There is Vaughan Woods Memorial State Park in South Berwick, and there is Vaughan Woods of Hallowell. Both historic sites, however, two different locations separated by 100 miles via car, not as the crow flies. The location in Hallowell has been on our ‘must visit’ list for a couple years. It’s been nicknamed “Hobbitland” because locals view it as a Shire. The main attraction appears to be an incredible stone walking bridge. This Vaughan Woods is actually closer to our house in Portland than the state park is. On this day, we visited the state park, not Hobbitland, which Danielle didn’t realize were two different places until about an hour in the state park (she kept looking for the walking bridge).
Vaughan Woods State Park seems like it would be one of the easier state park visits because it’s in Southern Maine, but in truth, it’s just over an hour away and located directly on the edge (west) of the state. The last time we were this close to being out of state, and almost out of the country, was back in August when we camped at Cobscook Bay State Park. We have now visited the most eastern state park, and with Vaughan Woods, the most western and southern state parks in Maine. The two are only a solid 5 hours and 300 miles away from one another.
Vaughan Woods State Park is in the small town of South Berwick, which has a very New Hampshire feel, and is on the border of our neighboring state. The movie Mr. Deeds came to mind while driving through the center of town to get to the park. The Salmon Falls River runs along the park and sets a beautiful back drop for the park. It provides the perfect natural border to prevent you from wandering off trail. In fact, it’s such a great border that if you swam across it, you would be in New Hampshire. Depending on the time of the year and your swimming skills, you can live free or die trying.
With our crazy fall schedules this year, it’s been hard narrowing down a day to visit as a family. Either mom or dad had something going on for the last month. Even this trip was lumped into a jam-packed weekend, and we paid the price for it on Monday morning. However, while walking through the leaf-lined trails, work and everything else was the last thing on our minds. We got lost in these woods for an afternoon, well, without physically getting lost. Right when we pulled in to the park, we were able to relax. Eloise was wrapping up a solid nap in the car seat so it gave us a chance to check out the lay of the land. The entry fee is an honor system. If you have a park pass you are all set, but if not, be sure to have cash to drop into the dispenser at the entrance. Seeing that, we knew that the park wasn’t going to highly staffed, but you would never know because it was clean and well maintained. Near the large parking lot, they had an outhouse, playground and picnic tables all set up along the perimeter of the woods. From there you have the choice of a couple trail heads. There is no wrong choice and the trail system through the park was one of the better ones we have come across so far. It felt like the Manhattan of state parks, although much less crowded, the trails were laid out like a grid.
Eloise woke up ready to roll and after a fresh diaper and a few bites of dad’s apple, we were off. If we had to guess, we missed the leaves being at peak by 3 or 4 days. They were just starting to come off the trees at a good rate and the trails had a fresh blanket of yellow throughout most of the park. There was a light wind which made things a little chilly, but once we entered the woods it warmed up. With the trees blocking the wind we got to witness the beginning stages of a transition in seasons. As we walked, leaves were slowly raining down at times. It was just a handful here and there but occasionally it was like someone was emptying a bag from above. Though the colors weren’t straight off a rainbow, watching these beauties gently make their way down was certainly an unexpected treat. It just so happened that Eloise learned how to say the word “whoa” over the weekend and 15 minutes wouldn’t go by without her dropping it again and again. Maybe because we were saying it just as much as her.
We saw just as many dogs as we saw humans on the trails. Talk about a dog friendly place and no one enjoyed that more than Eloise. When she saw a four-legged friend turn the corner, she let out a shriek of excitement, every time. The dog owners couldn’t help but laugh and were getting such a kick out of her reaction. Not sure if she’s ever seen a cat before, but doubt it would be the same.
The trails are well taken care of with lots of foot bridges along the way. They are very wide which makes for a beautiful and easy walk among the towering trees and passing groups of people. It’s great for kids to walk on or to be in a carrier. We don’t recommend bringing a stroller due to the terrain in several spots. We did a 2-milesh loop around the whole park but there are a number of trails that would allow you to shorten or extend your hike. We took several stops along the way to let Eloise out of the hiking pack to play. We even attempted some Ruby family photos. Where better than a state park right?
3 hours flew by very quickly, but we made sure to walk over to the Hamilton House for a quick visit. The house was built in 1785, a couple years after the Revolutionary War and at a time when the American Flag only had 13 stars on it. The grounds are beautiful, and the garden would be a great spot for a picnic. There is parking at the house, so you can access it without entering the park.
With being on the road so much over the weekend, we didn’t have time to plan a picnic. Instead we opted to head back into South Berwick for a late lunch. One look at Madison’s Café and it was an easy choice. You can tell the owners have kids based off a few things like super tall high chairs that were level to the pub style table. Those were a treat. We’ve been to restaurants where the high chair is several inches lower than the table so she just eats on our laps. We crushed a couple delicious sandwiches and Eloise had some food we had packed and her first tasting of mac and cheese from the restaurant. She liked it, of course, but it was more fun watching her taste her first bite of a pickle. This café just opened in 2017 and is a breakfast, lunch and dinner restaurant that serves locally sourced ingredients and employs individuals with Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities. If you happen to stroll through Maine-Hampshire, it’s worth a stop.
It’s hard to stand out in a weekend of family awesomeness. We went out for beers and BBQ on Friday night after work, we spent Saturday at Gillette Stadium running around the field (long story) and then we wrapped things up on Sunday playing in the woods. Probably too busy of a weekend for mom and dad but one we won’t forget that’s for sure. The quiet time in the woods was the perfect remedy for Massachusetts traffic. All the busyness of the weekend might have helped distract from new set of teeth rolling in. Vaughan Woods State Park is simple, but it shouldn’t be penalized for that, so it gets a solid 8 Rubies for having such wonderful trails and views for the whole family. Next time we visit, grandparents and pups will be included!