Trail: Carriage Road, Tablelands, and Carriage Trails
Hike Location: Camden Hills State ParkGeographic Location: north of Camden, ME (44.22648, -69.07846)Length: 3.2 milesDifficulty: 7/10 (Moderate/Difficult)Last Hiked: July 2019Overview: A loop hike up the back side of Mount Battie.Park Information: Route Map: Highlight:
Directions to the trailhead: From the intersection of US 1 and SR 52 in Camden, take SR 52 west 1.2 miles to the signed Old Carriage Road Trailhead on the right. There is no parking lot, but enough roadside parking is available on either side of the road to accommodate a couple dozen cars.
The hike: Constructed in the 1930’s under the direction of the National Park Service, 5710-acre Camden Hills State Park is one of the largest and most scenic state parks in Maine. The young men of the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) camp at Camden Hills worked from June 1935 through September 1941 to build the roads, trails, and buildings that make this park the spectacular destination that it is. The land was transferred to the State of Maine in 1947. Perhaps the park’s most famous feature is the Mount Battie Auto Road, which provides motorists a narrow and winding route to the top of its namesake mountain. Though only 780 feet in elevation, Mount Battie’s location as the first mountain west of the Atlantic Ocean makes the ocean views from its summit fantastic. Thus, Mount Battie is Camden Hills’ version of Acadia National Park’s famous Cadillac Mountain. The park also features a campground, a playground, a group picnic shelter, and a swimming area and boat launch on the Atlantic Ocean. Camden Hills State Park is a top-tier hiking destination because it offers 20 trails totaling 26 miles, some of which are also open to horses, mountain bikes, and cross-country skiers. The park offers many fantastic hikes, and I had the misfortune of only having time to do one of them. To take in the park’s most famous views while avoiding the worst of the crowds, I chose to climb Mount Battie’s back (north) side by forming a loop partly consisting of old carriage roads. In addition to less traffic, this hike also has the advantage of being less rocky and less steep than the shorter and more popular Mount Battie Trail up the mountain’s front side.

Old Carriage Road Trailhead

Begin by following the old carriage road as it leaves the Old Carriage Road Trailhead on SR 52. All of the trails at Camden Hills are marked with blue rectangular paint blazes, and all of the trails on this hike are wide and easy to follow. The initial segment is almost flat, and the two-track carriage road makes a nice treadway. At 0.3 miles, you reach the trail intersection that forms the loop portion of this hike. To get to the summit more quickly, this description turns right and uses the trail going straight as our return route, thus hiking the loop counterclockwise. The trail climbs on a moderate but persistent grade through nice forest that contains a mixture of broadleaf and pine trees. Several switchbacks are used, and while the trail uses the old carriage road part of the time, at other times it climbs via stone steps built to avoid particularly eroded sections of the old road.

Climbing on the old carriage road

1 mile into the hike, you reach the top of the Carriage Road Trail where it comes out at the Mount Battie Auto Road. Angle right and walk the auto road less than 500 feet (watching carefully for cars) to reach the parking lot for Mount Battie’s summit. A short distance further brings you to the stone observation tower that stands atop the mountain. From either the base or top of the tower, spectacular views unfold to the east that feature the Town of Camden, Camden Harbor, and Penobscot Bay from near to far. If you climb to the top of the tower, rocky Mount Megunticook, the highest point in Camden Hills, can be seen rising to the west. Mount Battie provides the best views in this area, so take some time to see what you can see.

Observation Tower on Mt. Battie

Penobscot Bay, as seen from Mt. Battie

Camden and Camden Harbor, as seen from Mt. Battie

When you are finished at the tower, walk east around the parking lot loop to reach a second more east-facing viewpoint. Then continue around the parking lot loop to find the signed start of the Tablelands Trail, which exits the parking area to the north. The Tablelands Trail starts easy enough, but quickly you find yourself scrambling down some rock ledges that form the hardest part of this hike. More hiking injuries occur while descending than ascending, so take your time and make sure you have secure footing on these ledges.

Descending rocky ledges

At 1.7 miles, you cross the Mount Battie Auto Road and reenter the forest on the other side. After some minor ups and downs, the Nature Trail exits right to descend to the state park’s campground. Continue straight to remain on the Tablelands Trail. 2 miles into the hike, you reach the signed intersection for the Carriage Trail just before the Tablelands Trail’s climb up Mount Megunticook begins in earnest. Turn left to leave the Tablelands Trail and begin the Carriage Trail. The somewhat rocky and rooty Carriage Trail offers a very interesting return route: it passes beneath a cliff line and crosses a creek several times all while descending on a moderate grade.

Cliff along Carriage Trail

After finally levelling out at the bottom of a ravine, you close the loop at 2.9 miles. 0.3 miles of fairly level hiking return you to the roadside trailhead and complete the hike. Camden Hills State Park offers many more excellent hiking options including moderate climbs to Maiden Cliff and Bald Rock Mountain, both of which offer excellent views.