discover the midcoast

McDonald Sanctuary, Phippsburg

Posted:  Wednesday, April 12, 2017 - 10:30am

Some of the area’s best hiking for beginners can be found in nearby Phippsburg with over a dozen trails to explore. Sunday found us enjoying the first spring-like day by returning to Spirit Pond to explore McDonald Sanctuary.

The 8.4-acre wooded preserve wraps around the pond’s northeast shore off Route 209, the road that carries you to the Popham peninsula. You gain access to the sanctuary through Spirit Pond Preserve. The entrance is about three-tenths of a mile from Parker Head Road just past a bend in the road on the right. It’s marked with a sign and there’s a small, two to three-car parking area with a kiosk. Be sure to sign the guest book.

To get to the sanctuary, take the path on the left. It’s blazed blue and easily followed. The trail carries you through the woods by a tumbling stone wall where high in a tree we saw a makeshift wooden stand left behind by a deer hunter. A short distance from it we discovered an arrow embedded in a tree trunk.

About 200 yards in, you’ll come to a T in the path with signs pointing the way to the sanctuary and Spirit Pond Loop. The McDonald Sanctuary Trail, to the left, is blazed orange. Continuing on, you’ll soon come to another stone wall built by a bygone settler when this area was mostly cleared pasture land.

Following a short climb, the trail passes a small pond, one of the few places we saw that was still snow-covered. Just past it, you’ll come to a small footbridge that spans a rushing brook. At the footbridge, we met two hikers from Winslow and Portland being led by a Phippsburg resident. The trail continues up over an outcropping where a nylon rope has been hung  to assist hikers over the ledge. It was helpful, too, because the path was pretty wet here.

A short ways ahead, the trail divides,.The path carries you along the Spirit Pond shore, eventually looping back through the woods to the footbridge. On the bank, an abandoned boat was beached  surrounded by driftwood that had washed ashore. Across the rippling waters of Spirit Pond, we could see the duck blind we found on our last visit and the dam in the distance. Just before the path loops back, you’ll come to a granite bench. From here you can continue on a ways on a white-blazed path, which brings you out to Route 209.

Spirit Pond is a good-sized body of water that’s tidal-fed by the Morse River. The pond and surrounding marsh provide an important habitat for fish, ducks and migratory birds. The best time to catch sight of birds and other wildlife is early in the morning or close to sundown.

We spent about 90 minutes hiking the sanctuary on what turned out to be a very pleasant day after a long stretch of inclement weather. The trails were soggy in places, but there were only a few patches of snow left in the most densely shaded areas of the woods. It won’t be long before the first spring flowers are in bloom.

If you take to the woods, be on your guard for ticks, which can carry Lyme disease. They’ve begun hatching out, so take appropriate precautions to protect both yourself and your pet.

Phippsburg is about a 30-minute ride from Wiscasset. For a change of scenery, we returned home by Parker Head Road, which takes you through Parker Head village, once home of a thriving lumber mill and later an ice works. There are a number of excellent preserves and several state parks to enjoy in Phippsburg. Most of the preserves are managed and maintained by the Phippsburg Land Trust, made up of volunteers.

Learn more, including rules for visiting the preserves, at