Cliff Walk at Prouts Neck (Scarborough, Maine)

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

(From March 24, 2020 to the present, this trail appears to be closed to comply with social distancing restrictions regarding COVID-19, and will be re-opened when it is safe to do so.)

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.

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 we hiked it on a cold late December day, and again recently on a sunny day in March.

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 described 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.  Past the main parking area/kiosk, there is a small parking area with a few spots next to an ATV trail intersection, with a town of Waterford parks sign.  Beware during spring mud season of the short drive on Hawk Mountain Road between the parking areas, which is extraordinarily muddy, and requires four-wheel drive.

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

In January, 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.  In March, with the “social distancing” pushing people outside, the trails were more full.

Mount Washington and the Whites in March from Hawk Mountain
Mount Washington and the Whites in March from Hawk Mountain

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.

(Note: The Katahdin Loop Road opened for the 2020 season on Saturday, May 23. U.S. National Park Service advises to drive with caution and be alert for soft spots and rough road sections. Haskell and Big Spring Brook Huts are temporarily closed, and updates will be posted to the NPS website.)

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.

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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.

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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.

Rachel Carson National Wildlife Refuge (Wells, ME)

Salt marsh view on the Carson Trail, Rachel Carson National Wildlife Refuge, in Wells, ME.
Salt marsh view on the Carson Trail, Rachel Carson National Wildlife Refuge, in Wells, ME.

[Note: The refuge visitor center, Carson Trail and the adjacent visitor parking lot, along with other public facilities-including public bathrooms are currently (as of May 18, 2020) closed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.]

Established in 1966, Rachel Carson National Wildlife Refuge is located along fifty miles of southern Maine coastline and divided into eleven sections between Kittery and Cape Elizabeth. In the Wells section, the Carson Trail is a short, easy, beautiful stroll that is flat, wide enough for two people side-by-side, and well-suited for those who don’t want elevation or rocky paths. This one-mile loop showcases coastal wetlands, consisting of salt marsh and deciduous and pine forests. Since I was already in the area, it seemed like a perfectly laid-back 45-minute activity.

The wide, flat, well-marked Carson Trail, Rachel Carson National Wildlife Refuge, in Wells, ME.
The wide, flat, well-marked Carson Trail, Rachel Carson National Wildlife Refuge, in Wells, ME.

The refuge, managed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, has its entrance at 321 Port Road in Wells, Maine, with parking, restrooms, picnic tables, signage and maps, and is open from sunrise to sunset. I would recommend getting the trail guide (found in a box at the trailhead) not because there is any danger of getting lost (near impossible) but  because it details 11 stopping points along the trail. It explains various elements like “critical edge,” the difference between salt hay and smooth cordgrass, and a brief history of Rachel Carson. (If you can keep your map in good condition, please return it to the box at the end). The trail was relatively quiet, which was surprising for this beautiful Saturday afternoon.

Trail kiosk with guide/map, Carson Trail, Rachel Carson National Wildlife Refuge, in Wells, ME.
Trail kiosk with guide/map, Carson Trail, Rachel Carson National Wildlife Refuge, in Wells, ME.

The trail follows Merriland River (on your right) and then halfway through (viewpoint #6), you will see the intersection of Merriland River and Branch Brook as it forms Little River. At several of the lookout points, you can see the ocean crashing in the distance or sit on a bench and watch a white heron in the tall grass. Everything is well-maintained and safe. I would highly recommend this walk for small children, who can look for birds, watch as the tide comes in or goes out or run ahead of the adults to get to the next trail marker. Leashed pets are allowed (on the Carson Trail only).  I would emphasize staying on the trail for obvious reasons but especially because I noticed poison ivy on the trail edge.

Salt marsh view, Carson Trail, Rachel Carson National Wildlife Refuge, in Wells, ME.
Salt marsh view, Carson Trail, Rachel Carson National Wildlife Refuge, in Wells, ME.

As a bonus – it is only a five-minute drive from the Wells Reserve at Laudholm, which has 7 miles of trails, and so you could make your way over there with a picnic lunch and enjoy the rest of the afternoon.

Gulf Hagas Loop (KI/Jo-Mary)

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Gulf Hagas, a gem hidden in the 100 Mile Wilderness of Maine’s Appalachian Trail, has been dubbed the “Grand Canyon of the East.”  Recently, this moderate (in difficulty, not grandeur) hike along the West Branch of the Pleasant River is getting more press, for better or worse, including mentions in Outside Online’s Best Hike In Every State, and in the Sep/Oct 2019 Outside Magazine print edition. Why? Waterfalls! Appalachian Trail! Beautiful rock formations! Swimming holes! Moose (well, moose droppings, anyway)!  This is what you can tell any curmudgeons (I won’t name names) who come bearing excuses like, “too many bugs” or “that sounds like a lot of walking” or “I don’t have hiking boots.”

Gulf Hagas is located near the small town of Brownville, ME, about 3.3 hours from Portland and accessible through the gatehouse at Katahdin Iron Works Road (and two other checkpoints).  The Katahdin Iron Works (KI) Jo-Mary Multiple Use Management Area is a region of about 175,000 acres of privately owned commercial forest, wedged conveniently between Moosehead Lake and Baxter State Park.  All visitors – even those who are not camping – must stop at the gatehouse to pay the day use fee (and the camping fee if you are camping). They accept cash or check – and more cash than you might expect.  On our recent camping and hiking weekend to celebrate the end of summer, four adults and one child camping for two nights and hiking for two days was $176 (under 18 is free). Information on fees can be found at North Maine Woods site.  Also, pay attention while you are driving on those roads- the pot holes will get ya.

The gatekeeper at KI gate was friendly and helpful and happy to answer my questions about swimming holes and the state of the privy/outhouse at the campsite (brand new). I regret not asking him about a good spot to see a moose because I got the sense he would have known. The maps available at the gate (or print in advance here) of the area and of Gulf Hagas are particularly useful.

A small poplar grows at the top of the remaining Katahdin Iron Works furnace by the KI Gate.
A small poplar grows at the top of the remaining Katahdin Iron Works furnace by the KI Gate.

I would recommend camping at the KI/Jo Mary campsites. Unless you are one of the few people that live nearby, you are going to want to relax somewhere after you hike for several hours.  We lucked out and got one of those late summer weekends where the evenings require jackets, the campfire is crowded and the days warm up enough to be in shorts. Late August in Maine!

Our camping site (Pleasant River #1) was sandwiched between a clean, quiet, shallow river and a dusty road that had about 4-5 cars per hour go by during the day. It included a new outhouse which (no joke) smelled like fresh pine when we arrived. The site had enough privacy and except for a few barks from a dog at a nearby camp site, we did not hear the neighbors. The covered picnic table was perfect for providing shade.

Pleasant River Campsite managed by Katahdin Iron Works / Jo-Mary, Inc., near Gulf Hagas
Pleasant River Campsites managed by KI Jo-Mary, Inc., near Gulf Hagas

I was practicing the art of low-maintenance and so decided this would be the trip that I would go without a pillow. I spent the first night with my head on a hard-sided duffel bag, cursing this decision. Alas, nobody will ever say about me that “all she needed was a small patch of land to lay her weary head.” Turns out I need a blow-up mattress and a pillow. And chocolate. And delicious “camping-easy” coffee that even has some health benefits. It is a splurge, but when you are camping without a pillow, you will want that coffee.

We set up three tents in the three nooks of the large site, which had a great mix of sun and shade and was approximately 3.5 miles from the trailhead.  My sole complaint was the road. Given the ruggedness of the road, the dust and the clouds of marijuana smoke billowing from passing cars, my advice would be to drive to the trailhead as opposed to walk. Save your energy for the gorgeous scenery along the Gulf Hagas Rim Trail! This is the hike with all the oohs and ahhs.

The trailhead for the Gulf Hagas Rim Trail is well-marked and on this sunny August Saturday the parking lot was overflowing. Several wooden hiking sticks rested next to the large trail map, to borrow for fording the river which comes at approximately .2 miles into the walk. Fortunately, the river was shallow and only reached mid-calf in the deepest areas. Because of the slippery rocks, I would highly recommend a walking stick or hiking poles and water shoes – my daughter crossed in bare feet but it did not look pleasant. The depth of the water varies from season to season and in dangerous conditions, there are other ways to hike the trail without crossing the river.

Crossing West Branch of Pleasant River on Appalachian Trail on way to Rim Trail, Gulf Hagas
Crossing W. Branch of Pleasant River on AT on way to Rim Trail, Gulf Hagas

After the river crossing, you are on the Appalachian Trail. I was impressed with all those hikers who had walked perhaps since Georgia. Follow those white blazes, through The Hermitage (lots of huge, old white pine trees and hemlocks) and continue to the Rim Trail, where you say goodbye to the folks who are walking the 100-Mile Wilderness of the AT and you follow the blue blazes instead.

We took the Rim Trail along the water and then returned along the Pleasant River Tote Trail. See map here. In total, with all the small side trails to viewpoints, it is about 9 miles and there is an option to make a smaller loop, if you take the Appalachian Trail cutoff.  Alternately, Gulf Hagas can be reached from a parking area for the Head of the Gulf Trail (opposite end from the AT), closer to the Greenville Road.

Many families with small children appeared to turn around at Screw Auger Falls or Buttermilk Falls. Several people were jumping into the water at Screw Auger Falls and it was the busiest spot along the walk. Everyone in our party seemed to be allergic to big groups of people (Husband mumbled something about Disneyland) and so we moved along. Certainly on a hot day this would be a great spot to cool off and I can’t imagine a more picturesque spot.

The hike does not include significant elevation and it is well marked. There are some little scrambles over rocks that a well-placed hiking pole or a tree branch would help with, but otherwise it is what I would call moderate.  The AMC Maine Mountain Guide suggested allowing 4 hrs and 25 minutes for the loop, which is reasonable.  We took plenty of breaks to relax and snack, and completed it in about 6 hours.

The trail has plenty of quiet, scenic areas to stop and sit and rest and stick your feet in the water while eating a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. My group had a couple of stoves and made sophisticated camping meals and hot tea. Daughter is a huge fan of Mountain House Chili Mac while the breakfast favorite was the Peak Refuel Breakfast Skillet. The JetBoil camping stove continues to impress in its efficiency.

We took the Pleasant River Tote Trail back and it was scenic in its own right – meandering woodland paths – quiet, green and easy. The walk back was much faster than the hike along the Rim Trail and the river crossing that you complete again to get back to the parking lot was refreshing on tired feet.

For post-hike refreshment, we enjoyed the cool river by the campsite, grilled hamburgers and beer and wine, and watching kingfishers and small, fast-moving ducks move by.  But if you are headed back towards Portland, consider stopping at Bissell Brothers Brewing Three Rivers on Elm Street in Milo (turn right at Dot Rd just before the red train car).  According to the cheery bartender, their double IPA, Preserve and Protect, is a tribute to the brothers’ father, Jensen Bissell, who was the Director of Baxter State Park for thirty years.  A Katahdin benchmark is imprinted in the bar, as well.

Katahdin benchmark in the bar at Bissell Brothers Three Rivers in Milo, ME
Katahdin benchmark in the bar at Bissell Brothers Three Rivers in Milo, ME

The now-famous Bissell Brothers beers are all available on tap, and delicious food is also available for purchase outside.  Relax on the outdoor patio, and watch or play cornhole and ping-pong – all without the bustle at their Portland location.  And continuing towards the turnpike in Dover-Foxcroft is Butterfields Ice Cream, serving up unbelievable ice cream flavors (and now, burgers, fries, and lobster rolls) since 1950.

Gulf Hagas is a memorable day-hike with friends and family, customizable to each person’s individual abilities, with memorable scenery unique to Maine’s 100-Mile Wilderness.