Land trusts are the underrated stars of Maine’s outdoor landscape. Nearly 90 nonprofit land trust organizations dot the state, from Kittery to Aroostook County. While state and national parks are much more visible and widely promoted, the network of land trusts holds some of Maine’s best hiking.

This panoply of land trusts is aided greatly by the Maine Land Trust Network, a program of the Maine Coast Heritage Trust that was founded in 1995. The organization brings together members of the dozens of Maine land trusts to share information, collaborate and craft programs, services and resources to better all the trusts.

As a hiker on the outside looking in, the MLTN is most useful as a hub of information about Maine’s trusts. The organization’s website – MLTN.org – lists all of Maine’s land trusts alphabetically or by county, and offers a keyword search to find features or locations. From there you can find everything you need to know about outdoor sites.

Finding a list of nearly 90 trusts too overwhelming? Here are some of my picks.

Whaleboat Island, Harpswell Heritage Land Trust. Spun out of the Harpswell Historical Society in 1983, it was created to acquire an easement for the Tarr-Eaton House in Harpswell. Since then the nonprofit trust’s mission has expanded and it conserves more than 1,400 acres on a mix of wholly owned land and easements on private property. My favorite of the conserved lands with public access is Whaleboat Island. The largest undeveloped island in Casco Bay, 122-acre Whaleboat is accessible only by boat, but available for day use as well as camping.

Pleasant Mountain, Loon Echo Land Trust. Loon Echo protects more than 6,200 acres in the Sebago Lake region, with 28 miles of hiking trails. The largest preserve is Pleasant Mountain in Bridgton and Denmark. From Mountain Road in Bridgton, hikers can hit the summit via the scenic Ledges Trail, and travel to the nearby Southwest Summit, Big Bald Peak, or the top of the Shawnee Mountain ski area. Though there aren’t any camping sites to speak of, overnighters can stay at the hike-in, hike-out yurts near Shawnee’s peak with a reservation.

Ragged Mountain, Georges River Land Trust. Growing up in midcoast maine, the trails of the Georges River watershed were frequent family destinations. The most impressive is Ragged Mountain, a 3.2-mile hike that showcases the summit of Ragged Mountain (home of the Camden Snow Bowl), and views of Mirror Lake and the ocean. For more ambitious hikers, the GRLT created the Georges Highland Path. Linking nearly a dozen of the land trust’s trails, the path is a 50-mile network from Montville to Thomaston that can be tackled as one big hike or a number of smaller ones.

Cascade Stream Gorge, Rangeley Lakes Heritage Trust. Since its founding in the early 1990s, the RLHT has conserved nearly 13,000 acres in the Rangeley region. Among these are 45 miles of water frontage and over a dozen islands, not to mention idyllic peaks. My favorite site is a relatively modest one – the 1.5 mile Cascade Stream Gorge. Located just off Route 4 in Sandy River Plantation, the gorge drops 90 feet into Cascade Stream. The trail is a great, low-impact hike to see a number of waterfalls, as well as local flora and wildlife. While the trail is mostly on bedrock, it is steep, so watch your step.

Josh Christie is a freelance writer and lifetime outdoors enthusiast. He shares column space in Outdoors with his father, John Christie. Josh can be contacted at:

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