Hikers are lured onto Maine’s trails by the promise of paths carved through tall pines and expansive summit vistas.
Sometimes they’re after a bit of trail solitude – the chance to hear their breath and the chirping of birds – or the challenge of steep terrain they’ve yet to conquer.
And sometimes it’s largely about the snacks.
Not that a summit vista isn’t motivating in its own right. Of course, it is. But I believe every view – be it from a mountaintop or a pondside patch of ground – is further improved by the presence of a sandwich. And some granola with chocolate chunks in it. And maybe a whoopie pie.
A hike-and-picnic pairing is something we can do any time of year. Even in winter, a comfortable snacking experience in the snow is simply a matter of layering (a waterproof blanket or sit-upon makes all the difference, too, as does a thermos of tea or hot apple cider).
But spring is my favorite time of year for a hike where the picnic is the real purpose. The warm-ish temperatures and sunshine beckon us after a long winter spent scrambling inside for warmth. Forecasts in the 50s and 60s sound downright balmy.
Spring also marks a delightful foliage window: views are less encumbered by leaves, so you can see things you won’t be able to in the summer, while buds on the branches and tenacious green shoots pushing up through the dirt are reason to celebrate the impending summer.
Plus, the trails tend to be much quieter in the early season, giving you ample opportunity to linger on a blanket, feel the sun on your face, and eat lots of cheese.
Shorter hikes are excellent because you’re freer to pack more snacks without worrying about the burden of lugging it all uphill for two hours, although a little bit of incline makes the crackers and cookies taste all the better.
Some of my favorite Maine-made snacks are Little Lad’s Herbal Popcorn and Grandy Organics Dark Chocolate Coconola. I also recommend bringing a water-resistant outdoor blanket. It’ll keep your rear dry, even if the ground isn’t, and a good blanket makes an average lunch stop seem fancier.
A spring picnic in the woods or by the water offers a perfect blend of activity and eating. And carrying enough snacks to feed a small army is just solid hiking practice, in my opinion. You need fuel for all that summit-gazing, after all.
You can hike and picnic where you see fit, but here are three of my favorite spots to roll out a blanket:
• Morse Mountain and Seawall Beach, Morse Mountain Road, Phippsburg. The perfect blend of woods and waves, the 2-mile (one-way) trek to Seawall Beach wanders through woods and over Morse Mountain before spilling you out onto the sand.
In the spring, listen for frogs and the drip, drip of ice melting from moss-covered rock. This hike is beginner-friendly – Morse Mountain offers splendid views of the marsh from the lookout, but isn’t strenuous – and a scenic beach picnic is worth carrying a pack full of edible goods for two miles.
Seawall Beach offers loads of space to spread out your blanket, have lunch, and watch the waves. The parking lot here fills up early as the weather warms, so enjoying it in the spring is a good idea.
• Cliff Trail, Mountain Road, Harpswell. The Cliff Trail in Harpswell is a splendid 2.3-mile loop that runs along Strawberry Creek on one side and has stunning views of Long Reach from 150-foot cliffs on the other side. In between, you’ll hike a rootsy and moss-laden trail that offers some incline. It’s enough to get your heart pumping a bit, but then the woods always send my heart a pitter-patter.
When you reach the cliff overlook, there’s an open space to sit on the rock, have a snack, and savor the views of Long Reach, where the water below is always a unique blue-green. Roll your blanket out here and take it all in.
• Douglas Mountain, Douglas Mountain Road, Sebago. Douglas Mountain features 2.8 miles of network trail, including a few options for making your way to the summit.
While there are some steep sections that will get your blood pumping as you go, the trail distances (ranging from 0.25 miles to 1 mile) are still short enough to make for a beginner-friendly trek (and allow you to bring all the snacks you’d like). Even cooler, there’s a stone tower at the summit, where you can ascend the stairs and take in a mountain-top view of Sebago Lake and the Maine Lakes Region.
This is a popular hike on a nice day, and you’re likely to see other folks relaxing at the summit or enjoying a picnic of their own.
Freelance writer Shannon Bryan lives in South Portland and is the founder of fitmaine.com, where she writes about the coolest ways to be active and get outdoors in Maine.