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Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Hiking Katahdin- Maine's Highest Peak

Hiking Mount Katahdin

If you ask me, Katahdin (Baxter Peak) is the “Big Daddy” of the New England summits. Connecticut warms you up with its humble Bear Mountain which if we are being honest, is barely in Connecticut (a few miles more and you walk across the Massachusetts border). Massachusetts’s Mount Greylock is a nice and steady climb through the Berkshires, a 13-mile loop took me the scenic up down and around the summit. Vermont is just enough of a challenge and the fall foliage makes it a favorite as the leaves start to turn. New Hampshire’s Mount Washington is famous for its views and weather, but also boasts insane crowds along its popular trail and auto road accessible summit. Rhode Island is a hill on the side of the road so we don’t have much to discuss here. But Katahdin? Katahdin is far away from the chaos of life, boasts amazing views, a challenging and technical climb, and much less crowds than the other New England high points. If you ask me, Katahdin is in a league of its own.

It was also the summit I was most excited to climb, and the one that took the most planning. I did MA, VT, CT and NH in a quick sprint nearly 4 weekends straight. Katahdin was going to require a camping reservation made four months in advance, and a long weekend to make the 7.5 hour drive each way doable. So on a beautiful weekend, one of the last of August, we made the trek to Baxter State Park and stood at the terminus of the Appalachian Trail.

Katahdin's Knife Edge 

All in all, this may be my favorite New England hike yet, nearly tied with beautiful Franconia Ridge/Loop in New Hampshire. The hike was challenging and more technical than I expected over the boulder field, but the view was so rewarding. The drive was tough but the views along the trail were hard to describe and trust me when I say these photos don’t do it justice. The trail wasn’t too busy, the crowds limited, and the campground one of the nicest and quietest I have been to. It is an awesome feeling to be hiking the last 5 miles of the 2,200 mile Appalachian Trail.

Because of the long drive, I would probably only go back to hike this mountain to walk across Katahdin’s famous Knifes Edge and I am dreaming of hiking into Chimney Pond Campground to camp (it looked beautiful from the summit and I have heard its one of New Englands best campsites). As far as this section of Maine goes, I would come back in a heart beat. You need at least 5 days to make the drive worth it and on my next voyage, I would love to spend some time exploring the rest of Baxter State Park, and exploring the Allagash Water Ways. There are some classic white water rafting or canoe camping trips along the far northern desolate section of Maine.

To be standing on the summit of Katahdin with no civilization or cell phone service anywhere around is a lovely feeling. To unplug and not see a single road in the distance is rare this day and age. Nothing but untouched and beautifully preserved wilderness 360 degrees all around you. As current politics threaten to shrink our patches of untouched preserved open land, now is the time to submerge yourself in these areas, appreciate the beauty, and fight for our public lands. Thank you, Katahdin, for a fabulous weekend with the best of views, perfect weather, and awesome company.

Junction of Appalachian and Owl Trails

As far as picking a campsite and a trailhead, I chose the Katahdin Stream Campground for our two nights of lodging the night before and the night of our hike (check back in Friday for my post all about reserving your space at the campground). There are several routes to reach Katahdin’s summit but I knew I wanted to follow the classic Hunt Trail that shares its name with the last 5.2 miles of the Appalachian Trail. The trailhead is located at the end of the campground, and technically speaking, the road through the campground is the white blazed AT. We checked in with the Ranger answering questions and signed into the trail register. After chatting with the ranger about the trail and the recent problems in the park (believe it or not, this was human feces on the trail.. yes…. people are choosing to poop virtually on the trail) and soon enough, we began our hike.

Stream/Bridge along the AT/Hunt Trail

Trail: Appalachian Trail/Hunt Trail which starts at the Katahdin Streams Campground.
Parking: If you are camping at KSCG, you will not need to worry about parking. If you are driving to the trailhead, you will need a Day Use Parking Pass (DUPR) to ensure your spot (best solution) or to get there very very early to get a spot after the DUPRs have taken theirs.
Distance: 5.2 miles each way (10.4 round trip)
Elevation: Summit: 5,267' Gained: 4,250' (over 5.2 miles)
Kids: NOT a good hike for kids, large boulders to climb and cross and they would have a difficult time.
Dogs: Dogs are not allowed anywhere in Baxter State Park. This is a strict rule and the rangers even ask as you enter the park.
Red Flag: Alcohol is an issue of contention on the mountain. Public Drinking is not allowed and people have been cited. However, if you are conscious of this matter and responsible, you can enjoy your beverage on the way down from the summit in a responsible manner. I am not ADVISING you break the rules, but telling you it does happen. Make sure you pack in/pack out all your garbage as there are no garbage bins located anywhere in the park. Lastly, be warned that sections of the trail ARE technical. You will be hauling yourself up and down large boulders with limited hand holds/rungs and steep drops.  A few people in another group who did not like heights decided to turn around at this point. I don't like heights but managed to get across this area okay. 

(via the Hunt Trail/Last 5.2 miles of the AT)

1.1 miles: Gradual climb, Junction of Owl Trail
2.2 miles: Large boulders (technical)
3.0 miles: Exposed scrambling (technical)
3.8 miles: Tableland- alpine (trail flattens out)
4.2 miles: Thoreau Spring and junction of Abol Trail (to Abol Bridge CG)
5.2 miles: Gradual climb/Reach the summit

The first mile is mild, following a dirt trail with a slight elevation gain and some rocky boulders. You will follow the stream until you hit about the one-mile marker where you will cross a bridge and see your last official bathroom on the trail. To help with the human waste issue mentioned above, an outhouse has been placed at mile 1 along the trail, right by the bridge. Just passed the bathroom, you can stop to take a photo of one of the largest waterfalls in Baxter State Park. From here, the trail starts to climb more and you are on your way to some of the more technical parts of the trail.

Last bathroom stop along the trail 

Soon enough you are outside of the tree-line and the views open up to a phenomenal view of Baxter State Park and northern Maine. After soaking up the amazing views, you are faced with a large field of boulders, heading straight up for the skyline. This is where the climb starts to get technical, hauling yourself up large boulders with drops on either side of you. Following the white blazes on the boulders, you will find a few hand holds and bars but mostly, you are forced to get creative on how you will haul yourself and your pack up some of these large boulders and drops. This was a fun part of the trail as you are forced to slow down and make your way across these technical sections. I wasn’t thrilled at first as my fear of heights kicked in and my footing started to slip on some of the boulders. Finally, after a bit of a scramble we summited the false peak where the trail flattened out before making another slow gradual climb to the summit.

First view above the tree-line

This was the first hike I have been on in a long time where it wasn’t a last long scramble to the summit. Instead, you scramble in the middle and the trail flattens out and it's a nice gradual climb to the peak. The views are phenomenal as you make your way between the white roped trail, staying in a narrow region and preserving the delicate alpine ecosystem in this area. There is also a trail split at this point where the paths will merge and the trail will start to get more popular (hello fellow hikers). Up until this point, we just saw a few sporadic groups making their way up the Hunt Trail.

Thoreau Spring junction along the AT/Hunt Trail

Passing Thoreau Springs, you finally get the view of the summit. It is not a prominent peak as Pamola stands right besides Katahdin, with the knife edge separating these two famous peaks. Looking at the peaks, Katahdin, the highest summit in Maine, is the closer summit and you can see the specks of humans standing on the summit. I have to say, the company and the weather is one of the things that made this hike so great. As far as company goes, everyone was experienced hikers with the right gear and the right attitude. Everyone was so happy to be on the mountain, was prepared for the hike, and infectious smiles spread through the group. As far as the weather goes there was a strong breeze but sunny skies, clear views, and not a bug to be found on the trail. Perfection

Crowds at the summit

At the summit, you can’t expect solitude as you see the crowds on the peak waiting in line to take their photo with the famous Katahdin sign. We were discouraged to see large groups (of about 30) on the summit screaming shouting and breaking just about every rule in the book of hiking etiquette. The rules of the mountain is groups of 12 or less, and if you have several groups to stay a mile apart. This group of about 30 French Canadians even had two trail leaders with headsets and mics, attempting to direct the rowdy group. They did not understand the basics of a line at the famous Katahdin sign and their extreme unruliness made us all cringe as we enjoyed the amazing views on the summit. We were also happy to see several through-hikers celebrating the end of their 2,200-mile journey from Georgia to the highest peak in Maine. One couple posed on the Katahdin sign with their Texas flag, celebrating the end of their (really) long walk.

As we enjoyed our lunch at the summit and took in the views, we contemplated hiking the famous Knife’s Edge to experience one of the most iconic and beautiful sections of the trail. The addition of two miles onto our hike however (one mile out across the knifes edge and one mile back - VERY SLOW technical miles- before making our way back to the summit and down the mountain) just sounded awful. So instead, we vowed to come back and hike the Knife’s Edge another day. If you chose to hike the knifes edge across and a different trail down, you will find yourself on the other side of the mountain and at a trailhead far far away from your car. You can park another car at the trailhead or try to hitchhike your way back to the Katahdin Streams Campground. Low on energy and excited for dinner by the campfire, we made out descent down the trail, stopping for several trail beers and a quick swim in some of the coldest waters I have ever been in.

Maine's Largest Wilderness signage

  • A DUPR, a campsite, or to get to the trailhead VERY early 
  • A good daypack to carry all your supplies 
  • Sturdy hiking boots (sneakers will not do on this trail as you are crossing sharp boulders and scrambling- good grip and ankle protection is needed) 
  • Gloves are ideal for the cold temperatures and for protecting your hands as you scramble along the boulders 
  • Sunscreen and bug spray 
  • Lots of layers including a hat and jacket as it gets quite chilly at the summit and above the tree-line
  • Enough food and water (2 liters minimum) 
  • A map of the area (get yours here
  • Hiking basics: emergency medical kit, head lamps, whistle, extra pair of socks, bandana

AT Trail Signage

Hiker Register at the beginning of the trail

Following the white blazed Appalachian Trail/Hunt Trail
One of the largest waterfalls in the park

Views above the tree-line

First views above the tree-line

Jaimie and Frank making their way up the ridge

Making our way up the ridge line

Checking our progress on the map
Technical bouldering up the trail 

Ryan making his way up the trail 

Technical section of the trail with a hand hold

Thatcher in front of the white blazed trail
Picking my way up the boulder trail

False summit 
Fragile ecosystem just past the false summit

Breaks on the trail

Stopping for photo ops 

Posing along the way
Thatcher posing 
Hiking the mountain in my Pacific Mountain boots

Enjoying Maine Beer on a Maine Mountain

Baxter Peak in the distance (first peak on the left with the tiny humans on it) 

Last stretch to the summit

Hiker reaching Baxter Peak/Mount Katahdin
Time to the summit

Views from the summit/posing with the AT/Katahdin Sign
Posing with the Katahdin Sign/Northern Terminus of the Appalachian Trail
Knife's Edge descending from Kathadin

View from the summit, Chimney Pond below

View across the Knife's Edge
The group taking a break on our way down

Amazing views on our way down


  1. I'm so glad you got to summit Katahdin! The summit photos are really cool - I'm always amazed at how many people are on the summit when you get there but you wouldn't think so! Looks like the views area actually pretty good too! I'll get up there one day!

    Alicia @

    1. It was such a great hike. My favorite yet! This one was surely a little crowded but it IS the end of the AT so it does get a lot of attention (and its that time of year all the thru hikers are finishing!) There was also a large group (breaking the rules, large groups not allowed for this reason) which made it more crowded than normal.

      Views were STUNNING and so glad we had a clear day! Definitely have to get to Latahdin next time you find yourself in Maine :) Thanks for reading!

  2. There is no better hiking trail than the Appalachian Trail. But the experience gets better with the best trail running shoes. I found some amazing suggestions for women, including Salomon X Screen W here:


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