This story was originally published in June 2015.
Looking at online trail descriptions and photos, it’s often difficult to judge what trails are best for kids. The following are nine trails (or trail networks) that are easy, lead through beautiful habitats and offer opportunities to learn about nature, making them ideal for children, families and others interested in the flora and fauna of Maine. This is by no means a complete list, as there are many nature trails in the state that are great for kids, but it’s a little something to get you started.
1. Wolfe’s Neck Woods State Park
With educational signs scattered along 4.5 miles of intersecting trails, Wolfe’s Neck is an excellent spot for kids of all ages to learn about nature. The signs include diagrams, photos and written information about various habitats and wildlife seen throughout the property. And if you have very young children with you, a good portion of the trail network is stroller accessible. The park also features private picnic areas and a beach, where you can search for horseshoe crabs.
In celebration of National Trails Day on Saturday, June 6, the Maine Bureau of Parks and Lands is holding a celebration at Wolfe’s Neck Woods State Park in Freeport. The event, beginning at 9 a.m., will feature guided hikes, trail work opportunities and other outdoor activities.
2. Trenton Community Trail in Trenton
The trail starts out as a single trail and splits into a loop. At the far end of the loop is a wide boardwalk that travels out into a peat bog, which is home to a variety of interesting plants, including carnivorous plants such as the pitcher plant. Educational signs on the boardwalk platform help you understand what you’re seeing. The entire hike, out and back, is 2.4 miles. There are multiple benches and interpretive signs along the trail, where you can stop and learn about area wildlife and habitats. While the trail is relatively flat, the footing can be tricky in some areas, making it difficult for young children. There are many narrow bog bridges that span over soggy sections of trail.
3. Hirundo Wildlife Refuge in Alton
This 2,404-acre refuge spans Pushaw and Dead Streams, a man-made pond, wetlands and forestland. Open to the public year round, the refuge features an extensive trail system that is clearly marked and signed, and three of the trails in the network are interpretive trails with self-guided tour brochures. And if you’d rather learn about nature with a group, the refuge naturalist works with other wildlife experts to organize a wide variety of programs, including guided nature walks and paddles, on a regular basis.
4. Fields Pond Audubon Center in Holden
Fields Pond Audubon Center is a 192-acre wildlife sanctuary with trails winding through field, wetland and forest, and along the shore of the 85-acre Fields Pond, where people often see large snapping turtles. Bird boxes and feeders placed throughout the fields, attracting a wide variety of birds. To learn about the wildlife you’ll undoubtably spot as you walk the trails, visit the sanctuary nature center, where there are taxidermy displays, wildlife artwork and a store. The center offers dozens of year-round public programs and day camps for children.
5. McPhetres Farm Forest in Veazie
The trails in McPhetres Farm Forest add up to a little less than 1.5 miles. The forest is fairly hilly, so expect a few short uphill climbs, as well as bog bridges and exposed tree roots. The forest is a certified tree farm in the national American Tree Farm System and is a great place to learn about tree identification and forestry practices. The trails lead visitors through a wide variety of trees, including white ash, sugar maple, beech, red pine, white oak and a stand of towering white pines that’s more than 100 years old.Educational signs are located throughout the trail network so people can learn about forest management and natural features, such as cavity trees and ant mounds. This hike may be more interesting to older kids.
6. Hidden Valley Nature Center in Jefferson
Home to nearly 30 miles of multi-use forest trails, Hidden Valley Nature Center is a nonprofit education center that gives visitors access to 1,000 acres of contiguous forest in Lincoln County, including more an one mile of shoreline on Little Dyer Pond. For kids, there’s a great group of easy trails right near the main trailhead and parking area. At the gatehouse near the trailhead, you can pick up trail maps and a pamphlet for a scavenger hunt game that involves “Trail Guys,” large wooden green men created by Aaron Weissblum, a local game designer and artist. The Trail Guys are posted on trees along the kid-friendly Warbler Trail as well HVNC’s community clearing, where picnic tables are located. Each Trail Guy has a different symbol on its chest,
as well as a corresponding letter. The goal is to find each Trail Guy and record their letters to decode directions to “the scroll,” where you can write your name and email to be put into a drawing for prizes.
Also not far from the parking lot is the Kettle Hole Bog Boardwalk, where there are several educational signs explaining about the various flora and fauna that can only be found in a sphagnum moss bog.
7. Birch Point Trail in Steuben
Birch Point Trail is one of two interpretive trails in the Petit Manan Point Division of the Maine Coastal Islands National Wildlife Refuge Complex. The hike is a little more than 4 miles, round trip, and travels over fairly even terrain. Most of the trail is wide and smooth. At the far end of the hike, the short trail to Lobster Point and the small loop trail to Birch Point are both narrow and require more attention to footing. The Birch Point Trail starts in a blueberry field, then passes through a mixed forest and leads to the salt marshes of Dyer Bay. Chairs and benches are located along the trail, as well as several colorful interpretive signs. The trail exploring Birch Point is a small loop that leads to several views of the water and crosses a cobble beach, which hikers can learn more about from an interpretive sign by the shore.
8. Beech Hill Preserve in Rockport
Beech Hill Preserve, 295 acres of blueberry fields and forest in Rockport, is one of the official stops on the Maine Birding Trail, with more than 125 species on its checklist. The preserve’s Summit Road Trail is just 0.75 mile and leads to Beech Nut, a historic stone building at the top of Beech Hill, making for a 1.5-mile round trip. The trail is wide and smooth much of the way, making it a great walk for children. A few educational displays along the trail tell visitors about the grassland habitat and blueberry operation, as well as the history of Beach Nut.
9. Orono Bog Boardwalk in Bangor and Orono
This particular walk is stroller and wheelchair accessible. Starting on wide gravel trails of the Rolland F. Perry City Forest in Bangor, the Orono Bog Boardwalk is a 1-mile long boardwalk travels through a forest filled with ferns and out into a large peat bog. Along the way are many benches and detailed displays about the various plants and birds. Keep an eye out for the carnivorous pitcher plants in the bog. Volunteer naturalists offer guided walks on the boardwalk, usually to groups, on a regular basis.