Bath is an easy city to fall in love with, offering 19th-century architecture and beautiful brick buildings, delightful shopping and delicious restaurants, and wonderful events year-round.

And, of course, there’s the mighty Kennebec River at the center of it all, flowing all the way from Moosehead Lake to its destination in the Gulf of Maine. Route 1 crosses the river here, over the Sagadahoc Bridge, and it’s one of the most distinctive sights for drivers traveling between the Midcoast and southern Maine: the historic city to the north, Bath Iron Works and the old bridge to the south, and lush green trees coming right up to the deep blue water on either side.

It’s those green trees that caught my attention. I’m always searching for new places to explore near my home in Portland, and a little bit of research led me to the Kennebec Estuary Land Trust.

KELT is dedicated to conserving the land and wildlife habitat along the Kennebec, from Dresden all the way to the Gulf of Maine. KELT properties include nine nature preserves, open from dawn to dusk, which offer great hiking, biking and birdwatching, and landscapes that range from woods to marsh to shoreline – and even a small “mountain” on Georgetown Island.

On a recent weekday afternoon, I steered off Route 1 and made my way to KELT’s signature property, the 96-acre Thorne Head Preserve. The trailhead is easy to find; just head north on High Street from downtown Bath for about 2 miles, and the road ends at a good-sized parking lot with a KELT kiosk.

The wide, easy Overlook Trail heads north from the parking lot, rising almost imperceptibly toward the head’s high point. If you’re interested in botany, you’ll appreciate the informative signs posted along the trail by the Bath Garden Club, identifying local plants and trees, including white pine, hemlock, oak, maple and red pine.

On the way to the head’s scenic overlook, you’ll pass through mixed woods, a marsh and a couple small vernal pools, where salamanders and frogs are likely to be enjoying the conserved land. The varied terrain and plant life – more than 100 plant species, according to KELT – attract deer, foxes, raccoons, mink and other wildlife.

After about half a mile on the Overlook Trail, you’ll reach the high point on Thorne Head – a clearing with a colorful stone bench painted to look like a mushroom. Here, the trees open up, and you’re treated to a northern view of the Kennebec River and Brox Creek, Woods Island, and Lines and Little Lines islands. Other than the waterfront properties on the Kennebec, everything you can see looks green and unspoiled – it’s easy to forget that you’re less than five miles from one of the country’s largest shipyards.

From this scenic lookout, there are many ways to continue your hike if you’d like to explore more of the preserve. The rest of the routes at Thorne Head are more traditional hiking trails: narrower and rockier, with varied terrain, but all very frequently traveled and well maintained. These offer plenty of interesting options – just be aware that they’re a bit more difficult if you’re not wearing sneakers or hiking boots.

Continuing north, the Stone Steps Trail will take you right up to the water’s edge for a closer view of the river and islands to the north – but be sure to watch your footing, as the steps descend quite steeply, and those beautiful pine trees can create a hazard when they shed their needles onto your path.

From the shore you can head in either direction, along Whiskeag Creek to the west or the Narrows to the east. There are great views of the water either way, and the trail network has numerous options that will get you back to the parking lot.

The Ridge Runner Trail, which travels southwest from the lookout, runs along the top of the head’s westward-facing ridge. In addition to the interesting ecology, this trail also takes you by an interesting, somewhat macabre piece of Maine history: Murderer’s Cave.

Situated just to the west of the trail, this large cave gets its name from a sailor who took up residence there in 1883. The ne’er-do-well had attempted a robbery in Bath – and then, to make things worse, killed a constable during his escape. He fled into the woods and took up residence in the cave, where he lived off the land for some time. Finally, the law caught up with him and brought him to justice – but his simple underground hideout remains.

Altogether, there are about 3.5 miles of trails in Thorne Head Preserve, with numerous options for loops or out-and-back hikes. If you simply want to see the view from the northern scenic lookout, you can probably get back to your car within half an hour; but if you’d like to explore the coastline, the pools and Murderer’s Cave, you can easily spend a few hours wandering around the gorgeous preserved landscape.

As I said, there are plenty of reasons to visit Bath – but if you haven’t already, add Thorne Head Preserve to that list.

For more information about Thorne Head and KELT’s eight other preserves, visit www.kennebecestuary.org.

Jake Christie is a freelance writer living in Portland. Along with his brother, Josh, he writes about great Maine destinations for outdoors enthusiasts. Jake can be reached at:

[email protected]