The Fish River, popular with fishermen and boaters, completes its run north to the St. John River in Fort Kent in a line roughly parallel to Route 11 in Aroostook County, Maine. This portion of the road, beginning at Portage Lake to the south, is the Fish River Scenic Byway. According to a link on the site of the Northern Door Inn, a quiet, clean hotel where we spent a couple nights, locals bring inner tubes to the base of Fish River Falls to float down the approximately four miles to Fort Kent. But even if you don’t have the time or equipment to navigate this stretch, the hike to Fish River Falls is an easy twenty to forty minute round trip with great views.
The Falls, which are listed as a Unique Natural Feature (UNF) in the Maine Atlas and Gazetteer, themselves lie at the end of an approximately half-mile downhill trail originating at a parking area by the Fort Kent Municipal Airport (at the end of Airport Road). Confusingly, their location is listed in the Gazetteer as T14 R8 WELS, the unincorporated township at the source of the Fish River, but the falls themselves are marked as a UNF on the map (page 67) containing Fort Kent. You will see signs for the trail, and (carefully) cross the end of the runway into the woods by a covered picnic table and a toilet facility.
Burnt Meadow Mountain in Brownfield, Maine, is a favorite hike of ours in all seasons, including when daughter was much younger. Brownfield is less than an hour from Portland, and during mid-late summer, the wild blueberries all the way to the summit make for a pleasant distraction and motivator for younger children. In winter, the moderate climb through vanished foliage yields great views of the White Mountains.
Our preferred route is via the Burnt Meadow Mountain Trail (blue blazes) and Twin Brook Trail (yellow blazes), an approximately 3.6 mile loop, which took us about 2.5 hours at a relaxed pace in summer, and 2 hrs, 10 mins in winter. The spur trail up to Stone Mountain (blue blazes) from the Twin Brook Trail adds about another 1.4 miles round-trip, which was about an hour added to the loop hike in the winter time. These trails are well-marked and maintained by the Appalachian Mountain Club (AMC) and the Friends of Burnt Meadow Mountain.
As usual, the best description of this hike is in the AMC Maine Mountain Guide. And in the new 11th edition of this guide, Burnt Meadow gets its own map. In winter, the parking lot is small and icy, and hikers may have to find a parking spot at the town boat launch down Route 160. For updated winter trail conditions, check the Burnt Meadow Mountain Trail page on All Trails. On winter days, the snow on the trail is usually packed, and micro-spikes help with some of the resulting ice on rocks. The only deeper snow lies on the lesser-used Stone Mountain trail.
The Burnt Meadow Trail passes through shaded woods and over exposed rock faces up a short, steep climb to the North Peak (1,575 ft). On clear days, you will see hawks wheeling below, and the green, serrated sharks’ teeth rows of the surrounding hills and ridges. In winter, the climb has the effect of being a pleasantly continuous ridge hike without the leaves to obscure views.
While the blueberries weren’t ready in June, we saw vultures, crows, many lady slippers in peak color, and also ran across a few toads. We used plenty of bug spray, but didn’t hit large clouds of black flies or mosquitoes, except in low-lying areas along the Twin Brook Trail (obviously, no bugs in the wintertime).
The broad, open summit of Burnt Meadow is a great place for a picnic. We didn’t linger too long in summer, though, just enjoyed some jerky and proceeded across to the Twin Brook Trail. A large cairn marked the point to start our descent. The Twin Brook Trail was a rolling course back to its junction with the Burnt Meadow Mountain Trail, and from there back to the parking lot. Along the way in June 2021, I saw two red-shouldered hawks patrolling the area recently harvested for lumber, looking for small mammals. These open cuts allow for the growth of fragrant sweet fern, and blossoms promised blackberries later in the season. Shortly before returning to the trail junction, I spooked a herd of small deer, who disappeared into the thick forest.
The Stone Mountain Trail is better in winter, as the surrounding area from the summit is easier to see without the leaves. This trail is substantially less traveled than the North Peak or Twin Brook Trails, and may require some travel through deeper snow, with snowshoes being possibly necessary.
One of the reasons we love this hike in the summertime is its proximity to the Brownfield Town Beach, which is a great place to cool off (Note: While dogs are plentiful on Burnt Meadow Mountain trails, they are not allowed at the beach after June 1st).
The Baldfaces (North and South) are a difficult but rewarding hike just over the (Maine) border in Chatham, NH, part of the White Mountain National Forest (WMNF). I used the Baldface Circle Trail, with stops at the spur for Emerald Pool, and a short diversion through Chandler Gorge, for a challenging 10.1 mile clockwise “lollipop” loop that took a little under five hours, and hit the peaks of South Baldface (3,570 ft) and North Baldface (3,610 ft). To navigate, I used my well-worn AMC White Mountain Guide, with the Baldface Loop on Map 5. A digital map is also available on the WMNF U.S. Forest Service site. The well-maintained parking area (with toilets) is located on NH route 113 in Chatham, with parking for approximately fifteen cars, and is usually full on summer days and weekends.
If, like me, you take topgraphical maps literally, completely disregard the map kiosk at the parking area, which shows the parking area directly across 113 from the trail. Walk north on the shoulder about sixty yards to take the trail upward, following yellow blazes through a pine forest which gives way slowly to birch and other deciduous trees, with the sound of thrushes and robins busy with their morning business. I stopped by the short spur trail to gaze down into Emerald Pool, which was deep, green, cool and clear, living up to expectations.
What is a hike, really, but a long walk, preferably in the countryside? Sometimes the sense of getting away can be amplified by the journey to get to the hike’s starting point, whether it be a long drive through strange places, a bus ride, or in this case, a boat trip. While it may seem hard to escape the (relative) bustle of Maine’s largest city, a 4-mile loop with birds, flowers, and ocean vistas is only seventeen minutes away via Casco Bay Lines. Like Moosehead’s Mount Kineo, this hike begins after a short ferry ride, a trip across Portland Harbor to Peaks Island, part of the city of Portland. The Casco Bay Lines Terminal is located at 56 Commercial Street, Portland, Maine, and the ferry schedule is posted here. As of May 2021, round-trip tickets are $7.70 for adults (14 and over), $3.85 for kids/seniors/disabled, and free for children under 5. You can bring bikes for a small fee, or rent them on-island (golf carts can also be rented, but that’s not hiking). The voyage from Portland to Peaks allows views of Fort Gorges, the harbor, seabirds, and occasional seals.
Portland Trails has a map on their site of the approximately 4-mile Peaks Island Loop. For more detail, check out the Peaks Island Land Preserve, which maintains the small, wild and/or historical places along the way. On a place like Peaks, time for visitors and businesses is measured by the ferry schedule, so allow a couple hours to fully explore the island before catching a ferry back. Simply turn right or left upon walking up the hill from the ferry, and follow the shoreline. If you get off-track, respect private property, and signs will typically get you back on the route which traces the perimeter of the island, predominantly along Island Ave and Seashore Ave.
Evergreen Cemetery in Portland is Maine’s second largest, checking in at 239 acres. The combination of green space habitat and (relative) solitude make it a popular birdwatching and walking area, located directly behind the University of New England (UNE) Portland Campus. The small ponds at the northwest edge of Evergreen are places to observe tadpoles, frogs, newts, turtles, snakes, large snapping turtles, and waterfowl throughout the warmer seasons. In addition to the paved, gravel, and dirt roads of the cemetery itself, Evergreen is traversed by Portland Trails’ extensive network, including the 10-mile Forest City Trail, which runs from the Presumpscot River to the Stroudwater.
On a sunny April day, we hiked through the cemetery to Evergreen Woods, using the Evergreen Loop Trail to make a circuit. Trail maps and information are available from Portland Trails. The cemetery is open daily from 7am to dusk (if you park inside the cemetery, check the hours, as the gates typically close around 6:30 or so, and your vehicle could be locked in). We parked on Stevens Avenue, and used the Baxter Trail by the chapel to access the Loop Trail from its entrance by the duck ponds. Access is also available at the end of Woodvale Street, and from the Brentwood neighborhood. Map kiosks are available at each trail intersection, but they appear new enough that they do not include the critical “You are here” dot, so pay attention to your route.
The trails, however, are well-marked, well-maintained, and provide a gateway to forests and ledges that are surprisingly wild, within the boundaries of the city of Portland. The Ledges Trail, in particular, is popular with mountain bikers seeking some rocks and elevation. On-leash dogs are also welcome (and plentiful) in this area. We enjoyed seeing new spring buds, including blossoming trout lilies. Robins, jays, and chickadees called and flew through the woods, and we even saw a large hawk scouring the cemetery for the many squirrels and chipmunks who make it their home.
As a special bonus, Great Horned Owls often use the large trees and open hunting grounds offered by the Cemetery for nests. This May, we saw them in trees overhanging the Westin and Gage plots, near the intersection of Sunset Drive and Basswood.
The Evergreen Cemetery trails are a perfect afternoon or lunch break hike for those in the Portland area, looking for green space.
Step Falls Preserve is a twenty-four acre parcel hugging the banks of Wight Brook in Newry, Maine. We visited at the beginning of May, during a road trip to see waterfalls during the spring melt. In the summer months, the shallow pools and falls are refreshing places to cool off with a dip, wade, or swim. Parking is available in a lot off Bear River Road/Route 26. The 3/4 mile trail to the top of the falls is fairly easy, with some roots and steep spots towards the end. Due to the popularity of this spot, it often fills up quickly on weekends and nice summer days.
Parking is not allowed on Route 26, and visitors are also required to observe the signage and boundaries. If the lot is full, try instead the trails and sights of Bethel or Grafton Notch State Park, between which Step Falls is located. The nearest restroom facilities are at Screw Auger Falls, 1.6 miles north on Route 26. A trail map and information regarding the Preserve are available on the website of Mahoosuc Land Trust, which received ownership of Step Falls Preserve from The Nature Conservancy in 2012.
The Cathance River Trails are a surprising green space, with a wild river ravine, in Topsham tucked next to the Highland Green development, within the sound of I-295. These are part of the Cathance River Nature Preserve, a 235 acre preserve composed of private land held in a conservation easement by the Brunswick-Topsham Land Trust. Closed due to COVID-19 restrictions for much of 2020, they are now partially re-opened, as of April 2021. Up-to-date information regarding the best places to park and map with trail closures can be found on the Cathance River Education Alliance webpage. The trails described in this post are mostly open. Dogs are not permitted in Cathance River Nature Preserve.
For a great loop hike using the available trails, just use the Rapids Trail to cut off the route described. On a mid-January day, I started with the Vernal Pool Trail, connecting past its namesake, a flat pond with a dock and nature signage, to the Highland Trail (blue blazes). This pleasant woodlands walk led over rocky hills with moss and patches of snow to a rolling, pleasant descent to the Cathance River. Here, it connected to the white-blazed Cathance River Trail (West), passing the intersection with the Barnes Leap Trail.
Knight’s Pond Preserve is a 334-acre preserve that straddles the town lines of Cumberland and North Yarmouth, with the 46-acre Knight’s Pond as the focal point. Parking is available in a small lot at 477 Greely Road Extension just short of Mill Brook, and on the street at the end of Greely Road Extension. The most current map is located on the Royal River Conservation Trust (RRCT) website, and includes more details and place names than the printed ones you will likely find in the kiosk at the parking lot. The property is managed by the Towns of Cumberland and North Yarmouth, the Chebeague & Cumberland Land Trust (CCLT), which has a printable scavenger hunt for kids, as well as the RRCT. The trails are well-marked and maintained, with trail map kiosks at most intersections.
We chose a sunny early April day for a full circuit of the Preserve, which took an hour and a half to two hours, about 4.6 miles or so, going up to Bobcat “Mountain” then back around the pond to the western side of the Preserve. Dog walkers, hikers, kids, and mountain bikers were all out enjoying the sunny day. The pond was teeming with waterfowl, and we saw mallards, Canada geese, red-winged blackbirds, and smaller ducks too far away to identify. Beaver lodges are visible on the pond, as well, and the muddy shore is full of animal tracks. Looking at the photos taken by others, it appears Knight’s Pond is also a popular ice skating destination in the winter. Bobcat Mountain (350 feet) is at the northwest corner of the Preserve, and the gap in the trees created by power lines allows for views east to the smoke stacks of Cousins Island.
In mid-March, I hiked a loop using the Loop, Perimeter, and Waterfall Trails in Rines Forest in Cumberland, as a part of a longer loop including Hadlock Forest (Falmouth), which is connected through the Rines Trail. Rines Forest is a 268-acre woodland owned by the Town of Cumberland, and preserved through a conservation easement with the Chebeague & Cumberland Land Trust (CCLT). The Forest has a network of about 3 miles of trails open for hiking, cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, fishing, hunting, picnicking, horseback riding, and snowmobiling as designated (some trails are winter-only).
Parking is available on Range Road, on the south side of the Forest, about 1.2 miles from the intersection with Winn Road. Next to the parking area is a Frog Pond & Salamander Swamp. CCLT’s website includes a printable scavenger hunt for kids. Having begun across Range Road, I continued to follow the green CCLT markings for the trail, until reaching the white blazes of the Loop Trail. The spring thaw still incomplete, I wore micro spikes for the duration of the hike, and in the ice and snow, saw the frozen tracks of a large deer, or possibly a moose.
Note from Town of Harpswell website: from May 1, 2021 to October 1, 2021, the first 1/2 mile of Cliff Trail will be closed to hikers due to a Maine Conservation Corps construction project to make it ADA accessible. The remainder of the trail is open. Park at the Town Office (263 Mountain Road) and walk up the path behind the building to access the trail entrance/exit on Community Drive. There will be temporary signs and maps installed to help hikers with the changes while the work is being completed.
The Cliff Trail in Harpswell is an approximately 2.3 mile loop, with expansive views of the Long Reach, a long finger of a bay extending from Casco Bay inland. The popular trail, with parking at the Harpswell Town Office on Mountain Road, is well-marked and maintained by the town of Harpswell (see printable map and description here at town website). I started the white-blazed trail clockwise at sunrise on a mid-January morning. It was dark and a little muddy, with plenty of roots to trip over, but no snow had accumulated, and no traction devices were necessary. Strawberry Creek, to the west of the trail, narrows to a quiet, scenic cascade, and the trail turns inland.
Low pines and white birch bark lend an enchanted forest feel, with periodic fairy house “zones” adding to the effect on the way to the Henry Creek lookout. After this viewpoint, the incline of the trail begins, a series of switchbacks through rocks and mossy hummocks that takes you up and down the ridge of the eponymous cliff.