There’s a trio of factors that can, without fail, draw me to a new hike. Two are simply geographical; if there’s a waterfall or a trail above the tree line, I’m there.

The third is a bit different – history. If there’s some sort of cultural feature that makes a mountain stand out – the quirkier, the better – I’m headed for that summit.

This is what drew me to the Sawyer Mountain Highlands, a small trail network managed by the Francis Small Heritage Trust that straddles the Limerick-Limington town line.

The historical curiosity? A landlocked lighthouse of sorts. In the 1700s, a whale oil light burned at the summit of Sawyer Mountain to direct sailors navigating Portland Harbor. Unlike a traditional lighthouse (which warns sailors away from the rocky coast), the whale oil light on Sawyer’s summit and others like it helped ships in Casco Bay safely bring their boats into harbor. While the light is long gone, and a monument later erected on the summit is also gone – destroyed by lightning in the early 1900s – the story was more than enough to pique my interest.

I approached Sawyer from the Limerick trailhead, located on Sawyer Mountain Road. To reach the trailhead, take Norton Road off Route 11 in Limerick. Norton quickly changes into Coffin Hill Road, and then to Sawyer Mountain Road. About a mile past the Libby and Son orchard at Emerys Corner, there’s a parking area on the right.

From the trailhead, it’s a 1.2-mile climb from the parking area to the summit. It’s a well-traveled trail, mostly built on old logging roads. It’s not a terribly difficult hike, though it does climb steadily. While the trail would be easy to follow without any signage (there’s little chance you’d lose your bearings on the wide, straight path), the “blazes” are one of Sawyer’s most charming elements. Rather than metal tackers or paint blazes to mark the path, the route is marked with bright yellow turtles, carved into wooden signs along the trail.

The biggest challenge hiking in mid-July was the insects – Sawyer Mountain had, by far, some of the most aggressive horseflies and mosquitoes I’ve encountered this season. This might have a bit to do with a couple spots of standing water on the old road, which divert the trail but are not impassable. Bring your bug spray.

After about a mile, the trail meets the Limington approach (below) and turns sharply right toward Sawyer’s summit. At the 1,213-foot peak, a sign commemorates both the whale oil light and the memorial that were once there. Except for a bit of remaining stone foundation, the summit is undeveloped and nicely cleared. There’s some evidence of campfires and campers in the open grass, and an overlook provides a striking panorama to the southeast, with a clear view to the Atlantic.

You can also approach Sawyer from the east, starting at a trailhead on Route 117 in Limington. This approach is slightly longer, at 1.8 miles. Like the approach from the southwest, the use of decommissioned roads makes for a clear, easy trail. The longer Limington approach does benefit from a few historical attractions, including the Estes Cemetery and the 1940s hunting camp of Sherwood Libby, one of the founders of the Francis Small Heritage Trust.

The trust, founded in 1990, protects nearly 1,500 acres, mostly through direct ownership but with some easements. In addition to the 1,400 acres on Sawyer Mountain, the trust protects the Jagolinzer Preserve (a loop at the intersection of Routes 25 and 117 that includes a waterfall), Bald Ledge (an overlook in Porter, accessible from the north end of Colcord Pond), The Heath (a wetland in Limerick and Cornish), and the Poulin Preserve (between Clarks Bridge Road and the Little Ossipee River in Limerick). More information about the trust’s holdings, as well as information on how to support the trust, can be found at FSHT.org.

Josh Christie is a freelance writer living in Portland. Along with his brother, Jake, he writes about great Maine destinations for outdoors enthusiasts. Josh can be reached at:

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