Ice Pond Preserve, Hancock

In those fun days before refrigeration changed everything, local people used to cut blocks of ice from the small pond on this 42-acre preserve. The pond today may not provide ice, but it could provide solace — it’s such a peaceful and charming spot! When we visited, two Adirondack chairs had been set up at the pond’s edge. Elsewhere on the preserve, the trails pass through mossy forests and small meadows.

The preserve seems to be lovingly tended. The meadow paths were recently mown and all the trails were well marked. Each intersection is posted, so when you’re squinting your eyes at what may be a trail, don’t turn down it unless it has an obvious trail sign. Also, one of the marked trails on the map ends up at Ironbound, which we, not being from the area, thought possibly could be an interesting natural feature. It’s not—it’s an inn and restaurant, so you could pop in for a snack!

Directions: There is no room for cars to park at the trailhead, so the land trust asks that walkers park .3 miles away, at the parking lot for the Old Pond Railway Trail, which is on Point Road across from the town hall. The trailhead is up the road and on the left, marked with a sign at the forest edge.

Ball Field and Sam Ball Woods Preserves, Hancock

The two preserves here are back-to-back, and together offer a pleasant walk through meadows with apple trees and pretty woods. The Ball Field Preserve is named after an old ball field on the property (I think it’s called “Little Fenway” by locals), while the second preserve is named for Samuel Ball, a fellow who farmed the area in the 1700s. From East Side Road to Point Road, it’s about 1.2 miles.

Directions: There is no parking at the western edge of the preserve, where the trail comes out on Point Road, so you must park at the Ball Field Preserve, near the community garden, on East Side Road.

Eagle Hill Institute, Steuben

A natural history institute—one that also offers nature-related art workshops and chamber music concerts—really needs to have a rich and wonderful natural setting. And this one does, perched as it is on the top of forested 223-foot Eagle Hill. Its 150 or so acres include blueberry fields, several ledges with views, and a stretch of rocky coast along Dyer Bay. The best view is from Lover’s Leap, looking west. There is just a touch of an ocean view through the gnarled Jack Pines on the Jack Pine Trail.

The public is allowed to walk the institute trails, which narrowly wind through the different habitats on the hill. They are all well marked. I enjoyed the Border Trail the most—it is mossy, dark, and quiet, and the pitch to the sea, while steep, feels not quite as precipitously steep as on Eagle or Bear Trails. The Blueberry Trail is also lovely.

You can pick your way along the rocks on the shore if you hike down one of the institute’s walking routes. (It’s a little under half a mile as the crow flies from the institute to sea.) There is also a faint trail in the woods behind the shoreline between Bear and Eagle Trails that is slightly easier going than walking on the rocks, which can be slippery. At the end of Border Trail, you’ll find an old wooden staircase roped off with a private property sign. It is tempting to use it to get down to the pebbly beach! But if you’re squeamish about breaking social contracts, you can scramble down the bank instead.

If you get a chance, do check out the institute—particularly its large natural history library (which also has a lot of art books) and its chamber music room. Or even better, sign up for one of its many natural history programs or attend one of its community events.

Directions: The address is 59 Eagle Hill Road. From Route 1, turn onto Dyer Bay Road. At a T-intersection after a small bridge turn left onto Mogador Rd. Turn left onto the dirt road Schooner Point Road. After the first hill, turn right onto the dirt Eagle Hill Road. The large Commons Building and smaller office building will be on your right and the first parking lot will be on your left. The easiest way to find the trail system is to continue to the farthest parking lot, which will be on your left. Two of the trails begin from this lot (Border Trail and Orchid Trail). There is also a path between the Commons Building and the office leading to the Leap Trail. The trailhead to the Sunset Trail is back down the road you drove in on.

Lamoine State Park, Lamoine

The most dramatic parts of this 55-acre park are the open fields sloping down to the pebbly-sandy beachfront, backdropped with distant views of Cadillac Mountain. The wind is a pretty near constant, I hear, and you can sit under one of the apple trees and watch the fishing boats come and go on Frenchman’s Bay.

If you want to leave this lovely spot, you can head out on the easy 1-mile trail that makes a half circle around one half of the park. Don’t skip the treehouse! It’s a sturdy structure—impossible for even the clutziest person to fall from. The loop trail, while dirt, has been widened and leveled, so makes for easy walking. You can pick it up near the beach area, or up by the ranger’s station at the top of the park.

If you visit during the summer season, from May 15-October 15, you’ll have to pay a park entry fee. During the off-season, the park is free, but you have to park outside the gate.

Directions: From Route 1 from Ellsworth, turn onto Route 183 and go about eight miles. You’ll first see a pretty iron fence, a remnant from the time when the park was a coaling, or fueling station for the US Navy, before seeing the park sign and entrance road on your right.

Bloomfield Park, Lamoine

Named after the donor of the land, Bloomfield Smith, this little town park includes a small open waterfront area. Pleasant enough, it’s not the most enticing swimming hole I’ve come across, perhaps because I visited later in the afternoon when the sandy area was in shade. You can walk a short trail that makes a .25-mile loop around the western side of the park. The best way to find the trail is to locate the outhouse and look for the dark blue blazes that mark the path several yards out in front of the loos.

Directions: The park is on Bloomfield Park Road in Lamoine. From coastal Route 1 heading out of Ellsworth, turn right on Route 184. Bear left when 184 becomes Lamoine Beach Road. Travel 2.2 miles and then turn left onto Asa’s Lane. Just past Lamoine Redemption on the right, turn left onto Bloomfield Park Road and bear right at the park sign to reach the parking area and beach. 

Coleman Mixed Woods, Lamoine

It is hard to tire of the mossy woods of coastal downeast Maine! This 50-acre preserve, which includes a sustainably managed woodlot, has wide, easy, moss-covered trails that meander through forests filled with mushrooms (in season). In the less managed areas, you’ll find lots of “moss gardens,” with blankets of fluffy, green moss sprouts and patches of crinkly white lichen.

A long time ago, it seems, someone placed simple wooden benches at many of the trail intersections—which are all numbered and correspond to a paper map available at the trailhead to help keep you from getting lost. These benches are now mouldering and turning green in a picturesquely decaying way.

Just a warning: I found that the most distant trails a bit hard to follow at times, and a few places were very wet.

Directions: From Route 1 in Hancock, take Mud Creek Road south into Lamoine. After 2.9 miles, take a left at the intersection with Route 204. Next, travel another 3.2 miles and turn left onto Seal Point Road. The trailhead is approximately 1.5 miles from the intersection with Route 204. Parking along the roadside is limited to 3 vehicles.

Corea Heath, Corea

You can explore two parts of the preserved land here: the northern heath, which has a 1.4-mile trail on it, and the southern section, where you can reach an observation deck overlooking the vast and striking bog by walking along a flat .2-mile berm that is wheelchair accessible.

It might be advisable to wear rubber boots if you’re going to hike the loop at the Frenchman Bay Conservancy’s northern preserve. It can be very wet, even in the autumn. The trail also is quite rooty and uneven, and the boards placed over the wettest patches can be narrow. They’re a good test of your yoga-cultivated balance! So, the walk here can be soggy and a bit of an adventure, but it is worth it. There are rocky ledges and and nice spots by the bog lake.

Directions: From Route 1, turn right onto 195 South to Prospect Harbor and Corea. Stay on the road for 4.8 miles. At the junction with 186 in Prospect Harbor, turn left, drive .1 mile and turn right on Corea Road.  Drive 2 miles and look to the left for the conservancy’s sign and parking.

Simon Trail, Lamoine

This is an easy-to-follow 1-mile loop trail in a pretty patch of forest. I couldn’t stop taking pictures of the mushrooms here, which come in an array of colors, from inky black to sunshiny yellow, blood-red orange, and a shade of chilly blue.

Directions: On Route 1 in Ellsworth, turn right onto Route 184 and drive 2.8  miles. Immediately past the town hall, turn left on Pinkam’s Flats Road and drive 2.3 miles to the parking lot and trailhead on the right.

Milbridge Commons and Sudsbury Trail, Milbridge

More a destination that trail, both Milbridge Commons and the Sudsbury Walking Trail (which don’t actually connect, but are both downtown) have very short, wheelchair-accessible trails. The .1-mile Sudsbury trail is paved. It follows the wide Narragaugus River and is dotted with a few benches and a gazebo. Milbridge Commons’ trail loops around a huge community garden that seems tended by masterful gardeners. The views of the river are divine, and the benches here are also quite artful. The loop is .2 miles.

Directions: To reach the Commons and its garden, turn onto a short drive that’s across the street from Milbridge Historical Society. There’s plenty of parking here. To walk the Sudsbury Trail, there is parking on the side of the road for two or so cars off of Route 1A.

Baker Hill and Long Ledges, Sullivan

Oh wow, what an awesome surprise! I didn’t do much reading up about this double preserve (it is made up of two parcels) before I explored it. I just had a map in hand. But as my friend and I climbed up the ledges of Baker Hill, we quickly realized we were somewhere unique. It must be place adored by locals.

Because the protected lands here stretch out for so long along Punkenville Road, there are several trailheads and parking areas spaced a reasonable distance apart, allowing you to begin your walk at different areas. If you begin at the southern trailhead, the first one you encounter on Punkenville Road, you are in a good position to head right up Baker Hill, a moderately steep, fast hike up a forest that opens up to stony ledge with beautiful views of Mount Desert Island. The Frenchman Bay Conservancy map has helpful contour lines to show the rise and fall of elevation as you traverse the trail network. I also find the numbered intersections so helpful with orientation.

While the whole preserve is filled with lovely spots, perhaps the most enchanting of all is the one at Long Pond. When you get to the edge of the pond, facing the water, you’ll see an unmarked trail headed up the rocks on your left. If you scramble up the rocks to follow it, you’ll come out to an open rock on the pond’s edge—a super spot for jumping into the cold water. Someone had attached a rope to help swimmers clamber back onto the rocks when I visited in September 2019.

Note: When the northern East Side Trail leaves the preserve boundaries, it reaches a network of snowmobile paths that would be confusing to navigate if not for the very helpful conservancy signs.

Another note: I have not yet mapped the Schoodic Connector Trail, the 2.5-mile path that connects the trail system here to the one around Schoodic Bog and to Schoodic Mountain. You can go for a seriously long walk here if you start at Baker Hill and head over Schoodic Mountain into the trail system of Donnell Pond Public Lands!

Directions: From Route 1, turn onto Punkinville Road. You’ll see the sign for the first trailhead in .2 miles.

Donnell Pond Public Land, Sullivan, near Sullivan

There are many miles of trails in Donnell Pond’s 14,000-plus acres of protected land. The tract is filled with small mountains, secluded ponds, and remote camping sites. This place is such a glorious treat for those who live in this area or visit. There are several day hikes you can do: as I do them, I’ll describe them below.

Tunk Stream: A .5-mile wide track descends gradually to a peaceful camping site on the far end of Spring River Lake, where it flows into Tunk Stream. This part of the lake is being overtaken with reeds and grasses, and you can look out over the delicate mosaic they make to the rocky ledges of Tunk Mountain. This looks like a nice place to take a dip.

Tunk Mountain: The 1.8-mile trail to the north face summit of Tunk Mountain (it has open southern and northern faces) passes a trail at .5 miles that takes you to “hidden ponds.” Don’t miss this 1-mile loop spur! The ponds are beautiful, and there are boats—perhaps not quite seaworthy?—and paddles that appear to be for public use. Several spots looked like great places to jump in for a refreshing swim. All told, if you hike to the mountain’s northern face, and do the loop, the total length is roughly 5 miles. The hike up Tunk is moderately challenging, with a few steep spots and a few scrambles up boulders. A side trail close to the southern face takes you to a view and a plaque commemorating the family who donated the land.

Directions: There are several ways to access Donnell Pond Public Lands. See the official map for ideas on where to park. The trailhead to Tunk Mountain and Tunk Stream is off Route 182; they are both well marked with visible signs from the road.

Brown’s Mill Park, Dover-Foxcroft

Are the trails here groomed for skiing in the winter? If not, they would be nice to ski anyway. The town provides a map of ski trails which I tried to follow by foot in August. Some of these unmarked trails appear to cross private property, since I ran into posted ‘no trespass signs.’ And a few trails just don’t exist at all—at least in the summertime.

This was the site of an old tannery, and so the land had to be cleaned up and toxic waste stored underground. You would never know that today. Large mown meadows slope down to the river and new trees have been planted. Since I was all by myself when I visited (are people leery of visiting a former industrial site, I wonder?), it felt a bit like I was strolling on my own estate grounds, checking out the progress of tree saplings and considering adding new gardens. This park also edges a cemetery. The trails are not paved but they could be used by wheelchairs and strollers.

Directions: The address is 16 Vaughn Road, at the former Maine Leathers Tannery site. Coming from town on Essex Street, turn onto Vaughn Road, and the park entrance will be the first turn on your right.

Peltoma Woods, Pittsfield

While the trail section that follows the river a short distance is quite pleasant for walking, many of the other trails here appear to be designed for mountain biking. So walking them as they circle and sweep about in a kind of crazy way can be a bit dizzying.

Also, as far as orienting yourself and remaining undizzy, the trail blazes are only intermittent and I found that the map at the trailhead wasn’t terribly helpful (it kind of guiltily admits this, too). I recommend following the river trail and doing a loop around the perimeter of the preserve.

The land here was once the Town Farm Property, and before that, the area was used by Native Americans. You can still see a rock weir in the river used to trap fish. I believe it is one the oldest known weirs in North America, more than 7,000 years old.

There is tons of good information on the trailhead kiosk, including info about the weir, a story about Peltoma— a Native American unlucky in love—and Moses Martin, the town’s first homesteader. You can visit the site of his home, which was a simple cabin before he built a fancier framed house in 1818. The site, accessible via a snowmobile path, is marked by a memorial plaque that was, when I visited, being gracefully overtaken by vegetation.

Directions: From Main Street, turn onto Peltoma Ave. Drive 1.1 miles. You’ll see a small parking area on the left. Park by the trailhead kiosk, on the right of the parking area. Take a minute to read some of the wonderful info on it!

Manson Park, Pittsfield

The expansive lawns at Manson Park were beautifully mown when I visited. With few people joining me at the park on the day I visited, it felt like I was wandering around the private estate of an English country manor. I wish!

Paved paths make their way around the grounds, shaded by the kind of trees that children draw (with fluffy tops perched atop a straight trunk). The park, which was built in 1948, has a playground, tennis courts, a baseball diamond, basketball court, horseshoe pit (I didn’t see it, though), and picnic tables. While no formal trail runs along the Sebasticook River, it’s easy to walk along the banks of its shallow, rock-strewn waters for a short distance. You can also cut through some high grass to a nearby swinging bridge for snowmobiles and continue exploring the wilder section of the park on the other side of the river. You can also climb up a short, steep grade to access the neighboring cemetery.

Directions: From downtown Pittsfield take Maine Street .2 miles and turn left onto Crosby Street. Continue along the windy street to the park’s parking area.

Pinnacle Park, Pittsfield

At the tiny alpine ski hill of Pinnacle Park, which has one run and where skis are left behind on outside racks long after the snow melts, presumably in anticipation of it returning in a few months, you can take a short walk up to the top of the ski slope for a bit of a view. There’s no official walking trail here as far as I could tell, but there is a path scratched out in the brush that’s pretty easy to follow.

You can also walk along the river for about 50 feet to a level area where someone had left a fair bit of debris when I visited in 2019.

Directions: From Somerset Avenue in downtown Pittsfield, turn onto Hartland Avenue and drive .8 miles to Waverly Ave. It’s across from the J W Parks Golf Course. The ski facility will be on your left before the river. There is also a public boat launch here.

McCLellan Park, Milbridge

The town of Milbridge has turned this 10-acre parcel into a sweet 12-site campground. From a parking area for day visitors, very short trails head to the rocky coast. The town has placed several picnic tables on the rocks for what must be some of the most spectacular picnicking sites in Maine! At low tide, you can swim in a relatively deep tidal pool. Be careful on the slippery rocks.

The town of Milbridge runs the campsite on a first-come-first-serve basis. The $10 nightly fee is collected in the evening by a very pleasant fellow who comes by with a truck filled with firewood.

Directions: From Main Street in Milbridge, travel south on Wyman Road (also called Tom Leighton Point Road on Google maps) for about 4.5 miles. The park will be on your left. You will find the short trails to the sea leaving from the small parking area on the right side of the park. The campground will be on your left side coming in. There is a bathroom at the service station.