The easternmost section of Maine’s Route 9, affectionately known as the Airline Road, extends some 90 miles across the Downeast interior between Bangor and Calais.
Along this scenic and historic highway corridor are a number of low mountains and a handful of pretty ponds with good trails that, outside of local use, don’t see much foot traffic. The beautiful drive alone is worth the trip, but the bountiful hiking is equally sublime.
Eagle Bluff in Clifton has been a favorite of mine since I was a youngster growing up in Bangor. The little mountain’s impressive south-facing granite cliffs have long attracted technical rock climbers, but the short and highly rewarding trail to its top makes it a great spot for hikers, too. In 2014, the Clifton Climbers Alliance purchased 165 acres on Eagle Bluff to protect public access. From the junction of Route 9 and Route 180 in Clifton, drive south on Route 180 for 2.5 miles to a small, unsigned parking area on the left.
I scrambled up Eagle Bluff recently to get a good look at the autumn colors before they faded away. From the open ledges on top, I enjoyed airy views over Cedar Swamp Pond to Lead Mountain and the many peaks of Acadia on Mt. Desert Island. To the west were several wind towers, Woodchuck Hill and Blackcap Mountain. A short meander east along the lip of the precipice led me to a fine view of the sweeping rock faces of Chick Hill and Little Chick Hill.
The long and winding road that is the modern Route 9 was first developed in the early 1800s to attract settlers to the wild country between the Penobscot River and the St. Croix River. That’s a one million-acre block of forestland known as Bingham’s Penobscot Purchase, so named for its original owner, William Bingham of Philadelphia. The road has had many names over the last two centuries, including General Cobb’s Great Road, Black’s Road, the Alexander Road, the Bangor Road, and most recently – for as long as I can remember anyway – the Airline Road.
Until the mid-1800s, mail, freight and passengers between Bangor and Calais were carried aboard the Shoreline Stage, which made the 160-mile trip following along the coast in two days. The name Airline Road came to be after the Airline Stage was established in 1857, a service that followed a direct inland route between the two towns and covered the distance in less than a day.
Just north of Eagle Bluff are Chick Hill and Little Chick Hill, also in Clifton. Referred to on most maps as Peaked Mountain and Little Peaked Mountain, both have summit trails, and an adventurous bushwhack between the two – plus a walk on a woods road – makes a fine loop.
In Eddington, fun trails to Blackcap Mountain and Woodchuck Hill leave from a common trailhead near Fitts Pond at Camp Roosevelt, the base camp of the Katahdin Area Council of the Boy Scouts.
The Amherst Mountains Community Forest in Amherst is a 5,000-acre tract of rugged forestland encompassing six remote ponds, miles of streams, significant wetlands and a jumble of craggy hills. Bald Bluff Mountain sports a nice 2-mile loop hike with good views, while another sweet option is the 3-mile circuit around pristine Ducktail Pond and Partridge Pond.
Further west on the Airline Road is Lead Mountain in the unorganized township of T28 MD, and another Peaked Mountain in T30 MD BPP. These old fire-tower sites are short on views, but worthy of exploration nonetheless.
Travel the length of Route 9 and you’ll end up in the 21,000-acre Baring Unit of the Moosehorn National Wildlife Refuge. In Baring, hike through old growth white and red pines to reach the top of Bald Mountain and the downed remains of the old 100-foot wooden fire tower. In Calais, get expansive views of Magurrewock Marsh from the apex of Magurrewock Mountain.
Online information for these hikes is hard to find. All but one are described in either AMC’s Best Day Hikes Along the Maine Coast or in the AMC Maine Mountain Guide.
Look up “Clifton Climbers Alliance” for directions to Eagle Bluff. John Dudley of Alexander has compiled an interesting history of the Airline Road; this obscure research is best found by using “Airline Road + Maine” in your internet search.