One of the great things about Maine is you don’t have to assault the 4,000-footers in the western Longfellow Mountains – sometimes referred to as the Blue Mountains because of their shade – or scramble the headlands along the Down East coast, or stroll the miles of beach between Portland and Kittery to really get a taste of the state and enjoy fabulous outdoor summer fun.

It comes as a surprise that right under our noses, sometimes in unexpected places, are gems that deserve to be explored and savored. Perhaps they’re retreats we’ve never heard of, places that never come up on our radar as we plan our outdoor adventures.

From one end of the state to the other there are preserves, parks and sanctuaries, developed by mostly nonprofit and public entities, that can offer a unique outdoor experience, and in many cases consume an entire summer day.

If you’re looking for an ocean view, an invigorating ascent or a lakeside picnic spot, all are within close proximity. Here are three special destinations in the midcoast that are well worth the trip and can be knocked off in one memorable day.

BEECH HILL PRESERVE

A moderately easy hike will take you to the top of this 800-foot hill in Rockport that requires an elevation gain of only about 300 feet. The reward is a panoramic view of Penobscot Bay, the Camden Hills and the St. George peninsula.

The Preserve is one of the stops on the Maine Birding Trail, and nearly 300 acres are managed for bird habitat and organic blueberry production. On the summit sits Beech Nut, a sod-roofed stone hut that’s listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

In addition to the view, you’ll be astounded by the variety of bird life that inhabits the grasslands, blueberry fields and lowland forests.

Three miles of hiking trails traverse the area, which is reached via Route 1 a little south of its intersection with Route 90. Keep your eye out for Beech Hill Road on your right, which will take you to an ample parking lot.

There’s a seasonal farm stand operated by the Coastal Mountains Land Trust where you can buy, in late July and August, Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association certified organic blueberries that have been harvested from the preserve’s 25-acre berry field.

FERNALD’S NECK PRESERVE

Less than a half hour north of Beech Hill, in Lincolnville, Fernald’s Neck Preserve juts out into Megunticook Lake, and offers several miles of easy trails, with the greatest elevation gain being only a couple hundred feet.

This Nature Conservancy preserve features footpaths that meander through rolling hills cloaked with hemlock and red and white pine.

The clear waters of Megunticook Lake are often in sight along the way, and several side trails lead to water access points such as Mountain View and Balance Rock, a massive glacial erratic resembling a haystack that was deposited when the glaciers retreated eons ago.

The preserve is reached by going about five miles north on Mountain Street (Route 52) in Camden to Youngtown Corner, dominated by the Youngtown Inn. Proceed only a few hundred yards, then turn left on the Fernalds Neck Road and follow it to its end in a parking area for the preserve.

There’s a restriction against dogs but everyone else is welcome.

TANGLEWOOD

This treasure lies in the most northerly section of Camden Hills State Park, occupying an attractive piece of terrain bordering the Ducktrap River north of Route 173 in Lincolnville.

The trail system meanders over four miles of gently rolling topography and along the way you’ll spot an Adirondack style lean-to as well as a suspension bridge that spans the river.

Since this section of the Park serves as a 4-H youth camp in the summer, visitors are urged to avoid the trails that are close to the camp buildings.

Tanglewood is easy to find by following Ducktrap Road that departs to the west from Route 1 a very short distance north of Lincolnville Beach, then turning right on Tanglewood Road. Or turn on Ducktrap Road off Route 173 if you’re traveling the short distance east from Fernald’s Neck.

John Christie is a former ski racer and ski area manager and owner, a ski historian and member of the Maine Ski Hall of Fame. Along with his sons, Josh and Jake, he writes about great Maine destinations for outdoors enthusiasts. He can be reached at:

[email protected]

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