Last year at this time, we Mainers really got into the “staycation,” didn’t we? We explored the state parks, hit the beaches, and checked out little slices of Heaven in our own Pine Tree State.
And guess what? This summer, we’re doing it all over again. Day Trips is a new series from Penobscot Bay Pilot that will make you smack your forehead and say, “I’ve been living here for [insert number] many years! How did I not know this was here?”
About an hour and 40 minutes from the Midcoast is the little town of Gray, Maine, a town that is anything but dismal and gray. A short blast over from the magnificent Sebago Lake State Park, Gray has three unique destinations that deserve a road trip.
Pineland Public Reserve and Trailhead
On the GPS, if you plug in Depot Road, New Gloucester, Maine, you’ll find a sign at the entrance with a small lot that can probably fit four or five cars. This “pleasing landscape of forests over rolling hills” is a 3.2-mile network with a north and south loop and an easy, moderate hike for day-trippers who want the experience, but not a strenuous slog. There’s no fee to walk in but best to come on a weekday, as the lot gets filled up on the weekends from between 9 a.m. and 4 p.m.
About a quarter of a mile in, this undeveloped forest opens up into a wide, hilly expanse and once you’re there, the air quality takes on a floral note, almost a combination of honey and the slight intermingling of pine. A stream runs alongside the first mile, and at a certain point, the trail intersects with a smooth shelf of boulders into a waterfall. Hike with a guidebook and you’ll see Maine blackgum tupelo trees, pines, oaks, and hemlocks. Find more info here.
Birchwood Brewing Co.
Birchwood Brewing Co. was first established in 2017 by friends Andrew Sanborn and Wesley Hewey, who happened to work at a fabrication shop on tanks and equipment for local breweries. They opened their first taproom location in Gray in 2019. In a mini-mall parking area, the spacious brewery has a friendly pool-room feel with exposed brewery equipment in the corner.
Their specialty centers around American ales and lagers, but the dozen beers on tap run the gamut from a pilsner to a Peanut Butter Stout, with plenty of selections for every beer drinker's taste, including a cider and their signature “Hard Water,” a home-brewed seltzer with multiple flavors for non-beer drinkers.
They may be one of the very few Maine breweries to break into this seltzer game, which has been on trend for the last few years. I had the Numero Uno Pale Ale (5.6% ABV) which was crisp, clean and balanced—very refreshing!
Plan on having lunch here after your hike because the menu is hearty with comfort food. With small apps such as soft pretzels and mac and cheese bites, this place is family-friendly for the kids. The grilled paninis and wraps are filling. I had the BLT with Havarti cheese and it was so big I had to take half home.
Maine Wildlife Park
This hidden gem of a park is a wildlife enthusiast’s dream. The park, located on Route 26A, provides a permanent home to more than 30 species of native Maine wildlife that cannot be returned back to their natural habitats because they were either injured, orphaned, or illegally raised in captivity.
Photographers, children, and nature lovers will particularly love their time at this park, as it is a sanctuary to animals one might not ever get to see up close such as Bald Eagles, moose, and coyotes. With nature trails, a fish hatchery, a snack shack, and occasionally a food truck on special weekends, you might have to go back more than once.
See the list of 30-plus animals who are protected here. The park offers special weekend programs that feature wildlife presentations and events, weekday wildlife and conservation education programs, as well as guided tours of the park led by trained volunteers. Reservations are no longer needed to get into the park but Covid-19 precautions are still in place. For more information visit: Maine Wildlife Park
Kay Stephens can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org