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10 outdoor spaces my family returns to each spring

Spring is our most fickle season. On mild days, the air smells like warm earth and it seems as though everyone goes out to savor a few hours of sunshine and 50-degree temperatures. Or the season can quickly turn, bringing snowstorms that leave icy paths and mountains of snow on the roadsides. To stay sane in this topsy-turvy season, my family spends as much time out of the house as possible. We travel to some of our favorite outdoor spaces to take full advantage of the quiet off-season. Here are some of the special places we return to in March and April—each a joy to explore no matter what spring throws our way.

DOWN ON THE BOARDWALK

There is something magic about a boardwalk that winds through a peat bog, and for this reason, I love exploring Saco Heath Preserve, where a 1-mile trek allows you to traverse (gently) the whole peat bog. (It’s protected by the Nature Conservancy.) If there is still snow on the ground, bring along a pull-sled for little ones. Search nature.org for more information.

Getting there: Use 163 Buxton Road (Route 112), Saco in your GPS.

THE QUIET SIDE OF OLD ORCHARD BEACH

On a day when the weather finally turns warmer, my family heads to Ocean Park to celebrate with a walk on the beach. This quieter side of Old Orchard Beach, accessed from Temple Avenue, is a favorite oasis for its wide expanse of beach and dramatic sea grasses. In the off-season, you can also bring your dog along. Visit oceanpark.org for more information.

Getting there: Drive to the end of Temple Avenue in Ocean Park.

TO THE LIGHTHOUSE

When spring weather becomes kinder and gentler, my children enjoy walking the 900-foot breakwater to the tiny Spring Point Ledge Lighthouse with its views of Portland Harbor and Fort Gorges in the distance. Old Fort Preble, a 19th century military fort, is also located on the grounds. Visit springpointlight.org for more information.

Getting there: Follow Fort Road through the Southern Maine Community College campus in South Portland to Lighthouse Circle at Southern Maine Community College.

INTO THE WOODS

This woodland trail in Rines Forest in Cumberland has bridges to traverse, steep hills to climb and rocks to scale in creek beds. Depending on the conditions, visitors can snowshoe or backcountry ski on the trails, which lead to two small waterfalls. This 1.5-mile loop trail is also a popular spot for dog walkers. Visit cumberlandmaine.com/rines-forest for more information.

Getting there: 360 Range Road, Cumberland.

A MOUNTAIN FOR ALL

At 484-feet, Bradbury Mountain in Pownal is our go-to hike because it offers options for several family-friendly trails—from short and steep to longer and more gradual (the longest trail is 2.5 miles). Entrance is free with a state park pass and dogs on leash are welcome. Visit maine.gov/bradburymountain for more information.

Getting there: 528 Hallowell Road, Pownal.

FOUR-SEASON SEASIDE

With its sweeping views of Casco Bay, Winslow Park in Freeport is a stunner year-round. We visit with our dog and walk the half-mile dirt road to Stockbridge Point. When the tide is low, visitors can explore the rocks facing the Harraseeket River. Nearer to the park entrance, younger kids will also like the playground area, which is home to a wooden pirate ship facing the bay. Visit freeportmaine.org for more information.

Getting there: Take South Freeport Road off U.S. Route 1 to Staples Point Road and follow it to the end.

LAKE AUBURN VIEWS

The Spring Road Trail is a peaceful, 2-mile trail that winds around Lake Auburn. It’s a scenic spot to walk, snowshoe or cross-country ski with stops all along the way to take in views of the lake. For more information, visit mainetrailfinder.org.

Getting there: Take the Whitman Spring Road of West Auburn Road in Auburn and park at the trailhead.

RIVER RUNS

The Cathance River Nature Preserve, with over 5 miles of trails, is tucked away inside Highland Green Village, a 55+ community in Topsham. You’ll traverse narrow wooden planks and hop over muddy spots and small puddles, but the payoff is worth the effort. You’ll hear the distinct roar of the Cathance River before seeing its wild rapids up close (in spring, they hit Class IV and draw crowds of serious paddlers). Just be sure to wear tall boots on the trail. For more information, visit creamaine.org.

Getting there: From Route 196 in Topsham (the Brunswick-Topsham Bypass), take Village Drive to Evergreen Circle.

NUTS FOR SQUIRREL POINT LIGHT

When winter turns to spring, we love the journey to this river lighthouse in Arrowsic. The terrain takes you through marshes into woods and out to the banks of the Kennebec, where you’ll find Squirrel Point Light, a 25-foot lighthouse built in 1898. The trail is approximately a half-mile out and back, but you can extend the walk on the adjoining Bald Head Trail. More information at squirrelpoint.org.

Getting there: From Route 127 (Arrowsic Road), take Bald Head Road all the way to the end.

FLIT TO SPLIT ROCK

My family strolled the 2-mile Thomaston Town Forest Trail in Jack Baker Woods on a misty April day. From the Jack Baker Woods Trailhead you’ll find a narrow boardwalk that winds amongst ferns and tree cover until you arrive at an impressive glacial boulder called Split Rock. This walk is best in late spring when the forest becomes green and lush. For more information, go to georgesriver.org.

Getting there: Look for the Georges Highland Path trailhead on Beechwood Street, Thomaston.

Jen Hazard is the author of “The Maine Play Book: A Four-Season Guide to Family Fun and Adventure.” She lives in Cumberland with her husband and two children.