The rugged glaciated coastline of Maine is unique among U.S. states. Countless inlets, mountains, lakes and thousands of offshore islands give Maine visitors and residents unlimited opportunities for outdoor exploration and recreation in all seasons. Snowshoe enthusiasts can enjoy numerous treks along streams, through forests, along the Atlantic coast and on mountain trails. One of the areas with outstanding trails for snowshoeing is the Blue Hill Peninsula in Hancock County, fifteen miles south of Ellsworth and about 35 miles from Mount Desert Island and Acadia National Park on state highway 162 in the easternmost coastal area of the state known as “Down East.” It is an ideal day trip destination for persons in mid-coast Maine, or combine several hikes here and in nearby Acadia National Park for a weeklong winter snowshoeing adventure!
Headquartered in the seaside village of Blue Hill is Blue Hill Heritage Trust, one of three local trusts that administer and maintain trails in natural areas. It is responsible for 19 trails on the peninsula. One of the most popular hikes in any season is Blue Hill Mountain, located on the north side of Mountain Road, one mile north of Blue Hill village. The ancient volcanic peak dominates the local skyline, visible for several miles. Rising to 934 feet (385 meters) from Blue Hill Harbor, this preserved area has 4.5 miles (7.2 km) of trails that wind through meadows and mixed hardwood, spruce and pine forest.
After a recent snowfall, I drove to the parking area across the road from Hayes Trail head at the highest point of Mountain Road. Another, smaller parking area (for four or five cars) alongside the road is at the start of Osgood Trail, about 500 meters from Hayes Trail, and not far from state route 15 leading into Blue Hill. I chose the Hayes Trail because of its gentler slope and lack of stone steps, several of which are found on the Osgood Trail, and which make it difficult to navigate on snowshoes, even with relatively deep snow cover.
Because it is hidden under a fresh blanket of snow, the Hayes Trail is not apparent at the start of the hike. The trail crosses a large meadow that in summer bears great quantities of wild blueberries and native flowers. Once across the field, which stretches for 200 meters, I attempted to follow a skier on “skishoes” who easily crossed on a small connecting trail between the two main trails. Unfortunately, brambles and other vines snared my snowshoes, making it more of a struggle and less enjoyable than by staying on the main trail. I then veered toward the service road on the eastern edge of the meadow that parallels the trail, which gave better support, as the new snow was very dry and fluffy, causing me to sink a bit farther than expected. The service road, like the trail, passes through an area of incline surrounded by beautiful woods, but is a gentler slope. On this particular day the tree boughs were weighed down by the previous night’s snowfall. Entering the forest, the only sounds were those of my breathing and the snowshoes finding traction. A look back before being enveloped by the woods gave a view of the harbor below, and Mount Desert Island and Acadia National Park to the southeast, dark menacing clouds hanging overhead.
About two thirds of the way to the summit, the service road meets the Hayes Trail, the intersection noted by a sign that indicates the relative ease of each. I was the fourth person to be on the trail that morning, and no one had chosen to follow the steeper Hayes Trail. Tracks of small rodents and deer crossed the trail and disappeared into the trees. As the trail continued upward, large boulders littered the area, erratics dropped by a retreating glacier many millennia ago. Another snowshoe hiker and his energetic dog passed as I stopped to take photos, and soon disappeared into the trees on their way to the summit.
The one-mile (1.6 km) combined service road and Hayes Trail is a moderate climb, and takes from 40-60 minutes on snowshoes. I took a little over an hour, stopping to rest occasionally and admire the scenery, and to take numerous photographs. At the summit is a clearing with a sweeping view of the many offshore islands and Blue Hill Bay.
The return to the trailhead was somewhat treacherous due to the snowy incline, and my thigh muscles worked overtime to slow the tendency to descend too quickly. As I reached the meadow, two young snowboarders were on their way up the slope, adding another winter recreational dimension to Blue Hill Mountain. All told, including the lingering at the summit, my round trip hike took about two hours. Other trails that connect to the Osgood and Hayes trails will take the adventurous down the other (northeast) side of the mountain or a mile south to the middle of town behind the post office.
In winter there are fewer restaurants open than in the busy summers when part time residents swell the village of Blue Hill’s population threefold. However, there are cozy breakfast cafes, pubs, and excellent restaurants open year round. Or, head to Ellsworth for more selections. For information on these and other trails on Down East Maine’s Blue Hill Peninsula, visit the Blue Hill Heritage trust website at http://bluehillheritagetrust.org/trails/.