Family-Friendly Hikes for Summer
Escaping the relentless summer sun, a family ducks into the cool shade of the forest. Sweet birdsong fills the family’s ears.
“It’s a hermit thrush,” the mother might say, identifying the bird.
Meanwhile, the woman’s four-year-old son is picking up acorns and sticks, fascinated by the small things, the aspects of the forest his family members would miss entirely if it weren’t for him, insistent on showing them his treasures, his small hands outstretched.
His older sister, on her way to teenhood, instructs him to leave nature as he finds it, for other hikers to enjoy. She’s learned about Leave No Trace ethics from her parents, and she’s proud to pass down her knowledge.
Following a well-worn, marked trail, the family has just begun their outdoor adventure, one that everyone will enjoy. Together in the woods, they’ll discover an old rock wall, a giant white pine tree and pond filled with frogs. They’ll laugh at the scolding trill of a red squirrel. And as they watch their feet, stepping over tangled tree roots, they’ll have plenty of time to talk — and to be silent.
Public hiking trails are numerous in Maine, and each one has something different to offer. Some trails travel up majestic mountains, through mossy evergreen forests; others visit the state’s rocky coastline, or wind through flower-filled meadows, or visit waterfalls. These trails vary widely in difficulty, from smooth nature trails to rough and rocky alpine paths, meaning there’s a trail out there for everyone.
The following are three local hikes that are great for families and small groups. All three hikes feature well-maintained and marked trails with plenty of interesting highlights, from excellent birding spots to scenic viewpoints. So put on some insect repellent — an absolute necessity this time of year — and check one of them out with your family and friends.
Birdsacre in Ellsworth — Easy
The Stanwood Wildlife Sanctuary, more commonly known as Birdsacre, is a 200-acre piece of quiet woodland surrounded by the hustle and bustle of downtown Ellsworth. The sanctuary includes a trail network, bird rehabilitation facility, a wheelchair-accessible boardwalk, nature center and 19th century homestead that used to be the home of Cordelia J. Stanwood (1865-1958).
The daughter of a sea captain and a prosperous merchant’s daughter, Stanwood was raised as a Victorian lady, but was determined to set her own course, shunning societal expectations. At her childhood home, Birdsacre, she devoted more than 50 years to the study of nature, and most notably birds, to become possibly the first highly respected female ornithologist photographer.
Today, visitors to Birdsacre can follow in Stanwoods’ footsteps on the sanctuary’s system of footpaths, which consists of a 2-mile Perimeter Trail and many shorter trails that crisscross through woods and wetlands. It was on those trails that Stanwood spent many of her days observing birds and recording her findings in research notebooks and later, on camera. On wooden plaques erected on tree trunks throughout the trail network are quotes from Stanwood’s field notes. These passages offer glimpses of Stanwood’s deep reverence for the wilderness, her love of animals, and the peace and happiness she found in being outdoors.
As you explore the Birdsacre trail network you’ll come upon the same landmarks that Stanwood enjoyed more than half a century ago — a boulder called “Egg Rock,” a giant white pine called “Queen’s Throne,” and several small ponds. Signs throughout the trail network direct hikers to these natural features.
The Birdsacre trail network is open to the public during daylight hours year round. The homestead museum and nature center open June through September, 10 a.m.-4 p.m., dependent on volunteers. Admission is free, but donations can be made at the kiosk by the parking area. Dogs are permitted on the trails but should be kept away from all bird enclosures.
To learn more about Birdsacre, visit its website at birdsacre.com or call 667-8460.
How to get there: Birdsacre is located at 289 High Street (Route 3) in Ellsworth. To get there, start at the four-way intersection of Main Street and High Street in Ellsworth and drive south on High Street (Route 1-Route 3) toward Bar Harbor. After about 1 mile, High Street (Route 3) splits off to the left from Route 1 and becomes a one-way road headed toward Bar Harbor. Take High Street (Route 3) and drive about 0.3 mile to Birdsacre on the right, just before the China Hill Restaurant.
Caribou Bog Conservation Area in Orono — Moderate
Owned and maintained by the Orono Land Trust, the Caribou Bog Conservation Area features trails that lead to the summits of both Newman and Bangor hills. This trail network also visits several wetlands and ponds, offering excellent opportunities for viewing wildlife.
A loop hike from the parking area to the top of Newman Hill is about 2 miles in total distance, and a loop hike of both Newman and Bangor hills is about 4 miles. There are a few steep sections in the trail network that can be avoided by taking short detours, which have been marked by the Orono Land Trust. There are also some interesting footbridges, mossy areas and stretches of lichen-covered bedrock.
Newman and Bangor hills are both wooded and don’t offer views from their summits, however, not far from the summit of Bangor Hill is a spot on the trail that provides a partial view where hikers can see all the way to Katahdin on a clear day.
Wetlands on the property are home to a wide variety of songbirds, wading birds and waterfowl. Commonly sighted birds that are easy to spot are great blue herons, Canada geese and red-winged blackbirds, and if you look closely, you may spot an American bittern picking its way through the cattails and tall grasses at the edge of the water.
Orono Land Trust maintains its properties and trails for public non-motorized use, including walking, skiing, snowshoeing, geocaching and bicycling. Dogs are permitted on these trails. And keep in mind that hunting is permitted on the Newman Hill property.
For information and maps, visit oronolandtrust.org or email email@example.com.
How to get there: Take I-95 Exit 191 (Kelley Road in Orono). Drive northwest on Kelley Road 0.5 mile to Stillwater Avenue. Turn right and drive 1.1 miles on Stillwater Avenue, then turn left onto Forest Avenue. Drive 1.4 miles, then turn right onto Taylor Road (also known as Dump Road). Drive 0.25 miles and take a left onto Putnam Road, which leads to the parking area.
Mount Megunticook in Camden — Challenging
The highest of the Camden Hills, Mount Megunticook rises 1,385 feet above sea level at the heart of Camden Hills State Park. Though the mountain’s summit is forested, there are several open granite ledges located along its slopes that offer stunning views of the Penobscot Bay.
Several hiking trails and multi-use trails explore Mount Megunticook, forming a vast network that can easily be navigated by using a park trail map. Hiking to the summit and back down on Mt. Megunticook Trail is about 4 miles and includes a few steep, rocky sections of trail. Hikers can opt for a longer loop hike by exploring the mountain on the Ridge Trail or Slope Trail.
Mt. Megunticook Trail winds up the mountain’s eastern slope through a mixed forest that includes many tall oak trees. The first leg of the trail climbs the mountain gradually but steadily and includes a few steep sections where stone stairs have been constructed for hikers to use. The trail is marked with blue blazes painted on trees and rocks, as well as rock piles called cairns.
After 0.8 mile, you’ll come to a trail intersection where Adam’s Lookout Trail veers off to the left and Mt. Megunticook Trail continues straight ahead. The two trails reconnect about 0.5 miles up the mountain, at Ocean Lookout, a series of granite outcroppings along the top of the mountain’s precipitous southwest slope. From Ocean Lookout, you can look southeast to Penobscot Bay and nearby islands, including Vinalhaven and North Haven. Inland, you can see Mount Battie and the road leading up it, as well as Bald Mountain and Ragged Mountain.
Continuing on Mt. Megunticook Trail, it’s another 0.8 mile to the summit, and this last leg of the hike is well worth the effort. This section of the trail travels through a shaded evergreen forest of spruce, balsam fir, mosses and lichens.
Camden Hills State Park, open year round, is home to about 30 miles of hiking trails and a 112-site camping area. Day use in the park is restricted to 9 a.m. to sunset, unless otherwise signed at the gate. Dogs are permitted in park, but they must be attended to at all times and kept on a leash not exceeding four feet in length. Park admission ranges from $1.50-$4.50, depending on your age and residency.
For more information, visit www.maine.gov/camdenhills or call 207-236-3109.
How to get there: The entrance to Camden Hills State Park that you want to use for this hike is located at 280 Belfast Road (Route 1) in Camden, just north of the downtown area. Mt. Megunticook Trail begins on the west side of the park campground, which is just beyond the gatehouse. You can park in the main parking area and walk up the campground road to reach the trailhead, which is marked with a sign that reads “Mt. Megunticook Foot Trail.” If confused, refer to park trail maps, which are posted on kiosks near the parking area and are also available online.
For more of Aislinn Sarnacki’s adventures, visit her blog at actoutwithaislinn.bangordailynews.com. Follow her on Twitter: 1minhikegirl. Her new guidebook, “Family-Friendly Hikes in Maine,” released in May 2017, is available at local bookstores, Down East Books and online booksellers.