Swan Lake State Park, Swanville
I highly recommend visiting this state park during the off-season, when you must leave your car behind the gates and walk the 0.7 miles or so down the paved drive to the beach. You might even have the place to yourself.
Important note: the driveway descends fairly steeply down to the beach, so while it’s not difficult walking, it does require some effort to return!
Once you’re down at the beach, which is not of the finest, pure white sand, but is perfectly adequate, you’ll find a couple of playgrounds and lots of picnic tables, some of them set off in private lakeside nooks. Nice.
There are a few short, wide, mostly smooth trails that connect the picnic table sites and are easy to walk. You can make a loop if you follow these to the group site and then head up to the maintenance building and then back to the entry road.
Directions: The address of the park is 100 State Park Road, in Swanville.
Shaw Cherry Hill Farm, Gorham
The crowds were out on a relatively warmish Saturday on these wide, smooth paths. Puppies galore! The popularity of this wonderful trail system, which edges a sweep of fields before making a couple of loops in an old forest, seems to indicate a big need for more universally accessible trails in beautiful areas.
The Shaw Brothers Family Foundation finished the trails in 2019. The 2.7 miles or so in the network are mostly flat, and they’re laid with crushed gravel (I’m probably getting that wrong! But they’re not paved and they’re not dirt). They’re well marked with signs, and along the way, the Shaw family has carved out rough but comfortable benches out of old felled trees. The trailhead kiosk has a map with trail lengths.
On a Saturday afternoon in spring, the large parking area (big enough for maybe 40 cars or so) was nearly filled. Older people, younger people, kids on bikes, people with strollers, dog walkers, and families with children in tow were all out. But it didn’t feel that crowded, since the trail system is stretched out over the 258 or so acres. Ideally, every town would have a large park and a trail system like this so that everyone — no matter their walking ability — could get outside for a stroll through nature. I know these kind of trails are pricey to build, but everyone loves them.
According to the Gorham Times, these trails are groomed in the winter.
Directions: The parking lot is located on Main Street in Gorham, Maine, next to Sebago Brewing Company. Good for a refresher after your walk!
Mt. Agamenticus Conservation Region, York
Map is incomplete. I’ll keep working on it!
The vast conservation area around the 629-foot Mt. Agamenticus includes many miles of well-blazed paths, as well as several old woods roads that carry over onto hundreds of abutting acres of public land. These nearby tracts include York and Kittery’s water district lands and several preserves, including Highland Farm and McIntire Highlands. In other words, you can start a walk here and not be done for many hours! If you like that kind of thing. AllTrails has a fairly good map of the many intersecting trails here (but there are blank areas). (I plan to get to them all in good time!) I have begun to make a Google map here.
Another wonderful quality to this popular place is the variety of trails. There is a beautiful wheelchair-accessible loop at the top of the main summit (called First Hill), with views in every direction along its curving way. (And yes, you can drive to the summit!) On a clear day, you can see astonishingly far, including to the sea and the frosty tips of the White Mountains.
If you start from the bottom, you have a choice about how to hike up — there are many trails that make the short jaunt to the large, open summit of ledge and scrubby bush. Most, if not all, are kid friendly. This place is also a magnet for mountain bikers and long-distance trail runners. Only three or so of the trails don’t permit bikes (these are blazed in red and marked on the map.) Just a note for mountain bikers: all of the trails are rough, rocky, and rooty, and so aren’t appropriate for beginners.
If you want to go for a longer walk, you can leave the First Hill of Mt. Agamenticus and continue to Second Hill (550 ft.). From there, you can head over to Third Hill (526 ft.). All are short. The only hill with great views is First Hill. This detailed map of trails is great, and copies are placed at several of the trail heads. From the parking lot at the base of Mt. Agamenticus, it’s roughly 1.5 miles to Second Hill. From Second Hill to Third Hill, depending on which route you take, it’s another 1.5 miles or so. You can hike from the top to the bottom of Mt. Agamenticus in just over a 0.5 mile, if you take the shortest route.
So far, I have only climbed Second Hill and Mt. Agamenticus. Mt. Agamenticus is stunning! Second and Third Hills have ledges at top, but the ocean views are obscured by spindly trees. Third Hill has a few views westward to the mountains from its Ledges Trail.
Directions: The main road to the area is Mountain Road. There are several places to park, including at the summit. You can also park at the bottom of the mountain, or along the dirt Mountain Road that continues west after the main gate (and is closed during the winter, according to Google maps). There are small pull-offs along this road, one of them near the Wintergreen trail head. There is also a larger area to park at the trailhead for Beaver Road, farther along Mountain Road.
Goat Hill Trail, Acton
For a short, easy climb — more a stroll, rather — up a very well-made, universally-accessible gravel path — you are treated to marvelous views of the Presidential Range and Mt. Washington in one direction. In another direction, distant blue mountains serve as the backdrop to the orchards and fields that fall away before you. At the top of the hill, there are a few picnic tables sheltered under a copse of towering conifers.
The path, which was covered in snow when we visited, is wide and makes gentle switchbacks for 0.6 miles to reach the open summit. This is a lovely walk; what a treasure people have here!
Directions: A relatively large parking lot at the trailhead is off H Road, about 2.2 miles north of the intersection with Route 109 and 800 feet or so beyond Romac Orchards, according to Google maps. Coming from the north, the parking area is about 0.4 south of Lakeside Drive.
California Fields Wildlife Area, Hollis
This unique area attracts a lot of dogs and their human walkers. The two easy loops among stubby, growing pines are bright and sun-filled on a clear day. The short loop is just about 1 mile. The bigger loop around the perimeter is a bit more than 1.5 miles, according to my GPS. The path is wide and flat, albeit not paved, and possibly could be wheelchair accessible.
Poland Spring owns the land here, along with thousands more acres at several sites in Maine. The company has an incentive to protect the watershed to ensure good water for its bottling operations.
So Poland Spring has been reforesting 2,700 acres in Hollis with pitch pine, white pine, and red pine. Reforestation is underway at this particular recreational area, too, which was once an airfield (in the 1940s) and a prosperous potato farm. A series of No Trespassing signs make clear where visitors can and can’t go on the land.
One of Poland Spring’s springs lies under a section of this area that’s nicknamed California Field because it was once said to be the only spot where one could grow good crops, as large as any that came out of California. The rest of the fields supposedly weren’t suitable for farming, except for spuds.
The trails on the California Fields recreational area connect to an ATV/snowmobile trail that runs just outside of the fenced-in area. You can walk under a gate at the far end of the area to join up with this multi-use trail.
Directions: From Plains Road, turn into a long dirt road next to Saco River Community Television, which is located at 564 Plains Road. You’ll come to a large parking area and a green sign for the trails at the end of the dirt road.
Sanford-Springvale Rail Trail
Sanford has converted six miles of a former railroad track that cuts through town into a pedestrian path (snowmobiles and ATVs are allowed, too). I found the nicest section to be on the west end, close to McKeon Reserve. You pass a wetland area here, and cross a cute bridge.
There are intersecting snowmobile/multi-use trails all over the place — I walked just a couple of them! You can definitely explore for miles if you wish. Additionally, you can do a loop around Deering Pond in the Hall Environmental Reserve — I highly recommend this nature walk.
Directions: The largest parking area for the Rail Trail is at the trailhead off Hanson Ridge Road. There is a tiny parking area (for one or two cars) on Oak Street as well.
Steedman Woods to the Cliff Walk, York
On my map, Steedman Woods is on the far left, which connects to the causeway and to Fisherman’s Walk, which will bring you close to the start of the Cliff Walk (shown in yellow on my map). The Cliff Walk was closed when I recently visited.
In this historical part of York, you can walk a bit more than 1.5 miles along the expansive York Harbor to the mouth of York River, on a popular and well-used trail. The trail sections — which come in a combination of gravel, pavement, and dirt, depending on where you are—skirt in front of old homes (and a couple of modern ones), as well as cross a short pedestrian bridge named for the slight jiggle it makes when you cross. (It’s called Wiggly Bridge.) The bridge connects a wide causeway to a wooded peninsula where you can explore the unmarked but easy-to-follow trails in the small patch of Steedman Woods. (There is no place to park over here.)
The best place to park if you are permit-less is closer to the Cliff Walk, along Route 1A near Hartley Mason Reserve. There are several two-hour parking spots, which I bet are hard to snag during the summer. Every other parking spot I saw close to the path requires a permit.
This trail system, while short, is diverse. If you start at Harley Reserve, you begin in a pleasant park with paved paths before heading down to the Cliff Walk, which continues out in the direction of the ocean. (When I visited in the fall of 2020, the narrow Cliff Walk was closed due to the pandemic. So I can’t describe it! But it looked enticing before it disappeared around a corner.)
If you head right, you head down to the sandy beach and small parking area (for permitted cars). From here, you can cross a grassy park headed toward the river. In a couple hundred feet, you’ll spot the opening to the gravel Fisherman’s Walk—a continuation of the seaside path. This section is flat and easy, and mostly wheelchair friendly, if I remember it correctly.
Once you get to the Route 103 bridge, you cross underneath and head up a dock to access the causeway (or you can go up and cross the street). The causeway and Wiggly Bridge were my favorite sections of the walk — the tidal mouth of York River is wide and beautiful. The woods section of this walk is not wheelchair friendly. (I’ve also read that the Cliff Walk is not appropriate for wheelchairs?)
Directions: If you’re walking, you can access the path in many places, from Route 103 at the end of the bridge, or from one the little lanes running from Route 1A (York Street). You can also pick it up at York Harbor Beach or Hartley Mason Reserve. For those with cars and no permit, there are several two-hour parking spots along Hartley Mason Reserve. If you have a permit, you can park at Harbor Beach or near the Wiggly Bridge on Route 103.
Peabody-Fitch Woods and the Narramissic Farm, Bridgton
The trails at this extraordinary Western Foothills Land Trust property give you the chance to go for a walk and visit the Bridgton Historical Society’s splendid old Civil War-era farmhouse. The house is situated at the end of a long sloping field, with views of distant mountains. During the summer, you can go on regularly scheduled tours. After that, the house museum is open by appointment.
Close to the large parking lot, you’ll find the kiosk for the trail system. The half-mile trail around the meadow above the farmhouse is wheelchair accessible, and is a beautiful walk, as it offers the same sweeping views the farmhouse has of the mountains. If you want to visit old granite quarries, you can head up an old track for .4 miles until you get to a .8-mile loop. This part of the trail is not wheelchair accessible.
Directions: The address is 46 Narramissic Road, off of Ingalls Road.
Hay Conservation and Recreation Area, Bremen
When we drove by this town park in June, 2020, we noticed a mown trail down to the lower parking area. If you start your walk at the high lot, you can do a 1/2-mile loop through a bright field of lupines (in season!), to the cleared area with benches by the sea. There is easy access to the seashore. Return via the gravel driveway or back up the path. The grassy trail and the dirt driveway are universally accessible.
Directions: The preserve is on Route 32, just north of Turner Road.
Unity College trails, Unity
Unity College students can walk off campus and into the woods and either go for a long walk on the 47-mile Hills to Sea Trail, which extends all the way to Belfast, or they can do a shorter walk on the well-marked 3-mile system of trails around campus. The college trails are mostly wide tracks, all named and signed, and they look good for running, walking, and skiing. It looks like a committed group of college students maintains the trails. Additionally there is a challenges course, with ropes and such, that is off limits for the public but looks promisingly fun if you’re a student.
In places it looks like the trails can be quite muddy, and the college has laid down boards in what are probably some of the worst spots.
One of the trails, Sugarbush, is paved and universally accessible. The .2-mile trail connects the main campus to what appears to be overflow or satellite parking off Route 202. It starts near the Cottage PINs (as marked on Google maps) which are the first cluster of buildings you see on your right off the Loop Road, if you’re driving onto campus from Route 202 on Quaker Hill Road.
Note: We found the connector trail to the Connor Mills trail across the street a bit confusing, since it ended in someone’s backyard (after passing through a glorious field of lupines). There is a trailhead kiosk to the left of the house on the roadside, but the trail was not mown to this spot when we visited.
Unity College is a great choice for students who want to pursue environmental careers.
Directions: There are several places to access the trail network from Unity’s campus. All of the trailheads have large kiosks with maps. According to Unity Barn Raisers, parking is available on campus at the top of the College Loop Road across from the Quimby Library.
CommUnity Bikeway and Fairgrounds Loop Trail, Unity
This cool path connects Unity College with downtown. The first .5 mile is bike-able, and you can fly down the wide gravel path through a large field, swooping around a corner onto a fabulous and huge pedestrian bridge over the wide and shallow Sandy Stream.
Once you reach downtown, take a quick left onto Route 202, and look for the path continuing as a narrower footpath to the fairgrounds. You’ll cross Newell Lane at roughly 1 mile, and can do another half mile loop around the fairgrounds.
Directions: According to Unity Barn Raisers, parking is available in the lot on the South side of the New Horizon’s Health Center on Main Street. I think during the weekends, you may also park at Unity College? There is also space for one or two cars to pull over on the side of Newell Lane.
Near Kevin’s Landing, Cushing
I am not a local so I am not sure what this little park is called. On the day I stopped, there was a bare trailhead kiosk with only the number 45 attached to it on the side of a medium-sized parking area. Several people were out walking their dogs on the lovely, short loop that circumnavigates a seaside field. The path is mown. If you do the whole thing and return via the road, it’s about .7 miles.
Directions: The park is off River Road, between Pleasant Point and Killeran roads. There is a parking area and kiosk on the side of the street closest to the water.
Benton Riverside Park, Benton
A gorgeous, universally-accessible trail along the Sebasticook River, with a big gazebo at the start surrounded by daffodils in springtime. Nothing to dislike here, except that it’s only .2 miles long one way! Alas.
Directions: The trail is next to the Benton town office, at 1279 Clinton Avenue. Park at the public office.
Field of Dreams, Unity
Field of Dreams is kind of dreamy. The Unity College recreation area has a 1-mile wheelchair/universally accessible track around its perimeter, as well as a playground and picnic tables.
The former hayfield was gifted to the college in the 1990s, and now it has tennis courts and ballfields. There is a small access area to Unity Pond (Lake Winnecook).
Directions: The fields are about a half mile (?) from downtown Unity. Follow Main Street (Route 202) north out of town, and you’ll see the large entry way on your left.
Fort Williams Park, Cape Elizabeth
This hugely popular park is free and allows dogs (which can even be off leash in a designated area at the far southern end of the park). Parking is abundant and free from Nov. 1 to May 1. One million people visit the park every year, so don’t expect to have the place to yourself except, perhaps, when the weather is truly miserable.
The paths I’ve put on my map show everywhere people can walk, car free. This includes the approximately 1-mile Cliff Walk, along the raggedy, dramatic coast, and several old asphalt lanes that crisscross the park. Most of the paths in the park are wheelchair/universally accessible. There are just a few staircases here and there, and walkers and wheels can easily find alternative ways to get around them.
The main attractions are the iconic lighthouse and the crumbling military installations. Fort Williams was first established as a military reservation in the late 19th century, although guns and cannons were never fired from this spot. It remained an active fort and command post through 1963, when it was finally decommissioned. The town of Cape Elizabeth bought the land for $200,000 in 1964 and turned it into an official park in 1976.
You’ll find the usual park amenities: tennis courts, pickleball courts, playgrounds, fields, a little pond, gardens, picnic tables, gazebos, etc. All with a stunningly beautiful backdrop of open fields and shimmering sea.
Here’s a map of the park, the Friends of Fort Williams Park.
Directions: The address is 1000 Shore Road. From 295 in Portland, take Route 77 south to South Portland. Go left on Broadway, then right on Cottage Road. Cottage Road becomes Shore Road at the Cape Elizabeth town line.
Check out more info and photos from Portland Head Lighthouse at Carefree Creative, a Maine-based web company that has helped us with our website!
Ellsworth Trail, Ellsworth
The paved 1.3 mile urban trail is tucked behind roads and runs alongside the train tracks. The best place to park is Ellsworth High School. If the gate is closed to the school—which it was when we visited—just walk along the tracks back toward Lejok Street where there’s a break in the fence that separates the train tracks from the trail. The path is not plowed in the winter, I believe.
Directions: The best place to park is at Ellsworth High School, preferably when school is not in session. You can pick up the two ends of the trail at Falls Court Road or at the junction of Birch Avenue and Spring Street.