Difficulty: Easy. At Blue Horizons Preserve you can walk to the ocean in about 0.5 mile on a wide gravel driveway, or branch off to explore two short hiking trails. The trails feature narrow bog bridges and uneven footing. You’ll travel gradually downhill to reach the water and beach, which means you’ll need to walk uphill to reach the parking lot. The incline is noticeable but not steep.
Information: Located on the northwest side of Mount Desert Island, the coastal Blue Horizons Preserve offers an easy hike through a quiet mixed forest to an expansive cobble beach. The preserve covers 82 acres and was donated to the Maine Coast Heritage Trust in 2010.
All visitors to the preserve start their walk on a 0.7-mile gravel driveway, which is closed to public vehicle traffic. Blocked with a gate, this driveway strikes through the center of the preserve to end at two cottages, a pumphouse and utility sheds near the shore, which are used by MCHT staff. There you’ll also find a stone seawall and a big staircase that leads down to the beach — but that’s not the only option for beach access.
The preserve is home to two traditional hiking trails, which branch off of the driveway, one on each side. Walking from the parking lot, you’ll find a trail kiosk on your left about 0.3 mile down the driveway. The kiosk features a detailed trail map, a list of preserve rules and a visitor log book, kept safe from the elements in a wooden cubby.
From left (clockwise): Signs point the way to the rocky beach of Blue Horizons Preserve in Bar Harbor; A sign located on a gate marks the access point for Blue Horizons Preserve; A gravel driveway runs through the center of Blue Horizons Preserve in Bar Harbor, and is great for easy walking. Credit: Aislinn Sarnacki | BDN
One trail starts at the kiosk and heads west, traveling through the forest to reach the beach in 0.3 mile. Marked with wooden signs and arrows, the trail passes by an old rock wall and through some boggy forested areas. Narrow bog bridges span soggy sections of trail so hikers can keep their feet dry.
The other hiking trail, measuring 0.4 mile, starts a couple hundred feet past the kiosk on the right and is marked with a wooden sign with a blue arrow on it. Threading through a small field and forest, the trail travels close to the northeast border of the preserve to reach the beach. Expect plenty of fragrant evergreen trees, bunchberry plants and trailing old man’s beard lichen on this short trek.
Just before the beach, the trail connects back to the driveway with a short side trail. This gives visitors one more option for accessing the beach from the driveway.
If you plan your visit around low tide, the beach is spacious, with wave-rounded cobblestones, boulders, patches of sand, mounds of seaweed and an abundance of ocean creatures. Located at the opening of Clark Cove, the beach offers open views of the Mount Desert Narrows and nearby Alley Island. And across the water, you can see the distinctive hump of Blue Hill Mountain.
The preserve is open year round. Access is free. Dogs are permitted but must be kept under control at all times. Camping and fires are not permitted. The trails are for foot traffic only. Stay on trail, respect the privacy of neighboring landowners and carry out all trash, including dog waste. Deer hunting on MDI is not permitted. The hunting of other types of game is permitted on the preserve, in accordance with state law, though the current land steward for that property has not seen anyone hunting there.
For more information, visit mcht.org or call 207-244-5100.
From left (top to bottom): A hiking trail visits an old, mossy rock wall in Blue Horizons Preserve in Bar Harbor; A squirrel carries some nesting material along the top of a rock wall; Narrow bog bridges help hikers over soggy areas in the forest. Credit: Aislinn Sarnacki | BDN
Personal note: My husband, Derek, was in Mount Desert Island on business recently when he discovered Blue Horizons Preserve. Since then, we’ve visited the property twice.
During our first visit, we walked along the driveway with a small group of family, including our two young nephews. Along the way, the two boys marveled at a cluster of large shelf mushrooms growing on a tree trunk. And on the beach, one of our nephews stashed so many rocks and shells in his pockets that his pants were at risk of falling down around his feet. We took the opportunity to explain that collecting isn’t about quantity, it’s about selecting your favorites (if permitted on the given property). You can’t take the whole beach home with you.
The second time we visited the preserve, it was just Derek and I. We took that opportunity to hike the two short hiking trails and across the beach (from trail to trail, it was about a 0.3-mile walk on the beach) to form a loop hike. Altogether, it was about a 2-mile walk.
On the beach, we lifted up masses of seaweed along the water’s edge to find green crabs, mussels, barnacles and oysters. A clam squirted a stream of water up at us from a hole in the sand. I also noticed plenty of slipper shells. But what I was really hoping for was a sea star. I’d been looking all summer for a sea star, every time I visited the coast, to no avail.
Perching on one of the few flat rocks on the beach, we ate sandwiches and watched gulls dive headfirst into the shallows.
“He’s got something!” Derek said. “I think it’s a crab.”
I pulled out my 100-400mm camera lens and zoomed in. It wasn’t a crab. It was a large sea star.
“Well. At least we know there are sea stars here,” I said.
The sight only bolstered my determination to find one. So after lunch, we went back to searching. And finally, in a small pool of salty water under a mass of seaweed, a tiny sea star, dusted with sand, caught my eye. Purple and orange, it was no bigger than the tip of my thumb. I held it in the palm of my hand, snapped a few photos, and placed it back where I found it. Mission accomplished.
From left (clockwise): A gull carries a large sea star to the beach of Blue Horizons Preserve in Bar Harbor; A tiny sea star is found near the low tide mark; Mounds of seaweed cover the shoreline. Credit: Aislinn Sarnacki | BDN
How to get there: From Route 102 in Town Hill, head west on Indian Point Road. Drive 0.5 mile and the gravel driveway leading into the preserve (Fire Road 800) will be on the right. Parking is available along the road’s shoulder. Do not block the gated driveway, which is occasionally used by MCHT staff.
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.