Peaks Island Loop

Casco Bay Lines Ferry Terminal, Portland, Maine

What is a hike, really, but a long walk, preferably in the countryside? Sometimes the sense of getting away can be amplified by the journey to get to the hike’s starting point, whether it be a long drive through strange places, a bus ride, or in this case, a boat trip. While it may seem hard to escape the (relative) bustle of Maine’s largest city, a 4-mile loop with birds, flowers, and ocean vistas is only seventeen minutes away via Casco Bay Lines. Like Moosehead’s Mount Kineo, this hike begins after a short ferry ride, a trip across Portland Harbor to Peaks Island, part of the city of Portland. The Casco Bay Lines Terminal is located at 56 Commercial Street, Portland, Maine, and the ferry schedule is posted here. As of May 2021, round-trip tickets are $7.70 for adults (14 and over), $3.85 for kids/seniors/disabled, and free for children under 5. You can bring bikes for a small fee, or rent them on-island (golf carts can also be rented, but that’s not hiking). The voyage from Portland to Peaks allows views of Fort Gorges, the harbor, seabirds, and occasional seals.

Rugosa roses and view of Cushing Island from Peaks Island, Maine

Portland Trails has a map on their site of the approximately 4-mile Peaks Island Loop. For more detail, check out the Peaks Island Land Preserve, which maintains the small, wild and/or historical places along the way. On a place like Peaks, time for visitors and businesses is measured by the ferry schedule, so allow a couple hours to fully explore the island before catching a ferry back. Simply turn right or left upon walking up the hill from the ferry, and follow the shoreline. If you get off-track, respect private property, and signs will typically get you back on the route which traces the perimeter of the island, predominantly along Island Ave and Seashore Ave.

East side of Peaks Island, with view of Ram Island Ledge Light Station in the distance

Bring a small bag or backpack with you, with water and sunscreen, as most of the places to get those items lie within a stone’s throw of the ferry terminal. Hannigan’s Island Market has everything you need for an ad hoc picnic. For those with younger children who don’t think a long, sunny walk would be the best option, follow Island Ave to the left to City Point Road and the boat ramp. The beaches there are full of barnacle-covered rocks, sea glass, and skittering crabs. This part of the walk is somewhat of a home and garden tour. The shore of the island’s eastern side is more dramatic, with large waves crashing on rocks.

Entrance to Battery Steele Conservation Area, Peaks Island, Maine

Battery Steele, about halfway around the island on the eastern side, is a World War II-era gun emplacement, part of the former Peaks Island Military Reservation (PIMR). The PIMR used to cover a quarter of the island’s land area, and served to guard Portland Harbor and Casco Bay against the threat of enemy ships and submarines. Now overgrown by vines and shrubs, these recessed turrets and tunnels can be explored by flashlight. Daughter used to challenge herself to see how far she could walk down these dark, spooky walkways without using a flashlight.

Battery Steele, Peaks Island, Maine

Central Avenue can be used as a mid-island cutoff, if trying to make it to a ferry, and leads to some quiet trails in the Hundred Acre Wood. While waiting for the ferry ride back, hopefully you’ve left yourself time for lunch or a drink, maybe even an ice cream. Our favorite is the friendly Island Lobster Company, on Island Ave just south of Peaks’ main intersection by the ferry. The beach adjoining the ferry pier will give up sea glass if you search for it, which makes a good distraction for kids. A trip to Peaks Island is a day well-spent, a unique ocean walk.

View across Portland Harbor from Peaks Island, Maine

Evergreen Trails (Portland, ME)

Evergreen Loop Trail, Evergreen Cemetery, Portland, Maine

Evergreen Cemetery in Portland is Maine’s second largest, checking in at 239 acres. The combination of green space habitat and (relative) solitude make it a popular birdwatching and walking area, located directly behind the University of New England (UNE) Portland Campus. The small ponds at the northwest edge of Evergreen are places to observe tadpoles, frogs, newts, turtles, snakes, large snapping turtles, and waterfowl throughout the warmer seasons. In addition to the paved, gravel, and dirt roads of the cemetery itself, Evergreen is traversed by Portland Trails’ extensive network, including the 10-mile Forest City Trail, which runs from the Presumpscot River to the Stroudwater.

Ledges in Evergreen Woods, Evergreen Cemetery, Portland, Maine

On a sunny April day, we hiked through the cemetery to Evergreen Woods, using the Evergreen Loop Trail to make a circuit. Trail maps and information are available from Portland Trails. The cemetery is open daily from 7am to dusk (if you park inside the cemetery, check the hours, as the gates typically close around 6:30 or so, and your vehicle could be locked in). We parked on Stevens Avenue, and used the Baxter Trail by the chapel to access the Loop Trail from its entrance by the duck ponds. Access is also available at the end of Woodvale Street, and from the Brentwood neighborhood. Map kiosks are available at each trail intersection, but they appear new enough that they do not include the critical “You are here” dot, so pay attention to your route.

Marshy area, Evergreen Loop Trail, Portland, Maine

The trails, however, are well-marked, well-maintained, and provide a gateway to forests and ledges that are surprisingly wild, within the boundaries of the city of Portland. The Ledges Trail, in particular, is popular with mountain bikers seeking some rocks and elevation. On-leash dogs are also welcome (and plentiful) in this area. We enjoyed seeing new spring buds, including blossoming trout lilies. Robins, jays, and chickadees called and flew through the woods, and we even saw a large hawk scouring the cemetery for the many squirrels and chipmunks who make it their home.

Great Horned Owl, Evergreen Cemetery, Portland, Maine

As a special bonus, Great Horned Owls often use the large trees and open hunting grounds offered by the Cemetery for nests. This May, we saw them in trees overhanging the Westin and Gage plots, near the intersection of Sunset Drive and Basswood.

The Evergreen Cemetery trails are a perfect afternoon or lunch break hike for those in the Portland area, looking for green space.

Edge of Evergreen Cemetery, Evergreen Loop Trail, Portland, Maine

Step Falls Preserve (Newry, ME)

Afternoon sunlight on Wight Brook, Step Falls Preserve, Newry, Maine

Step Falls Preserve is a twenty-four acre parcel hugging the banks of Wight Brook in Newry, Maine. We visited at the beginning of May, during a road trip to see waterfalls during the spring melt. In the summer months, the shallow pools and falls are refreshing places to cool off with a dip, wade, or swim. Parking is available in a lot off Bear River Road/Route 26. The 3/4 mile trail to the top of the falls is fairly easy, with some roots and steep spots towards the end. Due to the popularity of this spot, it often fills up quickly on weekends and nice summer days.

Step Falls, Wight Brook, Newry, Maine

Parking is not allowed on Route 26, and visitors are also required to observe the signage and boundaries. If the lot is full, try instead the trails and sights of Bethel or Grafton Notch State Park, between which Step Falls is located. The nearest restroom facilities are at Screw Auger Falls, 1.6 miles north on Route 26. A trail map and information regarding the Preserve are available on the website of Mahoosuc Land Trust, which received ownership of Step Falls Preserve from The Nature Conservancy in 2012.

Step Falls, Newry, Maine

Cathance River Nature Preserve (Topsham, ME)

Cathance River Trail (West), Topsham, Maine

The Cathance River Trails are a surprising green space, with a wild river ravine, in Topsham tucked next to the Highland Green development, within the sound of I-295. These are part of the Cathance River Nature Preserve, a 235 acre preserve composed of private land held in a conservation easement by the Brunswick-Topsham Land Trust. Closed due to COVID-19 restrictions for much of 2020, they are now partially re-opened, as of April 2021. Up-to-date information regarding the best places to park and map with trail closures can be found on the Cathance River Education Alliance webpage. The trails described in this post are mostly open. Dogs are not permitted in Cathance River Nature Preserve.

Cathance River Trail, Topsham, Maine

For a great loop hike using the available trails, just use the Rapids Trail to cut off the route described. On a mid-January day, I started with the Vernal Pool Trail, connecting past its namesake, a flat pond with a dock and nature signage, to the Highland Trail (blue blazes). This pleasant woodlands walk led over rocky hills with moss and patches of snow to a rolling, pleasant descent to the Cathance River. Here, it connected to the white-blazed Cathance River Trail (West), passing the intersection with the Barnes Leap Trail.

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Knight’s Pond Preserve

White Trail, Knight’s Pond Preserve, Cumberland, Maine

Knight’s Pond Preserve is a 334-acre preserve that straddles the town lines of Cumberland and North Yarmouth, with the 46-acre Knight’s Pond as the focal point. Parking is available in a small lot at 477 Greely Road Extension just short of Mill Brook, and on the street at the end of Greely Road Extension. The most current map is located on the Royal River Conservation Trust (RRCT) website, and includes more details and place names than the printed ones you will likely find in the kiosk at the parking lot. The property is managed by the Towns of Cumberland and North Yarmouth, the Chebeague & Cumberland Land Trust (CCLT), which has a printable scavenger hunt for kids, as well as the RRCT. The trails are well-marked and maintained, with trail map kiosks at most intersections.

Blue Trail leading to Bobcat Mountain, Knight’s Pond Preserve, Cumberland, Maine

We chose a sunny early April day for a full circuit of the Preserve, which took an hour and a half to two hours, about 4.6 miles or so, going up to Bobcat “Mountain” then back around the pond to the western side of the Preserve. Dog walkers, hikers, kids, and mountain bikers were all out enjoying the sunny day. The pond was teeming with waterfowl, and we saw mallards, Canada geese, red-winged blackbirds, and smaller ducks too far away to identify. Beaver lodges are visible on the pond, as well, and the muddy shore is full of animal tracks. Looking at the photos taken by others, it appears Knight’s Pond is also a popular ice skating destination in the winter. Bobcat Mountain (350 feet) is at the northwest corner of the Preserve, and the gap in the trees created by power lines allows for views east to the smoke stacks of Cousins Island.

Knight’s Pond from northwest corner, Knight’s Pond Preserve, Cumberland, Maine
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Rines Forest

Light through the trees, Rines Forest, Cumberland, Maine

In mid-March, I hiked a loop using the Loop, Perimeter, and Waterfall Trails in Rines Forest in Cumberland, as a part of a longer loop including Hadlock Forest (Falmouth), which is connected through the Rines Trail. Rines Forest is a 268-acre woodland owned by the Town of Cumberland, and preserved through a conservation easement with the Chebeague & Cumberland Land Trust (CCLT). The Forest has a network of about 3 miles of trails open for hiking, cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, fishing, hunting, picnicking, horseback riding, and snowmobiling as designated (some trails are winter-only).

Loop Trail, Rines Forest, Cumberland, Maine

Parking is available on Range Road, on the south side of the Forest, about 1.2 miles from the intersection with Winn Road. Next to the parking area is a Frog Pond & Salamander Swamp. CCLT’s website includes a printable scavenger hunt for kids. Having begun across Range Road, I continued to follow the green CCLT markings for the trail, until reaching the white blazes of the Loop Trail. The spring thaw still incomplete, I wore micro spikes for the duration of the hike, and in the ice and snow, saw the frozen tracks of a large deer, or possibly a moose.

Waterfall Trail, Rines Forest, Cumberland, Maine
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Cliff Trail (Harpswell, ME)

Henry Creek lookout, Cliff Trail, Harpswell, ME

Note from Town of Harpswell website: from May 1, 2021 to October 1, 2021, the first 1/2 mile of Cliff Trail will be closed to hikers due to a Maine Conservation Corps construction project to make it ADA accessible. The remainder of the trail is open. Park at the Town Office (263 Mountain Road) and walk up the path behind the building to access the trail entrance/exit on Community Drive. There will be temporary signs and maps installed to help hikers with the changes while the work is being completed.

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 on Mountain Road, 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
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Hadlock Community Forest

Hobb’s Brook Trail, Hadlock Community Forest, Falmouth, Maine

Note: According to the Falmouth Land Trust web site, each spring, trails are closed during the transition from frozen ground to ensure that the trails are not damaged during the rain and mud season. This year, trails will begin to close March 25th. All trailheads will be cordoned off and signage posted.

The Hadlock Community Forest in Falmouth, Maine, is accessible primarily from a small parking area near the end of Hadlock Road with a map and kiosk. Information regarding the almost 300 acre property, with a loop trail of about 2.9 miles, can be found on the Town of Falmouth’s website for the forest. Many activities are allowed in the Hadlock Community Forest, including hunting in-season, so wear blaze orange during those times. I visited on a mid-March day, needing microspikes for the entire trail. For me, this was part of a longer 6.7 mile loop through a connector to the Rines Forest.

Highland Trail, Hadlock Community Forest, Falmouth, Maine

The Hobb’s Brook Trail (white blazes) leads from the Hadlock parking lot to some foot bridges over marshy areas and quiet streams until reaching the Highland Trail (blue blazes), where I took a left, then a right to stay on the Highland Trail to the Perimeter Trail (yellow blazes) where I followed the easy, gently rolling terrain over pools, bogs, and boulders. These low areas provide many vernal pools in the spring thaw. Taking a right on the Highland Trail from Hobb’s Brook would bring you eventually via the Cross-Falmouth Trail to Blackstrap Hill Preserve.

Hadlock Community Forest, Falmouth, Maine

A right on the Rines Trail after about 1.5 miles led toward Cumberland. Starting here, I heard a steady cannonade from the Falmouth Gun Club to the west. At a T-intersection with the snowmobile trail, I took a right, following the green blazes to an intersection with Cumberland Trails.

Rines Trail, Hadlock Community Forest, Falmouth, Maine

On the trail to Rines Forest, I disturbed an owl that swooped upward and set itself on a branch, regarding me sternly. I will cover the Rines Forest separately, but upon return, I continued on the Perimeter Trail to return to Hobb’s Brook, and back to the parking area.

Owl on Rines Trail, connecting from Hadlock Community Forest to Rines Forest, Cumberland, Maine

In closing, a word to the good people of Falmouth, who, I can only assume, from my observation, are assembling a Hadlock Museum of Dog Poop. Bagging your dog’s poop and then hanging it from trees like Christmas ornaments in hell is not an acceptable practice. You’ve done less than half the job. I was floored by the amount of scatological decoration employed on this trail. It is a beautiful hemlock forest ruined by a disrespectful infestation of plastic-encased dog poop.

All that aside, the Hadlock Community Forest is a flat, easy hike for the family, and connects to Blackstrap Hill Preserve and Rines Forest for those looking to create a longer hike that’s not all that far from Maine’s urban centers.

Blackstrap Hill Preserve

White Trail, Blackstrap Hill Preserve, Falmouth, Maine

Note: According to the Falmouth Land Trust web site, each spring, trails are closed during the transition from frozen ground to ensure that the trails are not damaged during the rain and mud season. This year, trails will begin to close March 25th. All trailheads will be cordoned off and signage posted.

The Blackstrap Hill Preserve, along with the Blackstrap Community Forest, is comprised of two separate properties totaling almost 600 acres, owned by the Falmouth Land Trust (FLT) and the Town of Falmouth, and divided by north and south. On a mid-March day, I parked at the Blackstrap Community Forest parking lot on Blackstrap Road, where there is a parking lot and map kiosk (see the FLT website for a map), and completed a loop of about 4.2 miles in a little under two hours, using the White Trail, Waterfall Trail, Red Trail, Greenline Trail, Saw Whet Trail, and Cross-Cut Trail. The Preserve is also accessible from a trailhead further up Blackstrap Road (same as for North Falmouth Community Forest), just north of Babbidge Road, as well as another small parking lot off Hurricane Road. A connector to the east (from the River Trail) extends to the Hadlock Community Forest, as well.

Waterfall Trail, Blackstrap Hill Preserve, Falmouth, Maine

After a short walk across the grassy field to the White Loop Trail, I put on micro spikes to deal with the icy footing. The White Loop Trail led to the Waterfall spur trail, marked with purple blazes, which added about .7 miles out and back, with the pleasant sound of the creek leading downhill. The waterfall was not so much one massive torrent, but a pleasing series of cascades, and would be a nice, easy hike for young children in warmer months.

Blackstrap Hill Preserve, Falmouth, Maine

I returned to the White Loop Trail, continuing a counter-clockwise loop to the Red Trail, which was wide and sunken, making it a sort of frozen river in the winter melt. At the Red Trail intersection with the Yellow Trail (which I bypassed), you can begin to hear the highway again. The trail network is mostly self-correcting, with maps at major intersections, but placards have been torn or blown down from several stands along the way.

Blackstrap Hill Preserve, Falmouth, Maine

I turned left by a lazy bend in the West Branch of the Piscataqua River to take the Greenline Trail toward the Saw Whet Trail. The Saw Whet climbs a ridge next to a marshy area, and is not particularly well-marked, but I eventually re-acquired some white blazes, eventually returning to the Red Trail and then the White Trail, which widened out for the loop back to the parking lot.

Blackstrap Hill Preserve, Falmouth, Maine

North Falmouth Community Forest

North Falmouth Community Forest at Blackstrap Road trailhead, Falmouth, ME

Note: According to the Falmouth Land Trust web site, each spring, trails are closed during the transition from frozen ground to ensure that the trails are not damaged during the rain and mud season. This year, trails will begin to close March 25th. All trailheads will be cordoned off and signage posted.

The North Falmouth Community Forest is over 400 acres of woodland reclaimed from pasture, with multi-purpose trails accessible from a small roadside parking area on Blackstrap Road (just south of the Happy Cats sign). Close to five miles of lightly-trafficked trails connect (across Blackstrap Road) with the Blackstrap Hill Preserve to the east and with Lowell Preserve in Windham to the west. This being Falmouth, the trails are well-marked, with map kiosks and QR codes (open your camera on your smartphone and scan the barcode to get maps/info). Downloadable or printable maps are harder to come by – try Maine by Foot’s post or the All Trails app. For true map nerds, you can explore using Falmouth’s ARCGIS map site.

Hurricane Valley Overlook, Poplar Ridge Trail, North Falmouth Community Forest

On a late February day, we used the Poplar Ridge Trail. the Outback Trail (blue blazes) and the Epiphany Trail (red blazes) to hike an easy 4.2 mile loop, about an hour and forty minutes. The Hurricane Valley Overlook is on the east side of Poplar Ridge, the highest point of the hike (436 feet), and allows a winter view through the trees of Hurricane Valley below. According to the Town of Falmouth website, a page accessible through a QR code on a marker by the overlook, this area was leveled by a hurricane in 1767, which allowed for faster clearing of the land by farmers.

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