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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Tumbledown Mountain (3,068 ft) in Weld, Maine, is a beloved hike to many Mainers, due to its accessibility and the unique nature of Tumbledown Pond near the summit (this pond is a geological feature called a “tarn”). Normally, taking a break to swim or fly fish at the top of a mountain is just a daydream. We first hiked this in April 2017 during our 100-Mile Wilderness training, and again more recently in May 2020, so neither of these warm weather activities were available at elevation.
The Loop Trail ascends to the Tumbledown Ridge Trail from a trailhead on Byron Road, and by descending on the Brook Trail you can make a loop with Byron Road that is about 5.6 miles. In good conditions, this is a moderate to difficult hike, but winter/spring trail conditions can push the meter toward or past strenuous. Do not attempt to summit Tumbledown before June without checking trail conditions, unless you have gear (and the experience) to deal with snow and ice.
An easier out-and-back ascent (4.7 miles) can be accomplished from the Brook Trail trailhead on Byron Road, the route we took more recently. Trail maps and info are available via the Tumbledown Conservation Alliance and our go-to guide, the AMC Maine Mountain Guide, which has a detailed trail map inside.
The Loop Trail ascends through a lovely pine forest, then a steady uphill climb past some truly massive boulders. At the time of year we went, the beginning of the trail was very boggy. We started to see signs of winter’s staying power as we gained elevation, with large slabs of ice under rocks, and snow in shaded areas. The snow became deeper as we moved up, and the trail was difficult to follow.
We crossed and re-crossed a torrent of ice and water as we climbed, until we couldn’t find a way around it, and puzzled over the trail for a few minutes. Thankfully, daughter located the small opening in the boulders we needed to climb through, complete with iron rungs to hold on to. Daughter made it through with her pack, but dad had to remove his, as it was a tight fit through a frozen waterfall (aptly named “Fat Man’s Misery”). The Maine Mountain Guide notes that this part of the trail makes it unsuitable for dogs, and we would definitely agree (the aforementioned Brook Trail is an alternative ascent for those with canine companions). It was a short scramble from there to the west peak, with breathtaking views of the surrounding area.
The Tumbledown Ridge trail, a pleasant downhill ridge hike with more views of the valley, brought us to Tumbledown Pond, which was frozen on both occasions. The tarn is a great place to stop and enjoy a meal and a break. In May 2020, the wind was too powerful to allow much of a stay, but we found a spot in the lee of a large boulder to crouch and have a snack.
The descent is down the Brook Trail to Byron Road. Humans and animals use the same trails, and there can be a surprisingly high amount (read: tonnage) of moose droppings on the Brook Trail, but we did not see any moose on the way down. We agreed that we would have to come back to Tumbledown in the summer, as this was one of our favorite hikes.
Oh, and one bonus feature…
We saw this billboard on the way through Canton, Maine, in 2017 and could not resist taking a picture.
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The Center Hill Nature Trail is a short (half-mile) loop located on Center Hill (1,658 ft), inside Mount Blue State Park, off Center Hill Road (unpaved) in Weld, Maine. This trail begins and ends at the parking area for the Center Hill picnic area, and includes excellent views of Mount Blue, Tumbledown Mountain, Webb Lake, and the surrounding lakes and mountains.
Rumford Whitecap Mountain (2,214 ft) in Rumford is accessible through trails maintained by the Mahoosuc Land Trust (MLT), for a 5.4 mile out/back to the summit on the Orange Trail (or slightly longer using the Starr and Orange Trails), or a longer traverse over Black Mountain via the Black/White Trail (requires spotting a car). MLT’s website advertises Rumford Whitecap as a four-season destination for hiking, snowshoeing, and back country skiing, with blueberries in the summer.
I have ascended via the Connector to the Starr Trail (marked with yellow blazes and flagging tape), and returned via the Orange Trail, and would suggest this route (or its reverse) for the views, rather than just the Orange Trail. I used the guidebooks Maine Mountain Guide and Maine Hikes Off the Beaten Path for detailed trail maps and descriptions. You can also find a map on the AllTrails app or Maine Trailfinder (link at the MLT website above).
(COVID-19 note: the Mahoousuc Land Trust advises on its website: “Our trails and preserves remain open, and are a great way to get fresh air and exercise. . . Please carefully adhere to these State restrictions and guidelines, and note that parking lot and trail closures will result if crowding occurs or the required distancing is not maintained.)
Both trails, divided by a pleasantly running brook in a valley between them, were muddy, but well-maintained. The Connector crossed the brook, with spring runoff created small waterfalls along the way. Rains can create a morning fog, but also spur the growth of a variety of May wildflowers from the trailhead to the summit.
The Starr Trail transitions from a grassy woods road to a winding climb, becoming more strenuous as the deciduous forest changes to a more sparse, rocky pine forest, and opens up on ledges with spectacular views of the Mahoosucs and White Mountains.
After the junction with the Orange Trail, the summit is only about another .5 miles, hopping over small cool rivulets of water running down the exposed rock face. Close to the summit last May, there was what appeared to be a large deposit of bear poop, but a quick look around didn’t disclose any prints. The summit itself is open in all directions, and a great spot for a picnic.
After a brief rest at the summit to enjoy the view and chew on some jerky, I headed back down the Orange Trail. The trail ran like a creek in places, with the spring rains, and remains diverted for a section. The hike can take about two to two and-a-half hours, with plenty of stops to listen to birdsong, inspect wildflowers, watch bumblebees at work, and pick up and inspect pieces of quartz.
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With the temporary closure of schools and businesses, the uncertainty in the air, and the moratorium on group activities in many places, the universal mood seems to be a somber one, at best. But, with care, resolve, and education (try this article on social distancing), a more sanguine view can prevail. What is a healthy thing to do that requires relative isolation – six feet of separation with non-family members, and no direct contact with surfaces that might contain lingering viruses?
Hiking, in its many forms, needs no more cheerleading for its holistic wellness benefits. But getting outside for mental health has never been more important. Here in Portland, Maine, schools will be closed until at least the end of April, a stay-at-home order has been issued, and non-essential businesses are temporarily closing. These actions, and others, can all have degenerative ripple effects on time, and on physical and mental health, if we let them.
First, breathe. We were fortunate to be born in a country with the infrastructure and prosperity to get through this. Here in Maine, we are less-densely populated than most other places, surrounded by an embarrassment of natural riches in the form of the coast, lakes, and mountains.
Remember- these are close, and popular, and may be crowded. The Portland Press Herald also just published a list of wild lands for exploration during this strange time.
Again, check state and local guidelines on the trails or parks you are using. Some may be closed due to COVID-19, some may just be closed to protect trails during mud season. The best source of information is the maintainer of the trails, whether that be a government agency, a municipality, a land trust, or a non-profit.
The point is not some Instagram-worthy photo opportunity, it’s fresh air and time in nature, so don’t sweat the surroundings. Baxter Woods or Evergreen Cemetery are great places to walk. If you can’t make it way out onto remote trails, there are other outdoor options. Last weekend, dad and daughter took advantage of the sunny weather, using Portland Trails and the East Coast Greenway to safely walk ten-plus miles to Wainwright Fields in South Portland.
This is not meant to be a flippant article, but suggestions specific to getting outdoors in the Portland area. People are deeply affected by this pandemic. Post-hike, consider getting takeout or delivery from a local restaurant – Portland’s Old Port has an updated list of businesses where this is available, as does Portland Food Map. The best place to look for where to help is at your friends and neighbors, but donations of money or time to places like Preble Street or national charities like the Salvation Army or Meals on Wheels can help those less fortunate.
Mill Brook Preserve South, a 32-acre annex/extension of the Mill Brook Preserve, opened its trails in October 2019, and has a 1.5 mile easy lollipop loop for hiking, running, snowshoeing, and cross-country skiing, ending in a short spur trail with the opportunity to view the annual migration of the alewives in late May and June. As with the Mill Brook Preserve, 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.
The Mill Brook Preserve South trailhead is located next to well-marked parking spaces in the Millbrook Estates (300 E. Bridge St, Westbrook). We hiked the loop and the spur a couple times in February 2020, an easy hike of about forty minutes. The trail was packed snow, with softer snow on the margins, and I would suggest traction devices (Yaktrax or microspikes) to avoid slipping and sliding.
We saw woodpeckers and red squirrels, as well as the tracks of deer. Dogs are allowed on the trail, but must be leashed, especially in the portion next to the working cattle farm (you will see signs). The beginning of the trail is next to a horse farm, so children may enjoy seeing these domesticated animals, if you strike out with woodland creatures.
The spur trail midway through the loop leads downhill to Mill Brook, and on this winter visit, the flow was mostly under a sheet of ice, with an open area close to the near bank. In early summer, this area can be a great spot to watch the alewives run (and a midway picnic stop with smaller kids).
As in its northern sister preserve, navigation along the trails is forgiving and self-correcting, with maps posted at critical intersections throughout the Preserve.
On a cold but sunny February day, we hiked Portland, Maine’s Fore River Sanctuary and Jewell Falls via the Forest City Trail and Railroad Loop from the Hillcrest Trailhead, an easy lollipop loop of about 1.2 miles (35 minutes). This preserve, maintained by Portland Trails, is 85 acres of nature inside Maine’s largest city, and contains a waterfall, as well as a lowland marsh area popular with bird watchers. Portland Trails has a digital map page with links to every type of map you would want for completing this hike, and any other in their network.
This winter weekend day, we did not see many birds, but many people enjoying the trail with their dogs. The trail was hard-packed snow, with icy sections, and Yaktrax, microspikes, or other traction devices would be advisable. We took a short loop, but the preserve has 5.6 miles of trails, so many other routes are possible.
It is a short walk from the Hillcrest trailhead to Jewell Falls, the star attraction of the preserve. Tactically, for those with small children, it may make more sense to use the Rowe Avenue or Starbird Road trailheads, and loop counterclockwise, so that Jewell Falls is the big payoff in the second half of the hike. Jewell Falls in winter is a white cascade of ice, snow, rock, water, and sound, and we picked our way down the stone steps next to the falls to watch and listen. The falls are named for Tom Jewell, a Portland Trails founder, whose family donated the land around the falls to Portland Trails.
The winter woods on the Forest City Trail were open and quiet, punctuated by the scampering of red squirrels. This icy path led down across the railroad tracks to the lowland marsh, where water carved its passage through the salty hummocks, a pleasant place to watch for wildlife.
Crossing back over the railroad tracks, we completed the clockwise loop, stopping briefly again by Jewell Falls to observe the wintry paths of water, before returning to the Hillcrest Street trailhead.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.