(Note: no pets or bikes are allowed on the trail)
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.