At the northern end of the Appalachian Trail sits Mount Katahdin, Maine's highest mountain, in Baxter State Park. The park alone covers more than 200,000 acres of mountains, lakes, streams, and forest. From hiking majestic Katahdin, touring around the region in search of wildlife, to sitting next to the Penobscot River enjoying a campfire and good book, there is a never ending list of things to do in the Katahdin Region for all ages and experience levels.
Explore More Ambassador Sara Hammond, of Sanford, ME, spent 10 days in the area and shares with us recommendations on places to stay, things to do, and what makes the area so special to her. Photographs by Sara.
LOCATION: Millinocket/Katahdin Region, approximately 1 1/2 hours North of Bangor
TIME OF YEAR VISITED: Late May
DURATION OF STAY: 10 DaysWHERE TO EAT NEARBY: River Drivers Restaurant, Appalachian Trail Cafe, Grandbelly’s Country Cafe(in Medway but worth the trip!)
WHERE TO STAY WHILE VISITING:
1. Abol Bridge Campground
Abol Bridge Campground is located outside of Millinocket on the Golden Road. Here you can find wooded campsites and rustic cabins, or set up right alongside the West Branch of the Penobscot River. Breakfast is included during your stay, and I strongly encourage taking a cup of coffee to go and enjoying it on Abol Bridge where you get the best view of Katahdin on the Golden Road. The campground itself has a fully functioning bathhouse, which is a must have after a long day of exploring! Lastly, another great perk of staying at this campground is that it abuts Baxter State Park, making it incredibly accessible and a great place to plan hikes in the surrounding area.
2. Rip Dam Sporting Camps
If camping isn’t quite your cup of tea but you still want to explore this amazing part of Maine, Rip Dam Sporting Camps is a little bit further up the Golden Road and offers all the amenities of home with fully furnished cabins. All you need to bring is yourself and food. A great alternative and still within a reasonable distance of Baxter and Katahdin.
THINGS TO DO WHILE VISITING:
1. Hiking in the Katahdin Region
If you choose to stay at Abol Bridge Campground, or a nearby campground, you're likely to plan a few hikes in the area. Here are just a few that Sara recommends:
Near the Campground
There is the Abol Pond Trail, a fairly easy and flat trail, leading to Abol Pond in Baxter. A great spot for a picnic and some fishing. There is also the Blueberry Ledges Trail, a bit more uphill and strenuous but still fairly easy. This leads up to a beautiful open area where Katahdin Stream flows over granite. A stunning place to sit and listen to the peaceful sounds of nature. The Appalachian Trail (AT) also runs across Abol Bridge and directly in front of the campground, marking the end of the 100 Mile Wilderness. A great spot for those looking to do some more strenuous hiking, you're able to pick up the AT and follow it from there up to Katahdin. Or, for those like myself, a great opportunity to make the claim “I’ve “hiked” part of the AT!”, even if it is only the length of Abol Bridge :)
Hiking In Baxter State Park
Baxter State Park is about a 20 minute drive from the campground and has endless options for hikes and sight seeing. The walk into Sandy Stream Pond is a must, and if you’re lucky, you may be able to observe moose having a swim in the pond. If you don’t catch a glimpse of them, you will still be rewarded with stunning views of Katahdin. There is also the trail to Little and Big Niagara, a bit more of a moderate hike but gorgeous views of Maine’s version of Niagara Falls. For those starting out a bit later in the day and not setting their sights on reaching the summit of Katahdin, there is the Chimney Pond Trail. This is more on the strenuous side with some rock climbing involved but so worth the effort. Along the way there is Basin Pond, a gorgeous spot to stop for a break and a snack. Once you reach Chimney Pond, you’ll be greeted by crystal clear water and beautiful views of the summit, which will give you the itch to return and conquer the top of Katahdin.
2. Water Rentals & Guided Trips
Depending on how warm the weather is during your stay, a fun option is to spend some time on (or in) the Penobscot River. Abol Campground itself offers canoe, kayak, and tube rentals. If you decide to tube, you’ll be shuttled up river and can float right back to the campground. If you are not staying at the campground, there are a variety of other rental companies in the area. Rent from places such as Katahdin Outfitters or schedule trips with Penobscot River Rafting and Tubing here. Keep your eyes open for moose, heron, loons, eagles, and other wildlife!
With so much to see and explore in the area, it may be helpful to enlist the help of a Registered Maine Guide to help you plan your trip. Moose Woods Guide Service in Millinocket is a great option to help you with this. They offer guided moose tours, canoe trips, fishing, and hikes, so if you’re new to the area or even if you’ve been in Maine all your life, they’ll help you make the most of your trip and see all this region has to offer.
3. Ice Caves
In the shadow of Katahdin, just south of Baxter, the Debsconeag Lakes Wilderness Area provides 500,000 acres of contiguous conservation land. Right across the road from Abol Bridge, you can hike a quick, 1-mile, trail that offers three separate destinations and highlights one of the most interesting features in the preserve known as the ice caves. A fun adventure and depending on how warm the weather has been, you may actually get to see ice in the caves, as it can hold its ice well into the summer months.
4. Ghost Trains of Maine
If you’re feeling like a drive and adventurous, there are the Ghost Trains of Maine located off the Telos Road. This is going to be an all day adventure, but so fun to explore! You’ll be given directions when you reach the gatehouse on Telos on how to get to the Trains and then you’re off on the adventure. Once you reach the parking lot, there is about a 1/2 mile walk into the Trains, where you’ll find them as well as a beautiful view of Eagle Lake.
1. Bugs & Weather: Be prepared for bugs, no matter what time of year you visit this region, but especially May and June. Don’t let it deter you though, bug nets and strong bug spray will keep them at bay and allow you to still enjoy all of the great North Woods. Weather in this area is also unpredictable, so be prepared for all types. Katahdin and it’s surrounding area seems to make its own weather so don’t depend on what the weather stations say.
2. Entrance Fees: If you’re driving into Baxter or decide to make the trek to the Trains, there are entrance fees. Baxter is free to Maine residents and $16 for non-Maine residents. To make the trip into the Trains there is an $11 per person fee, regardless of residency.
3. Tourists: As with all tourist areas in Maine during the summer, especially weekends, Baxter is very busy and you may not be able to get passes to enter by car. If you’re able to plan ahead and utilize their reservation system that’s a good alternative for the busy season.
4. Road Conditions: The roads in the North Maine Woods are very rough. It is best to come prepared for at least one flat tire. It is a very remote location with limited, if any, cell service. I would also not recommend making the trip in without a Maine Gazetteer and being comfortable navigating with it.
A Note from our Explore More Ambassador: Why Sara Loves to Explore the Katahdin Region
"I’ve grown up visiting this area. My grandparents started out staying at Abol Bridge and the tradition has continued for as long as I can remember. There is a peace that comes with traveling to Northern Maine, and exploring these remote locations. The area is so expansive that it is impossible to ever fully explore it all, never mind the fact that there are some areas that I’ve visited multiple times and continue to return to, simply because I am drawn to them for their peacefulness and beauty. There is always a new angle of Katahdin to be seen, a new trail to hike, more wildlife to appreciate, and peace to be found no matter how many trips one makes to this area.
Take in the sunsets and star gaze. The colors of the sunsets are unmatched and the number of stars seen due to zero light pollution, are limitless. Not to mention the potential to see the Northern Lights.
There is so much potential to observe the vast amounts of wildlife that people don't often get to experience. This trip was the second time I have had the opportunity to witness a young bull moose walking through the campground. This was after seeing two more young bulls swimming in Sandy Stream Pond. Being able to watch a moose with Katahdin as it’s backdrop, is a view and memory that stays with you.
I also love that when you visit this area, it’s like a whole different world. Things seem to be a slower pace and all that you encounter appear more relaxed and are likely in that area for the same reason, to enjoy the remoteness and majesty of nature and all that it has to offer. This is an area that I will never grow tired of visiting. I hope that others will choose to make this trip and take the time to reflect and enjoy all the peace and beauty the region has to offer.
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