Smalls Falls

Smalls Falls, Franklin County, Maine

Smalls Falls is a part waterfall hike, part scenic rest area, located along Route 4 in Franklin County, Maine. Plenty of parking, charcoal grills, toilet facilities, and picnic tables along the river make this an ideal place to stop for a picnic lunch, walk around, and even get in the falls and pools to cool off in the Rangeley area.

Smalls Falls, Franklin County, Maine

The rest area, clearly marked with a sign on Route 4, is on the south side of the road, along the Sandy River, about 12 miles south of Rangeley. Smalls Falls are possibly named for Jesse Small, a Miller who lived in the area around the time of the Civil War.1

Smalls Falls, Franklin County, Maine

From the northwest corner of the parking lot, trails (about 1/2 mile total) crisscross the Sandy River waterfall area and Chandler Mill Stream, climbing to other sets of falls above, and ending at a gravel road north of the rest area. This area can be crowded in the summer, with ample cigarette smoke in the picnic area and a very different pollution inside the pit toilets, but can be very quiet at times, particularly weekday mornings.

Chandler Mill Stream near Smalls Falls, Franklin County, Maine

The water flow and temperature vary with the season and weather conditions, and in April, there is even an annual Smalls to the Wall Steep Creek Race (unfortunately canceled in 2020 due to COVID-19), in which kayakers brave the steep, narrow chutes.

1Van Baalen, M.R., Reusch, D.N., and Slack, J.F., 2017, Smalls Falls Revisted: A Journey Through a Paleozoic Sedimentary Basin in Johnson, B. and Eusden, J.D., ed., Guidebook for Field Trips in Western Maine and Northern New Hampshire: New England Intercollegiate Geological Conference, Bates College, p. 35-60. https://doi.org/10.26780/2017.001.0003

Horse Mountain (Baxter State Park)

Horse Mountain Trail, Baxter State Park

Horse Mountain (1,589 ft) is the first trail you will encounter through Baxter State Park’s Matagamon Gate. This hike, about 3.3 miles, taking about an hour and twenty minutes with the inclusion of the East Spur Overlook, starts uphill on a narrow track through a forest dominated by birch. Map and description are available from two indispensable books – the AMC Maine Mountain Guide and Falcon Guides’ Hiking Maine’s Baxter State Park by Greg Westrich. Throughout Baxter State Park, I used Map Adventures’ Katahdin Baxter State Park Waterproof Trail Map to navigate.  Baxter’s great website also has downloadable/printable trail maps, and the Trout Brook Farm map covers this area.

Horse Mountain Trail near summit, Baxter State Park

The sparsely recorded trail log and spiderwebs across the trail attest to its lesser-used nature. In fact, as I was getting ready to hike at the tiny parking area, a man stopped his vehicle and told me that he had hiked every mountain in Baxter State Park except Horse Mountain. I don’t know why he stopped to tell me this, but it provided the proper motivation for me to do something that he had not.

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Tunk Mountain (T10 SD)

Plank bridges on Tunk Mountain trail

Located between the blueberry fields of Cherryfield and the Downeast coast, Tunk Mountain (1,157 feet) is part of the Donnell Pond Public Lands, managed by Maine’s Bureau of Parks and Lands (BPL), with the upper summit area on land owned by The Nature Conservancy (trail map). Parking for this moderate hike (about 3.9 miles out and back) is on the north side of the Blackwoods Scenic Byway (ME-182) between Sullivan and Cherryfield, consisting of a large lot, a pit toilet, and an information kiosk. This lot does fill up quickly, however, on weekends.

Boulders and caves, Tunk Mountain trail

The Tunk Mountain Trail is marked by blue blazes, and starts with a downward pitch, towards plank bridges, tree roots, chattering red squirrels and chipmunks, and the sound of birds, including mourning doves and hermit thrushes. The geologic past is clearly visible in the mixed forest along the trail, with boulders haphazardly strewn among the trees. About 1/3 of a mile along the trail, some of these boulders hold small caves accessed through short side trails.

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Cliff Walk at Prouts Neck (Scarborough, Maine)

Cliff Walk at Prouts Neck, Scarborough, Maine
Cliff Walk at Prouts Neck, Scarborough, Maine

(Update August 1, 2020: From spring to earlier this summer, this trail was temporarily closed, and is now re-opened. Please abide by distancing requirements, any posted signage, and turn around if the gates are closed.)

If you like dramatic cliffs, ocean views, rocky beaches and stunning homes, this may be your walk! The residents at Prouts Neck in Scarborough, Maine harbor a secret gem in their gated community – but fret not – while the entrances are hidden and parking is complicated, it is still possible (and legal) to walk variations of the same 1-mile route that Winslow Homer did, even if you are not an “insider.”

This is definitely categorized as a Sunday stroll-type of walk, a walk with a good friend that you haven’t seen in a while or a lone walk with a camera or sketch book. The uneven terrain and sometimes narrow path demand a leisurely pace. The smell of rugosa roses, the salty ocean breeze and the lobster boats are center stage and require frequent pauses. The views are unbeatable. The only problem is logistics. Below we will describe how to safely and lawfully enjoy a hike in summer, or even winter, from the Black Point Inn (45 minutes to an hour) or a longer “lollipop” loop from Ferry Beach (3.7 miles, about an hour and a half).

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Morse Mountain to Seawall Beach (Phippsburg, ME)

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View from Morse Mountain, Phippsburg, Maine

(Update: On June 1, 2020, the Bates-Morse Mountain Conservation Area re-opened to the public, with parking lot capacity reduced to allow for social distancing between vehicles. They advise to plan your trip accordingly, and note that they “turn cars away once the parking lot is full.” You can check the status of the lot online at https://www.bmmparking.com/)

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, a 3.8 mile out-and-back hike over Morse Mountain (433 feet) to Seawall Beach.  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, the terrain (mostly paved) and the distance. This hike checks all the boxes for me. Let’s begin!

Morning light through trees, trail over Morse Mountain to Seawall Beach

This trailhead is well-marked. From Route 1 in Bath, you follow Route 209 south to Route 216 to Morse Mountain Road where there is a small parking lot on your left. Arrive early, particularly on summer weekends, because parking is limited (see note and link at beginning to check on it last-minute, particularly with less parking lot capacity due to social distancing). We have been turned away on Father’s Day weekend. At about 8:30 am on a summer Saturday, people are trickling in, but there are usually still spots available. By half an hour to an hour later, all the spots can be full. There is a friendly attendant there, giving maps, selling crafts and answering questions (donations accepted).

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Lowell Preserve (Windham, ME)

Lowell Preserve, Windham, Maine

The Roscoe and Elva Lowell Preserve in Windham, Maine is a 308 acre preserve managed by the Town of Windham, close to Little Duck Pond and the Falmouth town line. The trails in the northeast corner of the Preserve connect to the North Falmouth Community Forest. Trailhead parking is at the East Windham Fire Station, 45 Falmouth Road, Windham, and trail map is available here.

Roscoe & Elva Lowell Preserve, Windham, Maine

The trails constitute about eight miles of loops, which can be very difficult to navigate. On the July day we explored, we took about a 3.5 mile loop, using the Libby Hill Trail and the Roscoe Loop. There are self-correcting trail maps placed intermittently throughout the preserve, as well as wooden numbered signs that would be helpful if the numbers had any relation to the map.

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Raymond Community Forest and Pismire Bluff

The Raymond Community Forest is a network of four trails over 356 acres between Crescent Lake and Pismire Mountain (833 ft), protected by the Loon Echo Land Trust (LELT). I decided to combine all four into a modified loop (approximately 4 miles/1.5 hrs) to try and see as much of the Forest as possible. The lower trails (Spiller Homestead and Grape Expectations) are open to pedestrians and mountain bikes, while the trails to the east of Conesca Road (Pismire Bluff and Highlands Loop) are pedestrian-only. Leashed dogs are welcome.

Wildflowers, Raymond Community Forest

The clearly marked trailhead, with parking, is located off Conesca Road in Raymond, and has a large kiosk with a map of the Forest and Raymond Community Forest trail maps available. On the warm July morning I visited, the field by the kiosk was bright with wildflowers.

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Rattlesnake Mountain (Raymond, ME)

Bri-Mar trailhead at ME-85 in Raymond, Maine

Rattlesnake Mountain (1,035 ft) is an approximately 2.6 mile moderately difficult (but family-friendly) out-and-back hike in Raymond, Maine, with two good viewpoints overlooking the Lakes Region. Allow about an hour or two for this adventure, depending on the abilities of those in your group. The small, well-marked parking area for the Bri-Mar trailhead is off Webbs Mills Road (ME-85), and open from sunrise to sunset. No dogs are allowed on this trail.

Wildflowers on Bri-Mar Trail, Rattlesnake Mountain, Raymond, Maine

We had completed this hike several years ago as a family during the fall, and the early July day I chose for this attempt was much warmer, with the field at the beginning of the hike full of wildflowers and bees. The field gives way to a wide, pine-covered road through a swampy area, then progresses upward on a narrower path.

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Shaker Woods Reserve (Alfred, ME)

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Shaker Woods Reserve, Alfred, ME

Shaker Woods Reserve is a short lollipop loop hike in Alfred, Maine, about 1.9 miles in total length (appx 45 minutes). The 34-acre Reserve, accessible from a small parking lot on Stone Road, is owned by the Town of Alfred, and is open from dawn to dusk, for foot traffic only (dogs must be leashed). A detailed map is available from Three Rivers Land Trust.

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Shaker Woods Reserve trails, Alfred, ME

On a cool June morning (read: before mosquitoes woke up), I hiked this quiet, wooded trail, which winds through land bounded on the east by the Middle Branch of the Mousam River and on the south by Hay Brook. Deer tracks covered the trail, and throughout my walk, I could hear them bounding away from me intermittently, but never saw them. The trail was lined with ferns and the bright white flowers of berry bushes.

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Presumpscot River Preserve (Portland, ME)

Calmer water and a cormorant, past Presumpscot Falls, Portland, ME
Calmer water and a cormorant, past Presumpscot Falls, Portland, ME

The Presumpscot River Preserve, with trails maintained by Portland Trails, consists of 48 acres along the Presumpscot River, which flows from Sebago Lake to Casco Bay, owned collaboratively between the City of Portland, City of Falmouth, Portland Trails and private landowners. This Preserve is accessible from trailheads at Oat Nuts Park on Summit, Hope Lane, Overset Rd, and the west side of Rte 100 at the bridge over the Presumpscot (Portland/Falmouth line).

Presumpscot River Preserve, Portland, ME

From the Route 100 Trailhead, it is approximately 2.2 miles one-way to the Oat Nuts trailhead on Summit, and 1.6 miles to Presumpscot Falls. This makes for a 4.4 mile or 3.2 mile total out and back. A lollipop loop is possible, using the Sebago To The Sea Trail, but requires travel on roads (Garsoe Drive and Route 100). For comprehensive maps, see Portland Trails’ site.

This small riverside preserve is an excellent place to bike, to run trails, to see birds and wildflowers, to fish, and even (for the bold) to swim. Spring wildflowers cycle through their peak here, including trillium, trout lilies, and lady slippers, and every week can include a new bloom.

Presumpscot River Preserve, Portland, ME

On recent trips, we saw cormorants, herons, ospreys, nuthatches, gulls, and sparrows. Some of these birds are drawn by late spring’s alewife run. In mid-summer, there are blackberries along the Oat Nuts trail, and in open areas near power lines, closer to the Overset entrance.

Presumpscot River near Oat Nuts Trail intersection, Portland, ME

Portions of the Oat Nuts trail have poison ivy close to (but not on) the trail, so be cautious about small children wandering and grabbing. Additionally, you will find mosquitoes aplenty during the wetter months, which are not terrible if you keep moving.

Presumpscot Falls, Portland, ME

The falls are loud, rushing, and impressive, particularly in the spring melt, and the trail continues alongside, showing the former dam site, which was removed in 2002. The trail ends at private land prior to the Allen Ave/Falmouth bridge, so please respect private property.

Oat Nuts Trail, Portland, Maine

The Presumpscot River Preserve is a family-friendly destination, with shaded trails and loops of wildflowers to explore, close to Maine’s largest downtown, but far from a city. We have a particular affinity for this place, having visited as a family, and have smelled wildflowers, picked berries, and inspected salamanders and bugs underneath logs there for years.