Bath may be the perfect Maine city. It’s small, but not too small, and it has all the amenities you want in a city: Practical and fun shopping options, good restaurants, low traffic, and great places for walking, hiking and biking. Need proof? Make the short drive from Portland and try this Bath mini-adventure and you’ll see for yourself why “Maine’s Cool Little City” isn’t just an empty city marketing slogan.
Thorne Head Preserve is an 88-acre nature preserve in the city of Bath less than an hour from Portland. It is owned and managed by the Kennebec Estuary Land Trust and is open to the public free of charge throughout the year, dawn to dusk.
According to KELT documents, Thorne Head was once used by Abenaki Native Americans before it was deeded to European settlers in 1685. Today it is a forest preserve with more than half a mile of shoreline along the Kennebec River and Whiskeag Creek and is home to vernal pools and pocket wetlands. It is very common to see bald eagles in the area as well as wading birds and other birds, like owls. In the waters along its shores, you’ll find striped bass and short-nosed sturgeon.
Getting to Thorne Head is simple. It’s a straight shot (2.2 miles) down High Street from Route One’s High Street/Route 209 exit. High Street dead ends at the preserve. There’s a decent-sized dirt parking lot with an information kiosk that contains trail maps. Dogs and cyclists are welcome on the trails. Hunting is also permitted.
You can spend hours hiking the various trails in the preserve, but we opted for a shorter hike that put us along the shore, taking the Overlook Trail from the parking lot and connecting to the Stone Steps and the Narrows trails.
It was an easy walk up to the scenic overlook on the Overlook Trail where it connects to the Stone Steps. Walking at a reasonable pace, we made it to the scenic overlook in just over 10 minutes.
The Stone Steps Trail is incredibly steep. We took it slow. It probably would have been easier going if we’d gone up the trail rather than down. However, we were rewarded by wonderful water views when the trail connected to the Narrows Trail.
The Narrows Trail had some narrow spots (it’s named for The Narrows, which is the bend of the Kennebec River as it rounds Thorne Head – not for the dimensions of the trail path), but was not difficult to walk.
We were able to sit on the rocks along the water in a couple of places along the Narrows Trail. The view of the water is just lovely. The water looks inviting for a swim, but the current is extremely fast so a dunk in isn’t advised.
The return to the parking lot via the Narrows Trail back to the Overlook Trail was easy going. All along the trails you’ll see plant identification cards posted by the Bath Garden Club.
Altogether, we were at the preserve for an hour and 15 minutes. If we’d had more time, we would have liked to strike out along the Whiskeag Trail, a five-mile (one-way) hiking and biking trail that connects the preserve with the KELT-owned and –managed Sewall Woods Preserve and the Bath Area Family YMCA.
Thorne Head Preserve, High Street, Bath, open daily dawn to dusk, free admission. kennebecestuary.org/conserved-lands/thorne-head-bath
One of my favorite places to eat in Bath is the Starlight Café. It’s a small breakfast and lunch eatery tucked below Now You’re Cooking. Space is tight but it’s charming and the food is great. Breakfast is served all day. Pancakes are huge – the size of a plate. You can order half a sandwich if you’re looking for a lighter lunch. While all the food is good at Starlight, it’s really the desserts that I love most. My heart always skips a beat whenever the ranger cookies (made with oatmeal and coconut) are available.
Starlight Café, 15 Lambard St., Bath, open 7 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday to Saturday and 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday. 443-3005; facebook.com/Starlight-Cafe-81611986540
In 2009, the American Planning Association named Front Street to its Great Places in America: Streets list and for good reason. It has views of the Kennebec River, places to sit and watch the world go by, restaurants and fun shopping opportunities, and architecturally, it has the charm of a bygone era. Among the stores to check out are some of my favorites: Reny’s (an almost obligatory stop if you’re visiting Bath); Now You’re Cooking, a foodie paradise that is fascinating even to those of us who don’t cook; Wags & Whiskers, a locally-owned and -operated pet shop specializing in all-natural dry, raw and dehydrated dog and cat foods; and Markings Gallery, an artist-owned and -operated venue where you can find both fun and elegant Maine-made art and crafts.
Markings Gallery, 50 Front St., Bath, open 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday to Saturday and 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday. 443-1499; markingsgallery.com
Reny’s, 86 Front St., Bath, open 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday to Saturday and 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday. 443-6251; renys.com
Wags & Whiskers, 180 Front St., Bath, open 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday to Friday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday and 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday. 443-3647; bathwags.com
Now You’re Cooking, 49 Front St., Bath, open 9:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday, Tuesday and Friday, 9:30 a.m. to 7 p.m. Wednesday and Thursday, 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday, 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday. 443-1402; acooksemporium.com
After all that shopping and hiking make one more stop in Bath before heading out on the road: the Winnegance General Store. The store, built in 1902, was designated as one of Maine’s most threatened historic properties by Maine Preservation in 2013 but was rescued and renovated. It’s a wonderful place to grab a soda and dessert, sit out on the porch and chat with friends while drinking in the beauty of the Kennebec River across the street.
Winnegance General Store, 36 High St., Bath, open 6 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday, Monday and Tuesday, 6 a.m. to 4 p.m. or 5 p.m. Wednesday and 6 a.m. to 8 p.m. Thursday, Friday and Saturday. 443-3300; facebook.com/winnegancegeneralstore
Stephanie Bouchard is a freelance writer from Bath. She can be reached at
firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter: @sbouchardme