A calm ocean reflects the blue sky on June 2, off the coast of Cutler Coast Public Reserved Land.  Credit: Courtesy of Aislinn Sarnacki

“I smell the ocean,” my friend Kim said as she hiked behind me through a fern-filled forest.

“I see the ocean,” I replied, glancing up at blue water that peeked through tree trunks ahead of us.

“Oh! I haven’t been looking up,” Kim said. “I’m trying not to trip on these roots.”

It was a particularly root-filled trail.

Just a minute more of careful walking and we reached the Bold Coast of Cutler. There, atop towering cliffs, we looked out over a smooth expanse of water that stretched to the horizon, broken only by a few lobster buoys and the soft blue form of Canada’s Grand Manan Island.

We were hiking in Cutler Coast Public Reserved Land, a state-owned swath of wilderness in eastern Maine. The property covers 12,334 acres and includes about 4.5 miles of rocky coastline that overlooks the Bay of Fundy. The popular outdoor destination features more than 10 miles of hiking trails that lead to five backcountry tent sites.

Rocky headlands jut out into the ocean along the coast of Cutler Coast Public Reserved Land. Credit: Courtesy of Aislinn Sarnacki

I first visited Cutler Coast as a novice hiker in the early summer of 2009. At the time, I was visiting trails throughout the state to gather material to write a thesis for the University of Maine Honors College. My goal was to craft a creative nonfiction piece about the Maine outdoors in the style of John McPhee, one of my favorite writers.

The project turned out to be more personal and prophetic than I anticipated. It introduced me to the joys and health benefits of tromping through the wilderness, and it later influenced the trajectory of my career.

Now, more than 10 years later, much of my professional writing has revolved around hiking. And just last fall, I passed the exam to become a Registered Maine Guide, so I could lead others down the trails I love.

This June, as I walked along the dramatic cliffs of Cutler with my friend Kim, I was reminded of that journey from university student to outdoor professional. Stepping carefully over twisted tree roots, I remembered myself as a young, uncertain hiker, carrying a backpack that was far too heavy and wearing boots that had yet to be broken in.

As the trail traced the coast, it traveled up and down, up and down, over rocky hills and through shaded forests. In many places, the ground was covered with a carpet of low-lying bunchberry plants, each dotted with a single white flower. Other areas were filled with ferns that were so tall and numerous that I felt like we were in the jungle.

Old lobster buoys sit at the base of an evergreen tree on June 2, on the coast of Cutler Coast Public Reserved Land. Credit: Courtesy of Aislinn Sarnacki

About 2.8 miles into our hike, sweating under the weight of full backpacks, we arrived at a cobblestone beach at Black Point Cove. The stones, rounded and smoothed by waves, rolled underfoot as we trudged from one end of the beach to the other, where a knotted rope served as a handhold to help us up yet another steep hill.

Just past the beach, we reached the first tent site, which was already occupied. So we hiked on, hoping to reach a place to rest before sunset. (We carried headlamps, just in case)

We had started our hike in the afternoon because of our work schedules and my insistence that we camp on a Thursday. I’d made my decision based on a favorable weather report and the knowledge that the trail system becomes crowded on the weekends.

Old lobster buoys sit at the base of an evergreen tree on June 2, on the coast of Cutler Coast Public Reserved Land. Credit: Courtesy of Aislinn Sarnacki

The tent sites are first come, first served. Visitors sign a sheet at the trailhead and share their plans (day hike or camping) so that anyone heading into the woods will have a good idea whether they’ll be able to find a spot to pitch a tent. So, from the sign-in sheet, we knew there were at least two other parties camping that night.

Continuing along the coast, over numerous rocky hills, we hiked a little less than a mile to reach a cobblestone beach at Long Point Cove.

The beach reminded me of my second time visiting Cutler Coast, which was in August 2013. I camped for one night there with my husband, Derek, and our dog, Oreo, who has since passed away. On that beach, we sat on a long piece of driftwood and set up the camera behind us to take a family photo. I cherish that photo. In fact, my mother-in-law enlarged it and framed it for us.

Nearly 10 years later, the piece of driftwood is long gone, but the memory remains cocooned in my mind.

The second campsite was just past that beach. And that, too, was spoken for.

By then, our legs and shoulders were aching. We hiked a bit farther, then plunked down on a rock shelf overlooking the ocean to snack on beef jerky. I can’t quite describe the majesty of that landscape, with plunging cliffs and blocks of rock that seem fashioned by giants. Surrounded by that beauty, it was impossible to be in low spirits.

A sign marks the intersection of the Inland Trail and Coastal Trail on June 2, on Cutler Coast Public Reserved Land. Credit: Courtesy of Aislinn Sarnacki

Recharged — at least a little — we continued on to Fairy Head, home to the final three campsites. About five miles into the hike, Fairy Head is at the far end of the trail network. From there, a trail heads inland, traveling through the woods and past wetlands to form a big loop.

To our delight, we found the first campsite vacant and quickly set up our tent. We finished just in time to watch the sunset while cooking macaroni and cheese with a tiny backpacking stove. Then, to escape the mosquitoes, we ducked into our tent and played cards until bed.

The next morning, we hiked through fog until the sun was shining once more. Taking the Inland Trail, we managed to get turned around due to a trail reroute that wasn’t on the map and no intersection signs (so be careful about that if you visit any time soon). Using my GPS device and common sense, we managed to get back on track and out of the woods.

Here’s to another successful adventure, filled with a few challenges and many moments of joy.

Aislinn Sarnacki

Aislinn Sarnacki is a Maine outdoors writer and the author of three Maine hiking guidebooks including “Family Friendly Hikes in Maine.” Find her on Twitter and Facebook @1minhikegirl. You can also...