This year, I completed about 50 different hikes throughout Maine for my “1-minute hike” column and blog video series, and I never drove away from a trailhead disappointed. From the rocky coast to the high peaks of Baxter State Park, I explored small pockets of the state’s vast wilderness, and at the end of the year, I believe those adventures have done me a great deal of good.
I’m not one for choosing favorites. Each mountain, preserve and park has its own character and beauty. However, some of the outdoor experiences I had in the past year shine just a bit brighter in my memory. Those hikes stand out for a number of reasons.
Some trails led me to amazing wildlife encounters, while others challenged my body and mind. Some trails enchanted me with the beauty of the forest, while others led me to views that were truly breathtaking. So without further ado, here are the top ten hikes I took in 2014, in no particular order.
1. Schoodic Head in Winter Harbor: This quiet pocket of Acadia National Park contains four moderately difficult trails that lead to amazing views of the ocean and Mount Desert Island from the top of Schoodic Head, which rises 440 feet above sea level. The top of Schoodic Head is nearly bare bedrock, peppered with stunted pines. And near the bottom of Schoodic Head, Alder Trail visits a pond where beavers are living. From you trail, you can easy make out their lodge, downed trees and dams.
In March, I explored Schoodic Head with my friend Kim, Derek and our dog Oreo. It’s the perfect snowshoe location, and the snowy mountains of Mount Desert Island rising above a turquoise ocean was a sight to see.
2. Bigelow Mountain Range: A fairly remote mountain hike, the Bigelow Range is one of the most distinctive landmarks in western Maine and lies on the famous National Scenic Appalachian Trail. With several lean-tos and campsites located throughout the range, it’s the place for an two- or three-day backpacking trip. However, this hike is not for beginners, as it one of the few mountain ranges that rise over 4,000 feet above sea level in Maine.
In July, I hiked the Bigelow Mountain Range solo, tenting out at a campsite not far from Avery Peak, which rises 4,088 feet above sea level. It was my first time tenting by myself, and I’m happy to report it was an empowering and relaxing experience that I’d repeat. From the peak, I watched the sun turn blood red as it set over the western Maine mountains. Also, for some reason, I encountered a lot of toads on the trail.
3. Shore Acres Preserve in Deer Isle: An easy 1.5-mile long hike, the Shore Acres Trail leads to beautiful granite beaches along the coast of Deer Isle. From the fern-filled forest to the seaweed floating along the shore, this preserve is a place to take a deep breath of salty fresh air and relax. It’s also an excellent place to observe wildlife.
In September, I visited the preserve with my dog Oreo, who enjoyed swimming in the shallows (after he learned not to drink the saltwater) and seemed especially entertained by the masses of seaweed. Even though I had a noisy pup in tow, I managed to photograph a small wading bird called a lesser yellowlegs.
4. Precipice Trail in Acadia National Park: Known as the most challenging and hazardous trail of Acadia National Park, the Precipice Trail zigzags up a cliff on the east face of Champlain Mountain. A series of ladders, narrow bridges and rungs aid hikers on this steep trail. While it may resemble a jungle gym, the Precipice Trail shouldn’t be taken lightly. Fatal accidents have occurred on the trail in recent years. The park often closes this trail in the summer to protect a nesting falcons on the cliff, and when the trail is open in the spring and fall, it’s often crowded with hikers eager for a challenge.
In October, Derek and I scaled Precipice Trail for the second time. The rock was slippery in many areas, making our progress slow and a bit scary at times, but we made it to the top of the mountain without a slip. On the way down (on the much more gradual North Ridge Trail), we stopped to watch a red squirrel snatching spikey pinecones from the mountain’s stunted Jack pines.
5. Torsey Pond Nature Preserve in Readfield: This 92-acre preserve contains about 2 miles of blazed walking trails that wend through a mixed upland forest to a wildlife observation blind on the shore of Torsey Pond. The pond is habitat to a wide variety of songbirds, wading birds and waterfowls.
In June, Oreo and I sat in the observation blind by Torsey Pond and watched red-winged blackbirds in the cattails and more than a dozen adult Canada geese swimming with a group of fuzzy yellow goslings. After the hike, we went for ice cream.
6. Old Pond Railway Trail in Hancock: Open to the public since the summer of 2012, the Old Pond Railway Trail follows nearly 3 miles of the former Maine Shoreline Railway, which was last traveled by train in the 1980s. Just 0.5 mile from the east trailhead, the wide, flat trail spans Old Pond on a repaired trestle bridge. Old Pond isn’t actually a pond, but a tiny arm of Frenchman Bay. That particular spot on the trail is especially scenic and good for watching wildlife, having a picnic or clam-digging.
In April, Derek and I brought our dog Oreo on the Old Pond Railway Trail on one of the first warm days of spring. The snow was mostly melted in the forest, and when we reached the bridge over Old Pond, we stopped under wheeling seagulls and watched a pair of Canada geese swimming in the salty water.
7. Doubletop Mountain in Baxter State Park: Along with Katahdin, Doubletop is one of the most recognizable mountains in Baxter State Park, with drastic slopes and two pointy peaks, one just a tad higher than the other. This 3,488-foot mountain is one of the most challenging hikes in Maine, but the views from its bare peaks are well worth the effort. The Doubletop Mountain Trail travels from north to south, up and over the mountain, with two trailheads. To hike the entire trail, you must have transportation at both trailheads, but many opt to simply hike from one side, visit both peaks, and then descend that same side.
In August, I camped out at Nesowadnehunk Campground in Baxter State Park with a group of 32 family and friends, and the next day, a group of us rose early to hike the nearby Doubletop Mountain, a two-peaked mountain that I had been wanting to climb for a while now because of its distinctive profile. The steep hike became one of my favorites so far in the park. Hiking from the north, we passed through a sea of ferns, an enchanting mossy forest filled with a variety of colorful mushrooms, and stopped at both peaks to enjoy the amazing views before a dark raincloud rolled in and hurried our descent.
8. Baker Hill in Sullivan: One of the mossiest places I’ve ever seen, Baker Hill Preserve is the perfect hike for someone looking to tackle Maine’s larger mountains in the future but isn’t quite ready. The trail is steep in some spots, but the vibrant green forest is so beautiful that it’ll lift your spirits if you’re feeling a bit tired. The ledges along the top of Baker Hill reward you with great views of the area. They’re also a nice spot to rest in the sun.
In October, Derek and I brought his mother, Geneva, and our dog, Oreo, up Baker Hill to enjoy the fall foliage and one of the last warm days of the year. During the hike, we ran into two garter snakes basking in the sun. I told my hiking buddies that in the winter, snakes often hibernate in dens under rocks, and these dens can hold hundreds of snakes. My companions weren’t impressed.
9. Great Head Trail in Acadia National Park: One of the lesser-known hikes in Acadia National Park, the 1.4-mile Great Head Trail is a beautiful, rocky walk along the shore to the ruins of an old tea house. The walk also leads to the highest point of Great Head, a cliff that rises 145 feet above sea level, as well as the appropriately-named Sand Beach, one of the park’s most popular destinations.
On an unseasonably warm day in January, Derek, Oreo and I visited Sand Beach, where we watched three surfers playing in the winter waves before continuing our hike to Great Head. Nearly all of the snowcover that had built up so far that winter had melted, but we still needed to wear ice cleats to make it safely over the icy rocks. I remember looking down at the restless ocean from the cliffs and feeling off balance, as if the rocks were likewise swaying beneath my feet.
10. Katahdin’s Cathedral Trail: My favorite trail up Maine’s tallest mountain, Cathedral Trail visits three natural rock formations called “cathedrals” before reaching Baxter Peak, the summit of Katahdin at 5,267 feet above sea level. While Cathedral Trail is just 1.7 miles from where it starts at Chimney Pond to the summit of Katahdin, it’s extremely steep, rocky and open to the elements much of the way. And before even starting Cathedral Trail, you have to first hike the 3.3-mile Chimney Pond Trail. While this hike is one of the most challenging in Maine, it’s also one of the most beautiful, offering stunning views of mountainous Baxter State Park much of the way and leveling off on the mountain’s Tablelands, a flat alpine world unlike anywhere else in Maine.
In September, I hiked Cathedral Trail with my mother, aunt, uncle, cousin and boyfriend, Derek. I was recovering from a bad cold and have never felt so tired while hiking, but the colorful fall foliage, the breathtaking views, and support from my hiking team kept me going. At the top of the mountain, Derek proposed. I said yes.
Here’s to an active 2015, with many more spectacular outdoor adventures.