It’s already Labor Day weekend. We’re sad to see summer go, but some of us, at least, are looking forward to fall. I’ll miss warm nights under the stars, long days on the beach and baskets of fried clams at a picnic table, but I can’t wait to start seeing brilliant foliage, go apple picking and head up to the fair for doughnuts and fried dough.

Fall is also my favorite time of year for hiking. There are fewer crowds, fewer bugs and more comfortable temperatures – and every year, I’m still able to find new trails in Maine to explore. This fall, I’m hoping to check off every preserve maintained by the Kennebec Estuary Land Trust, situated along the Lower Kennebec and Sheepscot river estuaries. Earlier this summer, Down East magazine bestowed its first reader’s choice award for Best Land Trust to KELT.

The trust’s 23 miles of trails are a treasure for hikers and walkers in the midcoast, and the 11 preserves are a great boon for the local flora and fauna as well.

KELT has already thrown two of its three “Summertime Shindig” parties to celebrate the award. Events in Georgetown and Westport Island have already occurred, and the final party in Bath is on Sept. 28. Tickets and information are available at kennebecestuary.org.

In appreciation of the work that KELT does, I thought I’d highlight a few preserves worth a visit.

All these highlighted preserves allow leashed pets, and are open, free of charge, from dawn to dusk.

HIGGINS MOUNTAIN PRESERVE (GEORGETOWN)

Located on the west side of Route 127, about three-quarters of a mile north of the Georgetown Country Store, Higgins Mountain offers a quick, interesting loop hike with great views of Sheepscot Bay and the Gulf of Maine.

While everything about the preserve is on the small side – from its 41-acre area, to its half-mile trail, to 259-foot Higgins Mountain – there’s plenty to see. Red oak, maple and birch trees cover the lower slopes of the mountain; warblers, woodpeckers and owls flit from branch to branch; deer and fox traverse the trails and brush; and Monhegan and Seguin islands can be seen from the summit.

Higgins Mountain is a great hike for youngsters. Walking the trail in a counterclockwise direction (right at the trailhead) is the gentlest way to gain the small amount of elevation.

BONYUN PRESERVE (WESTPORT ISLAND)

Near the southern end of Westport Island, Bonyun Preserve lies between Mill Cove and Thomas Cove, poking out into the Sasanoa River. The 68-acre preserve features a 2.4-mile loop trail with interesting historical landmarks, beautiful spots to watch for wildlife and a stunning outlook facing south toward Georgetown.

From the trailhead at the southern end of West Shore Road, the Mill Cove Trail travels easily through pine, hemlock and oak, descending slightly. After a quick quarter-mile stroll, the trail takes a hairpin turn and deposits you on the shore of the cove, where you might see a snowy egret or a great blue heron looking for a meal in the shallow tidal waters.

The trail crosses a beautiful wooden bridge and heads deeper into the preserve, reaching an intersection as you approach the mile mark. Bear left, taking the loop in a clockwise direction, to follow the shore of Mill Cove.

Soon you’ll approach an interesting man-made rock wall sticking out into the water. I originally mistook this stonework for a breakwater, but it’s actually the remains of Heal’s Lower Mill, one of five tidal mills that operated on Westport Island in the 19th century. It’s also a great spot to rest and enjoy a snack.

At the southern tip of the preserve, granite ledges jutting into the water offer another great picnic spot, with expansive views down the river to Georgetown. Returning to the intersection on the western Thomas Cove Trail treats you to more water views along Thomas Cove, which contains a number of small islands (and a bigger one, called “Thomas Great Toe”) where I saw cormorants drying their wings after a morning of diving.

THORNE HEAD PRESERVE (BATH)

KELT’s signature property, the 96-acre Thorne Head Preserve, is easy to find at the northern end of Bath’s High Street. With about 3.5 miles of trails, Thorne Head offers numerous options for loops or out-and-back hikes, including an easy hike to a scenic lookout over the Kennebec River.

To reach the scenic lookout, take the gradually rising Overlook Trail north from the parking lot. You’ll pass through mixed woods, a marsh and by a couple small vernal pools, where salamanders and frogs are likely to be enjoying the conserved land.

After about half a mile on the Overlook Trail, you’ll reach 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. To add a little variety to your hike, the steep Stone Steps Trail will take you down to the edge of the water, where you can follow the shoreline in either direction (both trails will take you back toward the parking lot).

Besides the lookout, the well-maintained trail network offers plenty of other interesting routes. Whiskeag Trail connects to a longer 5-mile trail leading out of the preserve and eventually ending at the Bath YMCA. The Old Ferry Road Trail leads to Washington Street, and an interesting view of the Kennebec River, while the Pond Connector follows the shore of a pond frequented by wildlife. The Ridge Runner Trail passes “Murderer’s Cave,” a macabre little landmark named for an outlaw who hid out there in the late 1800s.

With so much to explore, it’s easy to spend an hour or an entire afternoon strolling through Thorne Head Preserve. It’s no wonder this scenic spot – and the other preserves maintained by KELT – are recognized as wonderful places to explore along Maine’s coastal lands.

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]