Mt. Cutler (Hiram, ME)

The Whites from Ridge Walk
The Whites from Ridge Walk.

Mt. Cutler (1,232 ft.), part of a newly established Mt. Cutler Park and Conservation Area, is a relatively short hike in Hiram, Maine, with impressive views along the way, and multiple options for shorter and longer walks along five miles of trails (here is a detailed map and guide: MtCutlerTrails2017Rev2C-1).  Additionally, in the new 11th edition of the Maine Mountain Guide, Mt. Cutler gets its own map.

View of Saco River Valley from Mt. Cutler, Hiram, Maine
View of Saco River Valley from Mt. Cutler, Hiram, Maine

The direct route is the Barnes Trail, marked with red blazes, which ascends from a parking area by the former railroad depot off Mountain View Road, up through overgrown Merrill Park, where a (shallow) abandoned gold mine can be accessed from a side trail to the left.   The trail quickly ascends up rocky ledges to points overlooking Hiram and the Saco River below.

Looking down towards Hiram from Mt. Cutler
Looking down towards Hiram from the front ledges of Mt. Cutler

The ridge walk contains great views and blueberries in the summer.  The Barnes Trail does not extend to the actual summit of Mt. Cutler, which is on private land (there is currently no marked trail to the summit, but respectful bushwhacking to it is apparently ok), and instead turns hard left at the notch below the summit, where it meets the Saco Ridge Trail, completing the loop down to the parking area.

In addition to the parking area by the Barnes Trail, a second parking area is planned to be constructed by July 2019, with capacity for twenty vehicles, at the trailhead for the North Trail (blue-paint blazes) on Hiram Hill Road.  This trail connects with the Moraine Trail, which climbs a glacial moraine, consisting of rock and other debris pushed into a ridge by a glacier (for those familiar with the Maine Ice Age Trail Downeast, check out this post on sites for western Maine’s Ice Age Trail).  North Trail also connects with the White Flag Trail, which joins the Barnes Trail near the front ledges.

Mount Agamenticus – First, Second, and Third Hill Loop (York, ME)

 

Mount Agamenticus summit
View of the Atlantic from the summit of First Hill, Mount Agamenticus

Mount Agamenticus, overlooking the southern Maine coast, apparently derives its name from an Algonqiuan coastal place name also used in Gloucester and Charlestown, Massachusetts.  It’s not a giant, only 691 feet tall, but is part of the Mount Agamenticus Conservation Region, which covers over 10,000 acres, including over 40 miles of trails, with a trail map here.  Its location in York makes it readily accessible from the Maine Turnpike and Route One.  I had never climbed Mount Agamenticus, and figured that a looping walk over rolling hills would be a perfect spring tune-up hike.

View towards Mount Washington from First Hill, Mount Agamenticus
View towards Mount Washington from First Hill, Mount Agamenticus

These trails allow for a variety of hikes by length and ability.  On this spring day, I traversed the First, Second, and Third Hills, using the Ring, Fisher, Big A, Sweet Fern, Chestnut Oak, Ridge, Wheel, Third Hill, and Great Marsh Trails, along with Old Mountain Road, Porcupine, Rocky Road, and, again, Ring Trails to complete a loop of around 7 miles.  Much shorter loops are available (the complete Ring Trail loop is only 1.9 miles), and the Ring (west) and Witch Hazel Trails contain a “Story Walk” that might keep younger hikers moving from storyboard to storyboard, up the hill.

Observation Deck, First Hill, Mount Agamenticus
Observation Deck, First Hill, Mount Agamenticus

It’s not a long hike from the Mountain Road trailhead to the top of First Hill via the Ring (west) and Fisher Trails – I covered it in fifteen to twenty minutes at a moderate pace.  For those with mobility issues, there are also parking lots closer to the top.  The open summit has observation decks to orient you to the sights in all directions, from the Atlantic to Mount Washington, and a Learning Lodge is open weekends from 11 am to 3 pm from Memorial Day to Columbus Day.

Picnic Tables, First Hill, Mount Agamenticus
Picnic Tables, First Hill, Mount Agamenticus

There are picnic tables with views of the ocean, and restroom facilities.  Songbirds abound, and I spotted an American Goldfinch near the old ski lift structures.  Descending toward Second Hill, the trail still held some ice in shaded places, the only sign of winter’s clutches.  The low points around Second and Third Hills were dotted with vernal pools, which were already riotous with the sounds of peepers.

Tree on Second Hill, Mount Agamenticus
Tree on Second Hill, Mount Agamenticus

While First Hill is well-trafficked, with trail runners and dog walkers, the only other human being I saw on Second and Third Hills was a mountain biker.  The trails here are not as well-marked as those on First Hill, and I had to double back several times to find the trail, particularly on the Ridge Trail, and Third Hill Trail.  In addition, the summits are wooded, with less spectacular views than that of First Hill.  But the hiking is not strenuous, and the scenery contains peaceful brooks and ample wildlife viewing opportunities.  I saw turkeys, deer, and innumerable songbirds, as well as sizable ant mounds on the way down Third Hill.

Mount Agamenticus is an easily accessible, family-friendly trail network which allows the user to build his/her own itinerary based on activity, ability, and time, and provides boundless opportunities for observing fauna and flora.

Seal on observation deck, First Hill, Mount Agamenticus
Seal on observation deck, First Hill, Mount Agamenticus

Pleasant Mountain (Bridgton, ME)

Dad and daughter atop Pleasant Mountain summit
Dad and daughter atop Pleasant Mountain summit

(Updated in February 2019 to include winter hiking details)

Pleasant Mountain (2,006 ft) is a mountain in Bridgton right next to Shawnee Peak ski area, with trails mostly on land owned by the Loon Echo Land Trust (see here for detailed maps).  Dad and daughter hiked this with our cousin in April 2017 as part of our preparation for our 100 Mile Wilderness trek via the (moderate) Southwest Ridge Trail (also known as the MacKay Pasture Trail), 5.8 miles up/back.  I hiked this most recently in February 2019.  Map and description are also available in the stellar Maine Mountain Guide.

This hike can be busy in summer, particular up the Ledges Trail, but a winter morning can provide solitude.  There were a few hikers, but I also saw woodpeckers, crows, and a herd of deer.  The deer were using the same path, and bounded away from me, big white tails flashing, every time they heard my footsteps crunching in the snow, coming no closer than about fifty yards.

Winter morning view of Moose Pond from near Southwest Summit, Pleasant Mountain
Winter morning view of Moose Pond from near Southwest Summit, Pleasant Mountain

We have hiked this mountain via the Ledges Trail from the east, and enjoy the western approach more, as the ridge hike provides wonderful views on the way up, including at the Southwest Summit (1,900 ft).  The parking area on Denmark Road is well-maintained, plowed in winter, and easy to find (for directions, use Google Maps to search “Pleasant Mountain Southwest Ridge Trail“), and it is a fairly steady climb to the top, with a steeper climb after the junction with the Ledges Trail, for the last .2 miles to the top.  A wood teepee structure near the Southwest Summit makes for a good point to take a break along the way.

Wood teepee near Southwest Summit, Pleasant Mountain
Wood teepee near Southwest Summit, Pleasant Mountain

 

A mix of sun, shade, and elevation provide different challenges throughout the hike in spring and summer, as the ridge northeast of the Southwest Summit blocks the sun during most of the morning.  As of February 2019, the trail was well-packed, and I used micro-spikes from the trailhead to the summit, with no need for snowshoes.  Steps to the right or left of the packed snow, particularly in the valley between the Southwest Summit and the Main Summit, will put you post-holed into deep snow. There were cross-country ski tracks parallel to the trail, providing more options.

View of the White Mountains from Pleasant Mountain main summit
View of the White Mountains from Pleasant Mountain main summit

A depressed area in the section between the Southwest Summit and Pleasant Mountain Summit is a vernal pool in spring, with incredibly loud peepers, a heavy covering of snow, and probably the first ticks of the year in April.  The pool gave us our first chance to use our water filtration system, the MSR Sweetwater, in April 2017.  A couple of pumps produced clear, cold water.

Pleasant Mountain summit in winter, with observation tower guideline and Mount Washington in background
Pleasant Mountain summit in winter, with observation tower guideline and Mount Washington in background

As seen above in the summit photo, the views of the White Mountains to the west, particularly Mount Washington, are wonderful on clear days.  An old fire tower still stands on the summit.  The descent requires a slight uphill climb in the valley between the main summit and the Southwest Summit, but it’s a quick downhill (careful of footing) after that, back to the trailhead, about a three-and-a-half hour out-and-back hike.  If you can time it right, stop by Standard Gastropub in Bridgton after the hike to enjoy craft beer and unbelievable food.

Burnt Meadow Mountain (Brownfield, ME)

Descending from the North Peak via the Twin Brook Trail, headed toward the White Mountains
Descending from the North Peak via the Twin Brook Trail, headed toward the White Mountains.

(Updated in January 2019 to include winter hiking details)

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.

Burnt Meadow Mountain map and trail description from trailhead kiosk along Rte 160 in Brownfield.
Burnt Meadow Mountain map and trail description from trailhead kiosk along Rte 160 in Brownfield.

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 on the narrow shoulder of Route 160.  For updated winter trail conditions, check the Burnt Meadow Mountain Trail page on All Trails.  On the January 2019 day I went, the snow on the trail was packed, and micro-spikes helped with some of the resulting ice on rocks.  The only deeper snow was on the Stone Mountain trail.

Not quite ready yet
Not quite ready yet in June.

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 the way, we saw hawks wheeling below us, and visibility was outstanding on a sunny, cool June day.  In winter, the climb had the effect of being a pleasantly continuous ridge hike without the leaves to obscure views.

Watching three hawks (a pair and a loner) hunt in the valley below the Burnt Mountain Trail
Watching three hawks (a pair and a loner) hunt in the valley below the Burnt Mountain Trail in summer.

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).

 

Winter ascent up to the North Peak, Burnt Meadow Mountain
Winter ascent up to the North Peak, Burnt Meadow Mountain

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.

A cairn marks the descent from the North Peak to the Twin Brook Trail
A cairn marks the descent from the North Peak to the Twin Brook Trail.

In winter, I took the Stone Mountain Trail, 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 required some travel through deeper snow, but nothing requiring snowshoes as of January 2019.

Follow blue blazes through a birch forest to the Stone Mountain summit
Follow blue blazes through a birch forest to the Stone Mountain summit.

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).

Brownfield Town Beach
Brownfield Town Beach

Sweetie’s Ice Cream in Standish is a great way to cool off on the way back to the Portland area in the summer.  Another option is the Whistle Stop General Store in Baldwin to grab food – open all winter for snowmobilers and other travelers.

Mowry Beach (Lubec, ME)

Mowry Beach Trail from the Pleasant Street trailhead
Mowry Beach Trail from the Pleasant Street trailhead.

A short distance from downtown Lubec, the easternmost town in the U.S., Mowry Beach is a quiet 48-acre conservation area overlooking Deep Cove, Lubec Channel and Canada’s Campobello Island.  This area, managed by the Downeast Coastal Conservancy (DCC), offers a .4 mile trail from Lubec’s Consolidated School on South Street to a parking area at the end of Pleasant Street, including a 1,700 foot boardwalk.  The DCC publishes a map and brochure, available on their website.

View of downtown Lubec and the international bridge to Campobello from Mowry Beach
View of Lubec village and the international bridge to Campobello from Mowry Beach.

We learned of this beach through a great Cobscook Trails Map and Guide published by Cobscook Trails, with hikes throughout the Cobscook Bay region, a free and widely available (at local businesses) pamphlet which I would recommend for anyone exploring the area.  At the Pleasant Street end of the trail, which we accessed via a short walk from downtown, is 1,800 feet of shorefront along a sand beach.  According to guides, ancient tree stumps can be seen along the lower portions of the beach at low tide, a forest that was present during an era with lower water levels.

On the October day we visited, seals were active, using the rapidly outgoing tide to move swiftly east at waterskiing speeds in the Lubec Channel in search of food.  For sea-glass collectors, this working waterfront has a variety of shiny objects along the shore.  During our walk, we also encountered two people helpfully picking up any garbage left on the beach.

Boardwalk on Mowry Beach Trail
Boardwalk on Mowry Beach Trail.

We turned into the trail, passing bright beach rose bushes. The trail and boardwalk are alive with birds, and we startled a large bird of prey that had been resting in a tree next to the boardwalk, which took off almost straight up, like a rocket (which, in turn, startled us).  DCC’s guide lists rough-legged hawks, northern harriers, and northern shrikes as frequent visitors to the conservation area.

Mowry Beach conservation area from the playground of Lubec Consolidated School
Mowry Beach conservation area from the playground of Lubec Consolidated School.

We continued through the coastal bog and an area lined with cattails and small trees, emerging behind the Lubec Consolidated School.  For those with mobility issues, intimidated by longer hikes, or entertaining smaller children, this relatively short walk on wide paths and boardwalk is a great side excursion from the village of Lubec.

Cutler Coast Public Lands (Cutler, ME)

Fall foliage on Coastal Trail near Black Point
Fall foliage on Coastal Trail near Black Point.

The “Bold Coast” of Maine is the area of coastal Washington County stretching from approximately Milbridge to Calais, and accessible through a route designated as the Bold Coast Scenic Byway (see map here from Maine DOT), which largely follows U.S. 1 North.  Bold Coast Maine, a collaboration by the Washington County Council of Governments and Downeast-Acadia Regional Tourism, has an extensive site dedicated to the many attractions of this region, with a great interactive map, searchable by interest (Arts and Culture, Food and Drink, Recreation, etc.).  For some area context, including post-hike food and drink, see the post on this blog on Quoddy Head State Park in Lubec.

For hikers, the centerpiece of this great region has to be the Cutler Coast Public Lands, managed by the Maine Bureau of Parks and Lands, which publishes an excellent guide and map. An important update to this map, however, is a rerouting of the Inland Trail, just east of the junction with the Black Point Brook Cutoff, which adds 1.2 miles to any loop using this segment, and was still in place as of October 2018.

Inland Trail Reroute (note 1.2 mile change in yellow), Cutler Coast Public Lands
Inland Trail Reroute (note 1.2 mile change in yellow), Cutler Coast Public Lands

These lands, overlooking the Bay of Fundy, have 10 miles of trails and three remote tent sites (first come, first serve) for hiking and camping with unparalleled views.  We started on the Coastal Trail, which is a 1.4 mile hike east from the parking area off Route 191 in Cutler to the ocean.  According to the guide, this is the easiest segment, and the remainder of the trails are “moderately difficult.”

None of the trails we explored here were particularly strenuous, but the paths are winding and require some climbing up and down over the rolling terrain.  Like Quoddy Head, however, there are sudden cliffs that make it a potentially dangerous place for younger children.  The rocky coastal sections are steep, and footing could be treacherous in rainy periods.  And given the boggy inland areas, the insects in May and June must be fairly aggressive.

Coastal Trail view to south of Cutler Coast Public Lands
Coastal Trail view to south of Cutler Coast Public Lands.

The payoff upon reaching the coast, however, is instantaneous, as the dark rocky cliffs and forested coastline meet dramatically with the ocean in a stimulation of the five senses that can only be experienced firsthand.  We picked our way slowly down the Coastal Trail toward Black Point, stopping at each short side overlook trail to listen to the powerful rumble of the waves and smell the mix of sea spray and pine.

Maine's Bold Coast, Cutler Coast Public Lands.
Maine’s Bold Coast, Cutler Coast Public Lands.

The Black Point Brook Loop, with a turnaround at the beach at Black Point Cove, is normally 5.5 miles, but with the reroute on the Inland Trail, was closer to 6.7 miles, which took us about four hours at a slow pace, with many stops.

We agreed that a better (delayed gratification) itinerary for us would have been to take the Inland Trail first to the Black Point Brook Cutoff, have lunch at Black Point Cove, then hike up the Coastal Trail, so that our route back would take us along the shore (rather than having the forested trail and circuitous reroute on the return trip).

Rocky beach at Black Point, Cutler Coast Public Lands.
Rocky beach at Black Point, Cutler Coast Public Lands.

The Inland Trail was impressive in its own way, however, with variety in flora and fauna, rocky sections, mossy green hummocks, and some open meadows.  The fall colors were much more pronounced in this section, with many deciduous trees and colorful bushes.  We also saw many birds, including a noisy pair of Canada jays near the path.

For those looking for a longer route, or an overnight trip, the Fairy Head Loop is 9.2 miles (10.4 miles with current reroute), including 3.8 miles along the shore front, and this route accesses the three permitted campsites.

This quiet section of Maine’s Bold Coast, where the woods and the ocean come together, instantly became one of our favorite hikes.  Any time a hike ends at a beach (see Morse Mountain), it’s special, and the Cutler Coast rivals any scenery on the East Coast, without the crowds of Acadia.

Quoddy Head State Park (Lubec, ME)

Rocky beach off the Coastal Trail, Quoddy Head State Park.
Rocky beach off the Coastal Trail, Quoddy Head State Park.

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.

West Quoddy Head Lighthouse, Lubec, ME
West Quoddy Head Lighthouse, Lubec, ME

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.

Coastal Trail at Quoddy Head State Park, Lubec, ME
Coastal Trail at Quoddy Head State Park, Lubec, ME.

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).

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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.

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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.

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Lubec fishing fleet at dusk

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.