Difficulty: Moderate-strenuous. The loop trail on Mount Will is about 3 miles long and climbs to the top of the mountain, which rises about 1,700 feet above sea level. Though trail signs (added up) indicate the loop is 2.6 miles in total length, the town of Bethel has measured the loop to be 3.25 miles. Hiking this trail requires careful footing due to uneven ground, exposed tree roots, and steep slopes.
How to get there: Starting at Riverside State Rest Area off Route 2 in Bethel, drive 1.9 miles on east (technically north) on Route 2 (also known as Mayville Road) to the gravel parking area for the Mount Will Trail, which is on the left, directly across the road from the transfer and recycling station.
There is no sign that states “Mount Will Trail.” Instead, a sign near the trailhead “South Ledges,” and another sign near the trailhead reads “Gray Memorial.” However, the trail does lead up Mount Will to both the South Ledges and North Cliffs, as well as the memorial, which can be reached via side trail.
Information: Mount Will rises just over 1,700 feet above sea level in the western Maine town of Bethel. From ledges on its north and south slopes, hikers can enjoy views of the Androscoggin River Valley and western Maine mountains.
The 3-mile loop trail that travels to the ledges of Mount Will was developed by the Bethel Conservation Commission to increase public awareness of the natural resources and beauty of the river valley. While some of the trail is located in the 115-acre Bethel Town Forest, the majority of the trail is located on private land with landowner permission.
From the trail parking area, the trail enters the woods and climbs gradually to the split that’s the beginning of the loop. Veer left to visit the South Cliffs first and hike the loop clockwise; or veer right to visit the North Ledges first and hike the loop counterclockwise.
The trail is well-traveled and marked in a variety of ways — blue and green blazes, as well as pink and yellow flagging tape.
If you veer left, you will hike steadily up for about 1 mile to the South Cliffs, which are about 1,450 feet above sea level, according to information provided by the Town of Bethel. Total elevation gain from the trailhead to this point is about 730 feet. The cliffs provide open views to the south and east of the Androscoggin River winding through fields and forests.
From this outlook on the south side of the mountain, the trail continues 1.5 miles to the North Ledges. This section of trail climbs to a point near the mountain’s top at 1,700 feet above sea level, then descends to the ledges, which are about 1,350 feet above sea level and provide a different view of the river valley and surrounding mountains north and east.
While hiking on the trail between the South Cliffs and North Ledges, you’ll come to a grassy woods road marked with sign that reads “Gray Memorial.” If you leave the loop trail and follow the old road a short distance uphill to a mossy clearing, you’ll come to the memorial — a plaque placed in a stone in memory of Leroy W. Gray II and Brenda Mae Gray, who died in an airplane crash on the site on Sept. 25, 1992.
From the North Ledges, it’s about 0.75 mile down the mountain to the trailhead. In the steepest sections, the trail switchbacks (zigzags) so the slope isn’t too drastic.
A few trail rules: Dogs are permitted. Stay on trail. Clean up litter. Observe signs posted by landowners. Carry in, carry out. Foot traffic only.
For information about the trail, call the Bethel Town Office at 824-2669 or visit www.bethelmaine.com.
Personal note: I rose with the sun (or close, anyway) last Wednesday to drive 2.5 hours from Bangor to the mountains of western Maine. My chief reason for the trip was to cover a story at Sunday River, but I had until 2:30 p.m. to get to the mountain resort. That gave me plenty of time to check out a trail or two along the way.
Mount Will was the ideal hike for that day because it was close to Sunday River, it wouldn’t take too long (2-3 hours), and it offered great views of an area of Maine I wish I had the opportunity to visit more often.
I saw five other hikers while on the mountain — two couples and a dog — but for the most part, I was kept company by a number of chattering red squirrels and chipmunks. My dog, Oreo, wasn’t with me because, A) I didn’t want him interfering with my interview at Sunday River, and B) He definitely would have vomited during such a long car ride.
One of the things I enjoyed about the mountain was how it glittered with mica, a fairly common mineral found in the granite of western Maine. Mica resembles glass, forming in flat thin sheets that can easily be broken away and crumbled. The sight of it reminds me of all the interesting rocks and gemstones that can be found in western Maine, such as tourmalines, garnets, rubies and beryls. In fact, recreational mining is one of the many outdoor activities pursued in the area and has lead to some big finds over the years.