The largest city in Maine, Portland is known for its working harbor, fine and eclectic dining, and thriving bar scene. But for visitors who want to stretch their legs and explore, this coastal destination also offers plenty of trails where you can breathe in ocean-cooled air scented with a whiff of pine. Whether you have an hour or a day, there's a Portland-area hike that will stir your senses and enhance your appreciation for New England's wildest state. Here are eight of the best hiking destinations to seek and find.
Located less than four miles north of downtown Portland in Falmouth, Mackworth Island is connected to the mainland via a causeway. Donated to the state in 1946 by Governor Percival P. Baxter, most of the 100-acre island is now public parkland that serves as a sanctuary for wildlife and shorebirds.
A family-friendly hike that takes about an hour at a laidback pace, the 1.5-mile trail around the island's perimeter offers photogenic views of Portland and busy, boat-filled Casco Bay. The packed-soil path can be slippery after a rainstorm, but it is generally easy to navigate and wheelchair accessible. Short offshoot trails down to the shore are steep and more challenging.
Your leashed dog can join you for the walk, and dog lovers take note: The island is also famously home to Baxter's pet cemetery, where 14 beloved dogs and a horse are remembered with sweetly inscribed gravestones. A small admission fee to the park applies.
If there's one "must walk" in Portland, it's the Eastern Promenade. At just over two miles long, the harbor-front trail offers unbeatable views of Casco Bay (and an enticing swim at East End Beach on summer days).
After you begin your outing at the Maine State Pier in the Old Port District, you'll discover that Eastern Prom is more than a walking path: It's a 78-acre park, the largest in Portland. Its gracious landscape was designed in 1905 by Olmsted Brothers, the landscape architects who carried on the legacy of Central Park creator Frederick Law Olmsted. Since 2006, Friends of the Eastern Promenade has worked with the city to preserve and enhance the park and all of its assets.
If you're up for more walking, the Eastern Promenade Trail runs right into the Bayside Trail, which connects to the Back Cove Trail.
This 3.5-mile trail loops around Back Cove—a 340-acre tidal basin right in the midst of Portland—and is ideal for running, walking, or biking. As you follow the route, enjoy scenic views of the city's skyline. Although a portion hugs the highway (I-295), the path is safe, scenic, and used by locals 365 days of the year.
The trail is wheelchair and stroller accessible and also dog-friendly. Park on Forest Avenue near Back Cove Park (across from the Hannaford Supermarket) to access it. Amenities along the trail include benches, seasonal water fountains, and portable toilets in the Payson Park and Preble Street Extension parking lots.
From the heart of Portland, it's about a 10-minute drive to this 65-acre bird sanctuary in Falmouth. More than two miles of trails begin at the Education Center and wind through diverse habitats: woodlands, wildflower meadows, and, along the reedy banks of the Presumpscot River, a nutrient-rich estuary. Three mapped trails range in length from 0.6 to 1.2 miles; all are gentle hikes, suitable for families. In the fall, you can pick apples from heirloom trees, and in the winter, go snowshoeing.
In addition to providing a home for bobolinks, meadowlarks, red-tailed hawks, and Canada geese, the property is inhabited by deer, red foxes, and other mammals (including a colony of rare black woodchucks). Open from dusk to dawn year-round, admission is free, although donations are appreciated.
Bradbury Mountain is the centerpiece of an 800-acre state park open year-round for diverse recreational pursuits such as mountain biking, snowmobiling, and horseback riding (admission fee applies).
There are more than 21 miles of shared-use trails on both sides of Route 9, including several routes to the mountaintop (these are rated in difficulty as easier, intermediate, or most difficult). Opt for the Northern Loop trail, and you'll enjoy an easy, mile-long, gradual ascent to the summit for views of Casco Bay. In the spring, hikers can help with the annual Hawkwatch count.
To get here, drive about 30 minutes north of Portland to the town of Pownal.
In celebration of its 20th anniversary, the nonprofit Portland Trails organization created this 10-mile, cross-city adventure by splicing together existing trails and open spaces. Tackle the whole hike, and you'll see intriguing landmarks and the best of Portland's natural attractions as you wander through old neighborhoods. There are two waterfalls along the route, including Portland's only natural cascade: Jewell Falls in the Fore River Sanctuary.
For travelers and locals who really want to escape the city for a spell, driving 45 minutes northwest of Portland opens the door to more than 4,000 acres of wilderness. Protected within the Steep Falls Wildlife Management Area in and around Standish, Maine, this area offers a variety of mapped trails to explore. You'll be sharing these woods with moose, deer, eagles, and waterfowl. During hunting season, it is best to stick to hikes within the two sanctuaries that overlap part of this expansive preserve, as hunting is not permitted on sanctuary lands.
In Standish, you also have the option to walk a portion of the Mountain Division Trail, a rail trail that Mainers hope will one day run 50 miles from Portland to Fryeburg. The 5.6-mile southern section between Standish and Windham is paved and wide.
In the Portland suburb of Scarborough, you'll find Maine's largest salt marsh, a 3,100-acre haven critical to the state's coastal ecology. The 11-station Marsh Trail (open to the public seasonally) is a little more than a quarter-mile long and serves as a perfect introduction to this environment. Bring binoculars to spy on majestic birds such as ospreys and great blue herons. Kids love the old marsh-side clam shack that is now a nature center.
Want to venture deeper into the marsh? Rent a canoe, launch your own, or join a guided canoe tour with an Audubon naturalist who can introduce you to the marsh's wild creatures.