Walking the Devil’s Back Trail
By Ed Robinson
Sometimes a little creativity can go a long way; in this case 1.2 miles. That is the length of the outer loop of the Devil’s Back Trail on Orr’s Island. It is likely you have driven by the trailhead many times without stopping to check out this trail. With better weather here, now is the time to lace up your hiking boots.
The town has owned this 25 acre narrow slice of land for many years. Shoehorned between Route 24 and pretty Long Cove, it only needed some vision to see the potential. That vision came from a number of local volunteers, who marked out and cleared the Devil’s Back Trail between 2007 and 2011. The trail was formally dedicated in 2012, with some improvements made to the parking lot, and a further upgrade approved by warrant at the March 2013 Town Meeting.
Just .2 miles south of the bridge leading from Great Island to Orr’s Island, you can see the new trail head sign on your right. Leaving the road behind, the trail slopes down the ridge and you have the choice of turning left or right. We’ll take the left hand Byles Point Loop to the south, where you will soon encounter the Otter Creek Trail on your right, with yellow blazes marking the route. This short trail allows you to walk directly to the water if you are pressed for time. Better to take the loop trail all the way, following an old stone wall, and walking through an old apple orchard in need of pruning and sunlight.
The loop turns back to the north, and walking down slope, you follow a pretty creek through open woods with new and old growth pines mixed with birch and maples. In a few minutes you come to the ocean’s edge, where you can break out the camera or binoculars. In summer, the ospreys have nests in this area so you might hear or see these great raptors. Your walk will bring you to a number of viewing spots, and if you are adventurous (and careful) you can scramble down the rocks to reach the water’s edge.
Soon you come to the Cutoff Trail, also marked with yellow blazes. The scenic Byles Point Loop trail continues to the north, but it has some steeper sections and the Cutoff Trail would save you 10 minutes of walking if you have a hot date. The loop trail takes you nearly to the tip of Orr’s Island and you can look across the cove to tiny Dog’s Head Island. As you circle back to the trail head, you pass a number of large trees brought down in heavy winds the last few years. Insects, microbes and fungi will soon recycle the nutrients from these trees back into the soil.
My wife and I enjoy the Devil’s Back Trail any time of year. Once you drop over the ridge, you forget how close you are to the road and begin to relax in the quiet forest. The cut off trails allow you to spend 15 minutes or an hour exercising your body and your mind. So give it a try soon, and I suspect this will become one of your favorite Harpswell trails. And a special thank you to all the hard working volunteers who created the trail, and for their ongoing maintenance work.