It’s the dead of winter, I know. Snow and ice and cold with lots more to come. Spring seems a long way off, doesn’t it. I suggest beating the deep freeze with a mug of hot cocoa and maybe a shot of peppermint schnapps or Bailey’s, then grab your guidebook and trail maps, and settle down to some serious planning for the warm weather hiking a few months down the road. Maybe throw another log into the woodstove while you’re at it just for drill. An extra sweater too perhaps.
My go-to resource is the AMC Maine Mountain Guide, which describes well over 1,000 miles of mountain trails from York County to Downeast, the Midcoast to Katahdin to Aroostook. The 10th edition is segmented into ten geographic sections, some 450 trails on more than 200 mountains and hills. That’s a lot of hiking, for sure, and goes to show how lucky we are here in Maine with our wealth of conservation lands of all shapes and sizes that total an astounding 4 million acres, with a fantastic complement of trail builders and maintainers to boot.
Here are some suggestions for you, ten great mountain hikes you should put on your to-do list in 2018. I’ve selected one from each section of the Maine Mountain Guide, which will get you out exploring the wonderful wild lands in every corner of the beautiful state of Maine. Ranging from fairly easy to quite strenuous, hills well under 1,000 feet to the mile-high apex of Maine atop glorious Baxter Peak. These are all day hikes, although you could certainly turn some of them into overnight backpacking adventures.
Are you ready? OK, then, let’s go!
1. Baxter State Park and Katahdin: Chimney Pond, Baxter Peak. From Roaring Brook, hike 3.3 miles up past the Basin Ponds to uber-scenic Chimney Pond (lean-tos and bunkhouse available for camping; advance reservations mandatory). From the ranger station there, climb steeply to the summit of Katahdin at Baxter Peak (5,268 feet) via the airy Cathedral Trail. Revel in the grand vista, then descend over the Tablelands by way of the old slide on Saddle Trail. Return on Chimney Pond Trail. Congratulations, you’ve bagged Maine’s highest peak! Strenuous, lollipop loop, 11.1 miles, 3,780 feet elevation gain; Maine Mountain Guide (10th ed.), pp. 13-17.
2. 100-Mile Wilderness and Greater Moosehead Lake: White Cap Mountain. From its Frenchtown Road crossing, follow the Appalachian Trail southbound. Climb moderately to Logan Brook Lean-to. Beyond, the trail rises steadily via a long series of rock steps (thank you Maine Appalachian Trail Club volunteers!) before breaking out of the trees. Enjoy incredible views over the 100-Mile Wilderness abound from the White Cap summit (3,654 feet), ranging from Katahdin and Big Spencer Mtn. to the Barren-Chairback Range and Baker Mtn. Strenuous, out-and-back, 5.6 miles, 2,000 feet elevation gain; Maine Mountain Guide (10th ed.), pp. 70-73.
3. Western Lakes and Mountains: Avery Peak, West Peak, North Horn and South Horn, Bigelow Range. From the parking area at the end of Stratton Brook Pond Road, follow Horns Pond Trail to the ridgeline crest of the Bigelow Range at the lovely Horns Pond (lean-tos and campsites). Continue along the AT and climb South Horn (3,805 feet) for a grand view up and down the range (optional short side trail to bag North Horn [3,792 feet] en route). Meander along the bumpy ridge to the alpine summit of West Peak (4,145 feet). Descend into Bigelow Col (campsites) and then scramble to the open top of Avery Peak (4,088 feet). Flagstaff Lake, Sugarloaf, the Crockers and more fill the extraordinary view. Return to Bigelow Col, then loop back to the start via Fire Warden’s Trail. Strenuous, lollipop loop, 14.5 miles, 3,750 feet elevation gain; Maine Mountain Guide (10th ed.), pp. 156-159.
4. Evans Notch and Oxford Hills: Caribou Mountain. The best little day in all of Maine, in this hiker’s humble opinion, is the loop on Caribou Mountain in the Evans Notch region of the White Mountain National Forest. Start and finish at Evans Notch Road. Follow Caribou Trail along Morrison Brook to Kees Falls, a pretty grotto and 25-foot waterfall, then continue on to the height-of-land between Gammon Mtn. and Caribou Mtn. Turn right on Mud Brook Trail and follow it to the bare summit ledges atop Caribou Mtn. (2,850 feet) for fabulous views of the Carter-Moriah Range and the Presidentials. Follow Mud Brook Trail down and along the watercourse back to the trailhead. Moderate, loop, 6.9 miles, 1,900 feet elevation gain; Maine Mountain Guide (10th ed.), pp. 184-186.
5. Kennebec and Moose River Valleys: Moxie Bald Mtn. From the AT crossing on Troutdale Road at the south end of Moxie Pond, follow the AT northbound across Baker Brook. Ahead, reach Joe’s Hole Brook and then Bald Mtn. Brook, where there is a campsite and lean-to. Continue climbing to a junction, where a blue-blaze summit bypass trail goes left; stay right on the AT and climb spectacular slabs of granite onto the alpine-like summit of Moxie Bald Mountain (2,630 feet). The view includes Katahdin, the Bigelows, Sugarloaf, Abraham, Coburn and Boundary Bald. among many others. Continue north on the AT, then loop back via the summit bypass and AT southbound. Moderate, lollipop loop, 9.6 miles, 1,700 feet elevation gain; Maine Mountain Guide (10th ed.), pp. 220-222.
6. Southwestern Maine: Mt. Agamenticus. Situated amid 10,000 acres of conservation lands, Mt. Agamenticus (691 feet) has a lot to offer hikers, like about 20 miles of fun trails. The large grassy summit meadow allows views ranging from the Gulf of Maine to Mt. Washington. The nature education center is the old ski lodge of the former Big A ski area, one of many tidbits of history that make this place a must-visit. From Mountain Road, hike the Ring Trail loop clockwise, then climb to the top of the mountain on Sweet Fern Trail, an old ski run. Rusting lift towers line the wooded route, which quickly breaks out into the open. Stroll around and enjoy, this is a great spot. Descend via Sweet Fern Trail and finish on the rest of the Ring Trail loop. Easy, loop, 2.5 miles, 350 feet elevation gain; Maine Mountain Guide (10th ed.), pp. 252-254.
7. Midcoast: Ragged Mountain. A section of the Georges Highland Path makes a nice traverse of Ragged Mtn. Start from the Thorndike Brook trailhead on Hope Street and climb to the ridgeline. Continue south along the GHP, meandering along the undulating ridge. Sundown Ledge and any number of other airy viewpoints provide fine views east over Grassy Pond and Mirror Lake and to Spruce Mtn. and Mt. Pleasant. If you can find it, a new unmarked path leads a short way from Sundown Ledge to the true summit of Ragged Mtn. (1,300 feet). Finish on the GHP at the Route 17 trailhead. Spot a car here before the hike, or simply plan to walk the mile or so back to the Hope Street start. Moderate, one-way, 4.8 miles, 850 feet elevation gain; Maine Mountain Guide (10th ed.), pp. 267-269.
8. Downeast: Pigeon Hill. Pigeon Hill in Steuben may be just 317 feet high, but it packs a scenic punch like you won’t believe, until you hike it, of course! The highest point along the coast in Washington County, the hill is part of Pigeon Hill Preserve, a property of Downeast Coastal Conservancy. The views from up top range from Blue Hill to Mt. Desert Island, and takes in Petit Manan Light, the islands of Pleasant Bay, and the mountains around Donnell Pond. Combine the Summit Loop Trail and Historic Trail for your hike. Or go wild and try one of the other new trails that crisscross the little hill. Easy, figure-eight loop, 1.1 miles, 270 feet elevation gain; Maine Mountain Guide (10th ed.), pp. 291-292.
9. Acadia: Penobscot Mountain via Jordan Pond. With 130 miles of trails in Acadia National Park on Mt. Desert Island it can be a daunting task just to select one of the bunch. This is one of my all-time favorites. Start from the trailhead lot just north of Jordan Pond House and hike counterclockwise around Jordan Pond (one of the cleanest, clearest ponds in Maine) on Jordan Pond Trail. Get great views of the shapely Bubbles and Jordan Cliffs en route. Just beyond the north end of the pond, veer off on Deer Brook Trail and follow it across a carriage road and up along Deer Brook to a notch just south of Sargent Mountain Pond. Take the 10-minute side trip for sure to see this sparkling little gem of a tarn. Return to the rugged notch and climb the short distance to the wide open summit of Penobscot Mtn. (1,196 feet). Pause a while and drink in the fantastic mountain and ocean vista, then head down the long open ridge to Spring Trail. Drop steeply down this, then take it over to Jordan Pond House. Enjoy a popover before going back to the car. Moderate, loop, 4.0 miles, 900 feet elevation gain; Maine Mountain Guide (10th ed.), pp. 334-335.
10. Aroostook County: Black Mountain and Deboullie Mountain. Getting to Deboullie Public Lands in the deep woods of northern Maine takes some doing, but the effort is worth it. Combine the Black Mountain Trail, Tower Trail and Deboullie Pond Trail for a terrific circuit. From the trailhead near the east end of Deboullie Pond (drive-in campsites nearby), climb a meandering route to the wooded top of Black Mtn. (1,980 feet) , with several nice outlooks along the way. Continue west, loop around some, then climb to the summit of Deboullie Mtn. (1,981 feet), where there is an old firetower, warden cabin and picnic table. Climb the tower for extensive views over the vast forestlands that range as far as the eye can see. Drop down to Deboullie Pond via Tower Trail (backcountry campsites at west end of Deboullie Pond and shelter at east end of Gardner Pond), then hike back along the shore of the pristine pond. Moderate, loop, 5.5 miles, 1,200 feet elevation gain; Maine Mountain Guide (10th ed.), pp. 370-373.
Enjoy your grand hiking tour of the Great State of Maine! If you need more ideas, well, I’ve got plenty. Take lots of photos and let me know how it goes.