Difficulty: Easy to moderate. The preserve features about 2 miles of hiking trails that start out easy, travel over fairly even terrain, then become more challenging and hilly as they near the coast. Expect short, steep slopes, as well as long stretches of narrow bog bridges and staircases built of wood and stone. Exercise caution near the ocean cliffs.
Information: Massive ocean cliffs, cobblestone beaches, mossy forestland and an upland peat bog — Boot Head in Lubec has it all. Owned and managed by the Maine Coast Heritage Trust, the 700-acre preserve features some of Maine’s most spectacular coastal scenery, and can be explored by a network of well-maintained hiking trails.
The bulk of the property was conserved by Maine Coast Heritage Trust in 1988, removing it as a possible site for a proposed 30-40 lot subdivision.
Starting at the trailhead, you’ll enter a mossy forest and cross a series of bog bridges, which are covered with metal mesh. This feature makes the wooden boards a little easier to traverse because it prevents them from becoming slippery when wet.
A short distance into the forest, you’ll come to a kiosk that features a trail map and a wooden box that shelters a registration log. (During the COVID-19 pandemic, many hikers are choosing not to sign registration logs or touch any hard surfaces that are frequently touched by other visitors.)
Beyond the kiosk, about 0.2 mile into the hike, you’ll reach a short side trail on your right that leads to Boot Cove Heath, one of the state’s 115 raised peatlands. The trail dead ends at a small platform and bench, which is located at the edge of the bog and offers a great view of the open landscape of peat moss and stunted black spruce and tamarack trees. Also common in this area are the cupped leaves and tall red blossoms of carnivorous pitcher plants.
Back on the main trail, keep an eye out for resident spruce grouse, which are chicken-like forest birds that are often spotted walking along the forest floor or perched low in trees. These birds are illegal to hunt in Maine, and unlike their relative, the ruffed grouse, they’re difficult to spook. If on the trail, they may let you walk right up to them.
Other wildlife you might spot on the hike include a variety of songbirds in the forest, while along the shore, visitors often spot bald eagles, common eiders and black guillemots, according to Maine Coast Heritage Trust.
Continuing on the hike, you’ll soon reach an intersection where the trail splits into a big 1.3-mile loop. People hike the loop in either direction. If you turn left, hiking the loop clockwise, you’ll reach Boot Cove Beach in just 0.4 mile. Covered with wave-smoothed cobblestones of many colors and patterns, the large beach is hemmed in by rugged cliffs on both sides. While enjoying the beach, be sure to respect the privacy of the private home on its north end. A beautiful, flower-filled meadow separates the trail from the private land.
Back on the main loop trail, you’ll head steadily uphill to reach stunning overlooks atop rugged ocean cliffs. This section of the trail showcases the dramatic, rocky coastline that characterizes Maine’s Bold Coast, which extends along northeastern Maine all the way to the Canadian border. About 0.6 mile from Boot Cove Beach you’ll come to a small wooden platform and bench perched at the edge of the cliffs in an especially scenic location where the tall cliffs form a promontory and tiny cove. There a 0.2-mile side trail leads to Brook Cove Beach, which is a jumble of large rocks and seaweed with nice views of surrounding cliffs.
Back on the main trail, the loop comes full circle in another 0.2 mile. From there, you’ll need to backtrack along the first section of the hike — past the bog and spruce grouse territory — to return to the trailhead.
While exploring the preserve, be sure to stay on established trails. Dogs are permitted but must be under control at all times. Camping and fires are not permitted. Visitors are asked to carry out all trash, including pet waste, and practice Leave No Trace principles. Access is free, year round.
For information, visit mcht.org or call the land trust’s Down East office at 207-259-5040.
Personal note: The familiar scent of salt, seaweed and mud permeated the mossy forest as the trail carried us closer to shore on Aug. 15. The low roar of waves washing over the cobblestone beach seemed to grow louder with each step.
Exiting the forest, the trail traveled along the edge of a meadow filled with wildflowers. The tall stalks of purple fireweed waved in the breeze. Bees hummed. And my husband, Derek, started plucking raspberries from a bush at the edge of the trail. We were in our own little paradise.
Taking our time, we explored the entire trail network of Boot Head Preserve that day. It was a place that had long been on my radar to visit, and it was certainly worth the 2-hour drive. When we arrived, the two small parking lots were nearly full, and when we finally left, they were empty.
On Boot Cove Beach, we inspected the many different types of rocks that had been smoothed into spheres by the waves, from sparkly rose granite to deep purple and veiny moss green varieties. And on Brook Cove Beach, I carefully navigated over seaweed-covered rocks to search a tidepool for sea stars. I didn’t find any, but I did spot some crabs, periwinkles and a lot of interesting plants.
In the forest and along the ocean cliffs, I delighted in the variety of plants. I paused frequently to photograph dark blue berries of bluebead lily, small white aster blossoms, bright red bunchberries and the final pink blossoms of wild roses along the shore. Derek spotted a beautiful cluster of ghost pipes, which is a white plant that lacks green chlorophyll and saps nutrients from plants around it.
On the final leg of our trek, we turned a corner to nearly step on a spruce grouse. Walking slowly on the bog bridging, the bird looked up at us, then hopped down into the mud and searched for worms. It actually moved closer to us as it worked. Amused, we watched it for a while before continuing on our way. The surprise encounter was a great way to end a sun-filled day on the Maine coast.
How to get there: From the intersection of Route 1 and Route 189 in Whiting, turn onto Route 189 (County Road) and drive 5.7 miles. Turn right onto Route 191 and drive 2.8 miles, then turn left onto Boot Cove Road. Drive 2 miles and you’ll find parking lots on both sides of the road. Both are for the preserve. The trailhead is located at the smaller parking area, which is on the south side of the road.
From Lubec, take South Lubec Road toward Quoddy Head State Park and bear right in 2.7 miles onto Boot Cove Road. Travel 3.9 miles to the parking areas.
Aislinn Sarnacki can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter: @1minhikegirl, and Instagram: @actoutdoors. Her guidebooks “Family Friendly Hikes in Maine,” “Maine Hikes Off the Beaten Path” and “Dog-Friendly Hikes in Maine” are available at local bookstores and wherever books are sold.