Schiller Coastal Studies Center Trails (Harpswell)

Spruce Fir-Forest Trail, Bowdoin’s Schiller Coastal Studies Center, Harpswell, ME

Schiller Coastal Studies Center, a 118 acre preserve on Harpswell’s Orrs Island, is owned by Bowdoin College, with trails made open to the public (foot traffic only, dogs on leash) from dawn to dusk. We discovered this special place using Maine Trailfinder, and did an early September hike of just under 3 miles, seeing most of the peninsula in under an hour-and-a-half through a long loop using the Spruce Fir-Forest Trail, Dipper Cove Path, Pine Needle Path, Brewer Cove Trail, Long Cove Loop, and Stone Wall Walk. We planned and hiked this loop using the excellent printable map available on the Schiller Coastal Studies website, as well as at an information kiosk at the small parking area off Bayview Road (it’s hard to see, due to the map’s colors, but the Long Cove Loop does connect to the Stone Wall Walk to complete the circle).

Harpswell Sound by Dipper Path, Bowdoin’s Schiller Coastal Studies Center, Harpswell, ME

We started by walking south on Bayview Road, turning right (west) onto the blue-blazed Spruce Fir-Forest Trail. This trail descended quickly through its namesake forest to Dipper Cove on Harpswell Sound, meeting the Dipper Cove Path (green blazes) to head north along the shoreline, with glimpses of the water peeking through the sunlit trees. We enjoyed broader high tide views from the rocky shore of the emerald water and Wyer Island. According to Schiller Coastal Studies’ trail guide, the footpath to access Wyer Island is open at low tide only. The descent to the shore and the return climb along the Dipper Cove Path are the only real elevation along this loop.

Terminus of Pine Needle Path, Bowdoin’s Schiller Coastal Studies Center, Harpswell, ME

We moved through the sunny campus along the road to rejoin the Pine Needle Path to the point of the peninsula, where a rocky promontory guarded the entrance to Brewer Cove. Several students could be seen moving around the quiet campus. This amazing coastal property was deeded to Bowdoin College in 1981 by William (a Bowdoin graduate) and Irma Thalheimer, who continued to reside in the farmhouse there until their respective deaths in 1986 and 1994. The Center is named for Philip Schiller and Kim Gassett-Schiller, who more recently donated $10 million for laboratory and facility construction.

Late afternoon light, Brewer Cove Trail, Bowdoin’s Schiller Coastal Studies Center, Harpswell, ME

A chair tucked into a large bush gripping the rocks appeared to be a quiet, secret study spot, seen only by mergansers gliding by across the flat surface of Brewer Cove. We returned south, briefly retracing our steps to get onto the Brewer Cove Trail (blue blazes), which skirted the bottom of the cove, then headed north at a stone wall. The Brewer Cove Trail hugged tight to the small ridge along the way to Dog’s Head, with views down to the sheltered waters of Brewer Cove throughout, past twisted cedar trees.

Dog’s Head views, Long Cove Loop, Bowdoin’s Schiller Coastal Studies Center, Harpswell, ME

At the point of this peninsula, where the Brewer Cove Trail gives way to the Long Cove Loop (yellow blazes), a bench looks out over Dog’s Head and Harpswell Sound, where gulls, cormorants, and mergansers competed for territory. Here, we saw a small group of hikers heading back to the trailhead in the late-afternoon light. We paused briefly to enjoy the ocean views. The walk south along Long Cove seemed familiar, and looking at the map, it became apparent why – the Schiller Coastal Studies trails lie immediately across the Cove from the Devil’s Back Area Trails, which I explored previously on an unseasonably warm winter’s day. At a rocky open area in the trees, we heard, then saw, a pair of osprey wheeling overhead.

Bright yellow and green ferns, Bowdoin’s Schiller Coastal Studies Center, Harpswell, ME

We headed uphill through evergreens and brightly colored changing ferns to pick up the Stone Wall Walk, the last leg of our loop. This trail passed a large section of blowdown trees and then moved through open fields. As we moved into the forest on the home stretch, I caught sight of a porcupine making its way out of the fields and across the trail. At our approach, it turned away from us, raising its tail toward us to telegraph its willingness to protect itself. The porcupine then lumbered through the pines, and made its way quickly up a tree, watching us from its perch as we walked back to the parking area.

Porcupine on Stone Wall Walk, Bowdoin’s Schiller Coastal Studies Center, Harpswell, ME

Cliff Trail (Harpswell, ME)

Henry Creek lookout, Cliff Trail, Harpswell, ME

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

The Cliff Trail in Harpswell is an approximately 2.3 mile loop, with expansive views of the Long Reach, a long finger of a bay extending from Casco Bay inland. The popular trail, with parking at the Harpswell Town Office on Mountain Road, is well-marked and maintained by the town of Harpswell (see printable map and description here at town website). I started the white-blazed trail clockwise at sunrise on a mid-January morning. It was dark and a little muddy, with plenty of roots to trip over, but no snow had accumulated, and no traction devices were necessary. Strawberry Creek, to the west of the trail, narrows to a quiet, scenic cascade, and the trail turns inland.

Cliff Trail, Harpswell, ME
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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
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