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Ilse Dunbar

Faces of Maine Trail Finder: Ilse Dunbar

February 17, 2023 Nicole Keating
Trail Suggestions, Faces of MTF, Using MTF

Maine Trail Finder isn’t just a great tool to help you plan your next Maine adventure. With a free user account, you can log which trails you’ve completed, upload photos, and track your mileage, creating a digital history of your trips. In this blog series Faces of Maine Trail Finder, we’re sharing the stories of people who have been using Maine Trail Finder in standout ways – logging hundreds of trails, submitting anecdotes from their adventures, and uploading stunning photographs of their trips. We hope their stories inspire you to get out and explore Maine with the help of Maine Trail Finder!

Photo: Ilse Dunbar.
Photo: Ilse Dunbar.
Ilse Dunbar
Where you live:
Rumford, Maine

Grafton Notch Loop

Old Speck Mountain

Baldpate Mountain


What’s your favorite way to explore Maine?

Hiking is probably the big thing. I do canoe also, but hiking is truly my passion. It has been since I really got into it.

How long have you been hiking?

We moved to Maine in 2012. When my husband and I lived in Ohio, we were big into cycling. When we moved to Maine, the roads are narrow and windy, and it made me nervous. I stopped cycling at that point in time, but I hadn’t started hiking yet. 

Our son was in Boy Scouts and we went on a hike with him and thought, “Okay, well, this is kind of interesting. Maybe we could do this.” The first hike that we did was Mount Zircon in Rumford. Honestly, I thought I would die on that hike. We had to stop every 100 feet. It felt like it took us three days. 

I always thought I was in decent shape from cycling but hiking just kicked my rear. So that first experience was rather negative, to be honest! But then we started getting into geocaching. Once we got all the close ones, we started to have to hike to find them. That's what got us started. Then we started using Maine Trail Finder, we started exploring more areas, and kind of one thing led to another. Soon we were doing day hikes and overnights. Then we were doing backpacking trips on the Appalachian Trail, and it just grew from there.

In 2018, I realized I had hiked about 1,500 miles that year. After that, I set a goal to see if I could hike 2,200 miles in 2019. And I did. For the subsequent four years, that's always been my goal. So far, I have hit it every year. In 2020, because of the pandemic, I hiked over 3,000 miles that year. For 2022, 2,500 is the goal and I’m on track to meet that. That’s a weekly minimum of at least 35 miles. I prefer 50 miles or more, which most weeks I get.

Sunday River Whitecap, Grafton Notch. Photo: Ilse Dunbar.
Sunday River Whitecap, Grafton Notch. Photo: Ilse Dunbar.
What’s your inspiration for setting these goals and hiking?

Truly, I think it just came down to as simple as I just want to know if I could do it. This was one of those things where I didn't really have anything to prove, but I just wanted to do it. Then I did it, and I was like, “Hey, maybe I can do it again.”

After having done it for four years now, it is so much a part of my life that I don't function well unless I have enough outside time. I need to be in the forest. It quiets my mind. It's part of just how I function. 

How long have you been using Maine Trail Finder to help you plan your trips?

We started using it probably back in about 2013 when we first started hiking. I'm an admin for the Maine Hiking Facebook page, and it's one of the sites that I recommend to new hikers. A lot of times we get posts asking for recommendations of trails, but we don't know people’s abilities.

I recommend Maine Trail Finder because it was helpful to us to learn what was in our area to plan hikes, to know how to get there, how long the hikes were, to have a trail map that you can print out. I think it's a marvelous tool as people are acclimating to their area and learning what's available to them!

Ilse at Avery Peak in the Carrabassett Valley. Photo: Ilse Dunbar.
Ilse at Avery Peak in the Carrabassett Valley. Photo: Ilse Dunbar.
Ilse hiking Old Speck in Grafton Notch State Park. Photo: Ilse Dunbar.
Ilse hiking Old Speck in Grafton Notch State Park. Photo: Ilse Dunbar.
What kind of things do you look for when you’re picking your next trail? How does Maine Trail Finder help you identify those places?

For me personally, it needs to be difficult, and it needs to be longer than 10 miles. I don't like flat trails, so I want something that's got some elevation gain for me. I love scrambles and things like that.

But as people are researching hikes, not everybody's ready for that. It's also great to see trail networks on the map so you can customize your trip. For example, in the Tumbledown area, you've got a whole network of trails. You can make a super long hike if you go all over the place, or an out-and-back trip on the Brook Trail, something nice and straightforward.

What advice would you give to someone who would like to start exploring more of Maine and isn’t sure where to start?

Joining a group where you can ask questions is super helpful. Familiarizing themselves with the 10 Essentials, knowing the things that they need to carry with them to be safe, and making sure that they're properly equipped. It’s easy to get in over your head if you aren't adequately prepared. 

Also, research what you're planning to do. Familiarize yourself with the hike, whether you're using Maine Trail Finder or the Maine Mountain Guide. Make sure you have a map, and you know how to read it. Make sure you know what your distance is and that you haven't bitten off more than you can chew. And never be afraid to turn around. 

Want to start logging your Maine adventures?
Create a free Maine Trail Finder account and start tracking your trails today!

Comments (1)
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April 13, 2023
Ilse, you are an inspiration! And thank you for breaking so many trails throughout the winter!

I went up Old Speck a couple weeks ago and it was better than summer! Nice smooth trail, no bugs, no people, more views. Keep on keeping on!
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