Difficulty: Easy-moderate. The walk is about 2 miles, one way, and travels to the summit of Morse Mountain — just under 180 feet above sea level — then down to Seawall Beach. The entire walk is on an old road that is closed off to public traffic (barred by a locked gate) but used by property owners on Morse Mountain. Some of the road is pavement, while other portions are gravel. Expect to travel over sizeable hills.
How to get there: The parking area for the Bates-Morse Mountain Conservation Area is located a short distance down Morse Mountain Road, a private gravel road that is gated off to public traffic beyond the parking area. To reach Morse Mountain Road, drive south through the town of Phippsburg on Route 209. At the intersection of Route 209 and Route 216 (where Route 209 takes a sharp left turn and heads toward Popham Beach State Park), continue straight on Route 216 for about 0.8 mile and Morse Mountain Road will be on your left.
Information: The hike to the summit of Morse Mountain and Seawall Beach runs through the Bates-Morse Mountain Conservation Area, a private conservation area that was created in 1978 through a partnership of the St. John family and Bates College. Located in Phippsburg, the 600-acre property lies on the coast between the banks of Sprague River and Morse River, and extends to the edge of Seawall Beach.
Managed by Bates College, the conservation area is used for educational programs, scientific research and other studies. Public visitation is permitted as long “as it doesn’t interfere with the quiet natural beauty and experience of relative solitude,” according to the college.
Visitors looking to hike Morse Mountain and visit Seawall Beach must park at the large parking area on Morse Mountain Road and enter the property by foot, remaining on Morse Mountain Road. Bikes, unauthorized vehicles and dogs are not permitted.
The road travels through a beautiful mature forest filled with large boulders. You’ll pass through two gates, which close the road off from public traffic. After the second gate, you’ll pass through wetlands and a wooden bridge, then the road will climb to the summit of Morse Mountain. Before the summit, the road splits. Veer right to hike to the rocky summit, which is marked with a granite bench. From the summit, you’ll be able to see the
winding Sprague River and surrounding wetlands, all the way to the ocean.
The summit is located a little less than 1 mile into the hike.
Returning to the trail intersection, take the main road down the mountain to Seawall Beach, which you’ll reach in about 1 mile.
As you walk, you’ll pass by a number of houses; that’s because the road passes through several parcels of private property. Stay on the road and respect the privacy of the residents.
Seawall Beach is owned by the Small Point Association, whose mission is “to preserve the wild, unspoiled character of the beach, its ecology, and its endangered species habitat.”
At the edge of the beach are several signs explaining the beach rules and the importance of the area’s sand dunes, which are important nesting areas for piping plovers and least terns, two endangered bird species. These nesting areas, located at either end of the beach, are off limits to visitors. They are marked with signs and fences.
While Seawall Beach is a stunning place, if you’re looking for the typical beachgoing experience, with volleyball and lifeguards, Seawall isn’t for you. Balls, frisbees, radios and beach umbrellas are prohibited. And there are no toilet facilities. If looking for a more traditional beach experience, try Popham Beach State Park, right next door.
The preserve and beach are open to the public dawn to dusk. Smoking, fires and camping are prohibited. And if the parking area is full, the preserve is at full capacity.
Visitors are asked to help protect all wildlife and natural features on the property, as well as help preserve solitude and quiet. Bates College and the Small Point Association are cooperating with The Nature Conservancy and the Maine Audubon Society to preserve the plants, wildlife and natural communities of the area.
For information, call the Bates College Harward Center for Community Partnerships at 786-6078 or The Nature Conservancy Maine Field Office at 729-5181.
Personal note: People often ask me how I find so many different hiking trails to explore in Maine, and I tell them that I use a variety of resources — guidebooks, websites, the Delorme Maine Atlas and Gazetteer. But I learn about some of the best trails simply through word of mouth, from family, friends and BDN readers.
That’s how I came to learn about the hike to Morse Mountain and Seawall Beach. It was suggested to me by fellow hiker Greg Westrich of Glenburn, author of two new FalconGuides on Maine trails. He told me that Seawall Beach was possibly the nicest beach in Maine, and after seeing the beach for myself, I think he might be right.
Upon reaching the beach (after a two-mile walk over Morse Mountain) on April 30, I was taken aback by the sight. I’d never seen so much sand in my life. At low tide, the beach stretched before me, first soft and fluffy sand, then packed and wet from the receding waves. My first impulse was to run, run toward the ocean. So I did. With a big grin on my face, I jogged to where the gray waves swept over the sand, then turned back toward the shore, drinking in the scene — the weather-beaten cliffs and sand dunes, the piles of driftwood and gulls wheeling overhead.
I explored the beach, from one end to the other, for a couple hours, leaving enough time to get back to my car before dark. At the far ends, where piping plovers and least terns nest in the sand, I scanned the dunes but saw none of the endangered birds. It was probably a bit too early, but I knew they would be arriving any day to settle in for the summer.
Though I didn’t see plovers or terns, I did spot a great deal of wildlife that day. As I walked along the beach, I spied a great black-backed gull walking on the sand, an immature bald eagle perched atop an evergreen and what I think was a Cooper’s hawk perched on the mossy branch of a dead tree. I also found quahog shells lying
open in the sand (left by hungry gulls, I assume), snail shells that were almost as big as the palm of my hand, and (sadly) a dead seal, decomposing above the high tide mark.
During the two-mile walk to the beach, I was lucky enough to photograph a great blue heron and a snowy egret in one of the wetlands the road passes through. Both elegant birds were wading through the shallows, spearing small fish with their long beaks.
I would suggest this adventure to anyone capable of tackling a 4-mile walk along a hilly road. The beach and the view atop Morse Mountain is certainly worth the effort. However, I can’t stress how important it is that people follow visitor rules and respect the delicate ecosystems and rare wildlife on the property.
For more of Aislinn Sarnacki’s adventures, visit her blog at actoutwithaislinn.bangordailynews.com. Follow her on Twitter: @1minhikegirl.