Posted on June 19, 2021 and last updated on June 24, 2021

Hills to Sea Trail, Unity to Belfast

QUICK TRAIL FACTS

  • Preserve Size: N/A
  • Trail Mileage: 47 miles
  • Pets: yes
  • Difficulty: easy to moderate
  • Sights: fields, farms, woods, streams, views

The Hills to Sea Trail is a well-maintained and well-marked 47-mile-long walking path that starts in Unity and ends in Belfast. It pops briefly into Freedom, and passes through the towns of Montville, Knox, and Waldo. The Waldo County Trails Association has lots of info and fantastic maps—with details down to which parking lots are paved in the winter.

There are many places to leave a car along the way (however, many of these spots are quite small, just big enough for one to three cars), so you don’t have to do it in one go. If you do want to attempt to walk the extent of it, it would take two to three days. The only issue is where to sleep; there are no obvious places to camp (that I’ve discovered so far), and you’re not allowed to pitch a tent anywhere on the trail. Much of the trail traverses private land that property owners have agreed to open to walkers. Trail organizers urge users to be respectful of the land.

While there are some hills along the trail—like the lovely Hogback Mountain—the trail is most notable for the farmland and forests it passes through (or around). You will walk by chickens and along corn fields, wade through cold, clear streams, and see some views of fields and small hills. While most of the trail is off-road; there are a few portions along roads. Thankfully, most of these are dirt or paved country lanes.

Below are additional details, but I haven’t written long descriptions of the segments. I just note the things to look out for! (Also, I cheated and did not walk the sections along the roads.)

Leg one, Unity College to MOFGA, ~6 miles: The very start of this trail, to Unity College, is wheelchair accessible, and very pretty. From the actual campus to MOFGA, the trail becomes what it remains for the rest of the trail: a rougher walking path. While it is easy, you do have to ford a cold stream to reach MOFGA land, and the bank to the stream is a bit steep. Once you cross the stream, you can go check out MOFGA’s heritage orchard, before walking on a high bank that looks down on the coppery stream.

Leg two, Hunter Road to Weed Road, ~7 miles: The highlight of this trail section for me was the very pretty Sandy Stream, which the trail follows for a short but blissful way. This section of trail includes a few moderate inclines and sections through forest swamps—all of which had pretty decent bog bridging to keep your shoes dry—and several different forest types (although I am too unsure of my tree ID skills to name them).

Leg three, Weed Road to Freedom Pond Road, ~3 miles: This three-mile section includes a little spur into the tiny town of Freedom. Interestingly, at this point it comes out in someone’s backyard and behind their chicken coop. Walk to the right of the small garage and out onto Route 137. If you’re starting from the north end of the trail, you begin along a pretty stream. The path passes two small cabins tucked into the woods, and near the end, follows the edge of a meadow with views over the grass of the town.

Goose Ridge Trail, ~4 miles:This leg of the long-distance trail between Freedom Pond Road and Penny Road is 4 miles. If you’re coming north to south, or from the hills to the sea, the first 1.4 miles or so has some ups and downs, before coming out on a high field with views. From here almost to Penny Road, the trail gets a lot smoother and easier. There are some intersecting unofficial trails, mostly in the middle section of the trail, that go off onto private land and what look to be homemade mountain biking trails. This section is well-blazed, and when the trail makes a sharp turn here and there, there are visible trail signs pointing you in the right direction.

Whitten Hill Preserve section, ~5.5 milesNow you’re entering the vast protected preserves of Whitten Hill and Bog Brook. The Hills to Sea Trail is well marked throughout, but you can go off trail to explore a little here.

Hogback Mountain, ~3.7 miles: Trail information here.

Frye Mountain, ~ 5 miles: Trail information here.

Frye Mountain to Gurney Hill Road, 6.2 miles: This section begins off a bumpy logging road, where you can leave your car. The trail starts on the logging road that heads southeast, and quickly veers off to the right into the woods, running parallel to the road for a ways. In 1.9 miles you emerge on the fast Route 137. The next section, when you turn right back into the woods climbs steeply up, on very well-made stairs. It eventually comes out on an old straight track, alongside some fields. Then there’s a 2.63-mile stretch on the dirt Savage Road, before you turn left, back into the woods, right before the power lines. The trail takes you over the power lines and through some woods and alongside a pretty stream. You eventually come out at a farm; the trail hugs the side of the farm fields before emerging onto Gurney Hill Road.

Bonneterre Road to the trailhead kiosk on Oak Hill Road, Belfast, 6.6 miles: Once you cross Route 137, the trail passes a beautiful wetland, which you can skirt on bog bridges. Then the trail makes its easy through forest. The path between Route 137 and Route 7 had been rerouted when we walked it June, 2021, and the new path wasn’t quite broken it yet. The 2.3-mile trail ends at the the Rail Trail, which you can follow all the way to downtown Belfast, and the sea, the sea!

Directions: The trail begins in Unity, and parking is at the Unity Barn Raisers, 32 School St. Alternatively, you can hike sea-to-hills direction, and park at the largish parking area off Oak Hill Road in Belfast. For more information, check out the Waldo County Trails Association 

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