Gilsland Farm Audubon Center
GOOD FOR: All Ages

Source:Outdoors with Kids Maine, New Hampshire, and Vermont (AMC Books)
Address:20 Gilsland Farm Road, Falmouth
Hours:Dawn to dusk; Audubon Center open Monday–Saturday, 9 a.m.–5 p.m. and Sundays and holidays, noon to 4 p.m.
Fee: Free
Bathrooms: the Audubon Center
Water/Snacks: Water fountain at the Audubon Center (no snacks)

USGS Cumberland County quad;

Five minutes from downtown Portland, this year-round sanctuary offers a variety of habitats, gentle trails, and an indoor nature center.

Gilsland Farm’s gentle trails makes for pleasant hiking terrain.

Year-round exploration is easy at Gilsland Farm, home to Maine Audubon’s headquarters, located just a few minutes from downtown Portland. Upon arrival, it’s hard to choose where to start: both the modern Audubon Center and the trails beckon, and both are worth a visit. Begin your journey at the center, open seven days a week, to learn more about the property, its history and trails, and the nature-related exhibits on display. Kids will likely beeline for the Children’s Discovery Room, where they can observe live turtles, play with eco-themed puzzles and games, and try their eyes at bird-watching through kid-friendly binoculars out the huge windows facing multiple bird-feeding stations. Adjacent to this room are the reading library and conference room, which contain a large collection of mounted specimens of Maine birds and mammals, including several extinct species. If children venture into this area, make sure an adult is supervising.

The well-established trail network begins close to the environmental center, and a large wooden map illustrates the 65-acre sanctuary and its three primary trails—North Meadow Trail, West Meadow Trail, and Pond Meadow Trail. The paths are connected by spur trails and junctions, so it’s feasible to trek the complete 2.5-mile network in an afternoon. Doing so will allow you to explore the greatest diversity of habitat, ranging from woodlands and meadow to pond and shoreline. The trails stay open year-round, and snowshoes are available for rent at the environmental center.

Take 0.6-mile Pond Meadow Trail as it winds behind the Audubon Center through mature stands of red oak and hemlock dating back more than a century, enter into younger woods of white ash, red maple, white birch, and trembling aspen, and explore the pond where you may catch glimpse of muskrats and wetland birds. From here, take a spur to 1.2-mile North Meadow Trail, which loops around a meadow that was once used as farmland. To continue the loop, take a spur to the Audubon Center, then link with 0.7-mile West Meadow Trail, which is a great hike on its own if you have time for only one. It meanders through a small, forested wetland. Kids will enjoy walking the boardwalks before the trail becomes grassy and enters a field. Follow the trail up to the bluffs, which overlook the Presumpscot River estuary with views to the Portland skyline beyond. A few simple benches provide good resting and snack spots. As with the other trails in the network, natural history signage dots the landscape here, helping hikers identify native trees and shrubs.

Eventually West Meadow Trail joins with spur trails, each of which leads to an observation blind for spotting waterfowl. In summer, look for flocks of migrant shorebirds gathering on the mudflats, especially when a low tide exposes a plethora of marine life. Even if your little ones lack the attention span to observe birds, they’ll enjoy the fort-like feeling inspired by the observation blind. The blind offers a good vantage point to look back in history: help kids imagine what they would have seen during the thousands of years that this land was home to the Wabanakis and their ancestors. Can they envision the native peoples stooped over the estuary’s vast tidal flats, harvesting shellfish or
fishing for mackerel and striped bass? Where do they imagine the first peoples took shelter during the dead of winter? To conclude your hike, continue on West Meadow Trail, which loops back toward the parking area.

Plan B:

There is plenty to do right at Gilsland Farm if hiking doesn’t appeal to your party. You can shop for books, toys, and Maine-made gifts at the Maine Audubon Nature Store within the environmental center, or have a picnic lunch in the butterfly garden nearby. Farther afield, Mackworth Island (Trip 6) is less than 2 miles away and offers an excellent option for exploring different habitats, including beaches.

Where to Eat Nearby:

Head north on US 1 for 1 mile to the town of Falmouth or south on US 1 for 4 miles to Portland. Both have numerous restaurants, shops, and other amenities.



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