ascending Katahdin at age sixteen, when she was “far from hooked on the activity.”
Sarnacki discusses how hiking subsequently got her through tough times, culminating in an undergraduate thesis on the positive ways it can affect a person’s holistic health, and a job at the Bangor Daily News writing Outdoors features. Sarnacki explains the changing map of trails in Maine, and her navigation of information provided by state parks, land trusts and other non-profit organizations to find these trails (did you know there are more than 40 other peaks besides Katahdin in Baxter State Park? I didn’t).
Sarnacki continues the introduction with a wonderful explanation of the value of Leave No Trace, with a description of Abol Pond during a Leave No Trace trainer course, and the change in enjoyment of natural beauty with the observation of the policy, versus without. She then provides helpful sections entitled Staying Safe While Hiking (all good tips – “Spoil Your Feet” and the limited use of helpful technology in particular) and At War With Ticks (common-sense strategies for dealing with an emerging problem).
The 35 hikes described by Sarnacki are spread across the state, bracketed by Wells Barren Preserve in in the south, Moosehorn National Wildlife Refuge to the east, Scopan Mountain near Presque Isle to the north, and Aziscohos Mountain in Lincoln Plantation to the west (man, I hope I got that right). Each includes a detailed description, detailing the Difficulty, Dogs (permitted or no?), any Cost or fee, Access (accessible overnight? four seasons?), Wheelchair accessibility, Hunting, Restrooms, How to get to the trailhead, and precise GPS coordinates.
Each trail has a clear, accurate map (take a photo of the map with your cellphone if you don’t feel like carrying the book with you on a hike), and excellent photos that give you an idea of the trail’s surroundings and vista points. Sarnacki describes the plants and animals to be encountered, gemstones and rocks, trail markings (or lack thereof), interpretive signs, and everything in between. To the extent there are land trusts, a town office, or other caretakers of the trail, Sarnacki provides web addresses and telephone numbers for more information, and personal notes with helpful anecdotes for the area or the trail.
These detailed vignettes brought back the best part of talking about hiking and trails, the part that is mostly lost in the technical focus of apps and guidebooks: word-of-mouth referrals for hidden outdoor gems, and personal stories about these special places. It is these connections that keep us coming back, and Sarnacki’s writing does an excellent job of capturing that idea. Having just come back from the Grand Lake Stream area, where we enjoyed the Baxter Outdoors New England Trail Series Downeast Lakes 5-Miler, I particularly liked Hike 25, the Little Mayberry Cove Trail, managed by the Downeast Lakes Land Trust (I agree with Sarnacki that the tiny silver and blue trail signs are aesthetically pleasing), and the photos capturing the changing light along the trails.
Reading through this book, I found myself continually reaching for my Maine Gazetteer to look at the hikes, and running through road trips in my head. As a result, this new book is already dog-eared and bookmarked with ideas, which is the mark of a truly adventurous guide. As Sarnacki concluded in her introduction, I was inspired “to get out there, off the beaten path.”