Difficulty: Easy to moderate. The two trails on the mountain connect to form a 2-mile loop that travels over unimproved forest floor, narrow bog bridges and rock steps. The climb to the summit of the mountain on these trails is gradual.
How to get there: From the intersection of Main Street and Route 202 in Winthrop, drive southwest on Route 202 for 2.6 miles, then turn right onto Cross Street. Drive 0.3 mile, then turn left onto Old Lewiston Road. Drive 0.6 mile, then turn right onto Wilson Pond Road. Drive 0.8 mile, then turn right onto Mount Pisgah Road (or Pisgah Road). Drive 1.7 miles, then turn right into the gravel parking area for Mount Pisgah Conservation Area. The parking area is at the start of the gravel Tower Road, on which you’ll start your hike. Just a few hundred feet down the Tower Road, you will come to the Tower Trail (on your left) and Blueberry Trail (on your right).
Information: A popular hiking spot for people of the Augusta area, Mount Pisgah Conservation Area is about 800 acres of conserved forestland in Winthrop and Wayne managed by the Kennebec Land Trust. The property features two blue-blazed hiking trails, as well as an old gravel road. All three lead to the top of Mount Pisgah, which stands approximately 980 feet above sea level and is one of the highest points for miles around.
Standing atop the mountain is the greatest attraction on the property — a historic fire lookout tower. Constructed in 1949, the tower itself is a sight to behold, standing 60 feet tall and topped with a traditional square cab with windows on all four sides. The public is welcome to climb the sturdy tower on a zigzagging staircase with 79 stairs. From the top of the tower, you’re rewarded with an unobstructed 360-degree view of the region, and on a clear day, distant mountain ranges can be made out on the horizon, including Mount Washington to the west and the Camden Hills to the east.
Fire towers like the one atop Mount Pisgah are becoming increasingly difficult to find in Maine as they fall into disrepair and are removed from mountaintops. A list of fire lookout towers of Maine — towers that have been removed and towers that still stand — is provided by the Forest Fire Lookout Tower Association Maine Chapter at www.firelookout.org/lookouts/me/me.htm.
Be sure to use caution when climbing the stairs of the tower atop Mount Pisgah, taking your time and watching each step. Also, the cab windows are completely open, without glass or screens. Children should be supervised. Also, prepare to see plenty of graffiti inside the cab. This graffiti includes a few upbeat messages, people’s names, random symbols and the occasional swear word. Please do not add to it.
The tower was used to detect forest fires until 1991, when the Maine Forest Service transitioned into using aircraft patrols to detect fires instead. Today, stewardship responsibilities for the fire tower parcel are shared by the Town of Winthrop and the Kennebec Land Trust.
Mount Pisgah Conservation Area’s two hiking trails — the 0.7-mile Tower Trail and the 1.3-mile Blueberry Trail — both wind through a beautiful mixed forest filled with a variety of trees, including oaks, yellow birch, tall white pines, sugar maple, basswood, white ash and eastern hophornbeam trees.
The trails are well maintained and travel over unimproved forest floor, broken up by stretches of narrow bog bridges and rock steps. Expect gradual climbing, with the steepest section of the hike on Tower Trail just before the summit of the mountain.
“Pisgah” is a Hebrew word meaning “lookout” or “place with a view.” The word refers to the place on Mount Nebo from which the prophet Moses looked out over the promised lands.
Before the fire tower was constructed on Mount Pisgah in 1949, the summit was an open pasture that provided panoramic views of the area, according to the Kennebec Land Trust. Today, however, the summit is forested. Therefore, you must climb the tower to enjoy any views.
As you hike the trails on the mountain, you’ll cross many old stone walls in the forest. These stone walls, which used to line pastures, are evidence of the mountain’s rich agricultural history. In fact, Mount Pisgah was once home to Mt. Airy Farm, owned by Dr. Ezekiel Holmes, who is known as “the father of Maine agriculture.” Holmes brought innovative farming practices to Maine in the mid 1800s, including the introduction of Jersey cows and other livestock. He also played a key role in the development of the Maine College of Agriculture (now the University of Maine at Orono).
Also while on the trails, you may notice boulders and bedrock with distinct grooves. These marks were left by glaciers thousands of years ago.
Also of note, Kennebec Land Trust is currently working to restore highbush blueberries along the Blueberry Trail. According to a sign posted on the trail, the land trust has recruited a volunteer to help clear trees and prune branches that are blocking sunlight from areas historically used for blueberry picking along the trail.
The Mount Pisgah Conservation Area is conserved through fee ownership and conservation easements. The Kennebec Land Trust asks that visitors stay on marked trails or the Tower Road and carry out all trash. Fires, camping and consumption of drugs and alcohol are not permitted on the property. And dogs are permitted if on leash or kept voice control at all times.
Since being founded in 1988, the Kennebec Land Trust has worked with landowners and communities to conserve more than 5,000 acres of land and has constructed over 40 miles of trails for the public to enjoy. To learn more, visit tklt.org or call 377-2848.
Personal note: The gravel parking lot of the Mount Pisgah Conservation Area was overflowing on Sunday, Nov. 13, when my mom, Joyce, and I arrived to hike the mountain. We parked to the side of the road with a few other cars, then made our way to the kiosk at the edge of the parking lot to inspect the trail map on display. My dog, Oreo, tugged on his leash, eager to get going.
Mount Pisgah is mostly covered with deciduous trees, with stands of tall white pines here and there, and the occasional balsam and hemlock tree. A fluffy layer of dry leaves covered the forest floor, hiding rocks and tree roots and making the trail slippery in some places. We took our time, pausing to inspect big hollow trees, mushrooms and old rock walls. The old walls, which one lined pastures, reminded my mom of one of her favorite books, “Come Spring” by Ben Ames Williams, a historical fiction novel about families settling, clearing land and planting crops in Maine during the Revolutionary War.
“Oh I’ve read that book — it’s really good,” I agreed.
“I know. You have my copy,” my mom reminded me, smiling. “I had to buy a new one.”
When we arrived at the top of the mountain, my mom and I took turns climbing the tower while the other kept Oreo company at the bottom. I’ve learned from experience that Oreo isn’t fond of climbing fire towers.
As I stood in the cab of the tower, photographing the view on all sides, a fellow hiker offered for me to use his binoculars, through which I could see the snowy Mount Washington in detail.
While finishing our hike on the hilly Blueberry Trail, we passed by several families and dogs. In total, I’d say we interacted with at least six families on the trail that day, and even more dog walkers. It was nice to see people getting out so late in the season, and it really gave me the impression that Mount Pisgah is beloved by the community.
Looking up the tower