Daylight savings time came to an end early Sunday morning as sunset takes its months-long place somewhere between 4 and 5 p.m.

For many of us, the dim months ahead mean heading to work or school before the sun rises and getting back out to the parking lot after it sets. Morning runs and evening walks have to be accompanied by reflective clothing, layers of insulation and flashlights.

But what about those glorious nine hours of daylight? The trick to enjoying them is heading out on an adventure someplace close by – and thanks to the parks, preserves, land trusts and conservation groups in Maine, there are dozens of trails that are easy to get to, even if you’re just sneaking away from work for an hour or two.

I traveled to four of Maine’s largest cities – Portland, Lewiston, Biddeford and Bangor – to find trails within a 20-minute drive of downtown. My goal was to discover destinations that could be enjoyed during a lunch break, to squeeze the most out of the brightest hour of the day. These preserves are also open throughout the winter, and many have routes that are ideal for winter hiking, cross-country skiing, snowshoeing and fat tire biking.

Presumpscot River Preserve

Trailhead: Parking on Overset Street and Hope Avenue in Portland. This 48-acre public nature preserve offers 2.5 miles of trails along the Presumpscot River, just before its outlet into Casco Bay. Clearly marked and well-maintained, the trails travel mostly along the bank of the river, with a number of short loops into upland areas that offer interesting, steeper terrain for hikers, snowshoers and mountain bikers. Roaring Presumpscot Falls, once the location of Maine’s first dam, is less than a mile from the trailhead. The dam is long gone, and the river now flows freely to the bay. A number of rocky outcroppings are perfect spots for a quick lunch.

Falmouth Nature Preserve

Trailhead: Route 88/Foreside Road in Falmouth, 3.5 miles north of Exit 9 off I-295. The small sign that marks the preserve – in the vicinity of 177 Foreside Road – is easy to miss, but this scenic preserve is well worth seeking out. Two main trails leave the parking lot and twist through mixed forest before eventually reaching the grassy Mill Creek estuary and salt marsh. A third trail branches off farther north, almost reaching Route 1. Combined, the trails total more than two miles of varied terrain, including steep grades down to the creek, wooden walkways over wet stretches and wide flat trails where you can often find in-track cross-country skiing in the winter.

Mount Apatite Park

Trailhead: The end of Small Road in Auburn, four miles from the Androscoggin River. Mined for Maine tourmaline, quartz, feldspar, apatite and other precious minerals over the last 150-plus years, the 325-acre park offers a gold mine – pardon the pun – of recreational opportunities. You can, of course, go “rock hunting” for minerals, with restrictions; but if you aren’t interested in searching for tourmaline, you can also hike more than five miles of trails, where wildlife and interesting geological features abound.

Thorncrag Bird Sanctuary

Trailhead: The end of Highland Spring Road in Lewiston. Situated at the highest point in Lewiston, the sanctuary is an oasis of natural beauty, just minutes from the heart of Maine’s second-largest city. With more than three miles of trails and several natural and manmade landmarks – including two stone fireplaces, a gazebo, a scenic ledge and a number of ponds – Thorncrag is an ideal spot to take a few moments and escape the modern world.

East Point Sanctuary

Trailhead: Limited parking at the end of L.B. Orcutt Boulevard in Biddeford. At the eastern end of Biddeford Pool, the sanctuary has just one trail – but the views it offers of the Woods Island Lighthouse, Saco Bay and the Gulf of Maine are spectacular. Surrounded by private residences, East Point provides public access to the coast – a unique piece of protected land providing such access in the area.

Saco Heath Preserve

Trailhead: On Buxton Road in Saco, four miles north of the Saco River. When walking the mile-long trail into the preserve, it’s easy to feel like you’re a lot farther away from civilization – because this small stretch of pathway is in the middle of a 1,223-acre preserve. The boardwalk, which crosses water that can be more than a dozen feet deep, is surrounded by interesting flora: Labrador tea, cottongrass, pitch pine, black spruce, tamarack and more.

Walden-Parke Preserve

Trailhead: The end of Tamarack Trail, off Walden Parke Way in Bangor. The preserve is an interesting exhibit of how people, animals and nature can co-exist – sometimes in cooperation and sometimes at odds with each other. The well-marked 2.5-mile Blue Trail passes by a large fenced-in area where the city has installed a “beaver deceiver” to keep the preserve’s beavers from damming a culvert. Thanks to this bit of engineering, the beavers get to build and thrive throughout other areas of the preserve without flooding the trails; and humans get to explore the interesting hiking and snowshoeing trails through hardwood and softwood forest with dry feet.

Fields Pond Audubon Center

Trailhead: 216 Fields Pond Road in Holden. Just seven miles from Bangor, Field Pond is home to a nature center and store, and trails that meander through fields, forest and marsh. The Lakeshore Trail, which runs along a portion of the 85-acre pond’s eastern shore, offers particularly good views, while the Marsh Trail features boardwalks that pass through an alder swamp and balsam firs. In the winter, snowshoe rentals are available at the nature center.

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

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