If you’ve always had a hankering to hike the country’s most famous footpath, check out these segments of varying difficulty.
The 2,189-mile Appalachian Trail is the most famous footpath in the world, and to hike it all from Georgia to Maine requires an enormous commitment of five to six months. But you don’t need to expend that much time and effort to get a good look at the big trail, which extends 282 miles through Maine from the Mahoosucs to Katahdin.
Here are six section hikes of varying lengths (13 to 70 miles; about three to seven days) and difficulty levels (easy to strenuous) that will net you a quality AT experience through the classic wilds of the Maine woods, from high mountain peaks to pristine lakes and ponds. Each hike is an A-to-B trek and requires a car at the finishing point.
Hikers heading to the remote terrain of the AT should be well-prepared and self-reliant. You’ll need warm and weatherproof clothing, good footwear, tent, sleeping bag and insulating pad, cookstove and fuel, food and the Ten Essentials, that all-important list of emergency gear, including map and compass, first aid kit and more.
Cellphone coverage along the Maine AT corridor is spotty to nonexistent, so don’t count on it to bail you out of trouble. Vandalism happens, so don’t leave valuables in your car at the trailhead.
A good resource when packing up to go is the Appalachian Mountain Club’s Essential Backpacking Gear Checklist. The experts at your local outdoor shop can also help. Carry the Maine Appalachian Trail Club’s “Appalachian Trail Guide to Maine,” which has detailed trail descriptions and maps. The AMC’s “Maine Mountain Guide” is also a good reference. The DeLorme Maine Atlas and Gazetteer is very useful for navigating to trailheads.
Campsites and shelters on the AT are first-come, first-served. Plan to use your tent and leave the shelters for the longer distance hikers. Keep fires small if you kindle one at all. Treat or filter your water from all sources. Minimize noise and lights at campsites for everyone’s enjoyment. Use a privy where available, otherwise please properly dispose of your human waste. Follow Leave No Trace principles to protect not only the trail experience but your health and that of other trail users.
ME 26 to South Arm Road
Five mountain peaks are featured on this 19-mile section between Grafton Notch and Black Brook Notch. The alpine heights of East and West Baldpate approach 4,000 feet and offer excellent panoramic views. The short side trip to spectacular Table Rock on the ascent is a must-see. Dunn Falls and Surplus Pond are highlights on the undulating route over Wyman, Hall and Moody mountains. Camping is at four shelter sites (Baldpate, Frye Notch and Hall Mountain) and one tent site (Sawyer Brook).
Allow at least three days and two nights to manage the ups and downs of this moderately difficult walk.
Directions to starting trailhead: From the junction of US 2 and ME 26 in Newry a few miles east of Bethel, drive north on ME 26 for 11.5 miles to the AT crossing at the head of Grafton Notch and the large parking lot on the left.
Directions to ending trailhead: From the junction of ME 5 and ME 120 in Andover, drive east on ME 120 for 0.6 miles to South Arm Road. Then follow South Arm Road for 7.7 miles to the AT crossing and roadside parking in Black Brook Notch.
ME 17 to ME 4
Take a leisurely three days and two nights to enjoy the five beautiful ponds on this rolling 13-mile section of trail hidden away between the Bemis Range and Saddleback. Enjoy the wonderful vista over Mooselookmeguntic Lake from the Height-of-Land at the highway before striking off into pond country. After Moxie Pond comes Long Pond and its sand beach, where a refreshing swim is unavoidable. Just ahead is Sabbathday Pond and its lean-to, your first night’s campsite. Trundle along to Little Swift River Pond to camp the next day. Pass South Pond on the final morning out to your car.
Directions to starting trailhead: From the intersection of US 2 and ME 17 in Mexico, drive north on ME 17 for 26 miles to the AT crossing at Height-of-Land and parking on the left.
Directions to ending trailhead: From the intersection of US 2 and ME 4 in Farmington, drive north on ME 4 for 32 miles to the AT crossing and large parking lot on the west side of the road.
ME 4 to ME 27
This rugged 32-mile stretch is considered the most difficult section of the AT in Maine, with a daunting 10,000 feet of elevation gain over eight high peaks. Saddleback, The Horn, Spaulding, South Crocker and North Crocker all exceed 4,000 feet, and ambitious hikers can up the ante with side trips to Mount Abraham and Sugarloaf, two more 4,000-footers. Sections of exposed alpine terrain add to the challenge, but the reward is far reaching views that’ll knock your hiking socks off. Three shelter sites (Piazza Rock, Poplar Ridge and Spaulding Mountain) and two tent sites (Redington Stream, Crocker Cirque) are respite spots en route. Allow four full days and three nights to go the distance.
Directions to starting trailhead: From the junction of US 2 and ME 4 in Farmington, drive north on ME 4 for 32 miles to the AT crossing and large parking lot on the west side of the road.
Directions to ending trailhead: From the junction of ME 27 and the Sugarloaf ski area access road, drive north on ME 27 for 2.6 miles, where there is parking on the left at the AT crossing.
Long Falls Dam Road to US 201
Bring your swim trunks for this lovely 18-mile section of mossy Maine woods and pristine ponds.
Just two mild ascents – Roundtop Mountain and Bates Ridge – interrupt this relatively easy walk past West Carry, East Carry and Pierce ponds. Part of the AT through here coincides with the Great Carrying Place Portage Trail, the route used by the ill-fated Benedict Arnold Expedition in 1775. Finish the trek with a canoe ferry ride across the 400-foot wide Kennebec River, compliments of the Appalachian Trail Conservancy (check ferry schedule at matc.org). Allow three days and two nights, camping at West Carry and Pierce Pond lean-to sites en route.
Directions to the starting trailhead: From ME 16 in tiny New Portland, drive north on Long Falls Dam Road for about 22 miles to the AT crossing; parking is alongside the road.
Directions to ending trailhead: From the junction of ME 16 and US 201 in Bingham, drive north on US 201 for 15 miles to the AT crossing at Caratunk. Parking is uphill on the right, accessed by a short driveway.
ME 15 to Long Pond Stream Lean-to
Get a taste of Maine’s famed 100-Mile Wilderness on this 20-mile ramble from the outskirts of Monson to the base of Barren Mountain. Spectacle, Bell, Lily, North and Mud ponds are all good spots for potential moose sightings, while a series of slate ridges offer nice vistas, especially Big Wilson Cliffs. The spectacular 57-foot Little Wilson Falls is the highest waterfall on the AT in Maine. Little Wilson, Big Wilson and Long Pond streams will likely require getting your boots wet in crossing.
Schedule an easy four days and three nights for this trip to enjoy camping at Leeman Brook, Wilson Valley and Long Pond Stream shelter sites en route. A short distance beyond the Long Pond Stream lean-to, an unmarked side trail leaves the AT to the right and leads one mile to the ending trailhead.
Directions to starting trailhead: From Monson, drive 3 miles north on ME 15 to the AT crossing and parking on the right.
Directions to ending trailhead: From Monson, drive north on ME 15 for 0.5 miles. Turn right on Elliotsville Road and follow this for 7.7 miles to the bridge over Big Wilson Stream. After the bridge, turn left on Bodfish Valley Road and follow it for 2.8 miles up and over a ridge of Borestone Mountain to Bodfish Farm. From the valley site of the former farm, continue 0.2 miles, then bear left at a fork and cross a bridge over Long Pond Stream. In another 0.6 miles, bear left, and pass Otter Pond just ahead. Drive 0.6 miles further to a dead-end parking area.
Katahdin Iron Works Road to Abol Bridge
You’ll need seven to eight days of supplies to tackle this 70-mile section through the heart of the 100-Mile Wilderness from the West Branch of the Pleasant River to the West Branch of the Penobscot River.
A side trip into Gulf Hagas, the “Grand Canyon of Maine,” at the start of the hike is a must. From there you’ll climb the four high peaks of the Whitecap Range, topping out at 3,654 feet on Whitecap for great views ranging north to Katahdin.
For awesome swimming on those sweaty summer hiking days, check out the beaches at Crawford Pond, Lower Jo Mary Lake and Nahmakanta Lake, as well as the huge pool below Cooper Brook Falls. Five tent sites and four shelter sites offer ample places to hole up for the night in the big woods.
Directions to starting trailhead: From Brownville Junction, travel north on ME 11 for 5.5 miles. Turn left on Katahdin Iron Works Road and drive 6.8 miles to the KI-Jo Mary Forest Checkpoint (fee). Beyond the gate, take the right fork. At 3.4 miles from the gatehouse, reach a second fork; bear left here to cross a bridge over the West Branch of the Pleasant River. In another 3.3 miles, reach the trailhead and parking on the right. A spur trail leads 0.2 miles to the AT. Directions to the ending trailhead: From Exit 244 on I-95, take ME 11/157 west, through Millinocket, then follow signs toward Baxter State Park. Continue on ME 157 past the “painted rock” for one mile, then bear left at a fork onto the Golden Road. Follow signs to Abol Bridge Campground & Store, four miles ahead on the Golden Road.