One of the longest hiking routes along the coast of Maine can be found within the densely populated boundaries of Bath. There the Whiskeag Trail traverses three conservation preserves and several municipally owned properties on its five-mile journey through the wooded outskirts of town, much of it along Whiskeag Creek.

The trail is a project of Bath Trails, itself a collaboration of the Kennebec Estuary Land Trust, the city of Bath, Healthy Maine Partnerships, local schools, mountain bikers, landowners and citizens.

“The paths that now form the Whiskeag Trail were known and used by local people for many years on an informal basis,” said Carrie Kinne, executive director of Kennebec Estuary Land Trust. “In 2007-08, a group organized to make the route more official. It was quite a community effort.”

Bath Trails worked for four years to establish a formal trail corridor and create continuous trail connections with adequate signage. Using 200 acres of Kennebec Estuary Land Trust holdings at Thorne Head, Sewall Woods and Whiskeag Creek, plus 450 acres of city land at Bath Landfill, Bath Public Works, Oak Grove Cemetery, Edward J. McMann Outdoor Athletic Complex, Bath Middle School and Bath Area Family YMCA, the Whiskeag Trail was finally opened to the public in 2010.

Close to downtown yet with a backcountry feel along much of its length, the Whiskeag Trail not only offers fine hiking but opportunities for running, mountain biking, birding and other low-impact outdoor recreation, all the while protecting important wetland wildlife habitat that is home to several threatened species of plants and fish. Cross country skiing and snowshoeing are popular on the trail in winter.

Whiskeag Creek and its namesake trail get their names from a native Abenaki word meaning “a creek that runs dry at low tides.” The fresh water of Whiskeag Creek flows north from its source at Lilly Pond not far from downtown Bath to join the brackish estuarine waters of the Kennebec River at Thorne Head.

This hiker has done a fair amount of trekking in Europe, and I’ve found that a hike on the Whiskeag Trail is not unlike a country walk in Britain, with equal parts wild terrain with a remote character as well as a more civilized portion with hedgerows, a cemetery and ball fields.

The excellent route-finding signs along the Whiskeag Trail add a distinctly European touch to the pathway. Walkers can get away from it all amid the forests of Thorne Head and Sewall Woods, all the while enjoying the wildlife and scenery along the scenic waters of Whiskeag Creek.

Further on, however, the trail transitions into a more suburban stroll where residents may be seen going about their daily business. The contrast over the five miles from end-to-end is truly delightful.

“The Whiskeag Trail is a remarkable achievement and the more people that know about it the more popular it becomes,” noted Kinne. “I can’t keep enough trail brochures in the rack at our office on Front Street. It’s one of our signature preservation efforts.”

Trailhead parking for the Whiskeag Trail is found at the Thorne Head and Sewell Woods preserves, at the McMann athletic fields and the Bath YMCA. A car or bike spot will be necessary if you plan to hike the entire five-mile distance, but shorter out-and-back excursions along sections of the trail are fine, too.

The Whiskeag Trail may one day connect into a larger trail network ranging from Brunswick and Topsham to Gardiner and Augusta – an exciting prospect.

Since 1999, the Kennebec Estuary Land Trust has protected more than 2,500 acres in its service area, which includes Merrymeeting Bay, the lower Kennebec River and the surrounding uplands. Hiking trails are found on a variety of its preserves. Trust lands are open from dawn to dusk year-round. Dogs are welcome on leash. For more information, go to kennebecestuary.org, or call 207-442-8400.

Carey Kish of Southwest Harbor is editor of the AMC Maine Mountain Guide. Follow Carey’s adventures in his Maineiac Outdoors blog at:

mainetoday.com/blog/maineiac-outdoors