It’s a crisp late September day of blue sky and bright sun as I sit down to write this column. The maples and birches outside in the yard are splashing colors of orange and yellow, and there were frost warnings last night. Autumn has indeed arrived, and with it the best hiking of the year as I see it.
I’ve got my favorites list of fine fall hikes, for sure, but ever curious, I queried the intrepid hikers among my Facebook friends to see what they like best this time of year. Here are the top five choices from a handful of hikers that put in a lot of trail miles each year all over Maine.
For Monica Lynn of Dover-Foxcroft, nothing compares to the Knife Edge on Katahdin, which figures prominently for many Maine hikers. Acadia’s Cadillac and Champlain mountains also rank highly, as does Mt. Kineo, which reigns supreme over Moosehead Lake. Lynn rounds out her picks with Borestone Mountain in Elliottsville Township because “I grew up hiking it, so there’s always some nostalgia there along with the beautiful views.”
The “exquisite panorama” as well as the solitude draws Michael Audie of Standish to Hamlin Peak on Katahdin, which sees just a fraction of the visitors that Baxter Peak gets. Audie also touts the Little Knife Edge on the Traveler Mountain Loop, craggy Doubletop Mountain, and Marston Trail to North Brother as other good choices in Baxter State Park, plus the Fire Warden’s Trail on Mt. Abraham near Sugarloaf.
“Katahdin by any of the nine trails up it” works for Christopher O’Neil of Portland, “but my favorite route to the top is via the Northwest Basin Trail from Russell Pond.” O’Neil also fancies the Bigelow Range traverse from Cranberry Peak to Little Bigelow. The Owl, the steep-walled hump adjacent to Katahdin and the Klondike, and Big and Little Spencer mountains north of Greenville also make the cut.
Martha Williams of Bar Harbor mostly prefers hikes close to home in Acadia and along the Downeast coast, like the Perpendicular Trail on Mansell Mountain, the Canon Brook Trail on Dorr and Cadillac mountains, Pemetic Mountain and the great cliffs of Tunk Mountain. But no questionthat Williams rates Katahdin as “my most challenging hike.”
Chad Pepau of Keene, New Hampshire, likes to combine a Mahoosuc Notch scramble with a climb to Speck Pond, then finish atop Old Speck for the fabulous view of Grafton Notch. Saddleback and The Horn are two other 4,000-foot favorites of Pepau, who also likes Quaggy Jo Mountain in Presque Isle, the spectacular canyon of Gulf Hagas and Aziscohos Mountain in Lincoln Plantation.
As for this hiker, well, my favorites shift like the wind and currently range far and wide across Maine.
An early September trip to Deboullie Public Reserved Land a few miles east of Allagash village in Aroostook County stunned me with its raw beauty and dearth of people. My 30 miles of hiking there over three glorious days included a highly recommended loop of Deboullie and Black mountains.
Black Mountain in Donnell Pond Public Reserved Land by way of the Big Chief Trail was a first for me when I visited in late August, when the blueberries were still thick. I was amazed by the huge cliffs overlooking Tunk Lake and tiny Wizard Pond tucked into the thick spruce woods on the route to the top.
Rumford Whitecap is always a wonderful ramble, with far-reaching views from the Androscoggin River Valley to the White Mountains, and I never tire of the ferry ride to Monhegan Island and the Cliff Trail along the rugged cliffs on its wild southeastern edge.
The new Abol Trail, complete with switchbacks, drew me back to Katahdin nearly a year after finishing my AT thru-hike. Perched on the back side of the peak with my feet dangling into space, and looking down at Chimney Pond 2,300 feet below, I was again in awe of Percival Baxter’s gift to Maine.
When asked about my favorite beer the answer is “the one in my hand,” and when it comes to hiking it’s much the same, my favorite trail being most often the one I’m on. Go figure.