Difficulty: Moderate. The hike is short but steep to the top of the bluff. The thick leaf litter on the slope can be slippery. The ground is uneven forest floor, with exposed tree roots and plenty of rocks. Exercise caution when exploring along the top of the granite cliffs.
How to get there: At the intersection of Route 9 and Route 180 in Clifton, turn onto Route 180 and drive 2.5 miles until you see a small gravel parking area on the left, just after a gated dirt road, also on your left. (It’s easy to miss because it’s small and tucked into the woods.) If you reach Springy Pond Road, a dirt road on your right, you’ve driven a few hundred feet too far.
As of Feb. 26, 2016, there was one small sign about Eagle Bluff visitor rules posted to a tree in the parking area. If standing in the parking area and facing the woods, the trailhead is marked with orange flagging tape near the far left corner of the parking area.
Clifton Climbers Alliance, the owner of the property, warns visitors that vehicles are at risk of break-ins in the parking area, which is currently under police surveillance. The group urges visitors to leave valuables at home and consider leaving their vehicle doors unlocked. Call 911 to report suspicious behavior.
Information: One of the finest rock climbing locations in the state, Eagle Bluff in Clifton is also a great place for a short but rewarding day hike. Starting at a small parking area off Route 180, a hiking trail leads into the woods towards the bluff, then splits. At this fork, the left trail leads up to the top of the bluff, which rises about 700 feet above sea level; and the right trail leads around the bluff to the base of sheer granite cliffs where approximately 130 climbing routes have been established.
This dramatic landmark used to be owned by Donald “Donnie” Nelligan Jr., a well-known rock climber who allowed the public access to the bluff for hiking, climbing and bouldering (climbing on boulders) for nearly 20 years. When Nelligan died unexpectedly at the age of 62 in the summer of 2013, and the future of Eagle’s Bluff became uncertain.
In response, a group of Maine climbers formed the Clifton Climbers Alliance and set to work fundraising to purchase Eagle Bluff so that it would remain open to the public long into the future. The group partnered with the Access Fund, a national advocacy organization that works to keep climbing areas open throughout the country. Through many private donations and contributions from the Quimby Family Foundation, Land for Maine’s Future program and The Davis Conservation Foundation, the alliance was able to raise $150,000 for the purchase.
In August of 2014, the Clifton Climbers Alliance closed on the sale and became owners, stewards and caretakers of Eagle Bluff.
“Quite a bit along the road and most of the cliff is ours,” said Ben Townsend, member of Clifton Climbers Alliance, who said the piece of newly conserved property is approximately 165 acres.
A small parking area for Eagle Bluff has been created beside Route 180, and the Clifton Climbers Alliance have plans to improve that area by adding a kiosk and trail signs. The group also plans to replace old climbing hardware of the cliffs in the near future, Townsend said.
From the parking area to the top of Eagle Bluff, the trail is almost exactly 0.5 mile and is marked with orange, pink and blue flagging tape tied around trees. Traveling through a mixed forest, the trail starts out fairly level, then steeply climbs the northwest side of the bluff through rocks and past large boulders. Along the way are old cedar trees filled with holes drilled by woodpeckers looking for insects.
About 0.2 mile into the woods, the trail splits. The left trail leads to the top of the bluff. Along the way, the trail passes a side trail on the right that acts as a shortcut to the bottom of the cliffs for climbers coming down from the bluff. Continue straight ahead to climb to the top of the bluff, where you’ll pass by a large boulder then reach the
edge of the cliffs. The trail then turns north and traces along the top of the cliffs through stands of small pines and beds of lichen and moss. The trail dead ends at the northernmost edge of the cliffs.
Along the top of the cliffs are open areas of exposed granite that are great spots for picnicking or simply sitting and enjoying the view.
Though Eagle Bluff rises just 700 feet above sea level, it provides breathtaking views of the region. From the cliffs, hikers look down on the nearby Cedar Swamp Pond and can follow its feeder stream as it winds north through the hills. And northwest, beyond the stream, are the distinctive humps of Little Peaked and Peaked mountains, known by locals as Little Chick and Chick hills.
On average, it takes about an hour to hike to the top of the bluff and back down to the parking area. Adding a short side trip to the bottom of the cliffs adds another 30 minutes or so to your adventure. The view of the cliffs from their base is well worth the extra walking. To reach the cliffs, veer right at the fork and you’ll climb up the bluff a short distance, traveling through rocky terrain. The trail then levels off and travels around the south side of the bluff to the base of the cliffs.
Public access to Eagle Bluff is permitted from sunrise to one hour after sundown. Camping, fires and overnight use is not permitted. These visitation rules are posted on a tree at the parking area.
Commercial guiding or instruction on the property requires prior approval. For information about guiding, email firstname.lastname@example.org. For general information about Eagle Bluff, visit cliftonclimbersalliance.org or email email@example.com.
Personal note: If the success of the Clifton Climbers Alliance tells me one thing, it’s that Eagle Bluff is a special place to many people. But it was only when sitting down to write this week that I realized Eagle Bluff’s importance to me.
When I pitched the “1-minute hike” column to my editor more than four years ago, I did it with a video I’d taken of Eagle Bluff. The video was terrible. I see that now. But it served its purpose, helping to persuade my editor that I had a good idea. And that’s how my “1-minute hike” column and online video series began.
Though I rarely return to a trail I’ve already written about for my blog, there have been exceptions. And on Friday, Feb. 26, I decided to make Eagle Bluff one of those exceptions. It’s such a popular hiking destination for Bangor area residents, and I don’t think I did it justice four years ago, when I was much less experienced in writing about trails.
The sky was blue, and the wind was brisk when my dog, Oreo, and I hit the trail, following flagging tape to the top of the bluff. Oreo rolled on the rough granite as I sat down in the sunlight and took in the view.
On the way down the bluff, Oreo pulled me down a side trail, which traveled along a steep slope. I slipped on a layer of dry leaves and fell to the side, landing on a rock. In the process, I let go of Oreo’s leash and he sauntered off, sniffing at the base of trees ahead, totally unconcerned. Sitting on the ground, grasping my bruised thigh, I called him back to me. He ignored the request. Angered flared up inside me and I shrieked at him to “get back here and help Momma!” Sensing the urgency in my tone perhaps, he obeyed. I grabbed his leash, dusted off my pants and pride, and we returned to the main trail, which we followed to the base of the cliffs.
Weeping with melting snow and ice, the towering rock took my mind off my bruises and frustration. Late afternoon sunlight filtered through the trees and bounced off the wet granite. Tree roots twisted over rock shelves, and pine needles carpeted the forest floor below. I imagined rock climbers scaling the rock wall, wedging their fingers into the many cracks and feeling with their toes for purchase. But we were alone. Just Oreo and me and the cliffs. So I ran my hand along the rough rock and lingered a while, soaking in the quiet before heading back to the busy road.