Let's start with a disclaimer. If you're a hiker who likes to pack big miles into a short weekend, Cutler Coast Public Reserve may not be for you. But if you'll forgo a long hike in exchange for a spectacular, uncrowded setting, this wild slice of Maine shoreline is made to order.
The 10-mile loop through Cutler Coast samples so much diverse terrain, you'll have to slow down to take it all in. The path rolls through blueberry barrens, peat lands, swampy woods, and a rare seaside spruce and fir forest, then leads past windswept headlands and rocky coves. At the farthest point of the loop are a handful of backcountry campsites where you can pitch a tent and savor one of the largest parcels of undeveloped coastline in the Northeast.
While the scenery rivals that found in Maine's Acadia National Park, you won't find comparable crowds in this relatively new park (opened to the public in 1996). My wife and I visited on a cloudless summer day and saw only three other hikers.
From the trailhead, we followed an approach trail southeast under the dark spruce and fir trees. We then emerged onto a bare, craggy headland towering 100 feet above the crashing waves of the North Atlantic.
From the overlook, we followed the trail southwest, climbing up and down rocky headlands and passing hidden coves. We scanned the shore for seals, porpoises, and whales (humpback, fin, and minke), which regularly cruise Cutler's ragged coastline from May to September.
At Fairy Head, we reached the reserve's three designated campsites. The sun rises at an ungodly hour in this extreme northeastern location, but it's worth leaving your sleeping bag to see the reddish orb peeking over Canada's Grand Manan Island.
EXPEDITION PLANNER: Cutler Coast Public Reserve, ME
DRIVE TIME: The Cutler Coast trailhead is about 2 1/2 hours (110 miles) east of Bangor.
THE WAY: From East Machias on US 1, drive east on ME 191 for about 17 miles. Park at the signed trailhead on the right, just past the village of Cutler.
TRAILS: The Fairy Head Loop combines the Coastal Trail and the Inland Trail for a total of 10 miles. You can also create a figure-eight route by using the Black Point Brook Cutoff.
Dayhike: For a 6-mile loop and a chance to whale watch, follow the Coastal Trail to the Black Point Brook Cutoff and return to the trailhead via the Inland Trail.
ELEVATION: Sea level to 200 feet.
CAN'T MISS: Exploring the rocky shoreline, particularly where the Coastal Trail first breaks out of the woods onto the cliff-bound headland. Or get up early (really early) and watch the sunrise, its scarlet reflection stretching from the horizon to the waves at your feet.
CROWD CONTROL: Your best bet for solitude is in September. Reservations are not taken for the backcountry campsites, so get to your camp early, and check the trail register the day you arrive to see if there will be space.
GUIDES: The free Cutler Coast Public Reserve map and brochure are all you need for this little park (see Contact below).
WALK SOFTLY: Camp only at designated sites. Stay on the trail; the bogs are delicate and vegetation on the coast holds easily eroded soils in place. Open fires are prohibited.
CONTACT: Maine Bureau of Parks and Lands, (207) 827-5936; www.state.me.us