June 8, 2013

Worth the Trip: Baby hikes before those main events

By Josh Christie

I don't know about you, but I need to ease my way into summer hiking season here in Maine. Despite a winter spent in Maine's outdoors, my legs don't hit the month of June ready for miles and miles of through hikes. Before I get to the business of serious hiking, I like to spend my mornings and weekends on some shorter trails.

Here in southern Maine, there are plenty of local hikes that provide impressive views without much effort. Trips up Ossipee Hill, Sabattus Mountain, and Blueberry Mountain all top out at five miles or less, making them short, family-friendly day hikes. All three are also a relatively quick trip from Portland, which means you can summit and be back with plenty of time to catch the Sea Dogs.

Ossipee Hill (sometimes charitably called "Ossipee Mountain") is in Waterboro, just beyond Gorham if you're headed west from Portland. The 1,058-foot summit is home to an MFS firetower, and on a clear day offers spectacular views of the Atlantic to the east and Mount Washington to the west.

To reach the trail up Ossipee Hill, hikers can follow McLucas Road in Waterboro. The road changes from pavement to dirt after only about 0.4 miles. The rocky road continues for 1.7 miles before hitting a rusted yellow gate, beyond which is the summit of Ossipee. Folks with good high-clearance, four-wheel drive vehicles can actually drive up McLucas all the way to the gate, but the road is in pretty rough shape.

I'd recommend hiking from the bottom of McLucas Road. From there the hike to the summit is 2.3 miles each way. (From the yellow gate, it's only a steep half-mile trip to the summit.) The peak is mostly bare rock, and houses radio towers, a few buildings and the 35-foot wooden fire tower.

The 1,253-foot Sabattus Mountain is just off Route 5 in Lovell. It's the shortest hike of this trio -- less than a mile each way -- but offers plenty of oomph thanks to a near-vertical cliff at the summit. There are also attractions geological and biological for families, among them an impressive white quartz deposit and loads of local wildlife.

From Route 5 in Lovell, hikers need only to follow the (sensibly named) Sabattus Mountain Road and Sabattus Trail Road to reach the trailhead. The loop trail, maintained by the Maine Bureau of Parks and Greater Lovell Land Trust, is both well-marked and well-traveled. Yellow blazes mark the entire loop trail. I suggest hanging to the left-hand trail when climbing and descending via the right-hand side.

With a total elevation gain of only 500 feet, the summit of Sabattus can be reached without breaking a sweat. From the top, there are spectacular views to the south and west, showcasing the mountains of neighboring New Hampshire. A much-appreciated bench also happens to sit on the summit. One word of warning -- the view is thanks to a sheer cliff that forms Sabattus' southwestern face, so families should take caution.

While the best-known peaks of the Bethel region are the eight that make up Sunday River, there are other notable mountains. There are many trails in the 12,000-acre Caribou-Speckled Mountain Wilderness; one of my favorites is a quick jaunt up Blueberry Mountain. The hike offers loads of attractions into a short distance, including waterfalls, rock slides and a swimming hole.

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