A picturesque section of the Kennebunk River borders the Wonder Brook Preserve. Carey Kish photo

The historic town of Kennebunk is bounded by the meandering flows of the Kennebunk River and Branch Brook, the Gulf of Maine, and the town lines of Lyman, Sanford and a wedge of Alfred. The Mousam River bisects the town from the Kennebunk Plains to Great Hill, “the long cut bank” at the river’s mouth, the likely Wabanaki origin of the name “Kennebunk” and an important landmark to early ocean-going native travelers.

Amongst the pine barrens, riparian river corridors, rich woodlands and wetlands, and sandy crescents of beach, the Kennebunk Land Trust, in partnership with others, has been pursuing their conservation work since 1972, protecting the town’s natural heritage and providing recreational opportunities aplenty. In a half-century, they’ve managed to conserve 1,570 acres across 28 preserves, 13 of which feature a total of 20 miles of well-marked hiking trails.

Acquired in 1990, Alewive Woods is the Kennebunk Land Trust’s signature property, and at 625 acres, it’s their largest holding as well. The forest cover is a mix of scrub pine and red pine plantation, but the scene stealer is the beautiful 45-acre expanse of Alewive Pond. Several miles of old woods roads weave through the land, and this year the trust has added a pondside boardwalk and connecting foot trails that allow for a nice loop hike.

Hope Woods features a pleasant system of easy hiking trails. Carey Kish photo

Two miles southwest of Alewive Woods is the Kennebunk Plains Wildlife Management Area, a 2,000-acre swath of sand plain grassland that’s jointly owned and managed by the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife and The Nature Conservancy. Kennebunk Land Trust was a key player in protecting this critical habitat that’s home to the endangered grasshopper sparrow, the rare black racer snake, and a threatened flowering plant – the northern blazing star.

Over the years, this hiker had visited both of these properties, but that’s about all I knew about hiking in Kennebunk until this spring, when I happened to be searching for York County hikes that might be good candidates for the second edition of “AMC’s Best Day Hikes Along the Maine Coast.” With the colorful Kennebunk Land Trust property and trail map open on my laptop, my eyes scanned the page before becoming fixed on one particular spot, Wonder Brook.

Four color-coded trails lead through the lovely 80 acres of Kennebunk Land Trust’s Wonder Brook Preserve. Carey Kish photo

The 80 acres of Wonder Brook Preserve are hemmed in by the Kennebunk River, the Pan Am Railways track and, of course, Wonder Brook. With such an intriguing name, the place just had to be pretty special, I figured. Inquiring over the phone with Kennebunk Land Trust’s executive director, Sandy Gilbreath, it wasn’t long into the conversation before I was invited to come to Kennebunk for a walk and talk to see what’s what.


On a cool, bluebird sky morning in early spring, I joined Sandy and two Kennebunk Land Trust board members, Lori Beath and Tony Liguori, for a sweet saunter through the wonderfully secluded wilds of Wonder Brook Preserve, just a scant half-mile from the crossroads of downtown. The winding brook, the placid river, the big pines, the whistle of a passing Amtrak, the great company of dedicated conservationists – all combined for a fine outing. Wonder Brook is a real winner of a hike.

In late May, I returned to Kennebunk to wander about some more, starting with another amble at Wonder Brook. At the trailhead kiosk, I noticed several posted quotes that I’d missed on my earlier visit, and this one by John Muir, the noted naturalist, author, preservationist and mountain rambler, really resonated: “Come to the woods, for here is rest.” And I did just that for a good spell at the trailside bench overlooking the Kennebunk River halfway through the hike.

The half-mile trail along the Mousam River at Oxbow Preserve is one you’ll wish was miles longer. Carey Kish photo.

At Oxbow Preserve, I meandered through tall pines and graceful oaks along a half-mile stretch of the Mousam River. Nearby at Hope Woods, the trail from Fletcher Street leads through more pleasant woods on its way to pretty Wiggins Pond. There was so much more to see and do, but with daylight waning and the dinner hour approaching, the other cool places under the care of the Kennebunk Land Trust would have to wait.

Do put Kennebunk on your hiking to-do list this summer or fall. Kennebunk Land Trust features a busy calendar that includes guided walks the first Saturday of every month, naturalist walks, bird walks, trail work days, an environmental speaker series and much more. Check kennebunklandtrust.org for event specifics, trail maps and volunteer opportunities.

Carey Kish of Mount Desert Island is the author of “Beer Hiking New England,” “AMC’s Best Day Hikes Along the Maine Coast” and the “Maine Mountain Guide.” Follow more of Carey’s adventures on Facebook and on Instagram @careykish.

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