Cliff Trail (Harpswell, ME)

Henry Creek lookout, Cliff Trail, Harpswell, ME

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, 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.

Cliff Trail, Harpswell, ME

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.

Sunrise at Long Reach, Cliff Trail, Harpswell, ME

Here, the smells and sounds of humanity are still present, through whiffs of woodsmoke and the sounds of cars. These quickly gave way, however, to extended views of the Long Reach from the cliff tops and the sounds of morning birds. I would normally have lingered, but could hear the sound of voices behind me, other early morning hikers, and wanted to preserve that solitary feeling, so I kept going.

Cliff Trail, Harpswell, ME

The trail skirts the Long Reach (and another “fairy house zone”) before turning west and descending through the Harpswell transfer station back to the parking lot (follow the paw prints on the ground). The town’s map lists the trail as challenging, but daughter and I did this trail together back when she was five or six, and the only real challenge was an unexpected nest of yellow jackets along our route that tagged her a few times.

Cliff Trail, Harpswell, ME

Exercise caution, however, on or near the cliff faces of the Long Reach side, as there are sheer drops that could be very treacherous for unsupervised young children. I finished this loop in about an hour, with plenty of energy to tackle other seaside hikes in the Midcoast area.

Cliff Walk at Prouts Neck (Scarborough, Maine)

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

(Update January 17, 2021: From spring to early summer 2020, this trail was temporarily closed, and was re-opened with distancing requirements. Hikers have advised that the Prouts Neck Association has requested that this route be walked in a clockwise direction, ending at the gate by the Winslow Homer House. In order to accomplish this, hikers should walk from Black Point Road across Seal Rock Drive, and begin the Cliff Walk by the Scarborough Beach Club. As directed below, please respect private property, obey 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).

Western Cove from Black Point Road, Prouts Neck, Scarborough, Maine

Based on previous reviews online, I noticed that there are a lot of complaints about accessibility. This is real. At the end of Black Point Road, where it becomes Winslow Homer Road, you will be stopped by a gate and a keypad, signaling a private road (And in the summer, likely a member of the Scarborough Police Department just idling in his or her car). Winslow Homer’s old studio (owned by Portland Museum of Art and open to the public with a ticket purchased in advance) is in this development, as well as a myriad of super wealthy people who don’t want the riff-raff.

Just before that gate on your right, you will see a driveway and about twenty feet down the driveway on your left is some variation of a lovably crooked sign that says “Cliff Walk” with an overgrown-looking trail (newer signs have now been posted as of February 2020). While this is one entrance, this does you almost no good because you can’t park here. In fact, there is no parking at all around here. This is some of the most prestigious real estate in Maine – they certainly don’t want more cars. I had a cop follow me nearly the entire way down the road until I got to the gate. 

There are two primary parking options. First, have lunch at the Black Point Inn, which is on Black Point Road. They will let you park in their lot if you are a guest of the hotel. Once you are done with lunch, ask them where the entrance to the Cliff Walk is (you have to walk towards the back of the Black Point Inn property), change into some walking shoes and get going. The Black Point Inn restaurant closes after the summer, so keep that in mind.

Ferry Beach, Scarborough, Maine

Option two is to park at Scarborough’s gorgeous Ferry Beach ($15/day in summer season with bathrooms and showers, free in winter). Young children can splash in shallow water and collect hermit crabs, beachwalkers can walk, beach loungers can lounge. First step is to check the tide chart, and go at low tide. Park at Ferry Beach and then figure out who is going to walk and who is going to hang out at the beach (tough choices).

If you are a walker, make your way to the Cliff Walk. Proceed from the parking lot to the beach, hang a left on the beach. Follow the beach all the way to the end (beach curves to the left drastically). When you have reached the end of the beach, look left on the grassy hill and there are steps that will take you up to Black Point Road. At this point, let’s say you have a fellow adult walker who is already complaining and you are thinking about how this is going to take way too long and be unpleasant with said person. Straight ahead of you at this point is the Black Point Inn. Suggest that they have a seat on the porch of the Black Point Inn and order a cocktail and you will pick them up later. Wave goodbye.

Winter view of Ferry Beach from Black Point Road, Prouts Neck, Scarborough

Once you have resolved these pressing issues of access, parking and companionship, press on to marvel at the splendor that is the Maine coast. Take a right on Black Point Road, paying attention as you walk on the road, which has a narrow shoulder. Follow it until you get to the Winslow Homer House/No Trespassing sign. Just before this barricaded road, you will see a path on the right, as depicted and described above. Go fifty feet down this path and you will see the overgrown Cliff Walk entrance on your left.

Begin your walk. The trail is not marked by signs along the way but there is only one trail and you will know soon enough if you have strayed from it – you will either be on someone’s back porch or in the ocean (If you do end up in someone’s back yard by accident, get back on the trail. It must be really annoying having tourists wander on your property and on a gorgeous Saturday, you do see this, unfortunately). Please stop asking locals for directions. They are simply not thrilled to have you walking in their manicured backyards. This is understandable. When it doubt, err on the side of walking away from the houses.

Cliff Walk, Prouts Neck, Scarborough, Maine

There are several printed rules on the signs at either end of the Cliff Walk (open dawn to dusk year-round, except in stormy weather), and they are as follows:

  • When the Cliff Walk gates are closed, please do not attempt to access the Cliff Walk here or elsewhere.
  • Use of the Cliff Walk is at your own risk.
  • Rough terrain, loose rocks, erosion and dangerous conditions may be present and may cause injury.
  • Please leave no trace; be respectful of private property.
  • Thank you for adhering to these rules so others may continue to enjoy this walk.

There are opportunities to walk out along the jutting cliffs and take in the crashing Atlantic waves and there are a couple of small, rocky beaches where you can sit and admire the squawking sea birds and perhaps even see a seal while listening to the hypnotic sounds of water receding over stones.

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This may not be the best walk for a small child who likes to run, as this is a cliff walk with no barriers. This is also not appropriate for your relative who walks with a cane, as there are exposed roots and  rocks on the path.  But if you can make it on the trail, you are in for a mile of coastal Maine beauty.

In June, you will see Rugosa roses, honeysuckle, and beautiful magenta beach peas.  The difference between this route and the one I wrote about before is that after about an hour or so of walking, instead of going to the Black Point Inn, you will see a lovely beach with a private club and blue umbrellas and this is Scarborough Beach.

Wintry Scarborough Beach, viewed from the Cliff Walk, Prouts Neck, Scarborough, Maine

Here, you continue to the left to return to the Black Point Inn or Ferry Beach via Seal Rock Drive. In short: Left on Ferry Beach to a right on Black Point Road to a right before private road to a quick left to entrance of Cliff Walk. Walk for an hour. A gorgeous circle.

Regarding the access rights for the Cliff Walk, the Town of Scarborough provided this helpful explanation via e-mail in April 2020:

In late August of 2019 the Prouts Neck Association (PNA) contacted the Town and advised that it was installing gates at either end of the Cliff Walk so the path could be closed after dark and during inclement weather.  The Town has no ownership interest in this property, but the public has use rights that have been established for decades.  The gates were erected shortly thereafter without incident.  More recently, on March 24, 2020 the Town was again notified by the PNA of its intentions to lock the gates due to the COVID-19 pandemic due to the fact the narrowness of the path rendered safe physical distancing impossible.  The Town communicated with the PNA acknowledging their intention, noting that this action is consistent with other actions the Town has taken at outdoor recreation areas, but requested that the path be reopened as soon as it was safe to do so.

Mackworth Island (Falmouth, ME)

Halfway Rock and Great Diamond Island from Mackworth Island, Falmouth, ME

Mackworth Island, connected to the Falmouth mainland by a causeway off Andrews Avenue, is a State Park donated to the State of Maine in 1946 by Governor Percival Baxter for state public purposes and “as a sanctuary for wild beasts and birds.” The island, which also contains the Baxter School for the Deaf, is open daily 9 am to sunset. Parking is limited, so have a backup plan (the nearby Gilsland Farm Audobon is nice), or be prepared to wait. The visitor fee is currently $3 for Maine residents, $4 for non-Maine residents, and $1 for non-resident seniors and children 5-11 (Maine residents over 65 and children under 5 are free). An outhouse is available by the parking lot.

Mackworth Island, Falmouth, ME

The flat, easy trail (handicap-accessible) that rings the island for about 1.4 miles is maintained by the Maine Bureau of Parks and Lands, and the rocky beach surrounding the island is fun to explore, particularly at low tide. You will see seagulls and osprey, and the eastern end of Portland across the bay, as well as Fort Gorges and the islands. You won’t need a trail map, but if you are into those, you can find them at Portland Trails website or the Maine State Parks and Lands site for Mackworth Island.

Casco Bay through the trees, Mackworth Island, Falmouth, ME
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Mount Will (Bethel, ME)

Icicles on the Nature Trail section of Mt. Will Trail, Bethel, ME

Mount Will (1,726 ft), which spans across the town lines of Newry and Bethel, Maine is a lesser-traveled peak, accessed through a loop trail, with a small parking area across the road from the Town of Bethel transfer station. This trail, marked with bright blue blazes, was developed by the Bethel Conservation Commission, and is maintained by the Town of Bethel. Detailed description can be found in Maine Hikes Off The Beaten Path or the AMC Maine Mountain Guide.

Androscoggin River Valley from North Ledges, Mt. Will Trail

On a cold January day, I took the loop counter-clockwise, for a total of about 3.2 miles, taking about an hour and forty minutes. The snow was recent and shallow, and I had good traction throughout the hike with microspikes and hiking poles. Later in the season, or with more snowfall, this would be a snowshoe trail. The Nature Trail section, which runs through the Bethel Town Forest, has placards throughout with facts about flora and fauna. The water from recent rains had frozen in serrated rows on rocky outcroppings, giving the mountain icy fangs.

View through the trees, Mt. Will Trail
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Pleasant Hill Preserve (Scarborough, ME)

Eleanor’s Trail, Pleasant Hill Preserve, Scarborough, ME

Tucked between the Pleasant Hill neighborhood and the Rachel Carson National Wildlife Refuge, Scarborough’s Pleasant Hill Preserve is 135 acres of land, with over 1.5 miles of trails, held and maintained by the Scarborough Land Trust (SLT). No hunting or bicycles are allowed on the trails, dogs must be leashed, and the .25 mile Eleanor’s Trail is ADA accessible. The trailhead, at 270 Pleasant Hill Road in Scarborough, has year-round parking and a map kiosk.

Swallow Barn, and intersection with Monty’s Trail, Pleasant Hill Preserve, Scarborough, ME
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Black Cat Mountain (Poland, ME)

Access road to the summit of Black Cat Mountain, Poland, Maine.

This easy mountain hike, actually more of a road walk to a hilltop where is a cell tower, made for a simple First Day 2021 winter stroll. Black Cat Mountain (820 ft) in Poland, Maine (not to be confused with the larger Black Cat Mountain in Baxter State Park), is accessible from North Raymond Road, where a small gated road marked with yellow cell tower signs and the number 72 has limited parking (with overflow on the road’s shoulder).

Afternoon light through the trees, road to Black Cat Mountain, Poland, ME.

From there up the wide, well-maintained road to the summit, it’s approximately 1.5 miles, for a three mile total out-and-back trip. The route is simple and direct (don’t get distracted by the snowmobile trails, just stay on the main road), which would allow kids to range ahead. No special gear was needed, although some better traction would have helped on the icy sections of the road.

Frozen pond enroute to Black Cat Mountain summit, Poland, ME.
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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.


(Update: According to the Town of Brownfield website, the Burnt Meadow Mountain trail has been reopened and Public Works will remove the barriers when they are able.)

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.

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Libby River Farm Preserve Trails (Scarborough, ME)

Access Trail, Libby River Farm Preserve, Scarborough Land Trust

Close to Prouts Neck and Scarborough Beach, the 75-acre Libby River Farm Preserve, tucked between Camp Ketcha and the Libby River, has about a mile of trails to explore. While well-attended, it is not as crowded as Ferry Beach and Scarborough Beach, and can be a good option if these places are busy.

Libby River Farm Preserve, owned and maintained by the Scarborough Land Trust, with a small parking area at 320 Black Point Road provided by Camp Ketcha, is open year-round for hiking, snowshoeing, and cross-country skiing. Dogs must be leashed, and bow-hunting (with Scarborough Land Trust permission) is allowed, so blaze orange is always a good fall idea.

Shrubland, Libby River Farm Preserve, Scarborough Land Trust

On a sunny late fall day, we combined the Access Trail and Lucy R. Sprague Memorial Trail for about 1.6 miles of hiking that took us about half an hour. The sunny, open woods made wildlife viewing easy, and we saw a large pileated woodpecker almost immediately. Trails are flat and well-marked, with signs at many intersections, and another kiosk and map are located at the intersection between the Access Trail and the Sprague Memorial Trail.

Observation Deck, Libby River Farm Preserve, Scarborough Land Trust

The observation deck overlooks the Libby River and surrounding shrublands of Scarborough Marsh, where seasonal bird viewing is excellent. We took the Lucy R. Sprague Memorial Trail on the return, a pleasant walk through the woods, over winding creeks and plank bridges.

Lucy R. Sprague Memorial Trail, Libby River Farm Preserve, Scarborough Land Trust

Celia and Jackson Ponds (Baxter State Park)

View across Kidney Pond, Baxter State Park

(Note: As of October 23, 2020, Baxter State Park offices and headquarters remain closed to the public, but reservations can still be made online and by calling (207) 723-5140. Togue and Matagamon Gates are open 6am to 7pm. Katahdin and Traveler trails are closed at their trailheads to protect alpine resources.)

Having completed two strenuous hiking days in the northern part of Baxter State Park, I wanted to explore an easier path on my long, scenic way out through the Togue Pond Gate. Celia and Jackson Ponds, reached in that order, are accessed from the Kidney Pond campground day-use trailhead via a 3.2 mile (1.5 to 2 hours) out-and-back hike using the Sentinel Connector Trail, and Celia and Jackson Ponds Trail. I found this hike using Falcon Guides’ Hiking Maine’s Baxter State Park.

The pleasant smell of woodsmoke from the campground quickly gave way to that of pine, and the path has a definite enchanted woods feel, with soft, greenish light cast on the moss surrounding the trail. Shortly after the trail’s beginning, a large boulder on the left is whimsically marked “Kidney Stone – do not remove.” Kidney Pond can be seen through the trees, and then a small side trail to the shore provides excellent views of Katahdin to the west.

Giant boulder, Celia and Jackson Ponds Trail, Baxter State Park

Turn right at the well-marked trail intersection towards Celia and Jackson Ponds on a piney path with mossy hummocks on each side. A giant, incongruous wedge-shaped boulder is visible shortly along on the right, like an alien spacecraft that crashed to earth. Fresh moose poop (again) littered the trail, but never materialized into a moose sighting.

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Five Ponds Loop (Baxter State Park)

September greenery, Five Ponds Loop, Baxter State Park

(Note: As of October 23, 2020, Baxter State Park offices and headquarters remain closed to the public, but reservations can still be made online and by calling (207) 723-5140. Togue and Matagamon Gates are open 6am to 7pm. Katahdin and Traveler trails are closed at their trailheads to protect alpine resources.)

The day after a strenuous Traveler Mountain hike at Baxter State Park, I chose to take the approximately seven mile Five Ponds Loop, both for its relative ease and for morning opportunities to see wildlife. A detailed description of the trail can be found in the AMC Maine Mountain Guide and Falcon Guides’ Hiking Maine’s Baxter State Park.

I hiked the loop in a clockwise direction from its trailhead at the Trout Brook Farm Campground, familiar to me from my hike of Trout Brook Mountain two days prior. The ponds, in that east to west sequence, are Littlefield Pond, Billfish Pond, Round Pond, High Pond, and Long Pond, accessed through a series of side trails. Billfish and Long each have canoe rentals (through the ranger at Trout Brook Farm campsite).

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