Backpacking Cutler Coast Reserve

I first heard of the Bold Coast Trail in Maine several years ago – a backpacking loop where you get to camp right on the cliffs on the ocean?  Put it on the list.  When I started planning a Maine hiking vacation earlier this year, I looked it up and saw the name referred to hiking trails on Cutler Coast Public Lands on part of the “Bold Coast” that extends from Cutler to Lubec.  The map shows only about ten miles of trails and three first-come, first-serve backcountry campsites.  Caz and Scott were coming into Portland for a wedding and were down for a week of adventuring in Maine so I picked them up and we drove up the coast.

We didn’t get to Cutler Coast until after lunch.  With the scarcity of campsites and awesome location, we were a little worried about getting a spot, even on a  Monday night.  But there’s a register at the trailhead that everyone is required to sign into and say if they’re day hiking or overnighting so we could see only one person was ahead of us for the night.  Plus, the rumors I had seen online of two more campsites were proved true with an edited map on the trailhead sign.

We also saw that the Inland Trail had been rerouted, 1.2 miles around what looked like less than a .2 mile piece of trail.  It wasn’t apparent why that was, so while we had considered doing the inland part of the loop first, we decided instead to hike out on the Coastal Trail.

The trail was nice and green, sometimes dirt path, sometimes rocky, and with plenty of puncheon.  There was only a little elevation change here and there and it didn’t take long before we started smelling the ocean and seeing water through the trees.

We got up to the coastline to see beautiful views.  While I had imagined the trail was directly on the cliffs the whole time, it was actually inland slightly with trees blocking the view much of the time.  But there were lots of little openings along the way to take a peak and the trail would occasionally walk on the cliffside.  There were also stretches of high grasses and other brush that it was a little difficult to see the trail through.

We could see a lot of steep gullies leading down to small, private beaches but we didn’t explore any of them since we wanted to get to a campsite.  The trail did eventually get down closer to the water after passing the Black Point Brook Cutoff trail.  The first campsite was at Black Point and had its own beach just before it, along with what looked like a large unofficial campsite also just before it.  The official campsite was taken so we didn’t get to check it out and kept moving.

We carried all of our water in since I’d heard there weren’t any good fresh water sources, but we did pass a slow-flowing stream just before the next campsite at Long Point Cove.  It’s been dry lately so it was good to see that flowing as much as  it was.  The campsite itself was empty and had plenty of flat, open spaces for tents and its own little beach next door, but we ultimately decided to keep moving.  We couldn’t see the water that well from the campsite, the beach was already in shade so not great for swimming, and then we started noticing a lot of standing dead trees.  No need to camp there.

We continued on the Coastal Trail until we got closer to Fairy Head and came upon the first campsite there.  It seemed like we were coming across a lot of blowdowns just before it but I think we had actually gotten off trail and were just on a herd path.  We did happen upon the campsite because we saw the toilet from where we were and climbed up to it.  It was a small site just off the cliffs so when I went out on the rocks to check out the space out there, I discovered the trail going by on the rocks, not where we’d come from.  The campsite was invisible from the rocks so I’m not sure how you would normally find it, but it’s up on the ledge just past what looks like a signpost with two hanging buoys on it.

From there, we continued on the actual trail on the cliffs and back into the woods until the next campsite.  There were ladders leading off on a side trail towards the water so we went up and found a site with just enough good space for two tents, but an excellent view and cliffs to hang on out.  We were sold.  There were no beaches nearby for swimming, but at that point, it was cooling off so that wasn’t as important any more.

Photo by Caz

We set up camp and went out on the cliffs to cook dinner.  The mosquitoes were pretty bad but I had a little bug spray to help.  I was quickly distracted from the bugs by seals playing in the water below us!  We couldn’t see them super well but it was still really neat.  And after dinner, I climbed down the rocks to get closer to them and to try to get a better vantage point for sunset.

I eventually climbed back up to join Caz and Scott in watching the moonlight glitter on the ocean.  We could also see the Little River Lighthouse on the coast nearby and the Southwest Head Lighthouse on Grand Manan Island (Canada).  The mosquitoes just kept getting worse so we did end up going to bed early to escape them.

We had talked about getting up for sunrise, which is always something I think I want to do the night before, but I never actually want to do in the morning.  But sunrise is getting a little later these days and I was awake to hear Caz get up so I followed her out to the cliffs.  It was worth it.

After sunrise, we sat on the cliffs again for breakfast and to watch the lobster boats go by and check their traps.  Because we’d gotten up so early, we had plenty of time to hang out and still get an early start back on the trail.  While I would have liked to hang out here forever, we did have other places to be on the agenda.

We decided to continue on the rest of the Coastal Trail and take the Inland Trail back in order to check out the whole loop.  We shortly came upon the third and final Fairy Head campsite, its trail marked by bouys.  It was inland a little bit and had no view, but we couldn’t see the whole thing since someone was camped there and we didn’t want to bother them.  There was no swimming there either, but it did have a better view of the lighthouse we’d seen from afar.  Although that meant the bell near the lighthouse was much louder as well.  We’d heard it ringing constantly from our campsite but it wasn’t loud enough to be bothersome.  I think we had the best of the Fairy Head campsites.

There was also a large pool of water on the cliffs just past the last site, which did appear to be spring-fed and not just a puddle left over from the tide.  The water didn’t look like the best though so I’m glad we carried all of ours.

Once we turned inland, the trail was mossy all over, my favorite kind of trail, and there were mushrooms galore.  There were a couple of places that pointed to a view but they were very overgrown and really had no view back to the ocean.  One spot did overlook a marsh and had some blueberries growing on top so we stopped for a short break to enjoy it.

We had also been hoping that the Inland Trail would have less overgrown areas than the Coastal Trail, but there were plenty.  The spots seemed to be shorter but more overgrown.  I guess it’s a wash either way.

After passing the Black Point Cutoff trail, we came immediately upton the Inland Trail Reroute.  I had been hoping it would become apparent once we were there why they’d created such a long reroute, but it wasn’t apparent at all.  Maybe they were taking us to see something cool?

We hiked onto the freshly cut trail and, aside from being new, it looked just like other trail we’d already been on.  At one point, we did hear something very large moving away from us in the woods but we never saw it.  We did see moose track shortly after so I suspect it was that.  The reroute ended, still without any indication of why it exists, and we kept hiking the short distance left on the main trail back to the trailhead.

This was an absolutely beautiful spot and I’d love to go back and spend much more time there.  We had beers and lunch in the parking lot before moving on to the next adventure.


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  1. Such a beautiful and unforgettable place. Thanks so much for taking us- the full Maine experience, mosquitoes and all!

  2. Beautiful pictures! So glad you jersey girls got to meet up for such a wonderful trip in Maine!

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