“Where the mountains meet the sea, “ is an oft-quoted phrase attributed to poet Edna St. Vincent Millay to describe the Camden Hills. Located in Camden Hills State Park, Mount Megunticook is the tallest of the Camden Hills at an elevation 1,385 feet. According to park literature, it is also the highest mainland mountain on the Atlantic coast. Cadillac Mountain is preeminent but situated on Mount Desert Island.
Arguably the most scenic location in Maine, Megunticook’s Ocean Overlook provides some of the most phenomenal ocean vistas found anywhere. On top of sheer cliffs facing southwest, hikers can look directly down into picturesque Camden Harbor with Curtis Island Lighthouse guarding the entrance. Beyond, dozens of islands decorate spectacular Penobscot Bay.
Poet and playwright Edna St. Vincent Millay spent much of her youth living in Camden within sight of majestic Megunticook Cliffs. She is reputed to have enjoyed hiking its trails and those of nearby Mount Battie. In 1912, she catapulted to fame with her poem “Renascence,” which captures the essence of the charm and beauty of those mountains and Penobscot Bay. Millay went on to become the first woman to receive the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry and one of the most famous literary figures of the 20th century.
My Megunticook hiking experiences began when I moved to the mid-coast area over forty years ago. In the intervening decades, I’ve summitted at least two or three times a year, qualifying for the century club if they had one. Since they don’t, the obsessive compulsive Megunticook award might be appropriate.
A favorite personal endeavor is what I call the “Megunticook Hike and Bike.” Leaving from the parking lot at park headquarters, I bike up Mount Battie Road for about a mile to the Tablelands Trail. Cabling my bike to a tree, I ascend for a mile to Ocean Overlook and an additional half mile to the wooded Megunticook high point. Backtracking to the bike, the outing is completed by cycling to the top of Mount Battie followed by an exhilarating return ride steeply downhill to park headquarters. For some odd reason, I’ve never been able to interest anyone else in this escapade.
Over the years, I’ve experimented with several variations of the Megunticook hike and bike, including using cross country skis when the park didn’t plow the road in winter. On several occasions, a late start meant descending the road in the dark, once nearly striking a walker with my bike. We both resolved to wear head lamps in the future. An unplowed Mount Battie Road with hard packed snow provides for a stimulating cross country skiing descent.
Choosing the first day of winter for my latest Megunticook climb, the Mount Battie Road was plowed and partially ice-covered on arrival. Deciding to limit my activity to just hiking, micro spikes appeared to be the best option for ensuring traction. Beginning on Megunticook Trail just beyond the campground, I ascended the east side of the mountain on a packed snow surface to Adam’s Lookout Trail. Turning left, it ambles over some ledges with excellent views of Penobscot Bay to the Ridge Trail. From there the trail climbs precipitously along the cliffs to Ocean Overlook.
Don’t forget to take a camera on this hike as you’re almost guaranteed some wonderful photos from the overlook. Stop to visualize a passionate Edna St. Vincent Millay sitting at the edge of the cliffs contemplating its beauty as she almost assuredly visited this spot many times.
Donning my down parka for protection against frigid northwest winds, I skirted along the cliffs and persisted to the true summit. Returning on panoramic Ridge Trail then descending Tablelands Trail to Mount Battie Road, I was surprised to encounter a couple sliding the icy road on coasters. After years of varied Megunticook experiences, this was a different alternative to contemplate.
Continuing what has become an obligatory extension of the trek for me, I hiked to the summit of Mount Battie where the stone tower was festively adorned with Christmas lights. More outstanding views of Camden Harbor and Penobscot Bay were the reward. Securely dropping rapidly down Mount Battie Road on micro spikes, another Megunticook excursion was completed. No bikes or skis this time but I’ll take a plastic flying saucer on the next winter Megunticook adventure.
Did I mention that if you are a Maine resident over 64 there is no entrance fee? If you’re a fellow senior who can walk, hike, bike, ski or slide, enjoy a free day in beautiful Camden Hills State Park. Drive to the top of Mount Battie when the road is open and experience the same views that inspired Edna St. Vincent Millay over a century ago.