December is a time of reflection. As the year winds to a close, I like to take a little time to look back over the past 12 months, at where I have been and what I did, at all the triumphs and failures, before diving headfirst into another year.
For the most part, I do this because it’s fun. I enjoy remembering what I’ve accomplished, and even what hardships I’ve struggled through, in the course of a year. It feels good to give 2016 — and myself — a pat on the back before embracing 2017.
One of the aspects of my life that I especially enjoy reflecting upon are the many outdoor adventures that I have experienced throughout the year. Because of my unique job as an outdoors writer, I get the opportunity to explore Maine’s wild places during all seasons. For the most part, I explore trails — places to hike, ski, snowshoe and bike — and I do this nearly every single week, rain or shine or snow.
That’s about 50 different trails or trail systems over the course of a year. (Don’t ask me how many miles. I really don’t want to do that math.)
So in looking back on my many adventures of 2016, I’ve selected 10 of those 50-plus outdoor venues — the cream of the crop — and created a list in hopes that it will help inspire your own outdoor adventures in 2017. Go ahead and see if one of these places appeals to you, and if it does, I suggest taking a drive and experiencing it for yourself.
Abol Trail, a popular route up Maine’s tallest mountain, was closed to hikers in the spring of 2014, due to landslide activity. Boulders as big as houses had shifted, making the trail unstable and unsafe. And it wasn’t the first time. The management of Baxter State Park, in which the trail is located, had been forced to close the trail for several years in the 1930s and 40s for the same reason. But this time, instead of waiting possibly years for the boulders, rocks and scree on Abol Slide to settle, park management decided to find a longterm solution and approved a $100,000 project to relocate a large section of the trail to avoid that part of the rockslide altogether. Over the course of two years, Maine Conservation Corps crews worked hard to build this new section, which opened to the public this past spring.
With a group of family and friends, I hiked this new Abol Trail to the top of Katahdin in early September, and I had a blast. The new section starts about 1 mile into the original Abol Trail. Skirting the rockslide, the trail switchbacks through thick alpine spruce forest and over jumbles of boulders, steeply climbing the mountain — but not as steeply as the old trail. MCC had constructed several sections of granite staircases and drainage features throughout this new section to prevent erosions and help hikers gain purchase on the slope, and I’m sure even more features will be added over the years, as the trail settles. Abol Trail is now 3.4 miles from trailhead to Baxter Peak, the highest location in Maine.
Sandy beaches, mossy boreal forests and an undeveloped island covered with wild roses — you can find all this at Barred Island Preserve. Located on the west side of Deer Isle, this beautiful chunk of conserved land features about 1.5 miles of well-marked nature trails that travel through the forest to a beach of sand and shells. From that beach, a sand bar leads over to Barred Island, but the sandbar is only above water during the 3.5 hours on either side of low tide. During that window of time, visitors are welcome to walk over to the island and around its perimeter along the shore.
Owned by The Nature Conservancy, the preserve is managed by the Island Heritage Trust, a nonprofit land trust that was founded in 1987 by residents concerned about protecting Deer Isle from development pressure that threatened to cut off residents from the shore and recreational use of the land.
In the northwest rural Maine towns of Caratunk and The Forks, the long ridge of Pleasant Pond Mountain rises to the east of Pleasant Pond, a deep body of water known for its crystal clear waters. Topping off at 2,447 above sea level, this mountain is one of many mountains traversed by the famous Appalachian Trail.
Starting at a parking area off North Shore Road in Caratunk, I hiked 1.4 mile to the summit of this mountain in early October, during peak foliage season. As I climbed through the mixed forest covering the mountain’s slope, I was in awe of the fiery colors surrounding me. And at the top of the mountain, the open views of the region blew me away. Sitting on the mountain’s deeply striated bedrock, I gazed at the nearby cone of Mosquito Mountain, the long glittering body of Moxie Pond, and beyond that to the many mountains of the 100-Mile Wilderness and Moosehead Lake Region.
Running through a dramatic gorge between Dorr and Cadillac Mountain, the Gorge Path is a special hiking experience that includes hundreds of granite steps and tiny waterfalls. Climbing out of the gorge, this trail then travels up the east side of Cadillac Mountain, the tallest mountain on Mount Desert Island, to reach the summit approximately 1.9 miles from the trailhead. The views along the way are spectacular and include the Porcupine Islands and the town of Bar Harbor.
I hiked this trail for the first time on a windy day in mid-July with my co-worker Micky. It wasn’t until after our hike that I learned that the trail was eroding badly not too long ago, and in 2014, it underwent a major rehabilitation project. Today, I’d consider it one of the most beautifully constructed trails in the park.
Stretching along the Bold Coast in eastern Maine, the 1,770-acre Bog Brook Cove Preserve is owned and maintained by the Maine Coast Heritage Trust and features about 5 miles of hiking trails for people of all skill levels. These trails visit cobblestone beaches, travel over a ridge and wind through a mixed forest to a freshwater pond and scenic outlooks along the rocky coast.
With my dog, Oreo, to keep me company, I visited the preserve on a surprisingly warm, sunny day in May, when serviceberries were in full bloom. That day, I photographed songbirds, played in the seaweed with Oreo, and took my time exploring three trails, leaving a few other trails on the preserve to be enjoyed another day. It’s nice to have an excuse to return to the quiet, scenic fishing towns of eastern Maine.
Rising just over 2,000 feet above sea level near the southwest shore of Moosehead Lake, Little Moose Mountain forms a long ridge that towers above scenic ponds, then arcs slightly north as if reaching toward its sister mountain, Big Moose. Located in the state-owned 1,500-acre Little Moose Public Reserved Land Unit, moderately difficult hiking trails explore the ridge of Little Moose Mountain as well as the nearby ponds, where backcountry campsites are located. Altogether, these interconnecting trails total about 9 miles and offer a variety of day hikes and overnight adventures.
In early December, my husband, Derek, and I hiked about 4 miles on those trails with our dog, Oreo, climbing to one of the high points on the mountain’s ridge. Along the way, we came to at least 10 outlooks on the mountain’s ledges, where we were rewarded with views of Moosehead area, including views of Moosehead Lake, the town of Greenville, and the nearby Big Moose Mountain. Dramatic cliffs, moss- and fern-covered boulders and quiet evergreen stands also added to the beauty of the hike.
With approximately 7.5 miles of hiking trails that vary in difficulty and scenery, Holbrook Island Sanctuary State Park was donated to the State of Maine in 1971 by a local resident named Anita Harris. A nature lover, Harris wished this gift would “preserve for the future a piece of unspoiled Maine that [she] used to know.” The park is 1,230 acres and protects a variety of habitats, including old fields, a pond, an estuary and saltwater marsh, the mossy evergreen forests of Backwoods Mountain, a beaver flowage, and rocky beaches on the Penobscot Bay. It also includes Holbrook Island, a small isle off the coast, and a number of old family cemeteries, homestead foundations and impressive stone walls that remain from several families who used to live and farm on the land.
This year, visited the park twice to check out different trails. On Feb. 4, I hiked through the whimsical, mossy woods of Blackwoods Mountain, finding a porcupine den in a jumble of boulders along the way. I then walked through old fields and past old foundations to the ocean on the Backshore Trail. Then, during the summer, I returned to the park to walk the Fresh Pond Nature Trail, which is an excellent route for wildlife watching, especially birding, and includes interpretive stations marked with numbered signs and described in a brochure that’s available at the trailhead.
A 46-mile-long walking trail from the hills of Unity to the waterfront in Belfast, the Hills to Sea Trail was completed on Sept. 22, when the final segment of the trail was completed from Route 131 in Belfast to the road that leads into Frye Mountain Wildlife Management Area in Knox. The trail now travels through the towns of Unity, Thorndike, Knox, Freedom, Montville, Morrill, Waldo and Belfast, connecting these communities with blue painted blazes.
In celebration of this milestone, I walked a part of the trail in Belfast in mid-October, and the following month, I wrote a story about Ryan Howes, who ran the entire trail in one day, starting in Unity and ending in Belfast, where he lives. It took Howes approximately 13 and a half hours.
Threading through a beautiful, varied forest and across lupine fields, the Mingo Springs Trail and Bird Walk in Rangeley was funded by the Chodosh family, which owns the golf course that the easy, 3-mile trail loops around. Passing through a wide variety of habitats, the trail features wooden signs at identify native plants, especially different types of ferns.
One of the big draws of the trail is the giant lupine field it travels through. I visited Rangeley in late June, when lupines are in bloom, just to photograph that field. I rented a cabin and stayed a weekend in the small western Maine town with my husband and our dog, Oreo, playing board games and visiting other area trails, of which there were many to choose from.
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 also features interpretive displays, a bog boardwalk, picnic areas, restrooms and a cobblestone beach.
I took the long drive to this scenic state park in early June, and I started my hike on the long Coastal Trail, which starts by the lighthouse and travels along the top of dramatic ocean cliffs. I then circled inland and visited the Bog Trail, which included a surprisingly long boardwalk and signs identifying various bog plants, such as the carnivorous pitcher plant.