If you’re looking for a unique hike, I would highly recommend Mt Katahdin in Baxter State Park, Maine. Obviously there are many amazing alpine climbs in the Northeast. Franconia Ridge and the Presidential Traverse (both in New Hampshire) are incredible hikes, and I have great memories of climbing Mt Marcy in the High Peaks Wilderness of Upstate New York, but there’s something about Mt Katahdin that stands out above the rest. One reason for this is that it literally does stand out from the landscape around it. Whereas most mountains in the East are part of a range, like the Adirondacks, the Green Mountains, or the White Mountains, Katahdin sticks up from the surrounding flat landscape like a volcano. There’s nothing close by to rival it. Fittingly, “Katahdin” means “The Greatest Mountain” in the Penobscot Indian language.
Katahdin is the northern terminus of the famous Appalachian Trail, which starts down south at Springer Mountain in Georgia. If you reach the tallest point of Katahdin, known as Baxter Peak, you might be lucky enough to witness someone finishing the 2,200 mile hike. Katahdin’s Baxter Peak is 5,267 ft high, so of course it sports a 13 ft rock pile at the top to get it up to a full mile. The top of Katahdin is also unique in that it features a large, flat, tundra-like Tableland area to the west of Baxter Peak. To the east of the Baxter Peak is the Knife Edge, a thin C-shaped mile-long ridge that drops off almost vertically on either side. North of this ridge is Chimney Pond, which is surrounded on 3 of 4 sides by the peaks of Katahdin.
When it comes to summiting Katahdin, one has several options. The mountain is located in the middle of the wilderness (3 hours and 40 minutes by car from Portland, ME), so it’s probably not going to be a day hike. There are at least 9 campgrounds in the area around the mountain, but you probably want to be near the base, so try to reserve a spot at Katahdin Stream Campground or Abol Campground, or hike 3.2 miles in to Chimney Pond Campground (my favorite) from Roaring Brook Campground. It can be hard to reserve a spot at these campgrounds, especially at Chimney Pond, but you can call same-day on your drive up to see if there have been any cancellations, or camp farther away and drive to your desired trailhead instead.
There are 7 trails up Mount Katahdin, starting at the 4 campgrounds mentioned above. They don’t all lead to the highest point, Baxter Peak; some end at the Tableland or at Pamola Peak (4919 ft), which is at the eastern end of the famous Knife Edge. From those points there are trails to get all the way to the top. Chimney Pond is the best starting point, as 4 of the 7 trails start there, so you can hike up one trail and down one of the others.
The Abol Trail, from Abol Campground, is the shortest, but it’s a strenuous hike up a landslide and boulder field. At the top of the climb, you hike across the Tableland to Baxter Peak. The 2.75 mile hike to Thoreau Spring at the southern lip of the Tableland should take about 2 hours and 15 minutes one way.
The Hunt Trail, from Katahdin Stream Campground, is longer, but more gradual. Its 5.25 miles of trail ramps up in intensity until it goes over the western lip of the Tableland. It’s then flat hiking to meet up with the top of the Hunt trail. It should take about 3 hours and 40 minutes to Thoreau Spring.
Starting off at Roaring Brook Campground, you can hike the Helon Taylor trail 3.25 miles (~2 hrs, 50 mins) along Keep Ridge to Pamola Peak, then along the Knife Edge trail to the top at Baxter Peak.
From Roaring Brook Campground, one also has the option of hiking 3.25 miles to Chimney Pond Campground, which is not accessible by road. It takes about 2 hours and 15 minute to get to Chimney Pond on the Chimney Pond trail, which is where the remaining 4 trails up Katahdin start.
The Cathedral Trail from Chimney Pond is the hardest way up the mountain. It’s only 1.75 miles, but takes 2 hours and 50 minutes because it’s almost all hand over hand. A great loop hike is up the Cathedral Trail to Baxter Peak, then down the Saddle Trail. Just don’t forget to hike out onto the Knife Edge.
The Saddle Trail is the easier way up from Chimney Pond, although it’s still no piece of cake. It’s 2.25 miles to the top, and takes a little less than 2 hours. At the end of its steepest part, you end up at the northeastern edge of the Tableland, and from there you can hike southeast to Baxter Peak.
The Dudley Trail is another great way up the mountain, leading 1.25 miles from Chimney Pond to Pamola Peak, where the Helon Taylor Trail from Roaring Brook Campground also ends, and the Knife Edge Trail begins. It’s takes a little over 2 hours.
Last but not least is the long way up to Baxter Peak via Hamlin Peak, the northernmost Peak of Katahdin. To complete this awesome hike, take the North Basin Trail from Chimney Pond to the base of Hamlin Ridge. The Hamlin Ridge Trail runs all the way up a ridge to the top of Hamlin Peak (4756 ft), from which you can hike down the NW Basin Trail to the top of the Saddle Trail. The whole trip is about 3.7 miles to Baxter Peak.
It’s hard to recommend one of these trails over the other, but if you can base yourself at Chimney Pond, you can try out more than one of them in one trip. The solution is really just to come back and hike Mount Katahdin as many times as you can!
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