Difficulty: Easy-moderate. The trails travel over forest floor, mowed grass and narrow bog bridges. The forest floor is muddy in some places and very uneven due to a lot of exposed tree roots. The most difficult part of the trail network is where Mihill Trail travels up the steep western slope of Houghton’s Hill.
How to get there: Roque Bluffs State Park is easy to find because it’s located in the town of Roque Bluffs on Schoppee Point Road, which is at the end of Roque Bluffs Road. To get there from Route 1 in Jonesboro, turn onto Old Route 1 and drive 0.8 miles, then turn right onto Great Cove Road. Drive 4.7 miles, then turn right onto Roque Bluffs Road. Drive 1.4 miles, then veer right into Schoppee Point Road. The sign for the park will be on your right, along with the main parking area.
The main parking area for the park will be closed (gated off) during the off season, Oct. 31-May 14. During that time, park outside the gate, along the side of the road, or in one of the smaller parking areas located nearby. A good parking area for trail access is located on the west side of Roque Bluffs Road, just before the road ends at Schoppee Point Road.
Information: Located on the scenic Schoppee Point south of Machias, Roque Bluffs State Park features a half-mile sand and pebble beach and 6 miles of hiking trails that lead through a beautiful, mossy forest to the views along the rocky shores of Great Cove and Pond Cove.
The park covers 274 acres, including the 60-acre Simpson Pond, which attracts a variety of waterfowl, including Barrow’s goldeneyes, redheads, gadwalls and hooded mergansers, according to the Maine Bureau of Parks and Public Lands. While there on April 21, I watched two pairs of buffleheads swimming in the pond, as well as a large group of gulls.
Most visitors start their hike at the edge of Simpson Pond on Starr Trail, which starts out as a series of narrow bog bridges, then enters the woods, where you’ll need to step carefully over a jumble of twisted tree roots. The trail then travels through a stand of old apple trees and an overgrown field, where it meets Houghton’s Hill Trail, Pond Cove Trail and Mihill Trail.
Another entrance to the trail network is off Roque Bluffs Road, where Houghton’s Hill Trail ends at a small parking area. Both of these trailheads are marked on the park trail map, available online at www.maine.gov/roquebluffs and posted on a kiosk at the park’s main parking lot. On the trail map, you’ll see that the trails intersect in ways that allow hikers to plan several different loop hikes. The largest loop hike in the network is about 4 miles long.
The park is a great place to go birding. In addition to the variety of waterfowl that frequent Simpson Pond, an abundance of shore birds such as plovers and gulls visit the beach, and bald eagles are often seen in the area year-round, according to Maine Bureau of Parks and Lands.
Also, both Englishman Bay and Simpson Pond are great places for paddling a canoe or kayak. In the summer, rental kayaks are available at the park for use on Simpson Pond, which is stocked with brook trout and brown trout.
Between the beach and the pond is a group of picnic tables, and nearby are two outhouses for visitors.
From May 15 to October 20, the park’s gate and facilities are open 9 a.m. to sunset daily. Camping is not permitted. Visitors are welcome to enjoy the park during the off season but must park outside the gate. Also, facilities such as outhouses are closed during the off season.
Admission varies depending on age and residency. The cost for a day pass for Maine residents is $4; non-residents, $6; senior non-residents, $2; children 5-11 years old, $1; and Maine seniors and children under 5 are free.
For information, call 255-3475 or visit www.maine.gov/roquebluffs.
Personal note: After a week of resting an injured paw, my dog Oreo was ready to get outside and explore the trails of Roque Bluffs State Park on April 21, a sunny Thursday with temperatures climbing into the 60s. Though dogs aren’t allowed on the park’s sandy beach, they are welcome on the trails. Starting on the Starr Trail, we made our way into the trail network, tracing the edge of Simpson Pond, where I spotted two pairs of shy bufflehead ducks, the males’ iridescent heads shining in the sun.
Early in the outing, we came across group of young girls led by two women. They were just finishing up their hike and appeared tired but excited about their accomplishment. The sight of the young hikers lifted my spirits. The uneven terrain must have been a special challenge for them. I imagined them ending their excursion with a picnic by the pond or playing on the beach.
I decided to take the Pond Cove Trail so we could walk along the beautiful, rocky coast. At a view of the ocean, we scrambled down the steep embankment to a place where Oreo could splash about in the salt water while I inspected small cliffs of sharp, reddish rock. There I watched a loon fish offshore and tried to prevent Oreo from eating seaweed, lest he end up regurgitating it in the back seat of my car on the long ride home.
Turning away from the coast, Mihill Trail climbed partway up Houghton’s Hill to enter one of the mossiest forests I’ve ever seen. The entire forest floor was covered in spongy moss, except for the trail, where hikers have worn away the green away.
After the hike, I left Oreo in the car (with the air conditioner turned on) while I checked out the beach. There, I met a Mary Szwec of Perry, and her two grandchildren, 6-year-old Alexis and 8-year-old Zachary, who were on school vacation. The three had been exploring different locations in eastern Maine that week. As they sat on a blanket and ate chips, they told me about how much fun they had learning about canoe building and ocean creatures at the Wabanaki Culture Center in Calais, and how they’d enjoyed hiking at Moosehorn National Wildlife Refuge in Baileyville. I’ve put both of these Maine attractions on my list of future adventures.
When it was time for me to leave the beach, Zachary got up from the towel and gave me a hug. Not getting to spend much time with children, I was a little surprised by the innocent and kind gesture. It was something so small, but I left the beach with a big smile on my face.
More photos from the adventure: