Heald and Bradley Ponds Reserve (Lovell, ME)

The Heald and Bradley Ponds Reserve consists of over 800 acres in Lovell, Maine, preserved and maintained for public use by the Greater Lovell Land Trust (GLLT) –  see GLLT map here.  A detailed description of trails is also available in the AMC Maine Mountain Guide.  While snowmobiles are allowed in winter on marked trails, I didn’t see any on the sunny February Sunday I visited.  I followed an easy to moderate (double, triple?) lollipop loop for about 4.6 miles (appx 2 hours, 886 feet of elevation gain), summiting Amos Mountain (955 ft) and Whiting Hill (801 ft) via the Blue, Orange, Yellow and Red trails.

Icy mill dam outlet of Heald Pond, Lovell, ME
Icy mill dam outlet of Heald Pond, Lovell, ME

From the (well-plowed) parking lot on Slab City Road, it is a short downhill walk to the Blue Trail, past the southern outlet of Heald Pond.  Informational kiosks are at the parking area and at the beginning of the Blue Trail, additionally, small placards at trail intersections, each with a laminated trail map, make navigation self-correcting (“You Are Here” is difficult to screw up).

I wore snowshoes the entire route, and once off the snowmobile trail, was breaking trail through the deep, crusty snow.  While the snowshoes made for enhanced mobility, the rasp and stomp of my steps eliminated my chances of seeing much wildlife.  I was lucky enough to see a large pileated woodpecker, and the signs in the snow of others – the soft tread of foxes, the larger, circling tread of coyotes, the bouncing tread of deer, and the deeper, larger crescents left by moose.

Mt Washington wreathed in clouds from Amos Mountain viewpoint, Lovell, ME
Mt Washington wreathed in clouds from Amos Mountain viewpoint, Lovell, ME

I bypassed Whiting Hill on the way out, sticking to the west shore of Heald Pond on the Red Dot Trail, and clambering down the Otter Rocks Spur briefly to look at the frozen lake, and the sole visible ice fishing shack.  As I was solo, wearing snowshoes, and shoreline ice is often the most treacherous, I didn’t venture out on the frozen pond.  Continuing gradually uphill, I reached the intersection with the Chestnut Trail (blue blazes), and turned left, towards the Heritage Loop Trail (orange blazes), and a broad circle of the summit of Amos Mountain.

Summit cairns and bench, Amos Mountain, Lovell, ME
Summit cairns and bench, Amos Mountain, Lovell, ME

To the west of the summit is a viewpoint, just short of the Rogers Family Trail (blue blazes), with views of the Whites, with Mt. Washington as a centerpiece.  The wooded summit of Amos Mountain contains rock cairns and a bench, with views to the southwest.

Kezar Lake and the Whites from Whiting Hill summit, Lovell, ME
Kezar Lake and the Whites from Whiting Hill summit, Lovell, ME

I descended Amos Mountain to the Hemlock Loop Trail, and a small picnic area, then headed towards Whiting Hill and its loop back to the start of the trail and the parking area.  Whiting Hall has a more open summit, with views to the West of Kezar Lake and the White Mountains beyond, and an easy downhill walk ended at Slab City Road.

This would also be a beautiful fall hike, but I enjoyed having the place mostly to myself in the snow.  Parking areas on Route 5 and Heald Pond Road can also be used to shorten the hike for children or the less mobile – see the GLLT map for locations.  This Reserve is not far from Sabattus Mountain, and the post-hike stops available in Lovell are the same – the Center Lovell Market, for picnic supplies and a restaurant, and (after checking seasonal hours) Ebenezer’s Pub for food and Belgian beer.

Mount Tom (Fryeburg, ME)

In January 2020, I hiked Mount Tom (1,073 ft) via the West Ridge Trail, an approximately 3.5 mile out-and-back from the parking lot for Mount Tom Preserve at Menotomy Road in Fryeburg, which took about an hour and fifteen minutes.  Like Hawk Mountain and Mount Tire’m, which I did earlier the same day, this is a short but rewarding Oxford Hills hike.  This can also be done as an approximately 4-mile loop hike by continuing after the summit to the Mount Tom Trail, then returning south on Menotomy Road, which is usually relatively quiet, to the start point.

Kiosk and start of West Ridge Trail from Nature Conservancy parking lot, Mount Tom Preserve, Fryeburg, Maine.
Kiosk and start of West Ridge Trail from Nature Conservancy parking lot, Mount Tom Preserve, Fryeburg, Maine.

This parking lot, and the Preserve, which includes the summit, are maintained by The Nature Conservancy (TNC).  TNC’s excellent description of the Preserve follows:

Mt. Tom Preserve protects a silver and red maple floodplain along the Saco River, and includes the rocky summit of Mount Tom at 1,040 feet in elevation. The 995-acre preserve spans the Saco River and boasts over 3,500 feet of river frontage. Several day-use hiking trails provide recreational opportunities, as does as a 1.14 mile seasonal snowmobile trail that is part of a larger network maintained by the Interstate Sno-goers. Visitors can summit Mt. Tom, canoe along the Saco River, or just walk through the beautiful forests!

River terrace forests support clean water for resident native fish, invertebrates, and other animals that use river beaches. The floodplains provide excellent habitat for spotted salamanders and several species of turtles, with a lush understory of sensitive fern and royal fern. Two regionally rare birds–the golden eagle and peregrine falcon–have been regularly sighted near the rocky cliffs of Mt. Tom, during the breeding season. Two rare plants–the fern-leaved false foxglove and smooth sandwort–have also been found within the dry oak-hickory forest on the south facing slope of the mountain, and old eastern red cedars dot the hillside.

View south from West Ridge Trail, Mount Tom, Fryeburg, Maine.
View south from West Ridge Trail, Mount Tom, Fryeburg, Maine.

The West Ridge Trail, marked by white blazes and small TNC emblems, rolls across that floodplain, crossing small brooks, passing ghostly birches and large rock formations, until becoming steep about a mile in.

West Ridge Trail, Mount Tom Preserve, Fryeburg, Maine.
West Ridge Trail, Mount Tom Preserve, Fryeburg, Maine.

The trail ascends the ridge, with frequent views through clearings in the trees, to meet the Mount Tom Trail, at which point, it turns right, and shortly thereafter, reaches the summit and its rocky ledges and views.

Mount Tom summit, Fryeburg, Maine.
Mount Tom summit, Fryeburg, Maine.

The descent in winter was easy, with microspikes, and I saw several other groups, all with dogs, ascending the trail on my way back.  An added benefit in winter was the lack of bugs, which would be omnipresent in the late spring and early summer in the first portion of the trail.  This hike may be challenging for very young or out-of-condition hikers, but presents an easy to moderate walk in the woods, with views to the south of the Saco River Valley.

West Ridge Trail in winter, Mount Tom Preserve, Fryeburg, Maine.
West Ridge Trail in winter, Mount Tom Preserve, Fryeburg, Maine.

Mount Tire’m (Waterford, ME)

Mount Tire’m (1,104 ft) is a short (1.3 miles, appx. 35 minutes) out-and-back hike via the Daniel Brown Trail, right in the village of Waterford.  I hiked it recently in the winter, but this is an all-season hike, presenting a brief, but moderately steep climb.  A story, too convenient to be anything but apocryphal, has the name coming from the Pequawket tribe near Fryeburg saying the climb would “tire um out.”

Daniel Brown Trail, Mount Tire'm, Waterford, Maine
Daniel Brown Trail, Mount Tire’m, Waterford, Maine

The trailhead is located just uphill from the Waterford Congregational Church on Plummer Hill Road, with parking on the shoulder.  While there wasn’t much snow, the grade of the climb and the ice had me pulling on micro-spikes fairly early.

Views from Mount Tire'm, Waterford, Maine, including Pleasant Mountain and Shawnee Peak.
Views from Mount Tire’m, Waterford, Maine, including Pleasant Mountain and Shawnee Peak.

The summit area includes some rock formations and a “cave,” a glacial erratic, which is popular with children, as well as summer blueberries.  The sparse winter vegetation and abundant sun allowed for more light through the trees, and views throughout of nearby Keoka Lake, to the east.

View of Keoka Lake through the trees, Daniel Brown Trail, Mount Tire'm, Waterford, Maine
View of Keoka Lake through the trees, Daniel Brown Trail, Mount Tire’m, Waterford, Maine

This well-packed and frequently used trail was relatively empty on this winter weekend morning, with only two other hikers, a fit older couple with a dog.  In this quiet, I could hear the wind rattling and rustling through the winter forest’s dried leaves, the distinctive squawking of crows and intermittent chickadee songs.

Daniel Brown Trail, Mount Tire'm, Waterford, Maine
Snowy Daniel Brown Trail, Mount Tire’m, Waterford, Maine

Hawk Mountain (Waterford, ME)

Hawk Mountain (1047 ft to 1070 ft, depending on who you trust) is a small mountain in Waterford, Maine, with sweeping views of the Lakes Region and Oxford Hills.  Maps and information are available at the Western Foothills Land Trust website.  Trails at the Hatch Preserve at Hawk Mountain are open year-round for hiking, cross-country skiing, and snowshoeing, and for my recent hike, I chose a cold late December day.

View north at sunrise, ascending Hawk Mountain, Waterford, ME
View north at sunrise, looking back from the ascent of Hawk Mountain, Waterford, ME

The trails are not well-marked (the website delicately describes the preserve as a little “wounded”), but I summited and enjoyed the views via an ungainly, but very easy, 1.9 mile loop using what I believed to be the Europe and Cyrus trails, taking about 45 minutes.  The fastest way to the top is an approximately 1.4 mile out and back.

Winter sunrise on Hawk Mountain, Waterford, ME
Winter sunrise on Hawk Mountain, Waterford, ME

The parking area on Hawk Mountain Road is well-maintained, and a kiosk contains a small map, walking sticks to borrow, and reminders to carry out what you have carried in.  There were sled tracks and footprints on the trails, but the paths were empty and climbed gradually up, opening out on views to the east.

Forest on Hawk Mountain, Waterford, ME
Forest on Hawk Mountain, Waterford, ME

A short walk back west across the ridge leads to the scenic vista on town land overlooking the Oxford foothills, with views across to Pleasant Mountain.  I didn’t need snowshoes or trekking poles for this simple hike, but some micro-spikes would have been helpful for traction on the packed, icy descent (an alternative would have been a piece of cardboard and a crash helmet, to slide down).

Pleasant Mountain and the Oxford Hills from Hawk Mountain, Waterford, ME
Pleasant Mountain, Shawnee Peak, and the Oxford Hills from Hawk Mountain, Waterford, ME

This is not a very challenging hike, but might be just the size and grade for young children, making it a perfect all-season hike for families in the Lakes Region, with a great picnic spot on top, and big views.

Mill Brook Preserve (Westbrook, ME)

Information kiosk at Northern Trailhead, Mill Brook Preserve, Westbrook, ME
Information kiosk at Northern Trailhead, Mill Brook Preserve, Westbrook, ME

Westbrook, with its proximity to Portland and its gritty mill background, does not instantly come to mind when thinking about hiking in Maine. But Mill Brook Preserve is a 130 acre section of delightfully unlikely green space in Westbrook along Mill Brook, bounded by Route 302 and Methodist Road.  The five miles of trails in the preserve, suitable for hiking, mountain biking, and snowshoeing, can be accessed from four different trailheads.  The best information and trail map can be found at the website of the Presumpscot Regional Land Trust, which holds this land, and coordinates the 28-mile Sebago to the Sea Trail.

Mill Brook Preserve, Westbrook, ME
Mill Brook Preserve, Westbrook, ME

In late May and early June, alewives migrate from Casco Bay upstream in the Presumpscot River, then to Highland Lake through this narrow brook, drawing visitors to the flashing, silvery spectacle. Due to the variation in the flow, breadth, and depth of the Brook, two viewing areas (one north, one south) are identified on the trail map for maximum observation of the alewives’ run.

The Northern Fish Viewing Pool is closest to the MAGAN/Willow Dr trailhead, and the Southern Fish Viewing Pool is by the Methodist trailhead. A note of caution for those attempting a loop – the trail to the east side of Mill Brook from the Southern Trailhead on Perry Court is missing a bridge, and crossing can be anywhere from muddy to difficult in rainy periods.

Flora and fauna, Mill Brook Preserve, Westbrook, ME
Flora and fauna, Mill Brook Preserve, Westbrook, ME

Alewives are not the only wildlife to be found in the forest valley of Mill Brook Preserve. The Preserve abounds with life, from beautiful and unique insects to small mammals and birds, to wildflowers and vines hanging with Concord grapes. One one recent trip in the early fall, I saw a handful of garter snakes sunning themselves on the sandy trail near the Perry Court trailhead.

Mill Brook Preserve, Westbrook, ME
Mill Brook Preserve, Westbrook, ME

The mosquitoes and biting flies can be intense in the early summer, or in the evenings. The trails are quiet and mostly bug-free in the fall, and the spacing of the trees in the young forest creates a patchwork of light and foliage.

The Presumpscot Regional Land Trust also recently opened (in October 2019) a new 1.5 mile loop trail through 32 acres of forest in Mill Brook Preserve South, accessible from a parking area at Millbrook Estates off East Bridge Street in Westbrook. This southernmost trail of the Preserve does not currently connect with the northern side.

Afternoon light, Mill Brook Preserve, Westbrook, ME
Afternoon light, Mill Brook Preserve, Westbrook, ME

The trails are not difficult, overall, but the narrow, winding path up and down ridges in the middle section between the MAGAN and Methodist trailheads might challenge some hikers. Thankfully, the trails provide enough variety that this should not preclude hikers of any ability from enjoying this suburban forest oasis. Navigation along the trails is also forgiving and self-correcting, with maps posted at critical intersections throughout the Preserve.

Mill Brook Preserve in Westbrook, ME, is an unexpected swath of forest, water, and wildlife in the Portland metro area, with five miles of trails and activities for everyone.

Mariaville Falls Preserve (Mariaville, ME)

Mariaville Falls, Mariaville Falls Preserve, ME
Union River, Mariaville Falls Preserve, ME

Mariaville Falls Preserve in Mariaville, Maine, is a conservation area along the banks of the West Branch of the Union River in Hancock County, owned and managed by the Frenchman Bay Conservancy, which has a trail map on its website.  This woods and waters gem, the former site of a small village, lies off 181 between Amherst and Ellsworth (look for the wooden sign on the west side of 181).

Mariaville Falls Preserve, ME
Mariaville Falls Preserve, ME

We were fortunate enough to visit on a sunny day during the peak of autumn foliage.  The trails are short, and the Fisherman’s Trail (.85 mi) follows the river, with the New Trail (.48 mi) looping further east from the first parking area (look for the kiosk), and joining the Fisherman’s Trail near the falls.

Fall colors, Mariaville Falls Preserve, ME
Fall colors, Mariaville Falls Preserve, ME
Union River, Mariaville Falls Preserve, ME
Union River, Mariaville Falls Preserve, ME

We walked slowly, and made the trip out and back from the second (gravel pit) parking area along the Fisherman’s Trail in about 35 to 40 minutes.  The trail is steep in places, but this walk is short enough to be suitable for kids, and the views of the falls are excellent, particularly in foliage season.

Mariaville Falls Preserve, ME
Mariaville Falls Preserve, ME
Observation bench, Mariaville Falls Preserve, ME
Observation bench, Fisherman’s Trail, Mariaville Falls Preserve, ME

A bench sits high above the rapids, a contemplative spot to pause and enjoy the view.  Those feeling more adventurous can scramble down closer to observe the falls more closely.  Those in transit in the Downeast region, or anyone looking for a short hike in the area, will enjoy this small but beautiful place.

Union River, Mariaville Falls Preserve, ME
Union River, Mariaville Falls Preserve, ME

Orin Falls Trail (Katahdin Woods and Waters)

Orin Falls in Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument, Maine.
Orin Falls in Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument, Maine.

Our trip around the Loop Road at the end of last summer to Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument left us wanting more, and after a rainy but pleasant day at Baxter State Park on Saturday, we set out the next morning for the Monument to hike to Orin Falls.  This 6-mile hike, out and back on old logging roads along Wassataquoik Stream, is a perfect fall walk.  The AMC Maine Mountain Guide has a description of the hike, and Maine Hikes Off the Beaten Path by Aislinn Sarnacki has a longer treatment, as well as a helpful map.  We used the Map Adventures Katahdin Woods & Waters Waterproof Trail Map to navigate this hike and the rest of the Monument, and the trip to the falls took a little over an hour each way.  With the sun shining, biting insects largely gone or simply sluggish, late summer flowers and berries still blooming, and the calls of birds echoing throughout the woods, we took our time getting to the end of the trail, pausing frequently to examine animal tracks and sign, and to simply listen.

img_7060
Orin Falls Trailhead, Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument, Maine

The trailhead and parking area are located at the end (for motorized vehicles) of Orin Falls Road, a spur off the Katahdin Loop Road in Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument.  Like last year, we got to the Monument from Millinocket using the Stacyville Road.  In large stretches, particularly closer to the Monument, this is a road in name only, as its surface ranges from the consistency of an ATV trail to that of a World War I battlefield.  We cannot discourage highly enough the use of this road unless you have four-wheel drive, high clearance, and a general disdain for your car’s exterior.  The traditional route into the Monument on Swift Brook Road from Route 11 is far safer, and was the route we took departing at the end of the day.  However you get there, to reach the trailhead from Swift Brook Road, turn right (north) on the Katahdin Loop Road (sign for Barnard Mountain), then follow the sign for Orin Falls.

Orin Falls Trail, Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument, Maine
Orin Falls Trail, Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument, Maine

At the bottom of the hill below the trailhead is a brand new handicap-accessible toilet.  We quickly saw recent moose tracks and droppings along the trail, but had no luck seeing moose throughout our hike.  The Esker Trail comes in from the right, and then the International Appalachian Trail (IAT) veers off to the right towards a ford across Wassataquoik Stream (and a trail up Deasey Mountain).  We continued straight, and reached a relatively new foot/ATV bridge across Katahdin Brook, startling a large heron that took off upstream in the direction of Katahdin Lake.  This crossing directly precedes the Wassataquoik Shelter, a newer lean-to.  Like everything else on this hike, we had the place to ourselves.

Wildlife on Orin Falls Trail, Katahdin Woods and Waters
Wildlife on Orin Falls Trail, Katahdin Woods and Waters

 Although looking at the map may make it seem like the trail is right on the banks, you don’t see Wassataquoik Stream much along the hike until the end, but the portion between the ford and the shelter rides an elevated overlook, and you can look down to the slow, wide Stream through the trees.  There is, however, plenty to observe.  In most places, the trail was wide enough for us to walk side by side, in the wheel ruts of the former road, making for a companionable stroll.

In addition to the heron and the moose tracks, we saw deer tracks, grouse, hawks, kingfishers, jays, mice, caterpillars, many frogs and toads, garter snakes sunning themselves on the trail, massive, skittering fishing spiders, and the large track of a bear.  Raspberries, blackberries, and blueberries were out in force, but were hit-or-miss, seeming to mostly have the bitter taste associated with the end of the season, and a lack of recent rain.

img_7084
Orin Falls, Katahdin Woods and Waters

The mosquitoes and biting flies were minimal, but one could see how they could be pervasive during the summer months in the low-lying areas around water, so late summer or fall is a great time for this hike.  Shortly after passing the lean-to, we left the IAT, which veers off to the left (west) towards Barnard Mountain, and Katahdin Loop Road.  We continued straight, past the marker for the Monument line, and finally reached the trail downhill towards Orin Falls.

Orin Falls, Katahdin Woods and Waters
Orin Falls, Katahdin Woods and Waters

We could hear the rush of Wassataquoik Stream from the top of the trail, and emerged from the woodline to a beautiful scene of trees, boulders, flowers, and water, overlooked by the surrounding ridges and peaks of the Monument.  This was a good place to spend an hour building up memories of summer.  We sunned ourselves on boulders, filtered some clean, cold water, explored, rock-hopped, and ate a prepared meal warmed on a camp stove.  Then we packed up everything (leave no trace), and headed back the same way we had arrived, talking about our summer, and future hikes.  The first people we saw were at the trailhead, preparing to hike as we got back to our vehicle.

Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument is a place we will continue to explore, a reclaimed wilderness with endless potential to surprise and excite.  The Orin Falls Trail is an easy walk, but its intersection of mountains, forest, and water provides a satisfying taste of the wild beauty of Maine’s north woods.