Maine is a magical place. We have thousands of miles of rocky coastline interrupted with long sandy beaches spotted with colorful umbrellas and beach towels. We have more seafood then you can stuff your face with and don’t get me started about our lobster! Portland has been repeatedly called one of America’s best small cities and you can’t leave Maine without visiting L.L.Bean to purchase some sold-out Bean Boots and soft flannel. And our mountains are just as good.
We have the Mount Katahdin rising high above the potato fields and pine forests at 5268 feet. Cadillac Mountain in Acadia National Park is home to the first sunrise in the country. And the western part of the state is home to an amazing collection of mountains ranging in size with the Appalachian Trail winding her way towards Katahdin. Unfortunately, none of the “big” mountains are located in the southern Maine region. If you’re looking to cross off the 4000 footers in Maine this year you’ll have to gas up your car and expect to drive at least a couple of hours north of Portland. However, if you’re looking for an afternoon hike or you can’t drive too far from Portland then I recommend you lace up your hiking boots and hit Pleasant Mountain in Bridgton, Maine.
Pleasant Mountain is southern Maine’s tallest mountain standing at 2006 feet tall and is located within an hour drive of Portland, Maine making it the perfect day hike. The mountain contains nearly 10 miles of various trails managed by the Loon Echo Land Trust and the summit rewards you with beautiful views of the surrounding Saco River valley and the White Mountains. Pleasant Mountain is an isolated, lengthy mountain mass that stretches about 4 miles on the north-south line of Bridgton and Denmark. The main summit is open and filled with ledges, which are typical in a very granite heavy state. The summit was once known as House Peak because it was home to a hotel from 1873 to 1907. Today, the main summit is home to a MFS firetower. It can be climbed, but I personally wouldn’t recommend it as it’s rather old and rickety. The views from the main summit and Big Bald Peak are outstanding and if you’re lucky you might even see Mountain Washington from a far! There are at least 6 trails heading up the mountain of varying lengths. So the question now is…which one do you hike?
Ledges Trail (3.6 miles roundtrip)
My favorite trail is the Ledges Trail located off of Mountain Road. Just park on the side of the road. The trail is marked with blue blazes and begins on a logging road. It gradually climbs for 0.5 miles and then abruptly climbs up for 0.3 miles to a scenic outlook on the ledges. The trail then follows the ledges another 0.6 miles to the Southwest Trail junction. The summit is only another 0.2 miles to the top for a total of 1.8 miles of hiking to the top. The total hike time up should take less than 2 hours depending on your hiking speed. The summit offers views to the west, including the town of Fryeburg and the Saco River Basin.
The Ledges Trail is the most popular trail and on a nice day you’ll see a lot of people out on the trail. The trail is the most direct to the summit and compared to the other trails, it is overall the steepest trail with some rock scrambles. The trail is well-marked and relatively dry. Additionally, the Ledges Trail offers some of the best views in my opinion so don’t forget your camera at home.
- Trail Markers: Blue blazes
- Location: 3.3 miles south of the US 302 and Mountain Road junction. There is no official parking lot, but you can park on the side of the road. If you pass a narrow bridge over Moose Pond, you have gone too far.
- Distance: 1.8 miles to the summit (3.6 miles roundtrip)
- Time: About 2-3 hours roundtrip depending on hiking speed
- Best for: short of time; challenging trail; scenic views
Firewarden’s Trail (5.0 miles roundtrip)
The Firewarden’s Trail does not provide the same scenic views as the other trails, but it is one of the most popular trails for beginners. The first half of the trail is an old logging road so the trail is relatively flat and wide. You’ll cross over a wide bridge over a roaring brook and swing a right up a gradual climb. You’ll follow the brook on your right for about a quarter-mile before swinging another right over a narrow snowmobile bridge. The trail starts to narrow and become rocky as you start to climb at a slightly steeper incline. You’ll keep the brook on your left now as you climb up the trail. If it has rained recently, the trail will be slightly muddy and you’ll have to watch out for the slippery granite rocks. The area has been logged in the recent years so the trail may appear to turn into the greenery on the right, but you will continue to climb up the rocky dirt trail.
As you get closer to the summit the trail will start to level out a bit more and you’ll see more granite rocks. There are several fallen trees in the upper part of the trail so be prepared to step over the trees. At 2.3 miles you’ll come to the trail junction with Bald Peak Trail and from here it’s just another 0.2 miles through the blueberry patched to the summit. The Firewarden’s Trail is fairly well-marked with red blazes, although you will see white blazes as well. The blazes are widely spread in areas so remember to stay on the rocky dirt trail that looks like an old creek bed. Don’t be attempted to follow any old logging roads. The bugs are pretty bad on this trail so remember your bug spray!
- Trail Markers: Red blazes (with some white blazes)
- Location: From US 302 take Wilton Warren Road about 1.2 miles. If you’re coming from Denmark Road the road is named “Warren Road” (look for a wooden Yoga sign). The road is dirt so watch your speed. The parking lot is located next to a beautiful yellow Victorian house and barns. Park in front on the rock wall and the trail is just past the red gate on the right.
- Distance: 2.5 miles to the summit (5.0 miles roundtrip)
- Time: 2.5-4 hours roundtrip depending on hiking speed
- Best for: beginners; young children; trail running
Southwest Ridge Trail (5.8 miles roundtrip)
The Southwest Ridge Trail is truly a hidden gem. Due to its starting location on Denmark Road not many people choose to hike this trail. The parking lot is located 3.5 miles up Denmark Road, a dirt road off of ME Rt 160. The first half of trail is an easy climb on wide dirt trails winding through the woods. As you get closer to the first granite ledges the trail will start to get a bit steeper. From here the trail will open up and you’ll be climbing the rocky ledges. Instead of yellow blazes you’ll start to see more rock cairns marking the trail. Once you reach the rocky ledges at about 0.6 miles you’ll continue to climb mostly on the rocks with beautiful open views of Moose Pond and the Saco River valley until you reach the southwestern summit at 1.6 miles. You’ll see a sign pointing you to the summit on the left. The trail narrows almost to a single track and descends over the short saddle and down the col into a wooden gully.
You may start to question yourself on whether you’re heading in the right direction or not, but you totally are. Continue to follow this winding, narrow trail for another mile. The trail is gradual and allows you to catch your breath a bit. At 2.7 miles you’ll come to the trail junction with the Ledges Trail and you’ll follow the blue blazes to the summit. The Southwest Ridge Trail is the longest trail, but one of the prettiest in my opinion. There are hundreds of blueberry brushes growing along the rocky ledges so bring your bucket for an afternoon snack.
- Trail markers: Yellow blazes and cairns
- Location: The Southwest Ridge Trail is the hardest trailhead to find. It is located about 3.5 miles up Denmark Road from ME Rt 60. From US 302 it’s about 3.4 miles down Denmark Road. Denmark Road is a dirt road so watch your speed. There is a small parking lot across from Spiked Ridge Road (Fire Land 78).
- Distance: 2.9 miles (5.8 miles roundtrip)
- Time: 3.5-4.5 hours roundtrip depending on hiking speed
- Best for: longest route; scenic views; quiet hike
Bald Peak Trail (4.8 miles roundtrip)
The Bald Peak Trail is located off of Mountain Road making it one of the easier trails to access. There is no parking lot so park along the road near utility poles 49 and 50. The trail starts on a nice dirt trail that crosses a small brook. Most of the lower trail is either dirt or rocky steps. After the brook crossing the trail starts to climb more steeply. You’ll keep the brook on your left for a while. At 0.4 miles you’ll see a sign pointing towards Needle’s Eye. Needle’s Eye is a short spur trail that leads to a waterfall through a cleft in the ledge. Continue climbing to 0.7 miles where you’ll come to a trail junction with Sue’s Way. Stay on the Bald Peak Trail and it will start climbing very steeply through the woods. The trail is steep and full of tree roots and rocks. If it has been raining recently then the trail will be wet and slippery. I wouldn’t recommend hiking this trail after a day of a lot of rain. Yuck!
If you survive the 0.3 miles up the steep rocks and roots, you’ll be rewarded with the rocky, open summit on Bald Peak. The views are beautiful from all directions. From the west you can see the White Mountains on a clear day, especially during the Fall months when the leaves are falling from the trees. From the summit of Big Bald Peak you’ll follow the trail over the crest of the ridge over two small humps of the mountain through the hard wood forest. The trail is pretty flat and most or less an easy walk. At 2.2 miles the trail merges with the Firewarden’s Trail where it’s just 0.2 miles to the summit. The views from the Bald Peak Trail are beautiful, but you will work for that view. The trail is steep and rocky for about 0.3 miles. It’s not for the faint of heart or the injured.
- Trail markers: Blue blazes
- Location: The trailhead is located on Mountain Road between utility poles 49 and 50 (yes, they are numbered). It’s located about 0.1 miles south of Shawnee Peak’s East Pinnacle Condos. Just park on the side of the road, but don’t block driveways or fire lanes.
- Distance: 2.4 miles to the summit (4.8 miles roundtrip)
- Time: 3-4 hours depending on hiking speed
- Best for: challenge; scenic views
Sue’s Way (0.5 miles)
Sue’s Way connects Bald Peak Trail to the North Ridge Trail near North Peak. The trail junction is located at 0.7 miles on the Bald Peak Trail. You can combine this trail with Bald Peak Trail and North Ridge Trail to create a loop.
- Trail Markers: Blue blazes
- Distance: 0.5 miles to North Peak Trail
- Time: About 20-30 minutes
- Best for: Loop with Bald Peak Trail
North Ridge Trail (0.8 miles)
The North Ridge Trail junction with Bald Peak Trail occurs around 1.1 miles. You can hike up the East trail of Shawnee Peak and reach the trail junction near the warming hut at the top. Additionally if you’re looking for a loop trail you can combine this trail with Bald Peak Trail and Sue’s Way.
- Trail Markers: Blue blazes
- Distance: 0.8 miles
- Time: About 30-45 minutes
- Best for: loop with Bald Peak Trail
Pleasant Mountain is a great mountain to hike in southern Maine. It’s only about an hour drive north-west from Portland and offers a wide variety of hiking trails with varying difficulty. Pleasant Mountain is both family and dog friendly so pack the kids and the pooch and head to Pleasant Mountain for an afternoon hike!