Difficulty: Strenuous. The entire hike is about 10 miles if you start from the parking area by Route 220; however, you can shorten the hike by driving farther into the Frye Mountain Wildlife Management Area (when the roads are open) or by not hiking the entire 4.6-mile loop around the mountain. The trail travels over unimproved forest floor and is rocky in several places. It also includes two bridgeless stream crossings and several brook crossings. The biggest stream crossing can be avoided if you use a blue-blazed detour trail. The climb up Frye Mountain is gradual with only a few steep sections.
How to get there: From the intersection of Route 3 and Route 220 in Liberty (a spot known as Clarks Corner), follow Route 220 (also called N Mountain Valley Highway) north for 6.5 miles and turn right onto a gravel road called Walker Ridge Road (labeled on Google Maps as “Not Town Road”). At the head of the road, park near the Department of Inland Fisheries & Wildlife maintenance building in a fairly large gravel parking area. A sign and trail map is posted on the side of the building. There is also an outhouse available at the edge of the parking area.
From the parking area, walk through a metal gate and up the gravel road 0.3 mile to the trailhead, which will be on your right. The trailhead is marked with blue flagging tape and a GHP sign for “Georges Highland Path.”
You’ll notice that a blue blazed trail also leads off into the forest on your left. That trail leads to Route 220, crosses the road and climbs Hogback Mountain.
Information: Frye Mountain, standing 1,139 feet above sea level in the Midcoast town of Montville, has changed drastically over the past century. Once home to numerous farms and apple orchards, the mountain is now almost completely forested and serves as a venue for wildlife research, hiking, snowmobiling, hunting and trapping.
The crux of the change occurred in 1937, when the federal government purchased the mountain and more than 5,000 surrounding acres through the Bankhead Jones Farm Tenant Act.
“The government bought up 49 farms up there,” said Ralph Wood, 65, of Morrill, a lifelong resident of the area who has gathered stories from neighbors about Frye Mountain and is a member of the Montville Historical Society. “The idea of [the act] was to try to eliminate farms that were marginal, that people just couldn’t make a living on.”
“Years ago, when it was farmed, the farms were more diverse than they are now,” Wood explained. “You had people who had an orchard, some would make maple syrup. They would raise crops for the canneries that were around — dried beans or squash or peas. They’d get milk from their cows and sell the cream … They cut ice and cut their own firewood and lived as frugally as they could and did all they could to make it.”
The Great Depression was hard on the family farms on and around Frye Mountain. The families sold their farms to the government voluntarily, but there were some hard feelings afterward, especially when the farmhouses on the property were destroyed, Wood said.
“They tore the places down and burned them,” Wood said. “That caused some hard feelings around here. People living in Depression time kind of hated seeing perfectly good homes destroyed … They liked the money, but didn’t really like what came after.”
The government initially intended the land for a national park, then a state park, but eventually gave the land to the state of Maine, which created the 5,240-acre Frye Management Wildlife Management Area there in 1958.
Old cellar holes, cemeteries, and big rock walls can still be found throughout the property.
“There was some reforestation and replanting done up there,” Wood said. “It’s wonderful habitat for game of all kinds. During bird and deer season, it gets a lot of traffic. Then there are people who just like to drive up there in the fall to look at leaves.”
For several years, guided tours in horse-drawn carriages have been offered on the property in the fall, Wood said.
Hikers are welcome to explore it on a public trail maintained by the Georges River Land Trust in cooperation with the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife.
Starting at Route 220, the trail to Frye Mountain weaves through mixed and coniferous forests for 2.8 miles to the Frye Mountain Loop, which is 4.7 miles and travels over the ridge of the mountain before circling around and returning at a lower elevation on the mountain’s east slope. That means, out and back, the hike is just over 10 miles.
On the first section of the hike, from Route 220 to the mountain, the trail passes through a forest filled with a wide variety of trees, including stands of birches, clusters of balsam fir and tall hemlock trees. Marked with blue blazes, the trail soon comes to the scenic Bartlett Stream, the northernmost feeder stream of the Georges River. The trail follows alongside the stream for a good stretch, then crosses it in a shallow section. At the crossing is a rope tied between trees to help you keep your balance.
An alternate route has been marked so hikers can avoid the biggest stream crossing during high water. The alternate trail goes up to a woods road, crosses the stream on a road bridge, then heads back into the forest to meet back up with the original trail without adding much mileage.
After the stream crossing, the trail travels up and over a hill, crosses an ATV trail and dips down to cross a branch of the stream. The trail also crosses several small brooks. These bridgeless crossings require you to hop across on rocks that are often slippery with water and moss.
The terrain leading to Frye Mountain is fairly hilly and is a good warmup for the climb up the mountain’s west slope, which can be steep in some areas.
You will cross a woods road just before you start to climb the western slope of Frye Mountain. Sometimes people choose to park there, skipping the first 2 miles of the hike.
After the road, you’ll climb steadily up the mountain to the Frye Mountain Loop, which starts near the summit of the mountain, which was not marked with a summit sign on Feb. 19, when I hiked the mountain.
If you hike Frye Mountain Loop clockwise, you’ll travel along the mountain’s long ridge, which runs southwest to northeast. As you hike along the ridge, you’ll dip down into the woods, then back up to another highpoint of the mountain. Along the way, you’ll see glimpses of the ocean and nearby mountains through the trees. There are no open views atop the mountain today, but there are a couple partial views through gaps in the trees.
A large stone wall winds its way along the ridge, reminding hikers of the land’s history as a community of family farms.
The hiking trail on the property is for foot traffic only, though snowmobiles and other vehicles use several woods roads in the management area. Dogs are permitted if kept on leash at all times. Hunting and trapping is also permitted, so hikers are encouraged to wear blaze orange to stay visible.
Personal note: Frye Mountain had been on my radar for a few years before I drove to Montville on Feb. 19 to hike the trail. I knew the hike would be fairly long and arduous, especially to attempt during the winter, but a recent rain had melted much of the snowcover in the Midcoast area; the temperature was mild; the sun was shining; and I had an energetic hiking companion to keep me going all day long.
My dog, Oreo, and I started the trail around 11 a.m. and didn’t return to our car until around sundown at 5 p.m. We hiked the entire day, sometimes over bare ground, and other times in snow that reached nearly to my knees. Together we navigated around downed trees, inspected mossy rock walls and giant tree mushrooms, spooked a pileated woodpecker and ruffed grouse, shared a snack of crackers and rock-hopped across streams (sometimes with me carrying the 50-pound dog so he wouldn’t get wet). It was a bonding experience.
I was a bit disappointed not to find any open views at the top of Frye Mountain, but the hike was certainly a good workout and wildlife watching experience. Along the trail, I identified plenty of deer tracks, as well as coyote tracks and hare tracks.
My favorite thing about this particular hike is the history I learned while writing about it. Ralph Wood of Morrill was kind enough to talk with me about the many family farms that used to exist on the land, on the mountain and in its shadow, for many years. Our conversation reminded me that the Maine wilderness is varied, ever-changing is often steeped in history. What looks like just a stand of paper birches may have once been a field where dairy cows grazed, a farm full of memories.