1-minute hike: Mount Megunticook in Camden

Difficulty: Moderate-strenuous. Hiking to the summit and back down on Mt. Megunticook Trail is about 4 miles and includes a few steep, rocky sections of trail. Hikers can opt for a longer loop hike by exploring the mountain on the Ridge Trail or Slope Trail.

megunticook1115-1How to get there: Mount Megunticook is located in Camden Hills State Park, which located at 280 Belfast Road (Route 1) in Camden, just north of the downtown area. Enter the inland portion of the park, on the west side of the road. (If you are driving toward downtown Camden from the north, it will be a right run.)

Soon after the turn is a gatehouse where you’ll pay a small entrance fee ($1.50-$4.50, depending on your age and residency). During winter months, this gatehouse is not manned; leave your fee in the locked compartment near the gate after parking in the winter parking area to the left.

megunticook1115-2Mt. Megunticook Trail begins on the west side of the park campground, which is just beyond the gatehouse. You can walk up the campground road to reach the trailhead, which is marked with a sign that reads “Mt. Megunticook Foot Trail.”

Another option is to walk (or in the summer, you can drive) past the gatehouse and turn left onto Mount Battie Road. After 0.2 mile, turn right into the hiker’s parking area, where you’ll find the trailhead for Nature Trail. Follow that trail for 0.1 mile and you’ll come to an intersection; turn right and hike 0.3 mile to Mt. Megunticook Trail; then turn left and hike up the mountain.

Ocean Lookout on Mount Megunticook

Ocean Lookout on Mount Megunticook

Information: The highest of the Camden Hills, Mount Megunticook rises 1,385 feet above sea level at the heart of Camden Hills State Park. Though the mountain’s summit  is forested, there are several open granite ledges located along its slopes that offer stunning views of the Penobscot Bay.

Several hiking trails and multi-use trails explore Mount Megunticook, forming a vast network that can easily be navigated by using a park trail map.

Many people hike the mountain on the Mt. Megunticook Trail, which winds up the mountain’s eastern slope through a mixed forest that includes many tall oak trees. The first leg of the trail climbs the mountain gradually but steadily and includes a few steep sections where stone stairs have been constructed for hikers to use.

megunticook1115-8The trails of the park are marked with blue blazes painted on trees and rocks, as well as rock piles called cairns.

After 0.8 mile, you’ll come to a trail intersection where Adam’s Lookout Trail veers off to the left and Mt. Megunticook Trail continues straight ahead. Both trails will bring you toward the summit. In fact, the two trails reconnect about 0.5 miles up the mountain, so you can choose to hike either one.

Adam's Lookout

Adam’s Lookout

If you turn left onto Adam’s Lookout Trail, you’ll notice that the way becomes increasingly steep and rocky as you near the top of the mountain. In 0.3 mile, you’ll come to an intersection with the Tableland Trail (on your left), which leads south to the famous Mount Battie. Remaining on Adam’s Lookout Trail, you’ll soon reach the actual lookout, which is a granite slope that offers a partial view of the ocean over the branches of a few short trees. In late fall, this view opens up after the leaves fall.

Oreo and I at a view reached by a side trail near Ocean Lookout

Oreo and I at a view reached by a side trail near Ocean Lookout

In 0.5 mile, you’ll reconnect with the Mt. Megunticook Trail at Ocean Lookout, which is a series of granite outcroppings along the top of the mountain’s precipitous southwest slope. Exercise caution while taking in the views. A few unofficial side trails lead to some of the most dramatic (but dangerous) viewpoints.

From Ocean Lookout, you can look southeast to Penobscot Bay and nearby islands, including Vinalhaven and North Haven. Inland, you can see Mount Battie and the road leading up it, as well as Bald Mountain and Ragged Mountain. And if you’re wondering what that large building with the green roof is down below, it’s the Wayfarer’s Marine Annex.

The trail between Ocean Lookout and the summit

The trail between Ocean Lookout and the summit

Continuing on Mt. Megunticook Trail, it’s another 0.8 mile to the summit, and this last leg of the hike is well worth the effort. This section of the trail travels through a shaded evergreen forest of spruce, balsam fir, mosses and lichens. There, you’ll be kept company by red squirrels and chickadees year round.

Just before the summit, the trail intersects with the Slope Trail (leading off to your right). Continue to the summit, which is marked with a sign atop a large pile of stones.

After reaching the summit, you can simply retrace your steps for a hike that is approximately 4 miles long. Or you can opt for a 5.1-mile loop hike by taking the Slope Trail and looping back to the parking lot on the multi-use trail. Or you can opt for a 6.1-mile loop hike by taking the Ridge Trail (which starts just past the summit) and looping back to the parking lot on the Jack Williams Trail and Mt. Megunticook Trail.

Summit sign

Summit sign

Camden Hills State Park, open year round, is home to about 30 miles of hiking trails and a 112-site camping area. Day use in the park is restricted to 9 a.m. to sunset, unless otherwise signed at the gate.

Dogs are permitted in park, but they must be attended to at all times and kept on a leash not exceeding four feet in length. According to literature posted on park kiosks, off-leash dogs have recently caused problems in the park.

Activities allowed in the park include hiking, cross-country skiing, camping, horseback riding, hunting, off-road biking, snowmobiling and snowshoeing. However, some of these activities are restricted to certain trails or areas. To learn more about the rules of the park, visit www.maine.gov/camdenhills or call 236-3109 or 236-0849 (off season).

 A snowy tree at the Ocean Lookout, a ledge on Mount Megunticook, on Dec. 27, 2011.

A snowy tree at the Ocean Lookout, a ledge on Mount Megunticook, on Dec. 27, 2011.

Personal note: A little less than four years ago, two days before Christmas, I snowshoed up Mount Megunticook. I was alone on that cold, cloudy day, and the mountain was covered in a deep layer of snow. During the hike, I lost (and recovered) a mitten, slipped on hidden patches of ice, and caught only glimpses of the steely grey ocean through shifting clouds.

The mountain looked quite different on Sunday, Nov. 29, when I returned for my second hike to its summit. The sky was blue, the sun shining, and the forest floor was covered in a crunchy layer of oak and beech leaves, not snow. And perhaps most important, I wasn’t alone. My husband Derek, and our dog, Oreo, hiked the mountain with me. It’s amazing how much can change in just a few years.

Oreo and Derek at Ocean Lookout

Oreo and Derek at Ocean Lookout

It was a brisk day, with temperatures in the 30s, but the sun offered some warmth as we hiked through the deciduous forest and lingered on the mountain’s granite ledges. Along the way, we came across several other visitors — people hiking in groups of two, three and four, some with dogs.

The dark, evergreen woods surrounding the summit of the mountain was my favorite part of the hike, though it was noticeably colder in that quiet forest than out on the sunny ledges. There we stepped over pools of ice, which had frozen in interesting geometric patterns, and listened to the scolding chatter of red squirrels. Mosses and lichens carpeted the forest floor, crept up tree trunks and covered boulders. In the brown world of November, we were surrounded by green.

More photos:

Aislinn Sarnacki

About Aislinn Sarnacki

Aislinn is a Bangor Daily News reporter for the Outdoors pages, focusing on outdoor recreation and Maine wildlife. Visit her main blog at actoutwithaislinn.bangordailynews.com.