Tidbits: Highest mountain in Maine.
Northern Terminus of the Appalachian Trail.
Summitted, July 12, 2004
Time Zone: GMT -5 hours
When to go:
The best time to go is mid-May through mid-October. Weather can be treacherous, with snowfalls in the summer months. The trails are extremely steep and covered with moss-laden rocks...even a little water makes them extremely slippery.
I decided to hike the longer Chimney Pond-to-Saddle Trail (11 miles roundtrip with 4,000' of elevation gain). Many hikers opt for the magnificent and very steep Knife's Edge trail (7.5 miles roundtrip, still with 4,000' of elevation gain) which has precipitous drop-offs on both sides.
Hotel and Climb Reservation:
No guide, permit, or trail reservations are required. Baxter State Park is a wilderness area and access to the park is strictly controlled. There is only about 40 parking spaces for day hikers at the Roaring Brook Campground (where you access the many of the summit trails) trailhead (the Appalachian Trail trailhead has about 20 additional spots).
I arrived at the park entrance at 5:30am on a Monday and the ranger informed me that the parking was half-filled and that they would be closing access to the park at about 6:15am....so get there early. As an alternative, you can contact the park in advance for a camping site reservation, which has a separate parking allocation, however, you must get your reservation many months in advance. Another note...if you rent a car and it has Maine license plates, you get free entrance to the park (regardless of where you are from). Visitors with out of state plates are assessed a $12 entrance fee.
There are not many hotels in Millinocket (the closest town to the park). I stayed at the Katahdin Inn, a medium size hotel that is showing its age, but a bargain for $60 a night. There were about 80 rooms and I would estimate that only 10 of them were occupied.
Standard light hiking gear and water for a day hike. Cold weather gear as required. Bug spray is essential. Note: There are NO RESOURCES in or near Baxter State Park to get water (other than pumping/treating your own). Get water and all supplies before you arrive at the park. NOTE: Baxter State Park REQUIRES that you have a flashlight and map with you, even during day hikes (which can easily become a night hike if you slow down your pace).
The trails are best accessed via the town of Millinocket, located about 3 hours northwest of Portland. Drive 15 miles north on Millinocket-Greenville Road to access the southern gate to the park. There are numerous signs directing you along the route to the park entrance. The trail access is another 5-10 miles on gravel/dirt roads after going through the gated entrance to the park (these roads can easily accommodate a regular car with 2-wheel drive). There is a northern entrance to the park, and although the distance between the north and south is only 20 miles or so, it takes 2-3 hours to drive between these points, so make sure you enter from the south.
After stocking up with water and some food (obtained at the local gas station/convenience store in Millinocket...I went to Irvings, which opens at 5:00am), I drove 25 minutes to the southern park entrance. The ranger at the gate will ask which trail head you are heading to and looks at the log book to see if there are still parking spots available. If so, you are given a parking pass and allowed to proceed through the gate (Note: As previously mentioned, get there EARLY to secure a pass). After driving about 8 miles down a well maintained gravel road, I arrived at the parking area. You must then check in with the ranger (can't miss the ranger station since it is next to the trailhead) and sign-in indicating time, number of people, route, etc. The ranger may check to see you have the required map and flashlight (they sell trail maps at the ranger station for $1...a wise investment...if the ranger is not there, they use the honor system to leave a dollar when you take a map). In my case, he just asked if I had them and I told him yes and that was that.
I followed the blue-blazed Chimney Pond Trail for about 3 1/2 miles until I reached the Chimney Pond Camp (NOTE: The Helon Taylor trail, which leads to the Knife's Edge Trail, breaks off the Chimney Pond Trail to the left, about 1/4 miles down from the trailhead...it is clearly marked but ALSO has blue blazes...don't get confused and take the wrong trail). Along the route you can get some glimpses of the impressive summit. You will also pass some very nice ponds and you'll be hiking along a pleasant stream for a good deal of the way. If you are lucky, you may spot some Moose (Baxter State Park is known as "moose central").
When you arrive at the Chimney Pond Campground, there is a latrine and you must sign in again with the ranger at this location, indicating you assent and decent routes. The next five minutes was a pleasant walk through a flat area...that was the last pleasant 5 minutes of the trip...the rest was a brutally steep climb to the summit. I would rate it as an unrelenting class-2 climb. Upon reaching the summit you have spectacular views in every direction. There is a marker at the summit, indicating the terminus of the Appalachian trail and there is a plaque honoring Governor Baxter who donated the mountain and adjoining lands to the State of Maine.
Be careful on the decent. It is long and steep. I would not recommended descending via the Knife's Edge trail due to the steepness. Also, don't forget to sign-out at both ranger stations. It took me about 9 hours to do the roundtrip hike.