Difficulty: Strenuous. The trails travel over rugged terrain. The challenge not only lies in the length of the hike (5.6-mile loop or a 9.4-mile loop), but also in the tricky footing and frequent changes in elevation.
How to get there: If approaching from the south, drive to the Route 1-Route 191 intersection in East Machias and turn right (south) onto Route 191. Drive 16.9 miles to the trailhead parking area, which is marked by a blue sign on your right.
If approaching from the north, drive to the Route 1-Route 189 intersection in Whiting and turn left onto Route 189. Drive to the Route 191. Turn right onto Route 191 and travel 10 miles to the parking area, which is your left.
Information: Cutler Coast Public Reserve Land totals 12,234 acres on the Bold Coast, a scenic area of spruce-fir forest, peat bogs, dramatic cliffs and cobble beaches fronting the Bay of Fundy in eastern Washington County. Located in the town of Cutler, the reserved lands are owned by the State of Maine.
On the property, there are more than 9 miles of hiking trails on the coastal side of Route 191, and there are approximately 19.5 miles of shared-use roads and designated ATV trails on the inland side of Route 191.
In recent years, the hiking trails have become increasingly popular, partially due to favorable reviews in numerous media outlets, including Backpacker Magazine (2001), USA Today (2008), CNN (2011) and Yankee Magazine (2012). The trailhead parking area has recently been expanded to accommodate the influx of visitors.
The hiking trail network includes three trails — Coastal Trail, Inland Trail and Black Brook Cove Trail — as well as three designated campsites that are first come, first tent. Fires at these sites are prohibited.
From the parking area off Route 1 — where an outhouse is located (last chance) — sign in at the trailhead and specify what your plans are. (Day hike? Camping one night?) From there, follow the trail 0.4 mile to a trail juncture. Be careful on the many bog bridges, which become slippery when wet. At the trail juncture, which is marked with a sign, you can continue straight on the Coastal Trail (approximately 5 miles long) or turn right onto the Inland Trail (approximately 4 miles long). Both trails rejoin at Fairy Head.
If you choose to hike in via Coastal Trail, it leads to the dramatic cliffs of the Bold Coast in about 1 mile. Upon reaching the cliffs, the trail turns right and continues along the coast. The rocky terrain is challenging, with frequent changes in elevation. The trail also plunges into meadows and becomes difficult to navigate in the tall grass and wildflowers. A couple sections of the trail, marked by blue blazes and cairns, travels along rock ledges and cliff tops. Two cobble beaches are located along the trail, first Black Point Cove and then Long Point Cove, both accessible by stairs.
The Inland Trail, on the other hand, is a little bit easier (though still strenuous). The terrain is more level, and much of the trail travels through mossy woods that are easy to navigate. However, there are certainly some tricky sections — small meadows of tall grass, wild blueberry patches, peat bogs and marshes. An impressive series of wooden bog bridges span the soggiest sections of the trail.
At the far end of the loop, Fairy Head, there are three designated campsites, which are separated by forest. If you are planning on camping, start the hike early in the morning to claim a site.
The entire loop is about 9.4 miles, according to the distances written on juncture signs. But if you’re looking for a smaller day hike, there are two few popular options.
You can hike from the trailhead to the coast and back via the Coastal Trail, a hike that is 2.8 miles, round trip. Or you can hike a 5.6-mile loop using the Black Brook Cove Trail, a 1.4-mile long cutoff trail that links the Coastal Trail and Inland Trail about halfway to Fairy Head.
Mileages on trail signs differ slightly from mileages on the trail map provided by the Division of Parks & Public Lands. The map is available for download at www.maine.gov/doc/parks/PropertyGuides/Maps/FullSize/cutlercoastmap.pdf.
The Cutler Coast lands are open and free to use year round. Rules are listed on the Maine Division of Parks & Public Lands website. They include: stay on trail; open fires are prohibited; carry out all trash; keep pets under control at all times and on a leash at campsites; and camp at the three designated sites by Fairy Head. For a more complete list of rules, visit www.maine.gov/cgi-bin/online/doc/parksearch/index.pl and search for Cutler Coast.
The natural features of the Bold Coast have long piqued the interest of geologists. In fact, Maine’s first state geologist, Charles T. Jackson, visited the Cutler area during his survey of the state in 1837 and reported “enormous cliffs of greenstone trap.”
Cutler diabase, the most common rock type along the Cutler Coast hiking trails, strongly influences the landscape. Glacial erosion smoothed the diabase hills on the northwestern side and plucked rock away from the southeastern side, resulting in a gentle slope on one side and a steep cliff on the other, according to geologists with the Maine Bureau of Geology, Natural Areas and Coastal Resources. Glacial grooves on the rock can be seen just north of Black Point, and fractures in the rock, called joints, are visible in many outcrops.
For those more interested in cultural history, an archeological excavation of Long Point Cove (the second cobble beach you reach along the Coastal Trail) in 1984 turned up stone tools and fire-cracked rocks, evidence that Native Americans used this coastline.
If you’re more interested in wildlife, birders have recorded nearly 200 species on or near Cutler Coast. And offshore, visitors may spot seals, porpoises and the occasional humpback, finback, northern right and minke whales, according to the Division of Parks & Public Lands.
For information, call the Maine Division of Parks and Public Lands at 941-4412.
Personal note: Following the advice of a friend, I visited Cutler Coast Public Reserved Land for the first time during the summer of 2009. It was a solo hike, and I brought all the gear with me to tent for a night. But I’ll confess now, I chickened out. I was lonely, I guess. I had never camped by myself. So I hiked the Coastal Trail in to Black Point Cove, then hiked right on back out. It was a gorgeous day, and I took several photos of the sparkling water, mossy trails and dark cliffs. And ever since then, I’ve looked back at those photos of what looks like an enchanted land and felt the urge to return and pitch a tent for at least one night.
So four years later (time really does fly), on Aug. 3, a Saturday, I headed back to Cutler Coast, and this time, I wasn’t alone. My frequent hiking buddies — Derek and our dog Oreo — agreed to join me, even though the day began with some dreary weather. During the first miles of trail, a thick fog soaked our skin and swallowed up the beautiful cliffs. Then rain began to fall, and I feared that the favorable weather report had changed since I last glanced at it.
But about halfway to the tent sites at Fairy Head, the sun fought through the clouds, the fog dispersed, and the rest of the trip was exactly what I’d hoped for. As we rested on the cobble beach at Long Point Cove, listening to the unique sound of waves rushing over smooth round rocks, a seal’s head popped out of the water close to shore. It appeared to be regarding us with curiosity and even swam a bit closer before disappearing under the waves.
The hike was definitely strenuous, especially lugging a pack filled with a smorgasbord of food and thirst-quenching beverages. Split between us, we carried a 5-person tent. Each of us had a sleeping bag, sleeping mat, medical supplies, extra clothes, etc. For me, carrying such a heavy pack was challenging in a new way. As I hiked, I thought about all the people hiking the Appalachian Trail, carrying similar packs (though I’m sure many pack smarter and lighter than we did for just one night.)
We had just set up our tent and sat down to eat by the ocean when it dark clouds snuck up behind us. The rain drove us into our spacious tent, where we remained, listening to the ocean, until the rain stopped. But when we ventured outside again, hordes of mosquitoes (something we hadn’t encountered all day) emerged from the darkening forest and attacked. It was quite amazing, actually, enough to drive anyone stark raving mad. So we retreated back to the safety of our tent, defeated.
In the morning, the bloodsucking army was gone, and the sun shone bright in a nearly cloudless sky, lifting our spirits despite our sore hips and shoulders. We took our time hiking back (Coastal Trail to Black Point Brook Trail to Inland Trail to the trailhead) and made a point of stopping at the beaches at Long Point Cove and Black Point Cove before heading inland and back to the parking area off Route 191.