Difficulty: Easy-moderate. If you park at the Mead Mountain Trailhead, the hike is 2.8 miles, out and back; and if you park at the South Gate of the Hothole Valley Parcel, the hike is 5.4 miles, out and back. The roads and trails leading to the mountain and on the mountain are gradual and fairly smooth.
How to get there: From the intersection of Route 15 and Route 1 (Acadia Highway) in Orland, drive east on Route 1 for 4.1 miles and the South Gate of Great Pond Mountain Wildlands Hothole Valley Parcel is on your left.
This gate is open to traffic on weekends only, mid-June through October. If you plan your hike when the gate is open, you can drive into the Wildlands on the gravel Valley Road to the Mead Mountain Trail, which is 1.3 mile past the gate and will be on your left.
If you plan your hike when the South Gate is closed, you will simply have to park in the gravel parking area outside the gate and walk to Mead Mountain Trailhead on Valley Road. Along the way, you’ll pass Popple Grove and the trailheads of Esker Path, Drumlin Path, Oak Hill and Hillside Trail.
Information: Mead Mountain is a small mountain, rising just 660 feet above sea level in East Orland, but from dramatic ledges near its summit, hikers are rewarded with open views of Hothole Valley and the small mountains and hills beyond.
The mountain can be hiked on roads and trails located in the Great Pond Mountain Wildlands, 4,500 acres of conserved land in Orland that is owned and maintained by the Great Pond Mountain Conservation Trust. Known by locals as the “Wildlands,” this property is split into two parcels: the 3,420-acre Hothole Valley Parcel and the 1,075-acre Dead River Section. Mead Mountain is located in the Hothole Valley Parcel.
To hike Mead Mountain, you should start at the South Gate of the Hothole Valley Parcel. From there, you will either walk, bike or drive your vehicle (if the gate is open) into the Wildlands on the gravel Valley Road. Keep in mind that this road is open to all sorts of recreators, including horseback riders and mountain bikers, and in the winter, skiers and snowmobilers. No ATVs, dirt bikes or other off-road vehicles are allowed.
About 1.3 mile from the gate, turn left onto the Mead Mountain Trail, which is closed to all vehicle traffic and actually an old road. The trail starts by climbing a fairly steep hill then evens off and crosses a wooden bridge near a small wetland area. At 0.8 mile, the trail appears to split. To the left is the new Mead Mountain Path, a narrow footpath marked with blue diamond blazes.
The Mead Mountain Path officially opened to the public in the fall of 2016 and is approximately 0.6 mile long. Traveling through a mixed forest of mostly hardwood trees, the trail leads gradually up the southeast slope of the mountain, passing two large boulders before reaching a cairn (rock pile) in a small clearing. From there, the trail descends to a viewpoint atop ledges on the east side of the mountain, where you’ll find a log and sizeable rock, both of which make suitable seats.
On Oct. 14, a trail along the top of the cliffs to the right was flagged with pink flagging tape. This route may turn into an official trail (that would form a loop) in the near future, according to Wildlands Steward Brian Keegstra. The board and staff of the Wildlands are still discussing that possibility. The danger of hikers walking along the top of the cliffs is a chief concern. So if you do decide to explore this unofficial trail, exercise extreme caution.
Unlike most mountain trails, the Mead Mountain Path does not lead all the way to the summit of Mead Mountain, which is on private property according to Wildlands maps. However, the viewpoint on the ledges make for a good endpoint to the hike.
Great Pond Mountain Wildlands is the largest property conserved by the Great Pond Mountain Conservation Trust, a nonprofit organization founded in 1993 to conserve the land, water and wildlife habitat for communities of northwestern Hancock County. The organization also owns two small properties in Bucksport and holds conservation easements on properties in Orland and Dedham.
Leashed dogs are permitted throughout most of the Hothole Valley Parcel of Great Pond Mountain Wildlands, including the Valley Road and trails of Mead Mountain. Visitors are asked to remove pet waste from trails and also pick up any trash along the roads and trails.
Hunting is permitted in the Wildlands through a registration process. Visitors are encouraged to wear blaze orange and other bright colors to increase their visibility and safety.
For more information about the Wildlands, visit greatpondtrust.org, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 469-6929.
Personal note: “Oooo, there’s the view. This is nice, huh Orie?” I said to my dog as we reached the top of the ledges on Mead Mountain on Oct. 14.
(If you spend enough time in the woods with your pet, you end up speaking to said pet in full sentences. It’s only natural — and slightly embarrassing when someone catches you doing it.)
Both my dog Oreo and I wore bright fleece jackets that day, which was decidedly fall. A cool wind kept the temperature in the low 50s, though the sun offered some warmth. Throughout the hike, we spied a number of birds that appeared to be eating gravel on Valley Road; they flew up into the trees along the road as we approached, but I was able to identify bluejays, dark-eyed juncos and a yellow-rumped warbler.
As often is the case in the fall, the brilliant foliage was a highlight of the hike. I paused several times to inspect the dying leaves — giant orange oak leaves; yellow grey birch leaves with their jagged edges; and maple leaves of yellow covered with brilliant red blotches. We only have a few weeks to enjoy them, then it’s time to get the rake out.
Though we walked from the South Gate, making for a 5.4-mile hike, it didn’t seem that long because much of the hike was along a fairly flat, smooth road. The new trail was well built and marked, making it easy to follow, and the views at the end were much nicer than I expected, it being at such a low elevation. From the top of the ledges, I could see nothing but hills of orange, yellow, red and the dark green of pine, spruce and fir that never leaves Maine’s landscape, no matter the time of year.