Established in 1966, Rachel Carson National Wildlife Refuge is located along fifty miles of southern Maine coastline and divided into eleven sections between Kittery and Cape Elizabeth. In the Wells section, the Carson Trail is a short, easy, beautiful stroll that is flat, wide enough for two people side-by-side, and well-suited for those who don’t want elevation or rocky paths. This one-mile loop showcases coastal wetlands, consisting of salt marsh and deciduous and pine forests. Since I was already in the area, it seemed like a perfectly laid-back 45-minute activity.
The refuge, managed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, has its entrance at 321 Port Road in Wells, Maine, with parking, restrooms, picnic tables, signage and maps, and is open from sunrise to sunset. I would recommend getting the trail guide (found in a box at the trailhead) not because there is any danger of getting lost (near impossible) but because it details 11 stopping points along the trail. It explains various elements like “critical edge,” the difference between salt hay and smooth cordgrass, and a brief history of Rachel Carson. (If you can keep your map in good condition, please return it to the box at the end). The trail was relatively quiet, which was surprising for this beautiful Saturday afternoon.
The trail follows Merriland River (on your right) and then halfway through (viewpoint #6), you will see the intersection of Merriland River and Branch Brook as it forms Little River. At several of the lookout points, you can see the ocean crashing in the distance or sit on a bench and watch a white heron in the tall grass. Everything is well-maintained and safe. I would highly recommend this walk for small children, who can look for birds, watch as the tide comes in or goes out or run ahead of the adults to get to the next trail marker. Leashed pets are allowed (on the Carson Trail only). I would emphasize staying on the trail for obvious reasons but especially because I noticed poison ivy on the trail edge.
As a bonus – it is only a five-minute drive from the Wells Reserve at Laudholm, which has 7 miles of trails, and so you could make your way over there with a picnic lunch and enjoy the rest of the afternoon.
In season 1, episode 3 of the travel show “An Idiot Abroad,” comedian Karl Pilkington, sleeping in a cave across from the impressive facade of the lost city of Petra in Jordan, focuses on his vantage point, rationalizing, “I’d rather live in a cave with a view of a palace than live in a palace with a view of a cave.” When our annual father/daughter trip to climb Katahdin was detoured by injury, we used similar logic in planning a non-Katahdin hike at Baxter State Park – a flatter, less strenuous hike highlighted by the views of Katahdin and the many surrounding mountains of Baxter S.P. While Katahdin’s peaks are the undisputed centerpiece of this amazing place, this approach showed us a glimpse of the wonders available in the shadow of the mountain.
We kept our lean-to reservation at Katahdin Stream Campground, and when morning dawned, we filtered the chilly waters of Katahdin Stream into our water bottles. Instead of heading up the Hunt Trail to Baxter Peak, we turned south on the Appalachian Trail, all the way around Grassy Pond, Elbow Pond, Daicey Pond, down Nesowadnehunk Stream to Little and Big Niagara Falls, then back to the start. We pieced together this hike, totaling about 7.5 miles round-trip (3 hrs 45 mins), from Falcon Guides’ Hiking Maine’s Baxter State Park by Greg Westrich, and used Map Adventures’ Katahdin Baxter State Park Waterproof Trail Map to navigate. Baxter’s great website also has downloadable/printable trail maps, and the Kidney-Daicey map covers this area.
Our turn away from Katahdin’s elevation seemed serendipitous, as a steady rain picked up that would have made a steep climb tricky, and we quickly donned our rain gear. An easy rolling trail and plank bridges took us over cold, clear streams tinged sepia tones by cedars, and a hard right turn took us onto the Grassy Pond (blue blazes) and Elbow Pond Trails. We skirted these ponds, trying unsuccessfully to glimpse a morning moose. We settled for birds, frogs and a variety of mushrooms in every color and shape, from small, bright cones to giant discs that looked dangerously like pancakes.
Canoes are available to rent at Grassy, Elbow, and Daicey Ponds from the nearest Baxter S.P. ranger station, with plenty of wildlife viewing opportunities. Daicey Pond has cabins for rent, making it a great base for a week of hiking, if you can snag a reservation. At Daicey, we re-joined the Appalachian Trail, moving across the day-use parking area to the shores of Nesowadnehunk Stream (towards directional sign marked The Falls). The sides of the trail were carpeted in vibrant green mosses and ferns, creating an emerald forest by the stream.
The remains of the Toll Dam, a vestige of Maine’s logging history, came first, then a short side trail to Little Niagara Falls. The rain and the time of day contributed to a quiet trail, with mostly thru-hikers heading in the other direction, racing the season to summit Katahdin, all friendly and moving quickly. We traveled the slight downhill, and enjoyed the spectacle of the roaring waters of both falls.
Heading back after a snack at Big Niagara Falls, we re-traced our steps north along the A.T., veering south (right) on the Daicey Pond Nature Trail to vary our return route. The trail around the southern side of Daicey Pond was narrow, with wet branches tight to our legs as we moved back towards the A.T. The clouds had moved in to obscure our view of the peaks across Daicey, but a clear day must be spectacular.
The A.T. took us back to the trailhead, and our nearby vehicle. Normally, we would have enjoyed an outdoor meal on a camp stove, but the rain and cold had us in the truck with the heat on. We headed out of the park to lunch at New England Outdoors Center’s River Drivers Restaurant, overlooking Millinocket Lake (look for signs for a turn left as you head back towards Millinocket), a warm, welcoming place with great pub food and a view of Katahdin – crunchy chicken wrap and fish and chips both got high marks.
The trip to Baxter State Park is always a long one, no matter where you are arriving from, as it is remote and wild, and requires you to shed creature comforts and technology. That, and the reservation system limiting access (smart and sustainable, for the park’s protection) can put a lot of pressure on a day or weekend trip with Katahdin as the goal. But this great reclaimed wilderness holds a lot more secrets for anyone willing to broaden their outlook beyond the mountain centerpiece, and this change-up hike left us wanting to plan a much longer stay to explore the rest of Baxter State Park.
Gulf Hagas, a gem hidden in the 100 Mile Wilderness of Maine’s Appalachian Trail, has been dubbed the “Grand Canyon of the East.” Recently, this moderate (in difficulty, not grandeur) hike along the West Branch of the Pleasant River is getting more press, for better or worse, including mentions in Outside Online’s Best Hike In Every State, and in the Sep/Oct 2019 Outside Magazine print edition. Why? Waterfalls! Appalachian Trail! Beautiful rock formations! Swimming holes! Moose (well, moose droppings, anyway)! This is what you can tell any curmudgeons (I won’t name names) who come bearing excuses like, “too many bugs” or “that sounds like a lot of walking” or “I don’t have hiking boots.”
Gulf Hagas is located near the small town of Brownville, ME, about 3.3 hours from Portland and accessible through the gatehouse at Katahdin Iron Works Road (and two other checkpoints). The Katahdin Iron Works (KI) Jo-Mary Multiple Use Management Area is a region of about 175,000 acres of privately owned commercial forest, wedged conveniently between Moosehead Lake and Baxter State Park. All visitors – even those who are not camping – must stop at the gatehouse to pay the day use fee (and the camping fee if you are camping). They accept cash or check – and more cash than you might expect. On our recent camping and hiking weekend to celebrate the end of summer, four adults and one child camping for two nights and hiking for two days was $176 (under 18 is free). Information on fees can be found at North Maine Woods site. Also, pay attention while you are driving on those roads- the pot holes will get ya.
The gatekeeper at KI gate was friendly and helpful and happy to answer my questions about swimming holes and the state of the privy/outhouse at the campsite (brand new). I regret not asking him about a good spot to see a moose because I got the sense he would have known. The maps available at the gate (or print in advance here) of the area and of Gulf Hagas are particularly useful.
I would recommend camping at the KI/Jo Mary campsites. Unless you are one of the few people that live nearby, you are going to want to relax somewhere after you hike for several hours. We lucked out and got one of those late summer weekends where the evenings require jackets, the campfire is crowded and the days warm up enough to be in shorts. Late August in Maine!
Our camping site (Pleasant River #1) was sandwiched between a clean, quiet, shallow river and a dusty road that had about 4-5 cars per hour go by during the day. It included a new outhouse which (no joke) smelled like fresh pine when we arrived. The site had enough privacy and except for a few barks from a dog at a nearby camp site, we did not hear the neighbors. The covered picnic table was perfect for providing shade.
I was practicing the art of low-maintenance and so decided this would be the trip that I would go without a pillow. I spent the first night with my head on a hard-sided duffel bag, cursing this decision. Alas, nobody will ever say about me that “all she needed was a small patch of land to lay her weary head.” Turns out I need a blow-up mattress and a pillow. And chocolate. And delicious “camping-easy” coffee that even has some health benefits. It is a splurge, but when you are camping without a pillow, you will want that coffee.
We set up three tents in the three nooks of the large site, which had a great mix of sun and shade and was approximately 3.5 miles from the trailhead. My sole complaint was the road. Given the ruggedness of the road, the dust and the clouds of marijuana smoke billowing from passing cars, my advice would be to drive to the trailhead as opposed to walk. Save your energy for the gorgeous scenery along the Gulf Hagas Rim Trail! This is the hike with all the oohs and ahhs.
The trailhead for the Gulf Hagas Rim Trail is well-marked and on this sunny August Saturday the parking lot was overflowing. Several wooden hiking sticks rested next to the large trail map, to borrow for fording the river which comes at approximately .2 miles into the walk. Fortunately, the river was shallow and only reached mid-calf in the deepest areas. Because of the slippery rocks, I would highly recommend a walking stick or hiking poles and water shoes – my daughter crossed in bare feet but it did not look pleasant. The depth of the water varies from season to season and in dangerous conditions, there are other ways to hike the trail without crossing the river.
After the river crossing, you are on the Appalachian Trail. I was impressed with all those hikers who had walked perhaps since Georgia. Follow those white blazes, through The Hermitage (lots of huge, old white pine trees and hemlocks) and continue to the Rim Trail, where you say goodbye to the folks who are walking the 100-Mile Wilderness of the AT and you follow the blue blazes instead.
We took the Rim Trail along the water and then returned along the Pleasant River Tote Trail. See map here. In total, with all the small side trails to viewpoints, it is about 9 miles and there is an option to make a smaller loop, if you take the Appalachian Trail cutoff. Alternately, Gulf Hagas can be reached from a parking area for the Head of the Gulf Trail (opposite end from the AT), closer to the Greenville Road.
Many families with small children appeared to turn around at Screw Auger Falls or Buttermilk Falls. Several people were jumping into the water at Screw Auger Falls and it was the busiest spot along the walk. Everyone in our party seemed to be allergic to big groups of people (Husband mumbled something about Disneyland) and so we moved along. Certainly on a hot day this would be a great spot to cool off and I can’t imagine a more picturesque spot.
The hike does not include significant elevation and it is well marked. There are some little scrambles over rocks that a well-placed hiking pole or a tree branch would help with, but otherwise it is what I would call moderate. The AMC Maine Mountain Guide suggested allowing 4 hrs and 25 minutes for the loop, which is reasonable. We took plenty of breaks to relax and snack, and completed it in about 6 hours.
The trail has plenty of quiet, scenic areas to stop and sit and rest and stick your feet in the water while eating a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. My group had a couple of stoves and made sophisticated camping meals and hot tea. Daughter is a huge fan of Mountain House Chili Mac while the breakfast favorite was the Peak Refuel Breakfast Skillet. The JetBoil camping stove continues to impress in its efficiency.
We took the Pleasant River Tote Trail back and it was scenic in its own right – meandering woodland paths – quiet, green and easy. The walk back was much faster than the hike along the Rim Trail and the river crossing that you complete again to get back to the parking lot was refreshing on tired feet.
For post-hike refreshment, we enjoyed the cool river by the campsite, grilled hamburgers and beer and wine, and watching kingfishers and small, fast-moving ducks move by. But if you are headed back towards Portland, consider stopping at Bissell Brothers Brewing Three Rivers on Elm Street in Milo (turn right at Dot Rd just before the red train car). According to the cheery bartender, their double IPA, Preserve and Protect, is a tribute to the brothers’ father, Jensen Bissell, who was the Director of Baxter State Park for thirty years. A Katahdin benchmark is imprinted in the bar, as well.
The now-famous Bissell Brothers beers are all available on tap, and delicious food is also available for purchase outside. Relax on the outdoor patio, and watch or play cornhole and ping-pong – all without the bustle at their Portland location. And continuing towards the turnpike in Dover-Foxcroft is Butterfields Ice Cream, serving up unbelievable ice cream flavors (and now, burgers, fries, and lobster rolls) since 1950.
Gulf Hagas is a memorable day-hike with friends and family, customizable to each person’s individual abilities, with memorable scenery unique to Maine’s 100-Mile Wilderness.
The Pond Loop Trail, a 1.9 mile hike around Little Lyford Ponds near the Appalachian Mountain Club’s (AMC) Little Lyford Lodge & Cabins, is a pleasant, easy walk with abundant wildlife. The ponds straddle the townships of Bowdoin College Grant West and Bowdoin College Grant East, close to Moosehead Lake. For detailed description, check out the AMC Maine Mountain Guide or the online maps available from AMC. We hiked this short loop the morning after a longer Gulf Hagas hike. We had camped overnight at a KI/Jo-Mary campsite on the Pleasant River, but a closer stay would be at the AMC Little Lyford Lodge & Cabins, with access to many nearby trails. As with the rest of the KI/Jo-Mary Multiple Use Management Forest, there is a use fee ($10 per adult Maine Resident per day, $15 non-resident, under 18/over 70 free), payable at one of three checkpoints, the closest of which is the Hedgehog Gate on Greenville Road. If approaching from the south on Upper Valley Road, the parking area for the Pond Loop Trail is past the sign for the AMC lodge and cabins, on the left-hand side, just before the spur trail marked, “Little Lyford Pond #2 Boat Launch.”
On this sunny Sunday morning in August, we saw no other hikers for the entirety of the loop. The Pond Loop is known as a good place to see moose, but we were likely up too late in the morning to have a great chance. Nevertheless, the woods and ponds were alive with smaller animals birds, and butterflies, and the tracks and droppings of moose were evident throughout the hike. The trail is aptly named, skirting the edges of upper and lower Little Lyford Ponds.
As suggested by the Maine Mountain Guide, we walked the loop counter-clockwise. Our circuit took a fortuitous detour (we missed the hard left to go back on the east side of the upper pond), bringing us onto the Pleasant River Trail all the way to the AMC Little Lyford Lodge & Cabins. Fun fact for dog-lovers: this is the only AMC Lodge that is dog-friendly.
This added about 0.4 miles each way, but allowed us to view the cabins, the swimming hole, a beaver dam, and a viewpoint on the lower pond towards the Barren-Chairback Range. For those staying at the lodge and cabins, this would be a part of the Pond Loop.
From the viewpoint at Kendall’s Crossing, we saw loons, ducks, and a heron plying the waters of the upper pond for food. After a brief walk through a blueberry-lined path through the pines, across log bridges, and a short climb back to Upper Valley Road, we were back at the parking area.
The Pond Loop is a great morning nature hike, a mostly shaded hour on relatively flat terrain, suitable for most ages and abilities. Be quiet on the trail, listen, and slow down near the viewpoints on the Little Lyford Ponds to take a long look. You never know what you might see.
The woods and waters of Maine’s Moosehead Lake region feature a dizzying array of outdoor activities. For those with limited time (say, a weekend) in this area, sorting through the hiking, biking, boating, fishing, and ATV options can be overwhelming. A journey to the summit of Mount Kineo (1,800 ft), with its 700-plus foot rhyolite cliffs, presents a multi-faceted day trip, combining many of the factors that make Moosehead so special.
This trek starts with a 10 minute boat ride to Kineo from the dock in Rockwood (about a half hour drive from downtown Greenville). In peak summer season, the ferry, run by the Mount Kineo Golf Course, leaves from Rockwood every hour on the hour from 8 am to 6 pm ($13 cash for adults, don’t miss the last shuttle back from Kineo, leaving at 6:45 pm).
The friendly, knowledgeable shuttle captain can give you enough information to complete your hike, but to preview the trail map, check out the Moosehead Lake Chamber of Commerce Moosehead Pinnacle Pursuit. Once ashore at Kineo, the Carriage Road Trail will start to your left. For restrooms, food, water, and free trail maps, go right (watching for golfers teeing off) to the golf clubhouse.
On this day, I was with two friends, and at the shuttle captain’s suggestion, we hiked up the Indian Trail, then took the Bridle Trail on the descent. This created an approximately 3.2 mile loop hike, which took us a little over two hours, with many breaks to savor the scenery. The Indian Trail is steep, direct, and strenuous, but rewards the hiker with rapidly expanding views of Moosehead Lake and its surroundings.
The Indian Trail then intersects with the more gradual Bridle Trail, which continues to the summit and the fire tower.
The climb up (and down) the fire tower can be challenging for those with vertigo or any fear of heights, but the commanding views on a clear day are incredible. On this day, a sunny Friday in July, there were several other groups of hikers, including a vacationing pair who, after a brief conversation, surprisingly turned out to be readers of this blog. Dogs are allowed (on leash) on the ferry and the trails.
After slowly descending the fire tower steps, a winding downhill walk on the Bridle Trail leads back to the Carriage Trail and the ferry dock. For those looking for a longer day, the easy, flat Carriage Trail extends to the North Trail, which climbs up to the fire tower from the east, encircling the island. According to the shuttle captain, hikers should allow about four and a half hours to complete this longer loop.
Where to go afterwards? Obviously a swim in Moosehead to cool off. Food? Depending on timing, you can grab a beer and/or sandwich at the Mount Kineo golf clubhouse before going back to Rockwood. In Rockwood, the Rockwood Bar and Grill, from which Mount Kineo is visible, has great food and beer, and is a local favorite (the “RBG” stickers you see on cars and ATV’s refer to Rockwood Bar and Grill, not the Supreme Court Justice).
In Greenville, the aptly named Stress Free Moose Pub and Cafe has a friendly waitstaff, a rotating menu of craft beer and pub food, outdoor seating, and frequent live music.
The trek by boat and foot from Rockwood to the fire tower atop Mount Kineo is a special journey, paying off with 360 views of Moosehead Lake and the surrounding Maine woods.
Sometimes hikes are listed as “Strenuous” simply because of their length or isolation. Often, it is because of rapid elevation gain, water crossings or the chance of inclement weather at altitude. Mount Abraham (4,049 ft) in Mt. Abram Twp., one of Maine’s fourteen 4,000 footers, combines all these factors, but still remains an attainable challenge of a day hike, approximately 8.2 miles round-trip out from trailhead to summit and back. This was about four hours total time on the recent July Saturday I hiked it (I moved quickly because of weather – allow up to six hours or so, based upon your own hiking level), and I used the Maine Mountain Guide and Maine Trailfinder to research the hike.
The mountain itself is in the Mt. Abraham Public Reserved Lands Unit, and contains the second-largest (to Katahdin) alpine zone in Maine. As of July 2019, the roads were passable all the way to the trailhead, which is at the T-intersection at approximately latitude 44.96817, longitude -70.26049.
From Kingfield, head north from “downtown,” and take a left on West Kingfield Road from Route 27. Continue straight about six miles (road turns to dirt, and becomes Rapid Stream Road enroute), and take a left at the fork. After crossing two bridges, take the right fork for about a mile. At the T-intersection, the trail will be slightly to your right (trailhead sign is set slightly back in the woods), and parking will be by a sign to your left.
The path, marked with blue blazes, showed signs of recent trail work (thanks, trail crew), and had been re-routed out of lower-lying areas. Recent moose tracks and droppings were frequent, but I did not see the elusive animal on this day.
The Fire Warden’s Trail is pleasantly rugged, a steady, grinding uphill climb across a number of mountain streams, requiring a quick dance across wet, mossy rocks in some spots. The deciduous forest was thick and humid, an almost jungle-like green tunnel, dense with mosquitoes. The forest thinned out gradually with elevation, and evergreens substituted in for leafy greenery during the ascent, with a campsite and privy available at about 2.6 miles.
The breezes and open air of the alpine zone were a brief reprieve from the muggy forest before the steep, rocky climb to the top. On the summer day I hiked past the cairns lining the ascent, I was racing afternoon thunderstorms, and could see dark clouds rapidly moving, so did not waste time in the mostly unprotected half-mile between the treeline and the summit.
I did, however, enjoy the smaller evergreens crowding the narrow trail, the flowering alpine plants across the ridge, and the views of the surrounding mountains and the Carrabassett Valley. The fire tower and shelter at the summit were knocked over and caved in, and a line of cairns marked the connector trail to the Appalachian Trail.
After a quick snack and an obligatory change of socks at the windswept summit, I headed downhill, for a much easier descent back to the trailhead. The trail was lightly traveled- I saw nobody else on the way up, and only six to eight hikers headed up while I was on my way down (pleasantly light for a sunny Saturday in July).
Where to eat in Kingfield? In addition to beating the storms, my early-morning start allowed me to lunch at the incomparable Rolling Fatties. I opted for the delicious Falafel Fatty Bowl, packed with fresh greens and crispy falafel, enjoying it with a Maine Beer Company Woods and Waters IPA at an outdoor table in the sunlight.
Mount Abraham is a pleasantly demanding hike, close to the attractions of the Carrabassett Valley, and paying off with commanding views from Maine’s tenth-highest Mountain.
The Libby Hill Forest in Gray, Maine, maintained by the Friends of Libby Hill, contains nine miles of multi-use trails, spanning properties owned by the Town of Gray, Mathew Morrill Trust, SAD 15, and the Gray Community Endowment (GCE). The parking area is not far off the Maine Turnpike and Route 26, located at 50 Libby Hill Road in Gray, and the trailhead is behind Gray-New Gloucester Middle School (see trail maps here). These trails are open year-round, and are designated differently based on width, terrain, and season for hikers, bikers, cross-country skiers, and snowshoe travel.
On the July day we visited, we took the 3.1 mile Moose Odyssey Trail (white blazes), which loops through the center of the trail complex. This broad, winding path is carpeted by grass and pine needles, and wide enough in most places for two people to walk abreast, making it more of a social trail. The margins of the gently rolling trail are covered with wild blueberry and sweet fern.
The Libby Hill website contains a variety of maps on its Trail Maps page, including a digital smart phone map, Longest Day 5K race course map, individual trail descriptions and history, orienteering tour, Libby Farmstead tour, and a Tree ID Sign map, perfect for a 17-point scavenger hunt from American Beech (#3, #7) to Yellow Birch (#8). The forest abounds with birds, and we saw an Eastern Towhee close to the trail.
Once you are on the trail network, navigation is self-correcting, with laminated maps at each intersection. To the south, the Harold Libbey and Outback trails, accessible from the Moose Odyssey Trail near the Harold Libbey Memorial, continue over wetlands, and contain areas to look for wildlife, including beaver activity (according to the Libby Hill website, Harold’s father changed the spelling from Libby to Libbey to avoid being confused with two others with the same initials and last name). A note of caution – ticks can abound in the grassy areas, so be sure to take the appropriate precautions, and check yourself after the hike.
For pre- and post-hike snacks, there is a Hannaford at the end of Libby Hill Road, which according to the Libby Hill website, is the former site of William Libby’s Revolutionary War-era farm. For more outdoor activities, Libby Hill Forest is also in close proximity to the Maine Wildlife Park and Gillespie Farm (Pick Your Own).