Located in the Vienna/Rome, Maine area, the Kennebec Highlands is a parcel of land located in Central Maine. There are abou 6,400 acres located about 15 miles from Augusta and Waterville. This parcel is great as it provides a space for recreational activites for hikers, horseback riders, cross country skiiers, mountain bikers, snowmobilers and so much more!
Some of the heavy trafficked areas are Round Top Trail, Sanders Hill Trail, A-Trail (a major mountain biking trail which brings you to the highest peak in the Highlands; McGaffey Mountain), Mount Philips Trail and French's Mountain. I tend to hit up these trails in the winter as they are well marked, about an hour from home and seem to maintain a decent amount of traffic year round. You get views of the Belgrade lakes and depending on which trail you do, the surrounding peaks. From what I have seen, most trails are fairly overgrown at the summits so you typically only get a couple of views while you are on the trails in the region.
Round top was my first experience with the Kennebec Highlands. On January 31st of 2020, Brock and I met up with a friend and her dogs to enjoy the area.
We tracked just over 5 miles to do the Round Top trail and just shy of 3 hours, including time to stop for a snack and extra sniffing for the dogs. The trailhead is just off of Watson Pond Road and you walk up the Round Top Trail. You walk by Yallaly Hill and eventually you come to a Y which both sections are the Round Top Trail. There are quite a few recommendations on which way to do the trails. Both ways are fine. We enjoyed this trail going counter-clockwise.
I do recommed taking the Spur Trail once you see the sign for that as it gives a view. (One of only two views during the entire trip.) . The main summit overlook provides excellent views of Blueberry Hill, Long Pond, the Belgrade Lakes Village, and Great Pond. There isn't a lot of space to sit and grab a snack but I recommend this spot for that scenario! It also depends on what time of year you visit this trail from what I have seen in the reviews. The summit lookout may be blocked during warmer weather and when the trees are full. This view was my favorite of the two.
I decided to do both Sander's Hill and French's mountain on the same day as the trailheads are within a half of a mile of each other. Combinining both trails on the same day still keeps mileage fairly low as well.
This trail has a nice little parking lot and is a loop trail which I really enjoy. This trail would be great year round, however, there would not be a lot of views in the summer. Spring would probably be a nice time to visit as well as there is a stream near by. This trail does keep you interested throughout your time on it and is very well marked.
This loop is just over 3 miles long and took us about an hour and a half to complete. There is a nice picnic area which would be lovely in the summer to stop at for lunch or snacks.
This short loop trail comes in under a mile long and gives you a big bang for your buck! Highly recommend checking this out! We were lucky enough to have the mountain to ourselves the day we went! There isn't a lot of elevation gain which leaves this as beginner friendly but the views are so amazing!! In warmer weather, I definitely could have sat up there for awhile! This short loop took us about 25 minutes with photo opps at the top!
If you are looking to do both of these trails in the same day, I recommend doing Sander's Hill and then French's Moutain for the "Wow" factor at the end of the day! Both loops we did clockwise, which I felt was the best option for the snow and ice conditions we encountered. I feel like both trails are almost always broken out because of traffic levels. Microspikes may be needed in the winter. Going counter clockwise will give you a little more of a steep incline feeling but great for a beginner looking to start getting into "hiking shape". Which if you have done any amount of physical activity, you know that each activity you do, no matter how you train, you will find muscles you feel like you have never used before!!
Both Sander's Hill and French's Mountain I would give 5 stars. They are loop trails, keep you interested, are beginner and dog friendly and well marked. Round top I would give 4 stars and is a great starting point if you want a slightly longer trail. If you are new to hiking, check these trails out, you won't regret it! If you are nervous to go alone, reach out, I would definitely do these trails again and would love to help you build your hiking confidence!
About 30 minutes away from the Watson Pond Road is Bigelow Brewing Company in Skowhegan. This is a super cute little brewery with friendly staff (two and four legs) Inside the Brewery is incredibly cozy and rustic and if the weather is nice enough for you to sit outside, they have some fire pits for you to enjoy! They offer wood-fired pizza and have a nice selection of beers on tap! I enjoyed a pepperoni pizza while I was there (I was so hungry I didn't realize they have a lot of really neat "specialty pizzas") They also offer gluten free! I tried their "Lying Bastard Pale ale" and their "Raker Blueberry Ale".
I can't wait to go back to try more of what they have on tap, as well as the "Brew House Breadsticks" that look AMAZING! 🤩 🤤
Happy Hiking! Cheers! 🍻
-Amanda & Brock
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