Difficulty: Easy to moderately difficult, depending on the trails you explore in the park, which is home to about 5 miles of trails. The trails closest to the parking areas are wide and surfaced with gravel, making them smooth and easy to walk. Farther from the parking areas, the trails become narrow, hilly and rough, with an abundance of exposed tree roots and rocks.
How to get there: The park is located at the end of South Lubec Road in Lubec. To get there, start at the intersection of Route 1 and Route 189 in Whiting. Turn onto Route 189 and drive 9.8 miles to downtown Lubec. Turn right onto South Lubec Road and drive about 3 miles to enter the park (the park starts after Carrying Place Cove Road, which will be on your right). Continue on South Lubec Road 1.6 miles and you’ll reach a fork in the road and a brown sign for Quoddy Head State Park. If you veer left, you’ll find a parking area atop a hill near the West Quoddy Head Lighthouse. If you veer right, you’ll find another parking lot at a picnic area by the water. These parking areas are close together, so if you’re going for a hike, it really doesn’t matter which one you use. Handicapped parking is located beside the lighthouse and picnic area.
Information: On the easternmost peninsula of the United States, Quoddy Head State Park features the historic red-and-white striped West Quoddy Head Lighthouse, as well as about 5 miles of hiking trails that vary in difficulty and visit stunning outlooks along the rocky coastline. The 541-acre park, which is open for day use only, also features interpretive displays, a bog boardwalk, picnic areas, restrooms and a cobblestone beach.
The park features five named trails.
The Coastal Trail is 2 miles long and travels over dramatic ocean cliffs from Quoddy Head Lighthouse to Carrying Place Cove, where it meets Thompson Trail. Along the way, side trails spur off of the Coastal Trail to visit the landmarks Gulliver’s Hole (a narrow chasm in the dark volcanic rock that form the cliffs along the coast); High Ledge (a 150-foot-high bluff); and Green Point (a large ledge outcropping with spectacular views).
The Coastal Trail starts out as easy by the lighthouse, where it’s wide and surfaced with gravel. Interpretive displays about the lighthouse and Maine whales are located along this portion of the trail, as well as several memorial benches where people can rest and take in the views. The trail then becomes progressively difficult as it narrows and travels over the rugged landscape. Expect exposed tree roots, rocks and steep staircases.
A word of caution: watch your footing and supervise children near the cliffs and water, especially along the Coastal Trail.
Thompson Trail is 1.25 mile and travels through the mixed forest from Carrying Place Cove to the Bog Trail. It’s easy-moderate in difficulty, navigating a few hills and muddy areas. The trail is narrow in some places and wide in others, and it also includes a narrow bog bridge. This is a great trail to look for wildflowers and a variety of other forest plants.
The Bog Trail is a 1-mile round trip and ends with a wide, wooden boardwalk that travels out into a coastal plateau bog with subarctic and arctic plants rarely seen south of Canada, according to the Bureau of Parks and Land. The boardwalk forms a loop, and along the way are interpretive displays about how peatland is formed and the different plants found in the habitat.
The Inland Trail is 0.4 mile long and spans from the park’s south parking area to the intersection with the Bog Trail and Thompson Trail. This is the most improved section of trail in the park. Wide and surfaced with gravel, this trail travels through a hilly conifer forest abundant in mosses and lichens.
And finally, the Coast Guard Trail is a 1-mile horseshoe shaped trail that begins and ends at different points near the lighthouse. The trail travels traces the rocky coast to visit an overlook of Lubec Channel.
Most visitors to the park are instantly drawn to the West Quoddy Head Lighthouse, which has served as a beacon for ships off the rocky coast of Maine for more than 200 years. The original lighthouse was commissioned by President Thomas Jefferson and built in 1808, according to information provided by the Maine Bureau of Parks and Lands. However, the present tower and house is a bit younger, dating back to 1858. It was staffed by lighthouse keepers until 1988, when the US Coast Guard automated the light.
Today, visitors can picnic on the lawn beside the lighthouse, where a stone monument marks the location as the “Easternmost Point in the U.S.A.” From that point, you can look across Quoddy Channel to the cliffs of Grand Manan Island in New Brunswick. And closer, just off shore, is Sail Rock, which reportedly caused many shipwrecks and belongs to the US.
The lighthouse is home to a visitor center, which is wheelchair accessible and open 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. from Memorial Day weekend through mid-October.
While exploring the park, keep an eye out for local wildlife. The tall ocean cliffs offer great vantage points for observing whales, sea ducks and other birds fishing off shore. During spring and fall migration, hundreds of shorebirds congregate near the park’s western boundary at Lubec Flats and Carrying Place Outlet, according to the Maine Bureau of Parks and Lands.
Dogs are permitted in the park but must be kept on a leash no longer than 4 feet at all times. Hunting is permitted, but not within 1,000 feet of the lighthouse.
The park is open 9 a.m. to sunset daily from May 15-Oct. 15; and visitors can continue to use the park during the off season by parking outside the gate (which will be closed) and walking in during the same hours. Keep in mind that park facilities, such as outhouses, are closed during the off season, and camping is prohibited in the park year round.
For more information about the park or to learn about helping the park through stewardship or maintenance work, visit maine.gov/quoddyhead or call 733-0911.
Personal note: When people learn that I write about hiking trails in Maine, they often ask me about my favorite trail. And while I find it impossible to select just one trail to be my favorite, it’s easy for me to come up with a list of favorites — places that I find to be especially beautiful and interesting in Maine. Admittedly, it’s a long list and only getting longer.
On June 2, Quoddy Head State Park became one of those “favorite” places for me. The views were spectacular, the habitats diverse and the trails interesting and well maintained. The park offered so many opportunities to explore and learn about history, geology and nature, and this experience was enhanced by the many interpretive displays located along the trails.
With my dog Oreo for company, I hiked four of the five trails (we didn’t make it to the Coastguard Trail) for about 4.5 miles of walking.
The bright sun quickly warmed my skin, yet the temperature remained in the mid-60s. A cool, fresh breeze blew steadily from the ocean, banishing the black flies and mosquitoes that so often accompany me during hikes this time of year. The conditions were ideal.
I especially enjoyed Green Point, which visitors had adorned with piles of carefully balanced rocks. Park managers often dislike visitors creating these rock piles (known as cairns) because they can confuse trail users and the movement of rocks can cause erosion. But in this case, I have to admit it the rock piles added a magical feeling to the location.