The temperature has risen to a magical 60 degrees, the daffodils are blooming, and the forsythia are primed for an explosion of yellow. The tulips won’t be far behind, and I’m ready to think about hiking adventures to come this spring, summer, and fall.
Hence, this round-up post on five of my favorite family hikes in Maine. (I’ll do a separate one on New Hampshire, since there are so many great hikes to cover in both states).
We’ve been hiking as a family since my son was born, with him propelling himself on his own legs from about age three onward. Unless you have a kid who is obsessed with hiking (not mine), I find it best to limit family hikes to five miles or less. I also look for hikes with a good hook — boulders to conquer, fire towers to ascend, mysterious caves, and, of course, great views.
Please note that I call these “five of my favorite hikes”, and not “my five favorite hikes.” This small distinction in syntax is necessary because there are countless wonderful hikes out there, and I can’t possibly narrow it down to just five “favorites.” You can access links to directions (and sometimes maps) by clicking the title of the hike.
I’ve been hiking Tumbledown Mountain since my college days. I love this mountain and the beautiful pond nestled below the summit cone. Bring your bathing suit, or not, but this IS New England, so everyone else will be wearing suits.
The 1.9-mile Brook Trail (and 1,600 feet of elevation gain) is the most direct to the pond, from which hikers can scramble over granite and boulders on a well-marked route to the 3,090-foot summit. The Brook Trail follows an old logging road along a brook before evolving into a fairly steep climb over rocks and roots. We followed this trail as an out-and-back hike with a group of seven-year-olds a few years ago.
A couple of years later, we returned with a large pack of kids for the more challenging Loop Trail. At the trailhead, someone had posted a tiny scrap of paper with a penciled note reading, “This trail is not for children.” The note was about two square inches big, torn from a notebook, and not an official warning. I decided that the note must be aimed at parents of very young children. Our group of 10 or so started climbing up a typical New England trail of roots and rocks, but nothing too hard.
Then, about one mile in, we arrived at The Mountain: a nearly vertical climb up a rocky mountain face. (The climb wasn’t technical, just very very steep and rocky). At one point, we lost the trail (which is easy to do) and ended up climbing around some rocks hanging over a steep slope. For this reason, the hike is recalled as “The Death Hike.”
After finding the main trail again, we had to squeeze through a cave-like rock formation known as “Fat Man’s Misery,” a feat that involved shoving day packs through a hole and then squeezing through the narrow opening. Then more steep climbing. I could feel steam rising from the adults and floating towards me.
We eventually emerged onto a plateau, where an official warning sign greeted us with a warning about the Loop Trail for anyone considering hiking down. The kids exulted in their achievement. The clouds of steam dissipated. We finished with a scamper up to the summit, a swim in the pond, and a much easier hike down the Brook Trail to the cars.
Every kid needs a legendary death-defying hike in their repertoire. They still talk about it.
2. Mount Agamenticus in York, Maine
With its 692-feet of altitude, Mount Agamenticus is a little mountain with a big personality, with trails and slopes that sprawl out across thousands of acres of conserved forest.
During World War II, a radar tower–the first of its kind in the United States–was installed on the summit. The forest was cut to make room for barracks to house 25 soldiers of the 551st Signal Battalion. For ten years in the 1960s and 1970s, a ski area drew locals to the mountain each winter.
Today, the former ski slopes shrink a bit more each season as trees and brush take over. On weekends, hikers and casual visitors wander the summit’s open meadow, bikers careen down the rocky trails, and the mountain can feel like a busy place. But even with the people there, the blue ocean shimmers to the east. To the west, the spine of Mount Washington rises above the Ossipee Hills, a spectacular sight any day but especially on a clear spring afternoon, when the sloping ridge of Washington remains covered in snow.
A variety of trails (as well as a road) lead to the summit, and more trails lace the conservation land surrounding the mountain. Mount A is ideal for younger children (but fun for hikers of all ages), because parents can tailor the length of a hike to the interest and abilities of their kids.
From the parking area at the base of the mountain, hikers can begin on the Ring Trail, and then hike in a loop up one of four side trails to the top, and down another to the bottom. I like to climb up the rock slabs of the Sweet Fern Trail, where the old ski lift rusts in the woods, and then hike down the Blueberry Ridge Trail to the Ring Trail.
Variations include the Sea-to-Summit hike that I’ve written about before, and hikes out to Second Hill or Third Hill. If attempting Third Hill with kids, I recommend driving to summit and starting there, as the hike could become a long slog through the woods. Hikers need a map to get to Third Hill (see link above), as the route is convoluted. It is easy to get lost if not familiar with the area.
3. Dorr Mountain, via the Homans Path, in Acadia National Park
Okay, so selecting one family hike at Acadia National Park is just about impossible. Acadia is packed with countless great hikes ranging from under a mile to four-to-six miles loops (and longer, of course, but probably too long for most kids). Boulders, ladders, caves, and views abound. I’ve hiked all over this park, my favorite in the National Park System because of its combination of wildness, human history, and long-standing traditions such as popovers at Jordan Pond House.
Here I’ll focus on the Homans Path route towards quiet Dorr Mountain, the second highest peak in the park (People climb Cadillac, the highest peak, while Dorr is happily neglected).
The stone steps of the Homans Path were meticulously crafted around 1916, but the trail stopped appearing on maps in the 1940s. Its granite steps disappeared beneath thick layers of moss beds. Local trail enthusiasts rediscovered the trail in the 1990s, and the Park Service began restoring the path, which officially opened again in 2003.
The Homans Path can be picked up near the Wild Gardens of Acadia, at the Sieur de Monts parking area. (I couldn’t find a good link to an online map).
It’s hard to get truly lost in Acadia, but you can certainly end up a very long distance from your car, a situation that is not fun when hiking with kids. I recommend obtaining a recent edition of Tom St. Germain’s Acadia trail guide, A Walk in the Park, which will lead you to many other fabulous family hikes. Gorham Mountain, The Beehive, and Beech Mountain with its fire tower also are among my favorite Acadia hikes.
Mount Aziscohos, which I’ve mentioned in a post about summer days in Rangeley, is an undiscovered gem. A 1.75-mile hike brings hikers to an open granite summit with views of more than 25 lakes and countless mountains. I first took my son here when he was about six and have returned several times. I’ve never encountered another hiker on the summit with its 360-degree views.
In August, expect a feast of blueberries. Many years ago, a large forest fire burned on the mountaintop, creating ideal conditions for the berries to flourish.
Down the road in Oquossoc, crowds flock up the muddy trail to Bald Mountain, but few venture north on Route 16 to discover Aziscohos. I probably shouldn’t even be writing about the mountain, but I guess the 17.7 mile drive from Oquossoc Village discourages the hordes from finding it.
Aziscohos once was a popular hike for 19th and early 20th century summer visitors staying at the Aziscoos House in Wilson Mills, although “popular” is a relative term. An information sign near at the summit tells hikers that in one summer, a total of 116 hikers signed the log book. (The Azicoos House ceased operation many years ago, but I believe that the 1830 inn-like structure still stands, as a private residence, in the Magolloway River Valley).
A fire tower on the summit was manned until the late 1960s. Eventually it toppled over in a hurricane and was removed from the mountain via helicopter by the Maine Forest Service in 2004.
As with Acadia, Evans Notch, which straddles the border of Maine and New Hampshire, is packed with terrific family hikes as well as the “challenge” hike of the Baldface Circle Trail. Here, I’ll focus on 1,781-foot Blueberry Mountain, as it offers great views, good ridge hiking over barren rocks, the possibility of a dip in Rattlesnake Pool, and an exciting descent down (or climb up) ledges (caution needed). The hike is about 4.5 miles long.
After parking at Fire Road 16, we took the Stone House Trail to the summit and followed the Blueberry Ridge Trail to the Overlook Loop, and then followed the White Cairn Trail down steep ledges and back to FR 16.
We hiked on a cool fall day, so we didn’t stop at Rattlesnake Pool, but when I do this hike again, I plan to hike up the White Cairn Trail and finish up at the pool for a cooling dip.
The Stone House (a private residence) sits up against the mountain just past the trailhead. It’s an interesting structure, more than 200 years old, and looks out over a flat grassy meadow that once was farmed, but more recently was used as a landing area for small planes, during World War II.
The house (privately owned) dates to the first half of the 19th century, when Abel Andrews built it for his bride, Lucinda Brickett, the daughter of John Brickett, who was one of the earliest permanent settlers in the area. Around 1812, John built the brick farmhouse known as the “Brickett House,” located a couple of miles up Route 113.
I’ve also written about the nearby Basin Trail, which is undiscovered and beautiful, like Evans Notch in general.
Nature Hikes in the White Mountains, by Robert N. Buchsbaum, is an excellent guide to family hikes throughout the White Mountains of Maine and New Hampshire.
Hikes in and around Maine’s Lake Region, by Marita Wiser, is good resource for hikes in southwestern Maine (Bridgton/Fryeburg/Lovell area).
As mentioned above, Tom St. Germain’s Acadia trail guide, A Walk in the Park, is a great resource for all kinds of hikes in the park.