Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument (Katahdin Loop Road)

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During a visit to Baxter State Park, dad and daughter found ourselves with sore legs and a half-day to explore, and we decided to check out Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument via the Katahdin Loop Road.  We got our direction from a Katahdin Chamber of Commerce visitor’s guide and a pamphlet from Natural Resources Council of Maine (NRCM), but we had followed the progress of the Monument since its creation in August 2016.

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.

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Lynx Pond

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.

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Looking south from The Overlook on Katahdin Loop Road.  The large lake is Millinocket Lake.
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Views of Katahdin from The Overlook on Katahdin Loop Road

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.

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.

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Late summer flowers and plants along the IAT

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.

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Moose tracks and droppings on the IAT

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.

Morse Mountain to Seawall Beach (Phippsburg)

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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.

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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!

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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:

  1. 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.
  2. Bring bug spray.
  3. Consider staying a while at the beach, which means that you might need a towel, sunscreen, hat, and snacks! The beach is that good.
  4. Go early in the day to get a parking spot.
  5. 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.

Peaked Mountain

In August 2018, we hiked Peaked Mountain (1,160 ft), also known as Chick Hill, in the Clifton-Amherst area off Route 9.  For years, we had observed the massive cliffs of Peaked and Little Peaked Mountains looming over the Airline, and hiking to the top was a great experience.  We took our instructions from the AMC Maine Mountain Guide, as well as a November 2017 Portland Press Herald article by Carey Kish on Airline Road hikes.  We did this 2.2 mile up-and-back hike during a sweltering heat wave, with temperatures in the nineties, and it took us about an hour, total.

The trail route provided by the AMC guide needs no addition – we easily followed the logging road (fire road 32) from the trailhead, past the turn-off for Little Peaked Mountain, and turned into the woods at utility pole 18.  A steep trail through the woods (which felt like a jungle on this hot, humid day) leads up to the open areas below the summit.

Mom/wife and daughter reached the cliff edge below the summit, and enjoyed the cooler breezes, while Dad continued to the top and looked at the expansive views.  The longer alternative, taken by another group of hikers while we were there, is to take the road all the way to the summit cell tower.

The trip down the mountain was much faster than the way up, descending the gravel road with occasional stops for raspberries and blackberries.  Little Peaked Mountain would have to wait for next time.  Most importantly, a stop on Route 9 in Aurora at Mace’s American Snackbar for cold Gifford’s ice cream capped a great hike.

River Point Conservation Area

Off the West Falmouth exit of I-95 (exit 53), tucked behind the Hannaford plaza, is a hidden gem.  You can find a detailed description of the land and its history at the Town of Falmouth site regarding the River Point Conservation Area.  This 1.4 mile network of trails also links to the Cross Falmouth trails and Portland Trails, as well as being accessible by canoe from the Presumpscot River.

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On the cloudy late July afternoon we visited the trails, mosquitoes were thick, and ticks were abundant in the tall grassy areas, so plan appropriately with insect repellent/gear.  This did not hamper our enjoyment of the flowers and birds throughout the conservation area.  Also, stay on the trails to avoid poison ivy.

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Interpretive signs along the trails.

The interpretive signs along the trail would be good for scavenger hunt-type activities with kids, and provide insight to the area, its history, and the flora and fauna that inhabit it.  The signs also disclose that the trail is sponsored by Dunkin Donuts, which has a location at the adjacent shopping center.

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A massive beetle encountered on the trail.

According to the Town of Falmouth website, River Point was used for thousands of years as a campsite by Native Americans as they traveled seasonally from Sebago Lake to the ocean. The first white settlers homesteaded the original 151-acre property in 1775, and farmed there until 1883, establishing a brickyard and shingle mill on the property. In 1859, the Kennebec & Portland Railroad line bisected the property.  The bridge, the only bridge in Maine built to connect to just one house, provided access to Route 100. The town acquired River Point in 1995 when the shopping center was developed. The Town Council designated the 41-acre property as a conservation area in 2009.

This small conservation area, with a short, flat loop trail, is perfect for a lunchtime or after-work walk in the greater Portland area, and the open fields, with birdhouses, are excellent places to observe songbirds (and in the evening, bats).  The town of Falmouth lists allowable uses as: Hiking, mountain biking, snowshoeing, cross-country skiing, fishing, and nature study.  For those with pets, just check the signs beforehand, as pets are not allowed when birds are nesting.

Mt. Zircon

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View from the Mt. Zircon summit

Dad and daughter hiked Mt. Zircon (2,240 ft) in Milton and Peru, Maine, on July 21, 2018.  This moderate out and back 5.8 mi hike took us about three hours, with a picnic lunch at the summit, and plenty of breaks to enjoy the scenery.  As described in online articles and guides, the start of the hike, a gravel road off South Rumford Road across from the Androscoggin River, is not the easiest place to find (Google Maps will likely point you to the wrong side of the road).  The best directions we found were in the AMC Maine Mountain Guide – look for the Rumford Water District tree farm sign, and the gravel road leading uphill past a red gate.

The trail starts with a steady uphill climb on a gravel road for 2.1 miles.  This summer day, there were numerous raspberries and wildflowers on the sides of the road and the edges of adjoining woodlots, as well as a variety of colorful butterflies.

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Butterflies along the Mt. Zircon trail

At about 1.5 miles, we reached a spring house on the left side of the gravel road, with an outlet pipe falling into a mossy hollow on the right side of the road (you can read more about the Moon Tide Spring house and the now-defunct Zircon Water Bottling Company here).  The water was cold and fresh, and we filled our 3L Osprey water bladders to capacity on the return trip, and enjoyed this spring water for several days after the hike.

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The Moon Tide Spring House and its outlet

At 2.1 miles, we turned left onto the path to the summit through the woods, which gained elevation quickly along a narrow but well-maintained path.

We saw a variety of toads and a couple wood frogs, as well as the recent tracks of deer.

To our delight, the beginning of the rocky section to the summit was filled with blueberries, our first ripe ones of the season.  The path to the top weaved past several rocky ledges, giving views in almost all directions, including the Whites, Black Mountain and Sunday River.

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A dragonfly zooms past the tattered flag and cairn atop Mt. Zircon.

We had packed a lunch, and enjoyed it in a shady spot between the summit cairn and the fallen fire tower, with squadrons of dragonflies keeping away any biting flies.  After we finished eating, we used the bag and containers from lunch to collect blueberries to bring back for the next morning’s pancakes, being mindful of the fragile plants and lichens surrounding them.

 

The same path and gravel road brought us back to our car after a relaxed downhill walk.  We had the trail to ourselves most of the time, only seeing a couple people on the gravel road walking their dogs, and two riders on dirt bikes on the ATV section.  Mt. Zircon is a quiet hike which delivers great views, fresh berries, and, as a bonus, cold, clear spring water.

Sabattus Mountain

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

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

 

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

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

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Park bench on the summit

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

Douglas Mountain

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View from the stone tower at the summit

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

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A mossy brook along the Eagle Scout Trail

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

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

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

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

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