The trail started off by weaving through a field of blueberries, dotted with pale pink wild rose blossoms and fiery devil’s brush blossoms. On a leash, my dog Juno stopped to sniff the vegetation every few feet. So I went with her. Otherwise, we would be there all day.
In a month’s time, the berries at the Hollingsworth trailhead in Steuben will be ripe for picking, which is ok, according to a sign at the trailhead. I actually visited the trail before in August to find people putting berries in buckets.
Located on a mainland part of the Maine Coastal Islands National Wildlife Refuge, the Hollingsworth Trail offers a 1.8-mile round-trip hike that splits into a loop and visits breathtaking beaches along the shoreline. This is one of two trails located on the Steuben parcel of the refuge, known as the Division de la pointe Petit Manan. The other trail, just down the road, is the Birch Point Trail, which also leads to the shore and is 4.3 miles round trip.
You can’t go wrong hiking either trail.
In its entirety, the Maine Coastal Islands National Wildlife Refuge includes more than 73 offshore islands and four coastal patches, totaling nearly 9,500 acres. Its main objective is to restore and protect colonies of nesting seabirds such as puffins and razorbills.
On the mainland parts of the refuge, the trails are open to dogs if they are kept on a leash no longer than 10 feet. On a recent Tuesday when I hiked the Hollingsworth Trail, Juno and I ran into just one other dog – who by rules was on a leash. We also met a few families and a group of teenagers, led by adults. The small trail parking lot was full, but not overflowing. Glad we chose to visit on a weekday instead of a weekend which probably would have been busier.
Seeing a few people on a hike is great, but meeting someone every few minutes can distract from the outdoor experience. It also causes me concern about the resource. So I try to avoid popular trails at certain times (year, week, and day).
Somehow, we still linger in the blueberry field in this story. I’ll blame Juno and his ever-curious nose.
As we walked we entered the forest, which was so beautiful and orderly it almost looked like a landscape. I guess Mother Nature has the best gardening prowess, after all. Sheep laurel bushes lined the path, dotted with rich pink cup-shaped flowers. We came across larches, with their silky soft needles, and clusters of ferns that extended beyond my hips.
A long stretch of narrow wooden bridges led us through an enchanting cedar stand, where the ground was covered in dense moss and crooked tree branches blocked out the sun. (But for most of the trail the sun stayed with us, so don’t forget to wear sunscreen.)
The trail climbed up and over bumps of exposed bedrock, where jack pines and spruces grew in the thin ground. In some places the ground was smooth and walking easy, while in other places thick tree root tangles crossed the trail threatening to catch the toes of my sneakers.
Traveling the loop counterclockwise as the sign at the intersection suggests, we visited the larger beach first. It spanned an arched cove, and much of it was exposed, as the tide was reaching its low point. As we walked in its entirety, it was like visiting several beaches, one after another.
At first, we explored an expanse of rippling sand, with water filling its outlines. Then we made our way through mounds of algae, where Juno unwittingly discovered a fairly large crab that pinched his lip before running away. (I had to drag her away from this battle.)
Beyond the algae we found a strip of smooth cobblestones, then a jumble of angular rocks, bedrock plateaus, and tidal pools. There we rested, hydrated, and ate snacks (dog treats included) while watching the seagulls fly high to smash the mussels on the rocks.
The rest of the hike was just as beautiful. The trail traced the shore for a while, leading to different lookout points and beaches. Large interpretive panels were scattered everywhere for those looking to learn more about their surroundings.
The wild flowers were a highlight. Along the shore, sea peas grew in abundance, with delicate magenta blooms adorning the curly stems. Pale pink morning glories fluttered in the wind, as irises swayed, their purple petals adorned with intricate veins and splashes of yellow and white.
At a vantage point atop a dark, boulder bedrock, we found a plaque in memory of the trail’s namesake: John Walker Hollingsworth Jr. (1942–1995), who was a photographer, writer and advocate. national refuges for wildlife. Can you imagine having such a beautiful trail named in your honor? He had to be a very special person to the conservation community.
Arrived at the last beach visited by the loop, we found two young girls making their way over the rocks to reach the sand. “We created it!” they called their parents, who must have been lagging behind. I decided to leave them to their little corner of paradise. Also, Juno and I had spent a lot of time on the first beach and my energy was rapidly declining.
Woodland birds serenaded us as we scrambled along the trail to the trailhead. The refuge brochure says the hike takes around 1 hour, but you can easily spend several hours admiring plants, watching songbirds and shorebirds, and – if you’re a playful puppy – eating wrack and seaweed. fight with crabs.