The trail began by threading through a field of blueberries, dotted with the pale pink blossoms of wild roses and the fiery blooms of devil’s paintbrush. On leash, my dog Juno stopped to sniff at the vegetation every few yards. So I ushered her along. Otherwise, we would have been there all day.
In another month, the berries at the beginning of Hollingsworth Trail in Steuben will be ripe for picking, which is permitted, according to a sign at the trailhead. In fact, I’ve visited the trail in August before to find people plopping berries into buckets.
Located on a mainland portion of the Maine Coastal Islands National Wildlife Refuge, the Hollingsworth Trail offers a 1.8-mile round-trip hike that splits into a loop and visits breathtaking beaches along the shore. It’s one of two trails located on the Steuben parcel of the refuge, which is known as the Petit Manan Point Division. The other trail, just down the road, is the Birch Point Trail, which also leads to the shore and measures 4.3 miles, out and back.
You can’t go wrong hiking either trail.
In its entirety, the Maine Coastal Islands National Wildlife Refuge comprises more than 73 offshore islands and four coastal parcels, totaling nearly 9,500 acres. Its primary purpose is to restore and protect colonies of nesting seabirds such as puffins and razorbills.
On the mainland portions of the refuge, trails are open to dogs if they’re on hand-held leashes no longer than 10 feet. On the recent Tuesday that I hiked Hollingsworth Trail, Juno and I came across only one other dog — which, in accordance with the rules, was leashed. We also came across a couple of families and a group of teens, led by adults. The small parking lot for the trail was full, but not overflowing. I’m glad we chose to visit on a weekday instead of a weekend, which probably would have been more busy.
Seeing a few people while hiking is great, but running into someone every few minutes can distract from the outdoor experience. It also stirs concern in me about the resource. So I try to avoid popular trails at certain times (of year, week and day).
Somehow we’re still lingering in the blueberry field in this narrative. I’ll blame it on Juno and her ever-curious nose.
Moving along, we entered the forest, which was so lovely and orderly that it almost looked landscaped. I suppose Mother Nature has the best gardening prowess, after all. Sheep laurel bushes bordered the trail, dotted with rich pink, cup-shaped flowers. We passed tamarack trees, with their silky soft needles, and clusters of ferns that stretched past my hips.
A long stretch of narrow, wooden bridging led us through an enchanting cedar stand, where the ground was carpeted in dense moss, and twisting tree branches blocked out the sun. (But for most of the trail, the sun remained with us, so don’t forget to wear sunblock.)
The trail led up and over humps of exposed bedrock, where jack pine and spruce trees grew in the thin soil. In some areas, the ground was smooth and the walking was easy, while in other spots, tangles of thick tree roots crossed the trail, threatening to catch the toes of my sneakers.
Hiking the loop counterclockwise, as the sign at the intersection suggested, we visited the largest beach first. It spanned an arching cove, and much of it was exposed, since the tide was reaching its low point. As we walked its entirety, it was like visiting multiple beaches, one after the other.
At first we explored an expanse of rippling sand, with water filling its contours. Then we picked our way among mounds of seaweed, where Juno unintentionally uncovered a rather large crab that pinched her lip before scuttling away. (I had to drag her away from that battle.)
Beyond the seaweed, we found a band of smooth cobblestones, then a jumble of angular rocks, shelves of bedrock and tidal pools. There we rested, hydrated and ate some snacks (dog treats included) while watching gulls fly up high to smash mussels on the rocks.
The rest of the hike was just as stunningly beautiful. The trail traced the shore for a while, leading to different overlooks and beaches. Large interpretive signs were scattered throughout for those looking to read more information about their surroundings.
Wildflowers were a highlight. Along the shore, seaside pea grew in abundance, with delicate magenta flowers adorning curling stems. Pale pink morning glories ruffled in the wind, while irises swayed, their purple petals patterned with intricate veins and splashes of yellow and white.
At an overlook atop dark, blocky bedrock, we found a plaque in memory of the trail’s namesake: John Walker Hollingsworth Jr. (1942-1995), who was a photographer, writer and advocate for national wildlife refuges. Can you imagine having such a beautiful trail named in your honor? He must have been a very special person to the conservation community.
When we arrived at the last beach visited by the loop, we found two young girls picking their way over the rocks to reach the sand. “We made it!” they called out to their parents, who must have been trailing behind. I decided to leave them to their little slice of heaven. Besides, Juno and I had spent a long time on the first beach and my energy was quickly waning.
Woodland birds serenaded us as we hurried along the trail, back to the trailhead. The refuge brochure says the hike takes about 1 hour to complete, but you could easily spend several hours out there admiring plants, observing songbirds and shorebirds and — if you’re a mischievous puppy — eating rockweed and dueling with crabs.