Here it is, the muddiest time of year: March and April. This season brings a confusing mess of ice, snow, slush and mud to our trails. Not only does walking and biking on this muddle lead to slippery terrain and mud-caked boots, it can also cause damage to our trails. Some argue that we shouldn't use the trails at all during mud season - and for good reason. The harm caused by walking and biking on muddy trails includes soil compaction, erosion, and damage to the vegetation next to a trail (as we attempt to walk around the mud).
There are some things we can do to mitigate the damage, such as using trails early in the day when soil is still frozen and using south facing slopes, which are more likely to be sunny and dry. Biking on trails is a solid "no"during mud season, but walking on trails is, well, a bit murkier.
Although I don't avoid trails altogether during mud season, I do try to find alternatives when I can. My solution to muddy trails is simple: head to the beach. What I love about this alternative is that March is actually the BEST time to go to the beach, despite what you've grown up to believe. During the winter months, beaches are less crowded, offer plenty of parking, and typically allow dogs - which is never the case in the summer. I've been heading to the beach over the past couple of weeks and thought I'd share a list of places to try. There are countless beaches in Southern Maine, but here are my favorites for mud season.
1. HIGGINS BEACH
Dogs off-leash Labor Day - May 14th
Higgin's Beach has been our favorite family beach for many years and it's the one we visit the most. It's a great place for dogs in the winter because they can be off-leash all day long, aside from the hours of 1-3pm. These rules apply from after Labor Day through May 14th. Parking is expensive during the summer months at Higgins, but in the winter, there is usually plenty of free street parking right along the beach. You really can't go wrong at Higgin's - it's never busy, always full of surfers to watch, and forever beautiful.
2. FERRY BEACH
Dogs on-leash Oct 1st through March 31st
This beach allows dogs on-leash from October 1st through March 31st, so you still have time to make it here with your favorite family member (I'm talking about your dog). Located at 95 Bay View Road, the gate to Ferry Beach will be closed, but you can park just in front of it. From there, follow the road until you've reached the boardwalk leading to the beach. Read more about this beach here.
3. TIMBER POINT TRAIL
This flat, 1.4 mile out and back trail is great for all ages. It is part of the Rachel Carson National Wildlife Refuge, which was established in 1966 in cooperation with the State of Maine and is protecting one of the largest networks of conservation land in Southern coastal Maine. The hike is short, but certainly not quick since it includes endless places to explore or just sit and enjoy the stunning views. Read more about this beach here.
4. Hermit Island Loop
Trail open to the public and dogs off-season: Sept 18th - mid May
If you've been reading this blog for a while, you'll remember my endless search to find the miraculous cliffs surrounding a cove named "Worumbo". I did find it, after about 4 separate trips to the Hermit Island Loop (no real sacrifice here).
This spectacular, 3.8-mile loop wanders through mossy forests, empty beaches, ocean cliffs, grassy sand dunes, and cozy camp sites. It is only open to the public in the off season (September 18th - mid May). During the summer months, it serves as a family-oriented campground. The old school type, where you send in a reservation via snail mail. Keeping it real in Phippsburg. Read more about this trail here. Read about Worumbo here: Where's Worumbo?
5. PINE POINT BEACH
Dogs off-leash Labor Day - May 14th (must be on leash from 1:00 to 3:00 p.m.)
Walk for miles along with stretch of dog-friendly beach (in the winter) and I'd recommend doing it at sunrise. This is exactly what my friend Becca and I did over a year ago. We started at the entrance just off of Pine Point Road and slogged (slow jog) the beach all the way to the Old Orchard Beach Pier...and back. Best way to start the day and I can't wait to do it again soon. For details on free parking and where to enter the beach, read the full post here.
6. WILLARD BEACH
Dogs off-leash Oct 1st - April 30th between 6-10am & 3-9pm
In truth, my favorite part of visiting Willard is the Scratch bagels. There really is no better bagel in the universe and it's also a great way to rally my kids for a winter beach trip. Dogs are allowed on Willard Beach from October 1st through April 30th (for details about leash laws during this time, visit the City of South Portland's website here). During the winter months, there are LOTS of dogs here. So many in fact, that I don't bring Romy when we come...she's not always a team player. I just enjoy the smiling faces of all of the other pups here. If you can't have a dog, but want one, just come to Willard Beach on a weekend morning in the winter. Dog therapy for days.
While here, you could also walk the jetty out to the Spring Point Ledge Lighthouse. Find details here.
7. GOOCH'S BEACH
Dogs off-leash Labor Day - June 14th
Gooch's is part of a trio of beaches along Beach Avenue in Kennebunk, including Middle Beach and Mother's Beach. The greatest thing about this beach is its accessibility. There is a wide sidewalk that connects the three beaches and this time of year, free parking lines the entire stretch of sidewalk.
I read on the Town of Kennebunk's website that "Mother's Beach is equipped with an ADA compliant Mobi-Mat. This durable, ADA compliant, woven polyester mat, allows for access from the parking area to the beach for individuals with mobility challenges. A beach wheelchair is also available for rent through our Parks and Recreation Department." This may only apply to the summer months, but it's a great option to look into.
Dogs are allowed on the beach from after Labor Day to June 14th. If you want a cup of Joe with your dog walk (no brainer), stop at Mornings in Paris, the French cafe in Kennebunk, on your way to the beach.
8. LAUDHOLM BEACH
This is a beach you'll have to hike into, but it's certainly worth the trek. This beach is located at the end of the Barrier Beach Trail at the Wells Reserve at Laudholm. The total distance is 1.5 miles out and back...plus whatever mileage you do at the beach. We've been doing this trail for years now. As you can see in this picture, Henry was just a young lad. This beach is great for all ages and never gets old. Find details on this beach here.
9. BROAD COVE RESERVE
Located in Cumberland Foreside off of route 88 near the intersection of Tuttle Road, Broad Cove Reserve offers a stretch of sandy beach, a dock, meadows, woods and lime green marine grass. Horseshoe crabs lay their eggs here in late May, so that is also a great time to visit. Dogs are not allowed on this beach. Find details here.
10. FORTUNE'S ROCKS BEACH
Dogs off-leash Labor Day - June 15th
This two-mile stretch of sandy beach in Biddeford runs from Biddeford Pool to Fortunes Rocks. During the off season (after Labor Day through June 15th) parking is easy by Fortunes Rocks Road. Dogs are also allowed on-leash during the off season. Details on this beach here.
We're all ready for spring at this point in the season. March is arguably the toughest month to live in Maine. But we are tougher and every year, we somehow make it to spring. My question for you is: why suffer through March when we are surrounded by an endless selection of gorgeous beach walks that are guaranteed to fill the soul and remind us of the beauty of this world? Until May, I'll see ya at the beach.