Sunday, August 18, 2019

Seal Watching at Fort Point State Park (plus Fort Knox and Penobscot Narrows Observatory)

Where:  Fort Point State Park is located in Stockton Springs.  Fort Knox and the Observatory are located in Prospect.  The parks are within 15 minutes of each other and make a nice combined trip.

What:  Fort Point has a lighthouse, a historic earthenwork fort, views of the Penobscot River and Penobscot Bay, picnic facilities, hiking trails and a small beach.  Fort Knox is a large fort with views of the Penobscot River.  The Penobscot Narrows Observatory provides incredible views of the surrounding area from a height of over 400 feet.  
Trails:  At 120 acres, Fort Point is not large but has around a mile of trails.  Fort Knox has few "trails" but walking the entire property including the fort tunnels is over a mile.  The observatory has no trails but a small walkway, an overlook and an elevator to the top.  A paved road connects Fort Knox with the Observatory and can be driven or walked  

Tick Index:   For Fort Point, likely low to medium due to grassy trails, although the trails were well maintained.  For Fort Knox, low provided you stay on the walkways and paths. 


My son and I visited Fort Point State Park today.  We were treated to a group of approximately 10 seals and numerous seabirds feeding offshore in the outgoing tide.  The weather turned sunny just as we arrived at the park.  Here is a trail map from our Fort Point meanderings today.  We didn't hike all of the trails in the park as we had both run in the Champion for the Cure race the day before and had just come from exploring Fort Knox.   

I've covered Fort Knox in a previous post, although the last time we visited both the fort and the observatory were closed for the season.  Today both were open.  If you plan to visit Fort Knox, I'd recommend bringing a flashlight to explore the dark tunnels.  A trail map of our Fort Knox ramblings is here.    

Fort Point Lighthouse

Watching seals from the shoreline at Fort Point
Beach at Fort Point State Park.

Beach at Fort Point State Park.

The seals were clearly visible from our binoculars.  Here they look a bit like the Loch Ness Monster. 
View from the top of Fort Knox, with the Penobscot Narrows Bridge in the background.

Inside one of many tunnels at Fort Knox.
View from atop the Observatory.

Sunday, August 11, 2019

Sears Island Preserve

Where:  Searsport, Maine

What:  A variety of trail systems featuring coastal, woodland, shrub and wetland environments. 

Trails:  There are a number of trails running through the preserve, including a paved road, a double track, and narrow single track trails, some of which appear overgrown at the trailheads.   I did roughly 6.4 miles out to a cell phone tower and then around to a jetty and small beach.  There was little elevation gain.  Here is the trail map for my hike today.  For a map of trails in the park, visit the Friends of Sears Island website here.

Tick Index:  Low on paved path, moderate on double track due to high grass in areas, likely high on smaller trails due to high grass.

I went to Sears Island not knowing what to expect and without having done much advanced planning.  I was pleasantly surprised by what I found there.

A small causeway leads out to the island, and the road is blocked by a gate.  A paved roads runs most of the way to a jetty and small beach, and a double track trail splits off from the road around 1/2 mile into the island.  The map for the island showed "tower" on it, so I headed in this direction, hoping there would be a tower to climb at the end.  Unfortunately, there is a cell tower at the end, but the 2 mile hike was enjoyable nevertheless.  The path was overgrown in parts, however, so I found myself doing frequent tick checks (I didn't find any).   

After retracing my steps back to the paved road, I headed down to the jetty.  The paved portion goes most, but not all, of the way to the jetty.  When the pavement ends, it turns into a well-maintained pathway.  The path ends shortly before the shore with a short overgrown trail leading out to the beach and jetty.  

There are a number of smaller side trails from both the tower and jetty trails, but I found many of these were overgrown with tall grass.  

The island has an interesting history, which is explained in detail at the Friends website here.  Planned industrial development led to the causeway and road being built on the island. 

During my hike, I observed an osprey, bald eagle and pileated woodpecker. It was also possible to hear the clanging of the bell on a nearby buoy.  The preserve was not very crowded - there were a couple of runners and dog walkers.
The beach and jetty.

The path to the jetty, once the road ends.

The paved road.

The double track trail to the tower.

Saturday, August 10, 2019

Trail Running in Bangor City Forest

I've been trail running the past two weeks as I've started training for a half-marathon in November.  Mostly this has been in the Bangor City Forest (5 mile route here, 4 mile routes here, here and here).  This is a great place to run since the trail system allows for a variety of different routes.  Bug spray and a hat (to prevent flies from attacking your head) come in handy.

The forest has miles of uncrowded trails.
Trail maps are located throughout the forest.
Bug spray is essential when visiting the forest.  This is the only natural product that I found actually works.

Sunday, August 4, 2019

Isleboro and Vinalhaven

My younger son and I explored Maine's coastal islands this weekend, visiting Isleboro on Saturday and Vinalhaven on Sunday.  


The ferry to Isleboro runs every hour from Lincolnville, and only takes 20 minutes to make the crossing.  One thing I noticed on both the Isleboro and Vinalhaven ferries was that many people remain in their cars or in the cabin of the ferry during the crossing.  I stayed outside and was rewarded with views of harbor porpoises, seals and osprey.

Once on Isleboro, we visited the Turtle Head Preserve.  This is a small but beautiful preserve with expansive views of Penobscot Bay.  The preserve is at the end of Turtle Head Road.  There is no sign until you reach the parking lot for the preserve, and Turtle Head Road is marked as a private road.

Here is a trail map from our hike.

View from the northern tip of Isleboro in Turtle Head Preserve

The trails through Turtle Head Preserve are well defined.
After grabbing lunch at the local grocery store, we visited the Grindle Point Lighthouse.  There is a small museum (free, donations accepted) but the main attraction is climbing up inside the lighthouse itself.  From the top of the lighthouse there are 360 degree views of Isleboro, Warren Island, the ferry terminal and Penobscot Bay. 

View from atop Grindle Point Lighthouse.


The ferry from Rockland to Vinalhaven takes 75 minutes.  (Useful note: call a day in advance to get a "line number" from the Vinalhaven terminal, since you will need that to leave the island.)

Our first stop on Vinalhaven were Little Tip Toe and Big Tip Toe Mountains.  These are short hikes that lead to excellent views.  Little Tip Toe overlooks Crockett Cove and Isleboro.  From Big Tip Toe, you can see West Penobscot Bay and the mountains around Camden.  We parked at the small parking lot near Little Tip Toe and walked from one to the other along a trail.  Here is a map of our hike.
Summit of Little Tip Toe.

View from Little Tip Toe

View of Camden Hills from Big Tip Toe

Both summit trails were short but steep.  This is the trail to Big Tip Toe.

Sitting on top of Big Tip Toe enjoying the view.

After touring the island and getting lunch, we headed to Lanes Island Preserve.  Lanes Island Preserve is a coastal preserve with views of the island's rocky shoreline and access to a small sandy beach and picnic area.  A series of trails run through the preserve.  Here is a map of our hike. 

There is little shade along the trails at Lanes Island Preserve.

Saturday, July 27, 2019

Dorothea Dix Park (Hampden)

It was a nice evening so my son and I took our dog for a walk at Dorothea Dix Park in Hampden.  I last visited the park in February when there was snow covering the ground, so it was nice to come back and see the trail system.  We did a short hike (0.8 miles round-trip) on the Locust Trail.

This was a nice short wooded walk.  There are options to extend the hike using different trails.  The park also has picnic tables, a small playground and portable toilets.

Here is a trail map.

Oreo, our 8 year old cocker spaniel. 

The Locust Trail is wide and covered with wood chips.

Near the entrance there is a small playground and portable toilets.

There are also covered picnic tables and a grill.

Parenting and Physics Lessons in the Great Pond Mountain Wildlands

"We should have went to UMaine."  Those were the words my son said to me as we hiked back up to retrieve our car.

Admittedly, the ride down was fun.  Our speed helped us handle the 85 degree temperatures and lack of shade, and prevented attacks from the swarming flies we encountered on the trip back up.

Valley Road runs through the center of the Great Pond Mountain Wildlands.  It is a flat and wide dirt road that runs downhill as it heads north from Route One in Orland.  I've hiked here a few times this year and when my son and I were discussing places to bike, I recommended this over his recommendation of the flat paved trails at UMaine.  It seemed like a good idea at the time.  I didn't remember any significant elevation changes on the road itself.

The trail descends around 300 feet over a two mile stretch, which doesn't feel that overwhelming as you are traveling down it.  It provides nice views of the surrounding mountains when you aren't looking for washouts and oncoming cars traveling in the other direction.

Here is a trail map if you are motivated to replicate our journey after reading my description.  We rode halfway back up and then decided to lock our bikes to a tree and hike the remainder back to the car. 

Note that Valley Road is open to traffic and has a few blind spots around bends in the road.

The first half went really well for some reason....
The ride down.  It was the best of times....

The road provides nice views of the surrounding mountains.

Thursday, July 25, 2019

Kayaking the Penobscot - Hampden to Bangor

My younger son and I kayaked the Penobscot River from the public boat ramp in Hampden to the outlet of the Kenduskeag Stream (here is a map).

We started out in a relatively natural setting and observed a bald eagle and several immature bald eagles in a nest while still in Hampden.  Once we turned a corner, however, the river quickly became industrial and commercial along its shores.  We made it north past the Darling's Waterfront Pavilion and were treated to Chris Stapleton doing a sound check before his concert and then a live band outside of Sea Dog Brewing.

It was a great day for kayaking.

On the right upper branches of the tall center tree sits a bald eagle.  The nest was nearby off-camera.

There are a number of man-made islands along the river.

We aren't really sure what this facility is but there was a tugboat and a large barge.