1-minute hike: Maiden Cliff in Camden

Difficulty: Moderate. It’s just 1 mile from the parking area to the cliff via Maiden Cliff Trail, but in some places, the trail is steep. Pay attention to the roots and rocks. You can either hike to the cliffs and back down the same trail for a 2-mile trip, or you can make a loop of it by adding the Scenic Trail and Ridge Trail, which makes for a 2.6-mile trip.

How to get there: From the intersection of Route 1 and Route 52 in Camden, turn onto Route 52 and travel north for about 2.8 miles. The parking area for Maiden Cliff will be on the right.

Information: Maiden Cliff, one of the most popular hiking destinations of Midcoast Maine, is located on the east side of Megunticook Lake, just outside the boundaries of Camden Hills State Park (though the trails to Maiden Cliff are connected to the network of trails in the park). The cliffs rise 800 feet above Megunticook Lake and offer spectacular views of the lake and nearby hills.

From the trailhead, Maiden Cliff Trail (1 mile) ascends gradually, following a brook for the first 0.5 mile. This part of the trail offers some beautiful woodland scenery of tall evergreens, boulders and twisted roots. At 0.5 mile is a trail juncture. Turn left to continue on Maiden Cliff Trail, which is another 0.5 mile to Maiden Cliff. Or turn right to hike the 0.3-mile Ridge Trail.

From the trial juncture, Maiden Cliff Trail becomes increasingly steep (with a few tricky rocky areas) before leveling off into a smooth path through a mainly deciduous forest. In a short distance, the trail leads to open ledges at the top of Maiden Cliff, where a large, white-painted steel cross and stands in memorial of Elenora French, whose story is engraved in stone at the foot of the cross.

The stone reads: “On May 7, 1864, this 12-year-old farmer’s daughter fell to her death from this cliff. According to legend, she was here as a member of a maying party and fell trying to catch her windblown hat. This cross erected [was] in her memory.”

This memorial and viewpoint is just beyond a trail sign that marks a juncture with the Scenic Trail. Here, you can choose to backtrack down the Maiden Cliff Trail to the trailhead, making for a 2-mile hike. Or you can walk the Scenic Trail, which leads 0.8 mile to the Ridge Trail.

The Scenic Trail climbs another 120 feet from Maiden Cliff to the Miller Ledges, which offer views of nearby mountains and Megunticook Lake. On the bare ledges, the blue blazes marking the trail are painted on rock in the absence of trees. The trail will reach a large cairn (rock pile). If you look beyond the cairn, you will see more in the distance. Do not follow the cairns. Instead, follow the blue blazes on the rock, which lead to the right and down into the forest. You will soon reach a sign.

At the sign, if you turn left, the Ridge Trail will lead you into the interior of Camden Hills (which will not bring you to the Route 52 parking area). Instead of hiking in that direction, turn right onto the Ridge Trail and hike 0.3 mile to where the trail ends at Maiden Cliff Trail (a juncture you came to 0.5 mile into the hike). At the trail juncture, veer left and onto Maiden Cliff Trail, which leads 0.5 mile to the parking lot. Round trip, this loop hike is about 2.6 miles.

While these trails are outside the boundary of Camden Hills State Park, they are connected to the trail network of the park. Park admission varies depending on age and residency. To learn about the park and fees, visit www.maine.gov/cgi-bin/online/doc/parksearch/index.pl. The website includes a printable map of the park trails.

Pets are allowed on these trails. There are no restrooms at the trailhead, but there are restrooms near the main parking area of Camden Hills State Park off Route 1. And across the road from the Maiden Cliff Trailhead is a town-owned beach, picnic area and boat launch.

Personal note: People have been suggesting I hike to Maiden Cliff since I hiked the nearby Megunticook Mountain in Camden Hills State Park two winters ago. So I started out on the trail on June 30 knowing what wonderful views I’d enjoy at the top. Derek and Oreo (my dog) accompanied me on the hike, which got my blood pumping but was short enough to start later in the day with no worry of losing sunlight.

On the way up, I heard a rustle in the leaves. I knew I’d see a snake before I turned my head to look. After seeing enough snakes on the trail, you start to recognize the sound they make as they slither out of your way. This particular garter snake was bigger than any I’d seen while out in the Maine wilderness, and it didn’t act quite as skittish around me as the others had, either, perhaps due to its size, or maybe it was just a bold snake. What I mean by bold is that it didn’t simply slither away, and as I crept close with my camera, it lifted off the rock and approached the lens, smelling by flicking its forked tongue. The yellow lines that ran down the length of its body were so distinct that it almost appeared to be an eastern ribbon snake, another type of snake we have here in Maine. But the brown checkered pattern between the lines labeled it a garter. It weaved back and forth slowly as I sat in front of it, motionless, and Derek teased me about being hypnotized by the snake.

After many photos and words of admiration (mine, aimed at the snake), we continued up Maiden Cliff Path. From online descriptions, I had expected the memorial cross standing on the open ledges to be small, and I was surprised to see that it was about the size of a telephone pole, towering over Megunticook Lake. I could imagine being out there on a boat and taking in the sight from down below. Derek, Oreo and I spent some time enjoying the view and the sun before continuing on. We decided to explore Scenic Trail and Ridge Trail, a small loop that is worth the extra few tenths of a mile, before descending to the parking area on the Maiden Cliff Trail.

Aislinn Sarnacki

About Aislinn Sarnacki

Professionally, Aislinn is a Bangor Daily News reporter for the "Outdoor" and "Living" pages. She's a wilderness romper and fashion-forward bookworm.