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Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Visiting Baxter State Park and camping at Katahdin Streams, Northern Maine

So you saw my post on hiking Katahdin (Baxter Peak), the highest peak in Maine, and you want to know how you can do it too.  Well, you are in the right place.  If you read that post, you know all about the trail, the distance, the elevation and what to expect.  But with Katahdin, there is a whole lot more planning when it comes to visiting this State Park, knowing all the rules, planning your trip, and reserving a campsite.

Entrance sign, Baxter State Park

Fun Facts - Baxter State Park 
  • The park as a donation:  In 1931, Baxter formally donated the parcel to the State of Maine with the condition that it be kept forever wild. Over the years, Governor Baxter purchased additional lands and pieced his park together, transaction by transaction. He made his final purchase in 1962.  Percival P. Baxter was governor of Maine during the years of 1921-1924. He enjoyed fishing and vacationing in the Maine woods throughout childhood and his affection for the land and Maine’s wildlife were instrumental in his creation of a park for people of the State of Maine. He began to fulfill his dream of a park in the year 1930, with the purchase of almost 6,000 acres of land, including Katahdin, Maine’s highest peak. 
  • Park size:  Since then, additional purchases and land gifts have increased the Park’s total size to 209,644 acres. About 75% of the Park (156,874 acres) is managed as a wildlife sanctuary. 
  • The Park is Self-Funded: The Park is funded through an endowment left by the donor, user fees, donations, and revenue from the Scientific Forest Management Area.
  • Trust to fund the park: Demonstrating not only enormous generosity but admirable foresight, Baxter left a trust of nearly 7 million dollars to ensure that Park managers would have sufficient funds to maintain the Park without ever having to compete for Maine taxpayers’ dollars from the general fund account.
  • Wilderness first, Recreation second: Governor Baxter’s first priority was to protect the wildness of the Park.
  • What to do: There are over 40 peaks and ridges besides Katahdin in the Park. The trail system features over 215 miles of trails popular with hikers, mountain climbers and naturalists. Baxter State Park operates eight (8) roadside campgrounds and two (2) backcountry campgrounds. There are also numerous individual backcountry sites for backpackers.
  • Visitor Records:  Roughly 60,000 people visit the park in the summer months.  For comparison, Maine's National Park on the coast (Acadia National park) saw 2,559,473 in 2014. Zion National Park in Utah had 3,211,596 for the same year. 
Rock with "Keep Maine Beautiful" on your way to BSP

Have everything you need before you go 
Before entering Baxter State Park, you want to make sure you have everything you need.  Baxter does not have a store, or a gas station, or anything of that nature.  The only thing you can (and need to) buy in the park is firewood.  You can’t even use a credit card to pay at the gate, cash only is the name of the game deep in the woods here in Maine. 

Last stop before Baxter, North Woods Trading Post

Pizza at North Woods Trading Post- bringing dinner into the park

Last Stop before Baxter for supplies
If you are driving to Katahdin and realize you forgot something important, you do have options in the few towns before you hit Baxter.  The last town you drive through has a few different grocery stores and stores.  Your very last stop shop before hitting Katahdin is the North Woods Trading Post (this is still 30-45 minutes from our campsite).

Here you can get all the staples you need from coffee to charcoal.  It is also a great place to grab breakfast before you go in, or dinner on the go.  Getting in from Connecticut late with a few stops in Portland, Maine,  we knew we would be getting to the campsite early and would not want to cook.  So instead, we took Frank’s advice and got a pizza to go from the trading post.  Not a slice… you can get an entire pizza baked right there on-site as you shop around the gift store, preparing to make your way into the woods.  There is also coffee, red hots (neon hot dogs), necessities like beer, wine, and basic groceries and various baked goods like Maine’s famous whoopee pies.  This is also the last place you will be able to log into wifi or have service so if you need to do something online, this is it.  This is also the last stop for gas before you enter the park.  Basically, if you need anything besides firewood, you need to get it here before you get in the park.  

North Woods Trading Post

Getting to/around the park 

You will not have service near the park so make sure you know where you are going (and how to get there) before you go! 

Fees to get in the park:  $15 per car - can buy online or CASH ONLY at the gate. 

Speed Limit:  The speed limit is 20 mph or as posted (the park is entirely narrow dirt roads).  Entrance permits are provided at the Park gate. 

Permitted vehicle size:  is limited to 9’ high, 7’ wide, and 22’ long for single units or 44 feet long for combined units. Motorcycles, motorized trail bikes, and ATVs are not allowed. Baxter State Park publishes a downloadable Road Map for visitors.

Location/Directions:  Enter at the Togue Pond Gatehouse (southern entrance) or Matagamon Gatehouse  (north entrance). Togue Pond Gatehouse is the more popular entrance (Directions below). 

  • Travel on I-95 to Exit 244; turn west on Route 157 and travel through Medway, East Millinocket and Millinocket. Proceed through both traffic lights in Millinocket. (If you wish to stop at Park Headquarters, it is near McDonalds at the first traffic light in Millinocket.) 
  • Bear right at the three-way intersection after the second traffic light in downtown Millinocket. 
  • Bear left at the next “Y” intersection, staying on the main road. Route 157 ends in Millinocket, and the road to Baxter State Park has many names: the Baxter State Park Road, the Millinocket Lake Road, or to locals, simply "the Lake Road." 
  • Eight miles from Millinocket, you will pass the Big Moose Inn and the Northwoods Trading Post on the right. 
  • Continue another 8 miles on a paved road to Togue Pond Gatehouse.

Parking at Baxter/DUPR:  If you are visiting for the day, I highly recommend taking advantage of the Day Use Parking Reservation (DUPR), meant to assist day use Park visitors who wish to hike Katahdin by providing the assurance of access to a Katahdin trailhead.

Check or call the reservation office about how to secure your Day Use Parking Reservation. (Except for Katahdin access parking lots, all other parking lots are first come first serve). Reservation Office (207)-723-5140

Here's how the DUPR system works:  For DAY USE ONLY. Campers DO NOT need a DUPR.
Maine residents may make a DUPR for any time in the summer season (June 1-Oct 15th) starting as early as April 1 (must have a Maine driver's license and registration). Non-residents can make a DUPR 2 weeks or less prior to the date of their intended hike. A maximum of 3 DUPR’s only may be made each month (any combination of trailheads) for Maine and non-Maine residents. The fee for a DUPR is $5.00 Check the current status of DUPR and make a reservation at DUPR calls will be accepted until 2:55pm on the day before you wish to hike Katahdin (subject to availability).
Unreserved parking spaces will be filled on a first-come, first-serve basis as soon as the Togue Gate opens at 6:00 am.  The parking lot was filled at Katahdin Stream by 7am. 

Katahdin Stream Campground Entrance

Camping at Baxter State Park
Generally speaking here in the U.S.  campgrounds come in a large range of varieties.  There are the huge KOA’s that have everything from a dog park to a restaurant, to small hike-in-only with virtual zero amenities tucked away in the woods. It’s really nice when you find a campground that hits a perfect balance of what you need and what you don’t.  For us, the campgrounds in Katahdin are that.  Fire pits, picnic tables, bathrooms, a ranger station with fire wood, a beautiful babbling creek.  Everything we needed, and nothing we didn’t.  It’s a small campground so there are no crowds and best yet no kids (sorry families).  Beware, there is no potable (or running) water and all you have to pack out all your own garbage.  

Reservation only:  Camping is permitted by reservation only and only in authorized campgrounds and campsites, as specified by the Park, May 15 through October 22, and December 1 through March 31. 

Gate Times/Check in/Out:  Campers must register at the gatehouse no later than 8:30 p.m. - I repeat you must be at the front gate by 8:30 or you will not be allowed to your Site.  Checkout time is 11:00 a.m., and check-in time is 1:00 p.m. 

Our site at Katahdin Streams Campground

Number of sites: 12 lean-tos/9 tent sites/3 group sites at Foster Field (site #1 holds 12 people, site #2 holds 13 people, site #3 holds 25 people).  Tents are not permitted outside of lean-tos at lean-to sites. 

Dates: Open 5/15 - 10/15.

Booking a Site: The thing with these campgrounds is they have to be booked far in advance.  I am talking four months out far.  Rolling reservations are accepted four months out from the day of your first night.  What this means is to book a site for August 25 to 27th, I had to be online April 25 to secure that registration.  Alarm set, don’t forget.  While this may seem a little tedious, what it does mean is small intimate campgrounds tucked in the woods with limited campsites.   

Registering:  Easy as you can do it all online on their system.  You can also call them to make your reservation.  Reservation Office  207-723-5140  Winter M-F, 8am-4pm | Summer 7 days/week, 8am-4pm

Day Use Area at KSCG

Getting to Katahdin Stream CG:  From the Togue Pond Gate (south entrance) to Baxter State Park drive west/northwest 8 miles on the Baxter State Park Tote (Nesowadnehunk) Road to the Katahdin Stream Campground entrance. Then go .1 mile up the driveway on your right. Allow 30 minutes for the 8 mile drive from the Togue Pond Gate as this is dirt road.   Link to CG Map

Day Use Area: Katahdin Streams does have a Day Use Area with picnic tables and fire rings.  

Cancellations:  Cancellations and partial cancellations requests must be received a minimum of 14 days prior to the scheduled camping date.  A $15 service fee will be applied. Changes (cancellations or transfers) can only be made in person or by phone. No refunds within the 14 day window–transfers only ($15 fee).

Duration:  Reservations shall be accepted for up to seven (7) total nights for any one backcountry site and any one campground.  Two week (14 nights) maximum duration.
*exceptions:  Davis Pond, one night only. Wassataquoik Lake Island, two nights only.

Group Camping/Site size:  Camping by groups of more than 12 people is permitted only at group camping areas located at Bear Brook, Foster Field, Nesowadnehunk Field, Trout Brook Farm and North Branch Camps.

Fees:  Summer campground tent site:  32$ a night.  

Provided fire pits

Fires:  allowed.  Fire ring at each campsite. Wood: 3$ a bundle (MUST be purchased at the campground, no outside wood)  Fires or other cooking or heating devices are permitted only in designated campsites or picnic areas. At Chimney Pond and Davis Pond, open fires are prohibited and only backpack-type stoves are allowed.

Amenities:  Picnic table, rakes, and fire ring with grill top at each site.  Several outhouses throughout the campground.  An adorable ranger station with wood for purchase (cash only).  There is no potable water.  Pack in all the water you need or bring a filter to filter from the stream. 

Size:  Normal tent sites can fit 1 large tent and two smalls.  We had no problem fitting our three small (2 person) tents on one site. 

AT/Road through the CG

Parking:  Each campsite can accommodate two cars. 

Notes:  Campsites are mostly drivable, some sites are walk-in only as you park along the main drive and have to carry your stuff in (a short walk, usually 200-500 feet).  You will NOT have service anywhere in this campground or on the mountain…. plan accordingly. 

Trail Registration

Pre-trail registration: All persons entering the Park by road or trail must register their entrance at the first opportunity at a staffed gatehouse or self-registration station. Long Distance Hikers entering the Park for the purpose of hiking all or part of the Appalachian Trail must secure an AT-Katahdin Hiker Permit Card and register with Baxter State Park prior to hiking the Hunt Trail to or from Baxter Peak. Persons entering the Park on foot at any other location or landing aircraft on permitted waters in the Park must register with Park Headquarters or a gatehouse in advance.

Outhouses at the CG

Waste:  All garbage must be carried out. Where toilets are not available, human waste must be disposed of at least 200' from water or trail by burying or by carry-out.

Vehicles: No vehicle over nine (9) feet high, seven (7) feet wide, or 22 feet long for a single vehicle or 44 feet long for combined units may enter the Park. 

Rules in the park: The maximum size of a hiking group shall be 12 persons. Affiliated groups on the same trail separated by less than one mile shall be considered one group. Hikers must carry a working flashlight. No children under the age of six (6) years are allowed above timberline.

Pets:   Pets or other domestic animals are not allowed in the Park.

Alcohol:  General laws of the State pertaining to alcohol and drugs apply within the Park. Maine law prohibits the drinking of alcoholic beverages in public places. 

Campsite along Katahdin Stream

Our first night we camped at a site right by the river and it was perfection.  Scenic stream, only visible neighbors to one side.  Bordered by the AT and the stream, we slept to the lovely noise of water and campfires. That morning we packed up our belongings and parked our car in the day use parking area to move our campsite a few sites down when we got back down the trail.  Our second site was not as ideal as it was next to the bathrooms which could get a little… wafty… as the evening progressed.  Site #17 was great for it’s location by the stream by Site #18 was great for its border of woods with lots of options for hammocks.  

Togue Pond at the southern entrance 

Our visit to Baxter State Park was short but sweet.  We really only had time to explore Baxter Peak and poke around our campsite at Katahdin Streams.  Next time, I would love to rent a canoe, swim in the lakes (beware of leaches) and hike some of the other famous trails in the park.  Solitude and wilderness is what you can expect to find here at BSP.  Wild New England way up here in Northern Maine.  While there may seem like a lot of rules (or a lot of planning) to put together this trip (and it is) you have to remember the rules of the park:  Wilderness first, Recreation second. 

Happy Camping, 


  1. Very informative post! I'll be staying at Katahdin Stream next weekend with a few friends. All your details were exactly what I needed before a first stay in Baxter.

    1. Amanda, I am so happy to hear this! I get so frustrated when I can't find all the information I need (this took several phone calls, websites, and insider information!). Baxter is amazing.. have a great trip and please let me know how you enjoyed it!


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