Go ahead. Open up a guidebook, spread out a trail map and pick a hike you’ve never done. It’s a surefire recipe for fun and adventure, where the best thing to expect is simply the unexpected.
That was surely the case on a recent trip to Aroostook County to check off a trifecta of new-to-me trails, the last ones I needed to complete the region for the next edition of the AMC Maine Mountain Guide.
To get there, it was a 500-mile round trip from my home on the coast to grab about five miles of hiking. But it was entirely worth the effort.
The sun was setting over Number Nine Mountain – located about 150 miles north of Bangor – as I headed north from Houlton on Route 1 through Bridgewater. A few miles beyond, Mars Hill came into view. Soon you pull up and around to the west and the long south-to-north mountain ridge becomes apparent, adorned with 28 wind turbines.
The potato fields had been harvested, but there were still cauliflower, broccoli and carrots remaining; at least that’s what I could identify. The distinctive peaks of Quaggy Jo Mountain – the crown jewel of Aroostook State Park – came into view next, bathed in the purplish pink of evening. Soon after, I rolled into Presque Isle and checked into the Presque Isle Inn and Convention Center. Comfort, not camping, was the ticket for this short trip.
The next morning, I headed west to Mapleton and then south into the big woods of the Scopan Public Reserved Land, a 16,700-acre chunk of wild country that encompasses much of the eastern shoreline of wishbone-shaped Scopan Lake as well as the long, bumpy ridgeline of Scopan Mountain.
A 3.8-mile trail makes a nice circuit over the mountain. On the 1,450-foot summit, a viewpoint carved out of the thick spruce offers a fine look east to Quaggy Jo, Presque Isle and on to New Brunswick. Around the other side, the vista takes in the vast expanse of Aroostook forestlands to the southwest. Peaked Mountain and a jumble of other hills way out there might have remained unidentified except for the new PeakFinder app downloaded to my iPhone just days before.
I continued west to Ashland, and then drove well north of Portage to a roadside rest area in the middle of nowhere east of St. Froid Lake. Hedgehog Mountain rises steeply west of the highway, and according to my notes, was supposed to have one of the finest views in all of the County. A misty rain was falling as I trod up the path, but it couldn’t dampen my spirits or diminish the summit view, which was indeed extraordinary.
Katahdin and Traveler were a long way off, but center stage in the south nonetheless. Nearby I could pick out – even without the aid of the app – the peaks of Mount Chase and Sugarloaf, and Deasey and Lunksoos next door, all east of Baxter. To the north were the rugged summits of Deboullie Mountain and its neighbor, Black Mountain. Somewhere far to the west was the Allagash River. A handful of local hikers joined me for a spell at the picnic table on the ledge, and we issued a collective “wow.”
My last objective was Haystack Mountain in Castle Hill. From a kiosk at its base, I learned that the shapely little peak is the stub of an extinct volcano, much like Scopan, Quaggy Jo and others nearby. The steady rain ceased part way up and the sun broke out. I had to use my hands on the scramble up the last steep pitch of yellowish rock – what was once volcanic ash – and in doing so, connected to 430 million years of geological history. I arrived on top at the stroke of five o’clock for the happiest of happy hours and an Aroostook-size view I won’t soon forget.
Set aside some quality time this fall to visit impossibly big and incredibly beautiful Aroostook County, for its wealth of hiking trails and sightseeing and so much more.
Visit Aroostook Outdoors at goaroostookoutdoors.com to get your planning started.