Difficulty: Moderate-difficult. The hike can either be 8 miles or 4 miles long, depending on what trailhead you start at. The slope of Buck Hill is fairly gradual. A few narrow footbridges span brooks near Lake Hebron. The terrain is generally hilly in this area.
The southern trailhead is on Shirley-Blanchard Road (paved) in Blanchard Township, about 1.3 miles north of the Blanchard crossroads. Park on the west side of the road, 0.1 mile south of the A.T. crossing. Head north on the A.T. and it’s 4.1 miles to the top of Buck Hill, passing along the shore of Lake Hebron on the way.
The northern trailhead is at the end of Pleasant Street (dirt) by Lake Hebron in Monson. From the parking area, a short side trail marked with blue blazes leads to the Appalachian Trail. Hike south less than a mile to reach the shore of Lake Hebron or hike north for about 1 mile to reach the top of Buck Hill.
Information: The National Scenic Appalachian Trail is a footpath that spans from Georgia to Maine, totalling about 2,180 miles in length. Each year, hundreds of people set out to hike the entire trail, from end to end, pitching tents and bunking in hostels along the way. The A.T. has long been a rite of passage for the long-distance hiker, but it is also an excellent source of day hikes — hikes that can be completed in less than a day.
From the trail’s southern end at Springer Mountain in Georgia, to its northern end atop Katahdin in Maine, it crosses numerous roads. Each spot the trail crosses a road is an opportunity for a day hike, though crossings have parking areas while others do not.
One of the many day hikes on the A.T. in Maine brings you to both Lake Hebron and the 1,587-foot tall Buck Hill in Monson. You can either start this day hike at the trailhead on Shirley-Blanchard Road in Blanchard Township for a 8.2-mile out-and-back hike; or you can start at the trailhead at the end of Pleasant Street in Monson, for a hike that is roughly 4 miles.
While Buck Hill is technically taller than Maine’s famous Cadillac Mountain on Mount Desert Island, it’s entirely wooded, providing only partial views through bare trees in the winter. In the summer, foliage blocks the view. The hill’s slope is gradual and
provides a good workout. Approaching from the south, the trail to its top is lined with deciduous trees that woodpeckers seem to be fond of, judging by the many holes drilled into their trunks.
Lake Hebron covers 525 acres, according to the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife, with a maximum depth of 102 feet. An interesting aspect of the lake is that it has two basins; one is deep, providing well-oxygenated water suitable for coldwater fish; and the other is shallow and warm, a more suitable habitat for warmwater fish, according to a 1988 DIF&W survey. The Appalachian Trail travels along the west shore of the lake and leads to a few outlooks where you can access the water.
The 4.1-mile section of the Appalachian Trail between the trail crossing at Blanchard-Shirley Road and the top of Buck Hill is moderate in difficulty, traveling through mostly deciduous forest and crossing a number of woods roads and a large gravel logging road. Most of the trail is narrow and travels over a forest floor with exposed tree roots and rocks, but about 0.5-mile of the trail travels along a woods road, which has a smoother surface. Be sure to follow the white blazes at all times.
The Maine Appalachian Trail Club publishes topographic and profile maps of the Appalachian Trail in Maine. These maps are water resistant, durable and provide mileages to specific features along the trail, as well as directions to parking lots where the A.T. crosses major roads. These maps are invaluable to anyone who’d like to explore the A.T. in Maine, whether they’re planning day hikes, multi-day trips, or to hike the entire trail.
Maine’s 281-mile section of the trail is generally considered the most difficult of all 14 states the A.T. travels through, according to the Appalachian Trail Conservancy. Exposed tree roots, slippery terrain, difficult stream and river crossings, and few resupply areas are listed as reasons the trail is so challenging in Maine.
Personal note: A blinding ball of white in a clear blue sky, the sun beat down on the forest, slowly melting the thick blanket of snow and heating up the air to nearly 60 degrees. Spring had arrived in Monson — at least for a day.
Tying my fleece around my waist, I headed north on the Appalachian Trail, my snowshoes breaking through the snow every now and again, burying me up to my knees. My dog Oreo followed behind, cleverly stepping in my tracks.
After a long winter, it felt good to drink in the sunshine, which infiltrated the leafless forest of birch, beech, ash and maple. A pileated woodpecker called out and flew across the trail. Through the bare branches, I saw it approach another large bird — perhap its mate, or a potential mate. ‘Tis the season.
Following the white blazes for two miles, we reached the shore of Lake Hebron. I held on to Oreo’s collar as we watched two snowmobiles zip by, cruising over the melting ice. Was the lake solid, or were they just daredevils? Cautious, I sat at the base of a tree on the shore, took a short break, watched Oreo roll around in the snow, then continued on to Buck Hill.
The A.T. continued along the west side of Lake Hebron, then veered north to climb Buck Hill. As the slope increased, I lost steam and slowed down, and Oreo took the lead. Every once in a while, when I stopped to catch my breath, Oreo returned to stand patiently by my side or lick my face, which I took as a gesture of encouragement.
The trail led near the top of the hill, then descended. I was a little bummed out that there was only a partial view of the surrounding landscape, broken up by the bare trees. But as I stood near the top of the hill, I heard the sound of a woodpecker drilling on a tree nearby. Wandering off trail with my 400mm camera lens, I managed to track down and photograph two woodpeckers — a male hairy woodpecker and a female downy woodpecker. I saw the appearance of those birds as my reward for the climb.
The hike back was mostly downhill or flat, but it proved much more difficult than the hike in, to my surprise. The snow had softened in the sun, and I sunk deep with each step. Heavy, sticky snow piled on top of my snowshoes, weighing me down. To lift my spirits and energy level, I shared crackers with Oreo, passing them back to him as we slowly trudged along.
We made it back to the car fine. But after 8 miles of snowshoeing and 7 hours in the sun, I felt like I’d climbed Katahdin, not a hill. During that second half of the hike, I learned a thing or two about snow. It has the power to slow you down and tire you out. And now more than ever, I’m ready for spring to melt it all away.