This time of year, I’m on the lookout for great spots to return to when fall foliage is at its peak. The leaves are already starting to change, especially along roadways and wetlands, where conditions cause trees to transition early. Red, yellow and orange are bleeding into the leaves, often starting at the tops of trees and working downward.
For the best fall foliage hikes, I look for woods that are filled with a variety of deciduous trees: oaks, birches, ashes, aspens and maples. It’s a magical experience to follow a trail under a colorful canopy, with freshly fallen leaves carpeting the forest floor.
I also look for hikes that lead to open views, places where I can experience the fall foliage from afar, as a vibrant quilt draped over the hills. When the light hits it just right, the wilderness looks aflame.
Recently, I visited the Richard S. Hodson Preserve and Rheault Trail in Camden. It was my first time there, and I noted it as a particularly good spot to enjoy fall foliage. Though the trees were just starting to turn, I had no trouble using my imagination.
The forest there is filled with red oaks, bigtooth aspens and sugar maples. But what makes it a truly great foliage spot is the trail that travels through blueberry barrens to the top of Howe Hill. Blueberry plants turn bright red in the fall. And the hilltop offers open views of nearby Bald and Hatchet mountains, as well as Camden Hills State Park.
The property is owned and managed by Coastal Mountains Land Trust, a nonprofit organization founded in 1986 to conserve land in the western Penobscot Bay region. Since then, the land trust has conserved more than 13,000 acres in the area.
As its name hints, the Richard Hodson Preserve and Rheault Trail are actually two adjoining properties. The 35-acre preserve was donated by Caroline Hodson in 1992, and Sarah Rheault donated a neighboring 119-acre easement in 2005. A trail network explores both of these properties.
On the preserve is the easy 0.75-mile Hodson Loop, which travels through a beautiful mixed forest filled with ferns. And on the adjoining easement, the Rheault Trail (also called the Summit Trail) leads gradually uphill to the blueberry barrens and the top of Howe Hill. Out and back, that hike is about 1.2 miles.
Parking for the trail network is a gravel pull-out on the side of Molyneaux Road, about 0.6 miles west of where Molyneaux Road crosses Route 105. There you’ll find a sign and kiosk displaying a trail map and visitor rules. The preserve is open to the public for free, year-round, during daylight hours.
Dogs and hunting are not permitted.
The land trust asks that visitors remain on the established trails, which are marked with blue-painted blazes and signs. This is especially important for not disrupting the organic blueberry operation.
The forest on the property is filled with diversity. In addition to containing a variety of mature hardwoods, the preserve features a hemlock grove and old apple trees. It also contains a grove of sugar maples, which are among the flashiest trees in the fall.
Early on in the trail network, you’ll come to a historic mill site on Sucker Brook, a memorial bench and a scenic wooden footbridge. You’ll also notice several old stone walls on the property, threading through the forest and the barrens.
Atop Howe Hill, about 540 feet above sea level, is a rock that’s perfect for sitting and enjoying the view. There you’ll find an engraving of the Howe family name. Curious to learn more, I conducted a quick internet search to find that the Howe family has a long history in Camden.
Through the Camden-Rockport Historical Society Image Collection, I found an undated black-and-white photo of Oscar Howe plowing Howe Hill with a team of oxen. I then found a fascinating article about the Howe family published in 2010 by “The Courier-Gazette.” It began: “Two of the most interesting men that Camden has known in the past are Oscar and Walter Howe.”
Oscar and Walter were brothers, born in 1889 and 1894, respectively. They grew up on a farm on Howe Hill with their parents, Herbert and Abbie, and their sister, Alice. According to the article, many things earned them the title of “most interesting men.”
They’d travel to town driving a team of oxen, and for shirts they’d wear grain bags out of which they’d cut out neck and arm holes. They were also known as highly intelligent. Walter, for instance, was so good at playing the stock market that he died a millionaire with investments in Ford, GM and other businesses.
Before I get lost in history, I suppose I should circle back to fall foliage. I’m traveling out of the country in about a week, and I’m determined to find and enjoy as many colorful trees as I can before then.
We’re on the cusp of what’s arguably the most beautiful time in Maine. To catch some fall foliage in early October, I’m going to head north and into the mountains, where the leaves change earlier than the rest of the state.