Difficulty: Moderate. The 3.4-mile loop travels over Whitten Hill, which rises just 865 feet above sea level. Exposed tree roots and loose rocks make for tricky footing in some areas.
How to get there: The Northern Headwaters Trail is most easily accessed from the Whitten Hill Trailhead. To get there, start at McFarland’s Corner, the intersection of Route 220 and Halldale Road in Montville. Drive about 1.6 miles on the Halldale Road. The parking area for the trailhead will be on the left. It’s marked with a large sign that reads “Whitten Hill Trailhead.”
The Northern Headwaters Trailhead can also be accessed from the Northern Headwaters Trailhead. To get there from McFarland’s Corner, drive about 2.5 miles on Halldale Road and turn left onto a short dirt road. At the end of the road is the trailhead.
Information: The Northern Headwaters Trail is one of the many trails in the Sheepscot Headwaters Trail Network, 15 miles of hiking trails in Montville and Knox that are maintained by the Sheepscot Wellspring Land Alliance (SWLA).
SWLA is a Waldo County land trust conserving land in four towns in the headwaters region of the Sheepscot River. Since its formation in 1991, the land trust has permanently protected 1,265 acres and 15 properties. These lands are open to the public for non-motorized recreation, and most are open to fishing and certain types of hunting.
SWLA trails, marked with painted blazes, are for foot traffic only. Dogs are allowed on the trails, but they must be kept under control at all times. SWLA asks that dog owners consider the comfort and safety of fellow hikers and resident wildlife. For example, from April to August, ground-nesting birds such as woodcock and grouse are vulnerable to disturbance from dogs or people wandering off trail.
Signs at each intersection in the network help hikers find their way, but it’s always smart to carry a map, which SWLA provides online and at trailheads.
At the Whitten Hill Trailhead is a kiosk displaying a map and information about the trail network. Sign the trail register and walk past the kiosk to start your hike on Whitten Hill Trail, which is marked by orange blazes.
The Whitten Hill Trail soon meets the Northern Headwaters Trail, which is a loop and marked with blue blazes. The entire loop trail is about 3.4 miles, according to SWLA.
If you turn right, you’ll soon find yourself walking along a large stone wall; and later in the hike, you’ll come across a large cellar hole and fruit trees — all evidence that this property used to be someone’s home. Nevertheless, nature has taken its course, and majority of the land is now covered in mixedwood forest. Even in the cellar hole, trees have sprouted and grown to maturity.
After traveling along the ridge of Whitten Hill, the trail descends the northwest slopes of the hill and approaches the banks of the Sheepscot River. After traveling alongside the river for a short stretch, the trail then takes a turn and climbs up the southwest side of Whitten Hill through stands of tall evergreens, leaving the river behind.
As the trail nears the top of Whitten Hill, it travels along the side of an open field. For this stretch, the trail is marked with blue-painted posts and blue-painted wooden squares dangling from tree limbs at the edge of the field.
At the far end of the field is an intersection. Veer left to stay on Northern Headwaters Trail. (If you turn right, you’ll walk along the Whitten Fields Trail, where you should watch out for poison ivy.)
The next intersection marks the end of the loop. Turn right onto Whitten Hill Trail (look for orange blazes) and retrace your footsteps back to the trailhead.
In addition to the Northern Headwaters Trail, there are many other footpaths to explore in the Sheepscot Headwaters Trail Network; and connected to the network is 11 miles of trails under the care of Georges River Land Trust.
SWLA envisions “a contiguous protected area of more than 10,000 acres that includes working woodlands, forever wild lands, wetlands and fields that connects the Sheepscot headwaters with the 5,240-acre Frye Mountain Wildlife Management Area,” according to a SWLA pamphlet. Currently, more than 6,600 acres are protected within these two areas. To learn more, visit swlamaine.org or call 589-3230.
Personal note: A few weeks ago, I received a trail map in the mail about the Sheepscot Headwaters Trail Network. A reader had kindly sent the map after reading about my Halloween hike up Hogback Mountain, during which I got lost (dressed as a ninja turtle, no less). The trail map displayed an alternative route up Hogback (which I will try at a later date), but it also displayed a bunch of trails that I had never heard about — including the Northern Headwaters Trail.
Hiking buddies Derek and Oreo (our dog) joined me on a blustery, cold November day to hike the 3.4-mile loop. Fortunately, the thick forest turned a potentially nose-numbing hike into a refreshingly cold hike. Mittens and hats were absolutely necessary, but the towering trees shielded us, from the most part, from the wind.
As we hiked, I became more and more curious about the history of the land. At the cellar hole, Derek found an old door hinge and some other rusted metal odds and ends, including what he interpreted as a piece of a tractor sickle saw (the jury is still out). And at the edge of the fields, we found an old rusted truck cab. I could only make out a few of the words painted on the door of the cab: Food Market.
At the nearby Whitten Cemetery (located just south of the Whitten Hill Trailhead on Halldale Road) you get an idea of how rich a history the Whitten family has in the region. Looking at the gravestones, it’s easy to form imaginary stories in your head, images of how you imagine certain people were like. For example, Sarah Whitten was born in 1770 and died in 1857, meaning she must have been quite a matriarchal figure for the large family. Living to 87 years of age was a big deal at that time. She was the wife of Deacon James Whitten, who passed away in 1844.