Standing on your first summit will change your life, says Donna “Tin Wolf” Knowles. She speaks from experience.

Donna is one of the original hike leaders of Trail Dames of Portland, Maine, a hiking meetup geared toward curvy women and women who are brand new to the trails. It’s a welcoming, no-hiker-left-behind group, where the goal is to enjoy the outdoors, not race to the summit. So all paces, all ages, all sizes are encouraged to join in and get out. “We want everyone to have a good time,” said Donna.

Donna (on left), Joyce (on right), Trail Dames of Portland, Maine organizers, with Karen, a Trail Dame member. Shannon Bryan photo

Trail Dames is a national organization – it was founded in Georgia in 2006 by hiker and self-proclaimed “woman of a curvy nature” Anna Huthmaker – and there are now chapters across the country. Portland had a chapter in the past, but it disappeared a few years ago. Donna Knowles and fellow hike leader Joyce Godsey decided it was high time Portland once again had a Trail Dames group to call its own (although still a Trail Dames member, Donna has parted ways with the Portland chapter since I first hiked with them in April, due to previous commitments).

“I wanted there to be a Trail Dames group so I could join it,” said Joyce, who prides herself on being the kind of hiker who takes time to enjoy the trails. She also often takes up the rear of the group, so no other hiker feels like she’s last. “I challenge anyone to be slower than me,” she joked.

Left: The trailhead kiosk at Sebago Lake Land Reserve in Standish. Right: Hikers on the inaugural Trail Dames of Portland, Maine hike. Shannon Bryan photos

She also challenges any woman who thinks she can’t hike to give it a try. “We want the people who don’t think they can get out there,” Joyce said. The group hikes together, at the pace of the slowest hiker. “No one’s going to say ‘hurry up.’ We’re not in a rush.” (Besides, slower hikers get to enjoy the view more.)

“But standing on that summit…it made me feel like anything was possible.”

The inaugural Trail Dames of Portland, Maine hike took places at the end of April, on one of those wonderfully sunny and warm early-spring days. Over twenty women showed up for that first hike at Sebago Lake Land Reserve in Standish. Some had never hiked before (or hadn’t hiked in years), others were new-ish to Maine and looking to make new friends. (Meetups like this a perfect for that, too.)

Parking lot meetup. Shannon Bryan photo

After meeting in the parking lot, we gathered to make introductions (everyone said her name and a “fun fact” about herself) and Joyce went over some of the “must-have” gear every hiker should have in her pack during each hike – from plenty of water and snacks to bug spray, sunscreen, a first-aid kit, and plenty of layers.

Hiking the trails at Sebago Lake Land Reserve with Trail Dames of Portland, Maine. Shannon Bryan photo
Follow the Half Moon trail. Shannon Bryan photo

And then we took to the easy-going Sebago Lake trails, with Donna at the lead. There are five miles of trails here, which are perfect for new hikers (and mountain bikers). The trails are wide and fairly flat, with some small hills for a challenge. It’s Maine after all – some hills are inevitable!

There was lots of conversation – many of the women on the hike had arrived alone and didn’t know anyone else in the group, which meant lots of “Where are you from?” and “Oh, I live near there, too!”

Hiking by old railroad tracks. Shannon Bryan photo
Binoculars are handy for bird spotting. Shannon Bryan photo
Happiness is hiking and good company. Shannon Bryan photo

The pace was gentle, and at times when the front of the group started to spread out from the back, Donna would pause and make sure everyone caught up and we proceeded together.

Eventually we came upon our lunch destination – a large shelter with picnic tables set near a scenic pond – and out came the packed lunches of PB&J, cheese and crackers, apples, and bananas.

These ladies packed the best-looking lunch, hands down. Shannon Bryan photos
The pond to the right and the lunch shelter just ahead. Shannon Bryan photo

Then Donna shared a bit about her story. “I lived in a world of ‘I can’t.’” She said. Not all that long ago, she was overweight, she’d had two knee replacements and two hip replacements, and battled cancer. People told her there were things she couldn’t do. “And I believed them,” she said.

She had friends and family who did believe in her – who would invite her out to hike – but she always said no. Hiking wasn’t something she could do. Then, one day, her mind changed. She went on a hike. It wasn’t easy (even avid hikers know that hiking can be a challenge, whatever your level). “I thought I was going to die,” she said. “But standing on that summit…it made me feel like anything was possible.” And she’s been hiking ever since (now with the trail name “Tin Wolf,” on account of all the hardware in her knees and hips). This year, her goal is to hike Mount Washington.

Upper left: Some of “Tin Wolf’s” backpack decor. And a solid hiker’s welcome! Shannon Bryan photos
Boots and poles. Shannon Bryan photo

Her message – and the message of Trail Dames – is clear: Whatever your level, no matter who you are, you can explore nature, hike the trails, and do things you didn’t think possible. You’ll make new friends, you’ll grow your confidence, and you’ll have a darn good time in the process, too.

“It’s possible, ladies,” said Donna. “I’m living proof. It’s worth it to get out there.”

Hiking it! The inaugural Trail Dames of Portland, Maine hiking group. Shannon Bryan photo

Trail Dames of Portland, Maine

For more info about Trail Dames of Portland, Maine, check them out on

It’s free to join the Trail Dames for hikes, and you can also join as an official Trail Dames member for $23 a year, which gets you extras like a Trail Dames patch, discounts on gear and special events, and more.