Ask most Maine hikers to name their favorite trail and they’ll usually pick one from one of the three major trail networks in the state: Acadia National Park, Baxter State Park or a section of Maine Appalachian Trail. But, since the early 1990s, a lesser known area has built a trail network that rivals the others. It’s located in the last place that would occur to some as a hiking destination.
They’re called the Cobscook Trails and are scattered along the Down East coast between Cutler and Calais. From them, on a number of hikes, hikers look out over the Bay of Fundy, Passamaquoddy Bay, Cobscook Bay and other incredible water views.
This network features extraordinary scenery, abundant wildlife and crowd-free footpaths for every level of experience. There are a couple of small mountains, but for the most part they are coastal shoreline hikes. There are more than 40 miles of trails situated on 19 different conserved properties, including Moosehorn National Wildlife Refuge in Maine and Roosevelt Campobello International Park in New Brunswick.
I visited the region last weekend and sampled a few of the hikes detailed in a great little guide book, Cobscook Trails, which I picked up in Calais for $7 at the Calais Bookshop on Main Street. The 56-page guide is indispensable and is filled with accurate road maps of the region, detailed trail descriptions and maps, distances, difficulty, mileage, natural highlights, photos and more. I referred to it constantly throughout my hikes. Almost all the trails are located on side roads from Route 1 and many are not indicated from the main road, so I needed the maps in the guide to find most of the hikes except one.
Mowry Beach, Lubec
It may not seem right that this path should really be called a hike. It’s more of a beach walk. Still, this is a unique, short path that is handicap accessible within walking distance of the town of Lubec. You can pick up a sandwich in town and walk the beach to a lunch spot. The path starts at the end of Pleasant Street in Lubec. Pleasant Street is the last right you take in the U.S. before crossing the international bridge to Campobello Island.
From the kiosk and trail sign, continue on an easy, gravel path for a short length to an elevated boardwalk leading between dunes on the left and a cattail swamp on the right. The best part of the hike is the access it provides to 1.2-mile-long Mowry Beach, 1,800 feet of which is conserved. The views of Lubec Channel, Campobello and West Quoddy Head are outstanding. The access is near the beginning of the hike at the Pleasant Street end. Look for a left through the dunes about 75 feet from the parking area.
The boardwalk protects the dunes from trampling and continues in length for more than 1,500 feet. It ends at a gravel path, which continues for a combined length of the path and boardwalk of four-tenths of a mile. It leads to the parking area at the south end of the Lubec Consolidated School. You can either hike back to the parking area on Pleasant Street the way you came, or walk through town from the school. Walking through town adds about a half-mile to the hike.
Horan Head, Lubec
This trail network includes more than 6 miles of trail with several possible loops with views of Federal Harbor and South Bay, an arm of Cobscook Bay. There are 2.3 miles of shore frontage in the network. To get there, turn off Route 1 on Route 189 to Lubec. After going 5.6 miles east on Route 189, turn left on Crow’s Neck Road. After .4 miles, turn right on Lead Mine Road, then after .2 miles turn left on Straight Bay Road. Stay on that road for 3.2 miles to a gravel parking area on the right. There is a large wooden sign indicating the start of the trails.
Leave the parking area and go past a gate which leads to a large field. Travel through the field on a mowed path to an opening in the woods for the blazed trail through the forest. Follow the easy trail for about a mile through the spruce, fir and cedar forest. You arrive at a fork in the trail which leads left a quarter mile to a small beach on South Bay and right to three loop trails on Horan Head, a small peninsula 50 feet above the bay which juts out with South Bay on one side and Federal Harbor on the other.
It’s a great place to just sit and watch the 20-foot tides rise and fall. There are a number of places where seals pull out and sun themselves on the rocks along the shore. All the trails are signed. This trail has some ledge and footing may be tricky, but the views are worth the trek.
Bold Coast Trail, Cutler
This trail network is the most visited of the trails in the area and it’s no wonder. The views across Grand Manan Channel to Grand Manan Island alone are expansive, but that’s not really why people hike here. There are more than 10 miles of trail along more than four miles of shoreline. The shoreline itself is the most dramatic, featuring cliffs that rise vertically from the ocean to a height of more than 150 feet.
There is a sign from Route 1 to this trail network. Look for the Bold Coast Trails sign at the intersection with Route 191 in East Machias. Ride almost 17 miles through Cutler on 191 and look for a sign for the trails and parking area on the right. Route 191 ends in Lubec, about 10 miles farther.
From the parking area you hike for about a third of a mile to an intersection with the Inland Trail on the right. Stay straight on the trail for about a mile and a quarter to arrive at the shore and a rock promontory about a 100 feet above the water. The Coastal Trail continues on the right just before reaching the promontory. Pass it and head straight. From there you can view down the length of the coast and the huge cliffs that extend almost a mile down the shore.
Whales, seals and porpoises are routinely sighted from this spot. To return to the parking area, hike back the way you came. For a long, five-mile hike, continue on the Coastal Trail along the tops of the cliffs to the Black Brook Cut-off, which forms a loop with the Inland Trail to lead you back to the parking area.
For an even longer 10-mile circuit, go past the cutoff trail and keep following the shoreline another 2.5 miles to another intersection with the Inland Trail to take you back. There are three primitive campsites near the end. It’s the only backcountry camping allowed on any of the hikes in the region. There is no fee and it’s first-come first- served.
These hikes are just three of the many hikes in the area. Visit other hikes in the towns of Edmunds, Baring, Eastport and Pembroke to discover more of the area. What the region lacks in big mountains, it more than makes up for in ocean scenery. The wildlife viewing is outstanding.
Last weekend, from my campsite in Cobscook Bay State Park in Edmunds, I watched a pair of bald eagles fly in and out of a huge pine. I’ve seen whales and gray seals from the Bold Coast Trail. You could spend a week in this area and not see all it has to offer, just like in those better-known trail networks of Acadia and Baxter.
For more information, contact the Quoddy Regional Land Trust in Whiting, which publishes the guide and manages some of the property containing the trails. Its phone number is 207-733-5509. All of these hikes are found on maps 36, 37 and 27 in the Delorme Maine Atlas and Gazetteer. Many are not drawn in on the Delorme map, however. That’s why the guidebook’s maps are so essential.