Difficulty: Strenuous. Though the trail to the summit is just 1.6 miles, it is steep and very rocky. In the winter, the final 2.5-mile stretch of road to the trailhead is not plowed, so you’ll have to add 5 miles to the hike (cross country skis suggested).
How to get there: At the intersection of Route 4 and Route 142 in Phillips, follow Route 142 south. After about 7 miles, turn left onto Center Hill Road. Signs will direct to Mount Blue Trailhead from there. After about 0.5 mile, Center Hill Road splits. Follow the road that forks right. Continue to follow Center Hill Road for another 2.5 miles, then turn left onto Mount Blue Road. Follow this road for about 2.5 miles to the trailhead and parking area. Mount Blue Road is closed in the winter.
Information: Mount Blue rises 3,187 feet above sea level in western Maine and is the centerpiece of Mount Blue State Park, Maine’s largest state park.
Mount Blue State Park was born out of the Great Depression of the 1930s, when the federal government purchased 51 tracts of marginal farmland under the U.S. Resettlement Administration Land Utilization Project and hired workers to build roads and buildings that would make up the park, according to the Maine Division of Parks & Public Lands. The U.S. Department of Agriculture transferred the land to the State of Maine in 1955, and subsequent acquisitions expanded the park to its current size of 8,000 acres.
The park is in two sections, separated by Web Lake. Mount Blue lies in the largest of the two sections, known as the Center Hill section (or the Center Hill and Mount Blue Area), which features 25 miles of challenging, multi-use trails, as well as two hiking trails: the 0.5-mile Center Hill Nature Trail and the 1.6-mile Mount Blue Trail.
The Mount Blue Trail leaves from a parking area at the end of Mount Blue Road and climbs steeply up the west side of the mountain, becoming increasingly rocky and steep. At about 1 mile, the trail leads to an old warden’s cabin, which is in a state of ruin after many years of neglect. As of October 2013, the porch and roof were starting to cave in, and graffiti (mainly names written in marker and pen) covered the interior walls.
From the cabin, the trail continues the final 0.6-mile to the summit. The hike is steep and the trail is a jumble of large angular rocks. A section of rock steps offers a short respite from the uneven terrain.
At the summit stands a radio communications tower, which was built in 2012 by the Maine State Communications Network, according to a story that ran in Daily Bulldog, an online newspaper for Franklin County.
Before the communications tower was built, another tower stood on the summit. In 1931, a 40-foot tall steel tower with stairway access was constructed on the mountain’s peak to serve as a fire lookout. The tower was manned by a fire warden. It wasn’t until 1972 that the tower was deactivated, according to “From York to the Allagash: Forest Fire Lookouts of Maine” by David N. Hilton, a book that was sent to me in the mail by a kind BDN reader.
The book lists several fire wardens who manned the Mount Blue tower: Ezra Noyes (who manned the tower 1932-1953), Wayne Russell (1954), Dexter Dumont (1966), Clayton Shibles (1969) and Daniel Young (1971).
The historic but deteriorating fire tower was taken down in 2011 to make way for the new radio communications tower. To gain approval from the Department of Conservation, project planners designed the radio tower to look like a forest fire tower, according to the Daily Bulldog. The planners were also required to integrate an observation platform (that would be open to the public) into the structure.
With a boxy cab on top, complete with fake lookout windows, the radio tower indeed resembles a fire tower. A large observation platform halfway up the tower places hikers above the trees for an unobstructed 360-degree view of the region. However, an outcropping at the foot of the tower also offers stunning views (for those who aren’t fond of climbing towers, even those with sturdy wide stairs and railings).
Mount Blue State Park is open and fully staffed May 15-Columbus Day, but visitors are welcome year-round. Park hours are 9 a.m.-sunset. Earlier openings vary with the season. Daily admission to the park ranges from free to $6, depending on age and residency.
Activities supported by the park are ATV riding, motorized boating, camping, canoeing, kayaking, cross-country skiing, fishing, hiking, horseback riding, hunting, mountain biking, snowmobiling, snowshoeing, ice skating, sledding, swimming and wildlife watching.
A campground in the Webb Beach section has 136 wooded campsites that are just a short walk from a sandy beach and picnic area. And a Nature Center on the property features hands-on exhibits and displays.
A full list of park guidelines can be found online, but the following are a few important rules: pets must be kept on a 4-foot long leash at all times; carry out all trash, including dog waste; hunting, with some restrictions, is permitted between Oct. 1 and April 30; and ATVs and snowmobiles are permitted only on designated trails.
To learn more or make camping reservations, call 800-332-1501 (if in Maine) or 207-624-9950 (if outside Maine). For information and trail maps, search for “Mount Blue” at www.maine.gov.
Personal note: Oreo got a bit carsick on Friday during the 2.5-hour drive from Bangor to the foot of Mount Blue. Fortunately, I’d recently covered the back seat with an American Kennel Club waterproof seat cover, which caught the majority of his three “episodes.” (Grossed out yet?) The drive was less than pleasant for the both of us, and we were both happy to get out of the car, breathe a little fresh air and hit the trail.
Though online reviews and guidebooks described the trail as “rocky,” I was surprised at just how rocky it was. Usually hiking trails are fairly smooth near the base of a mountain, but the rocks showed up early on the trail and seemed to multiply and grow as we moved up the mountain.
While the trail is just 1.6 miles long, it seems longer because it’s so steep and crowded with rocks. At the top, Oreo actually climbed the steel steps of the radio tower to the observation deck (something he refused to do at a similar tower atop Beech Mountain in Acadia National Park).
While the challenging trail was fun for us on the way up, the descent was a different story. With Oreo on a leash, I was having a difficult time staying balanced whenever he pulled. Nevertheless, we completed the hike without any injuries. I took my time driving home, and Oreo managed to keep his lunch down.