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.

Continue reading

Hamilton Audobon Sanctuary (West Bath, ME)

Mud flats of Back Cove from Red Trail, Hamilton Audobon Sanctuary, West Bath, Maine

The Hamilton Audobon Sanctuary, located near Foster Point in West Bath, Maine, contains about 93 acres of forest, marshes, and mud flats, with miles of looping trails surrounded by wide views of the New Meadows River and its Back Cove. Parking is located at 681 Fosters Point Road in West Bath, where there is a lot, map kiosk and composting toilet, open each day from dawn to dusk. Check out the map and guide at Audobon’s website (Note: dogs are not allowed at Hamilton Audobon). These trails are level, well-marked, and easy.

Light through the forest, Hamilton Audobon Sanctuary, West Bath, Maine

The sanctuary is named after Millicent Hamilton, who lived on the land on which it now sits until her 1986 death, and who gave the property to the Maine Audobon Society. I started the Red Trail in a wide field with views of the river and the chattering sound of chickadees, blue jays, and woodpeckers, the trail marked by posts along the margins of the field. A foot bridge leads across a creek to the Blue Trail, which starts in a crowded wood, making its way to Back Cove Point. I had the trail mostly to myself, and the shoreline was quiet and empty with the exception of a few early morning clamdiggers on the flats.

Back Cove grasses, Hamilton Audobon Sanctuary, West Bath, Maine
Continue reading

Devil’s Back Trail (Harpswell, ME)

Gun Point Cove from Devil’s Back Area trails, Harpswell, ME

The Devil’s Back Trail area in Harpswell, Maine, is another jewel managed by the Town of Harpswell. This rugged but narrow area straddles Route 24 on the way to Orr’s Island, with the east side overlooking Gun Point Cove, and the west on Long Cove. The Town of Harpswell has descriptions and a trail map here, and there is an excellent treatment of this hike in Maine Hikes off the Beaten Path.

Devil’s Back Area, Harpswell, ME

The trails depart from a small parking lot, and contain matching butterfly wing or infinity loops (whichever comparison you prefer) on each side of 24, totaling about 2.5 miles (I take every side trail and viewpoint). I started to the east on a January morning, descending the winding and narrow path to immediate ocean views on the Gun Point Cove Loop. The path was empty, with only the sound of the crashing winter waves and I watched a variety of seabirds bobbing slowly up and down on the tide.

Long Cove from Devil’s Back Area, Harpswell, ME
Continue reading

Cliff Walk at Prouts Neck (Scarborough, Maine)

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

(Update: 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
Continue reading

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
Continue reading

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
Continue reading

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
Continue reading

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.
Continue reading

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