Difficulty: Easy-moderate. The trail network is 1.2 miles long and leads to Pigeon Hill’s summit at 317 feet above sea level. The Historic Trail (marked in blue), the Silver Mine Trail (marked in yellow) and Summit Loop Trail (marked in yellow) all have some steep and rocky sections. The steepest section of the trail network is located on the Historic Trail near the summit.
How to get there: From Steuben, drive north on Route 1 about 4.3 miles from the Hancock-Washington County line. Turn right onto Pigeon Hill Road. Drive about 4.5 miles and park in the small parking area to your right, across from an old cemetery.
Information: Pigeon Hill is the highest coastal property in Washington County, rising 317 feet above sea level near Chitman Point in Steuben. The two trails that lead to the hill’s summit are located on the 170-acre Pigeon Hill Preserve. Acquisition of the preserve followed the Summit, Forest & Seacoast Campaign of 2007-2008, which was a joint effort of Great Auk Land Trust (now Downeast Coastal Conservancy) and Maine Coast Heritage Trust. The campaign was successful in preserving Pigeon Hill, Willard Point in Harrington and Tibbett Island in Addison.
From the signed trailhead off the parking area on Pigeon Hill Road, a trail leads into the woods and soon comes to a trail register for hikers to sign in and pick up a preserve brochure. From there, hikers can choose to hike the blue-blazed Historic Trail (0.4 mile to the next trail intersection) or the yellow-blazed Silver Mine Trail (also 0.4 mile to the next trail intersection). The two trails intersect below the summit of the hill. There, hikers can choose to take the blue-blazed Historic Trail (a 0.1-mile steep ascent to the summit) or the yellow-blazed Summit Loop Trail (a 0.3-mile gradual traverse to the summit).
The Silver Mine Trail passes through areas of broken rocks that are “almost certainly the remains of old silver mining activities,” according to a brochure published by the Downeast Coastal Conservancy. Mining activities are described in a passage from “Early Days at Pigeon Hill,” written in 1965 by Frances Mitchell Small, is displayed on a sign nailed to a tree trunk beside the trail. Small is the descendant of John and Ruth Ann McCaled McNamara, who are buried in the cemetery across from the Pigeon Hill Preserve parking area.
Pigeon Hill is short compared to other Maine hiking destinations, yet its rocky summit offers spectacular views of the nearby ocean, islands and mountains. From the top of the hill, hikers enjoy unobstructed views of Pigeon Hill Bay and Little Bois Bubert Island to the south, Douglas Island Harbor to the east, and Dyer Bay and the small Carrying Place Cove to the southwest.
On a clear day, hikers can see the tall lighthouse of Petit Manan Island in the distance. The lighthouse stone tower, rising more than 100 feet, is closed to the public and managed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service as part of the Petit Manan National Wildlife Refuge. The 10-acre island — which has long considered to be one of the most important islands in the Gulf of Maine for colonial nesting seabirds — now supports nesting by eight species of seabirds and waterfowl, including the puffins and terns, according to www.maineseabirds.org, website of Friends of Maine’s Seabirds.
Also visible to the northwest of Pigeon Hill on a clear day are Schoodic Mountain, Black Mountain and Caribou Mountain, all of which rise just over 1,000 feet above sea level.
According to the Downeast Coastal Conservancy Brochure, the primary plant community of Pigeon Hill Preserve is maritime spruce-fir forest, but 10 additional plant communities have been identified. Deer, moose, black bear and coyotes use the undeveloped part of the preserve, and smaller mammals such as bobcats, foxes, porcupines, red squirrels and snowshoe hares are fairly common. Birds sighted year round on the hill include woodpeckers, spruce and ruffed grouse, chickadees, red-breasted nuthatches, dark-eyed juncos, American goldfinches, ravens, crows and bald eagles.
For information about Pigeon Hill Preserve, visit www.downeastcoastalconservancy.org.
Personal note: It was pleasantly warm (40-45 degrees Fahrenheit) and sunny on Valentine’s Day, when I packed up my ice cleats and traveled Down East to hike to the top of Pigeon Hill, a place I’d read about online but had never before visited. I’ll admit that I wasn’t confident about my trail choice that day. I was a bit concerned about driving more than an hour for just a little more than a mile of trail.
Yet the mile of hiking seemed much longer as I stopped often to photograph the sun-dappled woodlands, carefree woodpeckers and views of the sparkling ocean. At the first outlook on the Historic Trail, I realized that the short hike was well worth the long drive.
Throughout the hike, I noticed deer tracks and other mammal tracks that I don’t yet have the knowledge to identify. And at the very top, I was rewarded by a carved wooden summit sign bolstered by a pile of rocks. On the way down on the Summit Loop Trail, I paused for a “mountain nap” on the exposed bedrock. With the sun beating down and the wind blocked by the hill, it seemed like springtime already.