I explored about 50 different hiking trails throughout Maine in 2015. Each week of the year, I walked a new trail, with the exception of a few weeks when I decided to explore a pond in my kayak instead, and I can’t remember a time when I was disappointed. Some hikes were on easy nature trails, while others were strenuous day-long climbs. Most fell somewhere in between. And I enjoyed them all for different reasons.
If there’s one thing I’ve learned while writing my hiking column, it’s that the Maine outdoors is a place of variety and beauty. It’s not just a place of pine forests and rocky shores. The Maine wilderness is home to eerie cedar swamps, beaches of pink sand, mudflats, rockslides and ghost towns. We’ve got sand dunes and hidden ponds, ice caves and roaring brooks, slate canyons and glacial erratics the size of houses.
Each hiking trail in Maine visits different landmarks and travels through different habitats. Each piece of land is steeped in history. So when people ask me if I’m tired of hiking, I can easily answer no. It never gets old because each trail offers something entirely new.
For that reason, looking back on 2015, it was tough to pick just 10 favorite hiking adventures. Each trail was different. So consider the following list to be volatile thing. I could easily shuffle other 2015 hikes onto this list, and it would still hold true as a list of favorites.
One thing is for certain, though. Every hike that is on this list is a keeper. I hope this list inspires you to get outside and follow my footsteps. Explore some these spectacular Maine places, and I bet you won’t be disappointed either.
To learn more and watch a video of each hike, simply click on the name, which is a link to a detailed blog post about the hike.
Rising 2,630 feet above sea level, Moxie Bald Mountain is one of the many peaks visited by the National Scenic Appalachian Trail. The mountain is located in Bald Mountain Township and is a moderate to difficult day hike, depending on where you choose to start the hike.
I hiked the mountain with my dog, Oreo, in late May, and the blackflies chased us up the trail until we reached the alpine terrain and the wind blew them back into the forest.
Known as the “Grand Canyon of Maine” or the “Grand Canyon of the East,” Gulf Hagas is a slate gorge carved out by the West Branch of the Pleasant River near Brownville. Over the course of three miles, the river drops about 500 feet, forming several spectacular waterfalls and swimming holes. In some places, the rock walls the border the river are more than 100 feet tall.
The hike is moderate-strenuous in difficulty. Not everyone who hikes to the waterfalls of Gulf Hagas completes the entire loop, which is about 9 miles long.
I hiked the Gulf Hagas loop in June with my husband (then fiance) Derek and our dog, Oreo. It was a beautiful, sunny day, and we saw a few other groups of hikers out on the trail. My favorite of all the waterfalls was Billings Falls.
To reach the beautiful, sandy Seawall Beach in Phippsburg, you have to hike along an old road for two miles, up and over Morse Mountain. For this reason, this giant beach isn’t as crowded as more easily accessible sandy beaches in the area. Just make sure to watch out the endangered piping plovers, tiny birds that nest in the sand dunes along the edge of the beach.
The hike to the beach travels through the Bates-Morse Mountain Conservation Area and is full of opportunities to view wildlife. Along the way, you’ll pass through a mature forest and wetlands that are home to a variety of birds. And atop Morse Mountain, you can sit on a bench and enjoy a view of the ocean and a nearby river.
I hiked Morse Mountain to Seawall Beach in May, alone, since dogs aren’t permitted on the property, and I saw a variety of wildlife, including a snowy egret, a great blue heron, a Cooper’s hawk and a bald eagle. I don’t know if I’ve ever seen a more beautiful beach.
South Turner Mountain, rising 3,122 feet above sea level, is known as one of the most rewarding short climbs in Baxter State Park. It’s just a 2-mile hike to the summit, which offers a 360-degree view of the park, including one of the most stunning views of Katahdin, Maine’s tallest mountain.
I hiked South Turner for the second time in early August with a group of family and friends while camping at Bear Brook Campground in Baxter State Park. Along the way, we stopped at viewpoints along the edge of Sandy Stream Pond and observed several colorful birds called cedar waxwings, as well as some goldeneye ducks, an osprey and a garter snake warming on a tree stump in the sun.
Little Spencer Mountain rises about 3,000 feet above sea level on the east side of Moosehead Lake and is home to the most technical, steepest hiking trail in the Moosehead region. Two sections of the trail must be navigated with the help of ropes, which are already secured along the trail. From open ledges near its summit, hikers are rewarded with spectacular views of the region.
I had my eye on Little Spencer Mountain for several years before finally hiking it on Oct. 4 with Derek and a group of fellow hikers from Connecting with Nature, an outing group organized by The JD Foundation in Abbot. While I love hiking solo, I was happy to have safety in numbers on this particular hike. The Chimney was much easier to traverse with the support of the group.
Despite the implications of its name, Little Kineo Mountain, with an elevation of 1,926 feet, is actually taller than the more famous Kineo Mountain, which rises just 1,789 feet above sea level. From Little Kineo Mountain’s rocky ridge, hikers are rewarded with great views of Moosehead Lake and surrounding mountains.
I hiked Little Kineo with Derek and Oreo on a fairly cloudy day in November. In fact, the sky started spitting snow at us as we walked along he mountain’s top. Nevertheless, the views from the mountain was spectacular, and we had the trail entirely to ourselves.
The Ship Harbor Nature Trail is one of several easy, family-friendly hikes in Acadia National Park. Shaped like a figure eight, the 1.3-mile trail leads to the rocky coastline and through a whimsical spruce forest-fir forest. Along the way, beautifully illustrated nature displays help walkers interpret their surroundings.
Derek, Oreo and I checked out the Ship Harbor Trail in mid-November, and despite it being a cold and overcast day, we saw quite a few other hikers enjoying the popular trail. During the outing, we spotted a group of buffleheads — shy sea ducks that I rarely have the opportunity to observe.
Located in the Petit Manan Point Division of the Maine Coastal Islands National Wildlife Refuge in Steuben, the Hollingsworth Trail travels through a variety of habitats, including a blueberry field and a fragile cedar swamp, before reaching the ocean.
In the early summer, the trail is a great place to look for lady’s slippers, a large flower in the orchid family. And there is a variety of wildflowers near the beaches, such as spiky pink thistles and light pink bindweed, a creeping plant with trumpet-shaped flowers.
Oreo and I walked the trail in early August, during blueberry season. Before hiking to the ocean, we picked a few blueberries in the field near the trailhead to snack on along the way. People are permitted to handpick blueberries, but rakes are prohibited.
On the beach, which was a combination of rock and sand, I spotted a large group of common ringed plovers and sandpipers hunting in the shallows.
The Edgar M. Tennis Preserve comprises about 145 acres of coastal land on Deer Isle, between Pickering Cove and Southeast Harbor. The public can explore the preserve year round on a network of walking trails, which are maintained by the Island Heritage Trust and the Maine Department of Conservation. It’s a popular spot for recreators, but due to its limited number of parking areas, it’s never crowded.
After picking up a turkey sandwich at Harbor Ice Cream in Deer Isle, I headed to the Edgar M. Tennis Preserve on Aug. 27, with my dog, Oreo. In my opinion, this preserve is home to one of most beautiful mossy forests I’ve ever seen. I also enjoyed the rocky outlooks located along the shore, as well as a few small beaches covered in pink sand.
The highest of the Camden Hills, Mount Megunticook rises 1,385 feet above sea level at the heart of Camden Hills State Park. Though the mountain’s summit is forested, there are several open granite ledges located along its slopes that offer stunning views of the Penobscot Bay.
I hiked the mountain for the second time in November with Derek and Oreo. I’d previously snowshoed the mountain in 2011. The two adventures were quite different, though they were on the same trails.
During the November hike, the weather was brisk and the sun was shining. After spending time at each of the outlooks along the ledges of Megunticook, we headed into an evergreen forest to hike to the summit. That section of the trail, in the dark mossy woods, was my favorite part of the hike. here we stepped over pools of ice, which had frozen in interesting geometric patterns, and listened to the scolding chatter of red squirrels. Mosses and lichens carpeted the forest floor, crept up tree trunks and covered boulders. In the brown world of November, we were surrounded by green.