QUICK TRAIL FACTS
- Preserve Size: 4,500 acres
- Trail Mileage: ~20 miles in network
- Pets: yes
- Difficulty: easy to challenging
- Sights: views, streams, river, ponds
About two decades ago, this 4,500-acre area, which encompasses a few small mountains, streams, Hothole Pond, and frontage on the Dead River, was heavily harvested for timber, altering ecosystems and causing erosion. The Great Pond Mountain Conservation Trust is helping the land to recover for the sake of protecting wildlife habitat, recreation, and sustainable forestry. So some parts allow pets, but the wildlife protection zone doesn’t—make sure you look at the map to see where dogs are permitted. This 1,000-acre wildlife zone encompasses Hothole Brook, Hothole Pond, Coywolf, Bump Hill, and the Birding Path. Check out permitted uses here.
The Wildlands today are split into two large tracts of land: the Dead River parcel to the west (which contains the fantastic Great Pond Mountain) and the Hothole Valley parcel to the east (which contains Mead Mountain, Flying Moose Mountain, Oak Hill, and lots of other pretty places).
(By the way, I can’t find an explanation online of why this place in midcoast Maine—cold, forestsed, rainy, snowy, etc—is called Hothole, as if it’s some parched no-man’s land. The pond, though, is called Hothole Pond. Maybe it’s shallow and warm?)
The preserve in total has six miles of footpaths and 14 miles of tote roads, making this a great place to bicycle, snowmobile, and ski. Check out the map to see where you can park when the tote roads are open to cars, from mid June to mid October. In the winter, your best best is to ski or fatbike to trailheads, which makes for an excellent day’s adventure since the distances are fairly lengthy. There are some significant hills, though, particularly up Flag Hill Tote Road and Hillside Tote Road (Warning: in 2020, Hillside Tote Road was temporarily closed). The footpaths are designed to take hikers to the most beautiful and interesting areas, including mountain summits.
Because the area is so large, there’s many-days worth of adventures. Here’s a great map to get you going. Below are short descriptions of the footpaths that I’ve walked or skied so far:
Flying Moose Mountain—Another very curious name! If you park at Baker Brook Gate, you will climb a relatively gentle .6 miles up along a tote road. It’s not blazed, but very easy to follow. Look for the trail sign at .4-mile trail and head left. The first .1 mile continues as a gravel road before narrowing to a steeper footpath for the remaining .3 miles to a lovely open ledge and view.
Flag Hill — The summit of Flag Hill, at 946 ft., is open and ledgy with views, but the footpath does appear to continue beyond the summit to a ledge with a view. If you’re hiking, I recommend starting at the south parking lot and hiking Esker and Oak Hill footpaths to the road that connects to the Flag Hill footpath. It’s about 4 miles one way. If you’re starting from the northern parking area, ride a bike! You can ride a bike almost all the way up, save for the final .6 miles, before which the land trust has placed a ‘hikers only’ sign for the final leg.
Oak Hill West— Oak Hill West has an okay view from its 829 ft. summit. The best way to hike here is to leave from the south parking lot and take Esker Path to Hillside Tote Road. Once you branch off Hillside Tote Road, it is .3 miles to the view.
Hothole Pond trail — Hothole Pond is not swimmable—it’s too marshy—but the view looking over its reedy edges to the hills beyond is beautiful. You can ride a bike almost all the way there, save for the final .2 miles on a narrow footpath.
Birches Path: I recommend doing a loop up to Flying Moose Mountain via the Flying Moose Tote Road and down Birches Path, returning to Baker Brook Gate via Mountain View Tote Road. Birches Path is a lovely .5-mile footpath through a delicate white birch forest—the light in here is beautiful.
Coywolf Path: If you don’t have time to do much walking, or are with children, you can hike the .4-mile easy loop of Coywolf Path, which has pretty views through trees of Hothole Mountain.
Bump Hill Path — Walk down Hothole Brook Tote Road .6 mile to get to this .3-mile trail over Bump Hill. There is a bit of scrambling around boulders on the trail, which makes it kind of fun, including one flatish rock, good for resting, that has a nice view west.
Esker Path to Drumlin Path — These two footpaths, accessed from the Valley Road close to the South Gate, wander through birch forests that filter the sunlight beautifully. Esker Path is .8-miles long, and goes up a gentle incline. Drumlin Path, .2-mile long, heads down from Esker Path back to the Valley Tote Road, for a short, easy 1.8 mile loop.
Mead Mountain Loop — From South Gate, you’ll reach in 1.3 miles the first intersection with the 2.1-mile loop trail over the 660-foot Mead Mountain. Walk, bike, or ski in. If you do the Mead Mountain Loop clockwise, you’ll start on a wide road that heads gently uphill for .7 miles. At .7 miles, you’ll reach an unmarked intersection. Take a right here up the hill. (The road you’re on will start cresting down, alerting you that you’re going the wrong way.) After taking the road to your right, you’ll come to a clearing in about .2 miles with a sign pointing to the footpath. Follow this well-marked path (with red blazes) up the hill for another .4 miles to reach a small clearing with a cairn. Look carefully for the trail to the ledges and view. I hate to say this, but we missed it by descending a blue-blazed trail, and by the time we realized it, we were too tired to return. But the views are supposed to be great! From the cairn, you can take one of two trails down—one blazed blue, the other red. The blue-blazed trail is, I believe, less treacherous. It connects back to the red-blazed trail shortly, which carries on down the hill, steeply in some parts. The path is also quite rocky in places. At .8 miles, you’ll cross a brook and reach the Mitchville Campsite. Look for a blue-blazed trail leaving the campsite to the south; follow this .2 miles to the large clearing and back to Valley Road.
Directions: The most popular way to access the trails in Hothole Valley is at the South Gate on Route 1, a relatively sizeable lot that is plowed in the winter. A big green sign is visible well in advance of the turn off this fast road. It’s 100 yards west of the intersection with Rte. 176. The street address is 1574 Acadia Highway. You can also park at the smaller area at North Gate on Bald Mountain Road.