This column marks the start of the fourth season of my father and I writing these “Worth the Trip” columns. One of the reasons we proposed the ongoing series was a shared belief that many Mainers never actually get out to explore the state. There’s a world of hiking, biking, kayaking and other activities beyond southern Maine and the coast.
I think, by and large, we’ve succeeded in highlighting things to do in the Maine outdoors. However, one ironic side effect of our mission has been the neglecting of activities that are close to home – closer to the beaten path, rather than far from it. Hiking and biking over these last few weekends, I was reminded that there are wonderful attractions right outside our front doors.
Two in close proximity to the Portland area are Pownal’s Bradbury Mountain State Park and Freeport’s Wolfe’s Neck Woods State Park. Neither offers the remoteness of the north woods or the challenge and vertical of the western mountains, but both are gems.
Bradbury Mountain State Park, located on both sides of Route 9 in Pownal, is among the state’s oldest parks. Built in 1940 on land acquired by the federal government a year earlier, Bradbury Mountain is one of Maine’s five original state parks. Over its 70-plus year history, the area was once home to a rope tow for skiers (in the 1940s) and expanded once, in the 1990s, adding 250 acres, thanks to donations and external funding.
One of the state parks that is busy year-round, Bradbury is popular with day hikers, mountain bikers and horseback riders due to its many shared-use trails. Roughly 20 miles of trail weave around the park, winding along the perimeter and climbing natural features like the 500-foot eponymous mountain.
The western part of the park, where Bradbury sits, mixes hiker-only footpaths with single- and double-track trails ideal for mountain bikers. Bradbury itself isn’t a challenging hike; the Northern Loop trail, which gradually climbs the mountain, is only a mile, and the steeper Summit Trail climbs from car to summit in about a third of a mile. The view from the peak’s ridges and bluffs is still rewarding, especially in the spring (for blooming vegetation) and the fall (for foliage). For bikers, the real thrills on the west side are the Boundary and Switchback trails, which mix steep pitches with sharp turns.
The east side of the park houses the campground, as well as miles of rolling single-track trails. I have local friends who rave about biking “The Brad,” and most of their praise is aimed at technical routes like the 2.4-mile O Trail and 2.6-mile Ginn. I’ll recommend the trails on both sides of the park for hikers and bikers, with a warning – the routes are popular with both, so be careful (especially on crowded weekends).
Just 10 minutes from downtown Freeport, Wolfe’s Neck Woods State Park sits on a picturesque chunk of coast wedged between the Harraseeket River and Casco Bay. Created with land donated by the Lawrence M.C. Smith family in the late 1960s, the park covers some 200 acres on the Wolfe’s Neck peninsula. There isn’t much challenging hiking to be found here – the terrain is predominantly flat, and the longest trail is only about 11/2 miles – but it’s a great place to while away an afternoon with family or friends.
The two marquee trails at Wolfe’s Neck are the Harraseeket Trail and the Casco Bay Trail, which respectively span the riverside and bayside areas. Visitors in Freeport often ask me the best places nearby to view the coast, and these undemanding trails are easy to recommend. If you’ve ever enjoyed the sustainably-grown, natural foods of Wolfe’s Neck Farm, I’d also suggest the North Loop trail, which offers views of the farm’s fields.
Wolfe’s Neck Woods State Park is also popular with birdwatchers. The mix of estuary, salt marsh and forest draw many species. Even if there aren’t many rare birds in the park, the mix of volume and ease of access make it worth the trip. Of particular note are the ospreys, most notably on Googins Island just off the Casco Bay Trail.
Whether you’re looking for easy hikes to get your season started, or for some outdoors activities easy to access and close to the Portland metro, you can’t go wrong with the Bradbury Mountain and Wolfe’s Neck Woods state parks. At just $3 for access, you get lots of scenic bang for your buck.
Josh Christie is a freelance writer and lifetime outdoors enthusiast. He shares column space in Outdoors with his father, John Christie. He can be contacted at: