I have long wanted to hike to Third Hill, the far outpost of York, Maine’s rangy Mount Agamenticus. Third Hill has a reputation for being challenging to find. I’ve known more than one person who has ended up in South Berwick or other places but not at Third Hill.
But over the past few years, new trail signage, improved trails, and the development of a better guide-type map to Aggie’s trail system have made it much easier to negotiate the region’s many trails.
The 10,000 acres of the Mount Agamenticus Conservation Region, once a mix of sheep pasture, woodlots and farmland, is now the largest tract of coastal forest between Acadia National Park and the Jersey Pine Barrens. I’ve never heard of anyone getting fatally lost in these woods, but for many years, it was (and still is, in places) fairly easy to get annoyingly lost, and end up on an unfamiliar road miles from your car (I’ve been there).
So now, Mother’s Day was here, and I wanted to hike. Husband and son both had extensive work/homework commitments that meant we had to stay local. Thanks to the long cold winter, the leaves hadn’t yet fluffed out. The forest would be light and airy, with plenty of views and open terrain.
A perfect day for hiking to Third Hill.
The Mount Agamenticus map shows a variety of trails leading to Third Hill. The Great Marsh Trail, for example, follows an old logging road from Lower County Road in South Berwick (or to the south, from Old Mountain Road in York), until reaching the junction where a trail climbs to the Hill. We opted to hike from the summit of Mount Agamenticus to Second Hill, and from there to Third, and then backtrack with a slight modification to avoid climbing to the summit of Second Hill twice.
I kept the map handy, because I knew we needed to pay close attention to the many turns and trail junctions (Witch Hazel to Ring to Chestnut Oak to Porcupine to Second Hill to Notch to Wheel to Great Marsh to Third Hill). We misread the sign at one junction and hiked for about a third of a mile in the wrong direction on the Porcupine Trail, but, thanks to the map, recognized the mistake when we saw the Rocky Road trail sign.
After retracing our steps, we followed the Porcupine Trail to the turn for Second Hill, where we had lunch on the ledges and could see the green hump of Third Hill to the northeast.
We then walked along the Second Hill ridge to a short trail connecting to the Notch Trail, which we then followed to the well-marked Wheel Trail, which landed us on the Great Marsh Trail. It wasn’t immediately clear where the trail to Third Hill picked up, but I noticed two hemlocks, one on each side of the trail, marked with little wooden painted owls, almost as if the owls were welcoming us into the woods. Sure enough, a left (northerly) turn through the owls lead to a sign for Third Hill.
A few paces up the trail, a sign warned that trails were not marked further on, as the map also suggests. But to the right, another owl pointed to a path, along with white blazes.
Following the owls (and white blazes) uphill, we climbed on granite slabs that felt more White Mountain-ish than back yard.
And we made it, collapsing on a carpet of pine needles on a rock slab below the white pine tree hosting the sign marking Third Hill. We rested in the shade, enjoying complete solitude. Here in our own backyard, home to multitudes, we had the Third Hill summit to ourselves on a beautiful Sunday afternoon.
We didn’t have fabulous views at the summit – the 692-foot main summit of Mt. A definitely offers the best views, especially of the ocean – but we also didn’t do extensive explorations of the ledges and little side trails that might lead to views. (We hadn’t planned well, didn’t have enough water, and were conserving our energy).
As we hiked, the day grew increasingly warm, to almost 90 degrees. We finished up our water on top of Third Hill and had to hike back to the Mount A summit (about 2.5 miles) with just a few sips. Our warm-up spring hike became a summer slog, minus the air conditioning created by the oak and beech forest that dominates Mount Agamenticus.
Everyone, including me, wanted to complain, but no one did. It was Mother’s Day, after all, and this was my Mother’s Day hike.
On the way back, I told my son that even though it felt like we might die of thirst, it actually took quite a while for that happen, and we’d definitely make it back to the car, where we had some water, before any of us passed out. (I wasn’t quite sure about the not passing out part, but we did make it back without incident).
All in all, a great Mother’s Day. I reached Third Hill, didn’t pass out from heat exhaustion, and know that the next hike, by comparison, will feel like a breeze. Dragonfly Loop, here we come!
Notes and resources
The hike to Third Hill is not a killer hike, but it’s not an easy stroll either, with lots of ups and downs. I estimate that the hike we did is about five miles RT (but maybe it’s a little shorter and it seemed longer because of the heat). It’s a good family hike for elementary age kids and older, but not the youngest set unless they are already hard-core.
The five-mile-ish (one way) Sea to Summit hike, which I’ve written about before, is another great hike in the Agamenticus region.
The staff and volunteers of the Mount Agamenticus Conservation Region have been doing a fabulous job of improving trails, facilities and the other aspects of Mount A and the surrounding conservation land.