Celia and Jackson Ponds (Baxter State Park)

View across Kidney Pond, Baxter State Park

Having completed two strenuous hiking days in the northern part of Baxter State Park, I wanted to explore an easier path on my long, scenic way out through the Togue Pond Gate. Celia and Jackson Ponds, reached in that order, are accessed from the Kidney Pond campground day-use trailhead via a 3.2 mile (1.5 to 2 hours) out-and-back hike using the Sentinel Connector Trail, and Celia and Jackson Ponds Trail. I found this hike using Falcon Guides’ Hiking Maine’s Baxter State Park.

The pleasant smell of woodsmoke from the campground quickly gave way to that of pine, and the path has a definite enchanted woods feel, with soft, greenish light cast on the moss surrounding the trail. Shortly after the trail’s beginning, a large boulder on the left is whimsically marked “Kidney Stone – do not remove.” Kidney Pond can be seen through the trees, and then a small side trail to the shore provides excellent views of Katahdin to the west.

Giant boulder, Celia and Jackson Ponds Trail, Baxter State Park

Turn right at the well-marked trail intersection towards Celia and Jackson Ponds on a piney path with mossy hummocks on each side. A giant, incongruous wedge-shaped boulder is visible shortly along on the right, like an alien spacecraft that crashed to earth. Fresh moose poop (again) littered the trail, but never materialized into a moose sighting.

Celia Pond, Baxter State Park

By about 1.1 miles, a gradual uphill climb has led through a thickening pine forest to the edge of Celia Pond. Fly fishing is allowed here, and there also canoes to rent. I met a fly fisherman headed the other way, his fishing day done. The pond itself was utterly quiet except for the sounds of birds, dragonflies, and a light wind through the trees. Continue straight at the junction with Little Beaver Pond Trail.

View of Moose and Doubletop Mountains across Jackson Pond, Baxter State Park

You will start to see Jackson Pond through the trees to your right, as well as the BSP rental canoes. On the return trip, I saw a ruff-necked grouse, which escaped swiftly into the thick forest. The pleasant mid-day light covered the trail as I retraced my steps to the parking area. This easy hike was the perfect way to recover from a difficult hike the day prior, with wildlife viewing opportunities, and incredible views of the surrounding mountains.

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Five Ponds Loop (Baxter State Park)

September greenery, Five Ponds Loop, Baxter State Park

The day after a strenuous Traveler Mountain hike at Baxter State Park, I chose to take the approximately seven mile Five Ponds Loop, both for its relative ease and for morning opportunities to see wildlife. A detailed description of the trail can be found in the AMC Maine Mountain Guide and Falcon Guides’ Hiking Maine’s Baxter State Park.

I hiked the loop in a clockwise direction from its trailhead at the Trout Brook Farm Campground, familiar to me from my hike of Trout Brook Mountain two days prior. The ponds, in that east to west sequence, are Littlefield Pond, Billfish Pond, Round Pond, High Pond, and Long Pond, accessed through a series of side trails. Billfish and Long each have canoe rentals (through the ranger at Trout Brook Farm campsite).

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Traveler Mountain Loop (Baxter State Park)

Sun rising over Black Cat and South Branch Mountains from Traveler Loop

The Traveler is a strenuous 10.1 mile loop hike over the rhyolite peaks of Traveler Mountain, the highest volcanic mountain in New England, with over 4,000 feet of total elevation gain. This full-day (6-10 hour) hike begins at Baxter State Park’s (BSP) South Branch Campground, and based upon advice from the AMC Maine Mountain Guide and Falcon Guides’ Hiking Maine’s Baxter State Park and BSP rangers, is best attempted counterclockwise via the Pogy Notch, Center Ridge, Traveler Mountain, and North Traveler trails. This is to avoid descending the steep, loose rock on the Center Ridge Trail.

Lower South Branch Pond at dawn

This route over Traveler’s bulk, which the AMC Maine Mountain Guide accurately describes as “starfish-shaped,” crosses Peak of the Ridges (3,254 ft), Traveler summit (3,550 ft), and North Traveler summit (3,152 ft). As it says on BSP’s website, “Preparation for a Traveler Loop hike is the same as a Katahdin hike,” due to the exposed nature of the hike, elevation gain, lack of available water, and distance. This is true, and in inclement weather, hikers should explore other options. To navigate, I used Map Adventures’ Katahdin Baxter State Park Waterproof Trail Map, but BSP’s official website also has free downloadable/printable trail maps, and the South Branch Pond map covers this area.

Lower South Branch Pond from canoe launch in morning, Baxter State Park

Unlike Katahdin trailheads, no parking reservation is typically needed for the Traveler, and the closest parking to the trailhead is the South Branch Pond Campground day-use/back country lot. On the cool mid-September morning I did my hike, an early fog hung over South Branch Pond. The trail leads over plank bridges to a winding track along the edge of the pond, where I heard the stuttering sound of a belted kingfisher. About .9 miles in, there are beautiful views of the pond from the south end at the canoe landing for the Howe Brook trail.

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Burnt Mountain (Baxter State Park)

Trail to Burnt Mountain summit, Baxter State Park, Maine

You will not find many mountain hikes in Baxter State Park marked as anything other than “difficult” or “strenuous,” but Burnt Mountain (1,810 ft) is a pleasant, gradual woods walk of about 2.6 miles that took me under an hour, with fewer roots and rocks than most other hikes nearby. The best description and map I found was in Hiking Maine’s Baxter State Park. Burnt Mountain Trail’s out-and-back hike begins at the Burnt Mountain Picnic Site. This remote trailhead, which has a picnic table and a toilet, is along the park’s Tote Road, in the northwest corner of the park, close to the Scientific Forest Management Area.

Changing leaves in the light of the opening after the summit, Burnt Mountain, Baxter State Park

The prodigious moose poop along the trail (after reflection, I decided not to add a photo) brought up my hopes of a sighting, without any positive resolution. The only real effort expended, which was bracing after the easy walk and a long day hiking, was a long gradual incline right before the summit.

Overgrown footings left from fire tower, Burnt Mountain summit, Baxter State Park

Don’t be disheartened at the summit if all you see is four old fire tower footings and some tall grass. Continue briefly downhill past the summit to an open vista well worth the hike, with views of multiple mountains in the wild central backcountry of Baxter State Park.

View from overlook past summit, Burnt Mountain, Baxter State Park

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South Branch Falls (Baxter State Park)

South Branch Falls, Baxter State Park

South Branch Falls is a short (about one mile out/back, less than an hour) waterfall hike, close to Baxter State Park’s South Branch Campground, in the northern part of the park, accessible from the Matagamon Gate. This family-friendly hike explores a fast-running section of the South Branch Ponds Brook. Full description, map and photos can be found in Falcon Guides’ Hiking Maine’s Baxter State Park.

South Branch Falls, Baxter State Park

As you wind down the narrow trail through the birches, you will start to hear the sound of rushing water. Stone steps will lead you down to South Branch Ponds Brook, with a couple small side trails giving views of the running water, and the opportunity to scramble over some rocks.

South Branch Falls, Baxter State Park

The pools throughout are usually deep enough for a cold dip. Arriving a little before sunset, I disturbed a swimming flock of what looked to be mergansers, which we at Hiking in Maine call “motor ducks,” for their ability to quickly, efficiently, and loudly hydroplane downstream and away.

South Branch Falls, Baxter State Park

While an ongoing drought made the flow of the falls less rapid, the juxtaposition of rocks and light and water was definitely worth the short hike. A perfect excursion to cool off or enjoy a picnic.

(Disclaimer: This post contains affiliate links, and as an Amazon Associate Hiking in Maine blog earns from qualifying purchases.)

Trout Brook Mountain (Baxter State Park)

Trout Brook Mountain Trail, Baxter State Park

The trail up Trout Brook Mountain (1,767 ft), 3.3 miles, about 1 hr 45 mins, begins from a small day use parking lot at the Trout Brook Farm Campground at Baxter State Park. Like Horse Mountain, the best maps and descriptions I found were in the AMC Maine Mountain Guide and Falcon Guides’ Hiking Maine’s Baxter State Park. This hike also gets its own treatment in Maine Hikes Off the Beaten Path. For those planning to explore more of Baxter State Park than one place, Map Adventures’ Katahdin Baxter State Park Waterproof Trail Map is a great analog navigation tool in a place where digital devices don’t belong. Baxter’s great official website also has downloadable/printable trail maps, and the Trout Brook Farm map covers this area.

Steeper climbing, Trout Brook Mountain, Baxter State Park

At the beginning of the trail up Trout Brook Mountain, the emerald colors of hobblebush contrast with the darker forest, particular as it transitions to evergreen. The trail winds through this forest and climbs rocky ledges dressed in soft green moss, with excellent northward views toward Trout Brook, Grand Lake Matagamon and the north woods.

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Smalls Falls

Smalls Falls, Franklin County, Maine

Smalls Falls is a part waterfall hike, part scenic rest area, located along Route 4 in Franklin County, Maine. Plenty of parking, charcoal grills, toilet facilities, and picnic tables along the river make this an ideal place to stop for a picnic lunch, walk around, and even get in the falls and pools to cool off in the Rangeley area.

Smalls Falls, Franklin County, Maine

The rest area, clearly marked with a sign on Route 4, is on the south side of the road, along the Sandy River, about 12 miles south of Rangeley. Smalls Falls are possibly named for Jesse Small, a Miller who lived in the area around the time of the Civil War.1

Smalls Falls, Franklin County, Maine

From the northwest corner of the parking lot, trails (about 1/2 mile total) crisscross the Sandy River waterfall area and Chandler Mill Stream, climbing to other sets of falls above, and ending at a gravel road north of the rest area. This area can be crowded in the summer, with ample cigarette smoke in the picnic area and a very different pollution inside the pit toilets, but can be very quiet at times, particularly weekday mornings.

Chandler Mill Stream near Smalls Falls, Franklin County, Maine

The water flow and temperature vary with the season and weather conditions, and in April, there is even an annual Smalls to the Wall Steep Creek Race (unfortunately canceled in 2020 due to COVID-19), in which kayakers brave the steep, narrow chutes.

1Van Baalen, M.R., Reusch, D.N., and Slack, J.F., 2017, Smalls Falls Revisted: A Journey Through a Paleozoic Sedimentary Basin in Johnson, B. and Eusden, J.D., ed., Guidebook for Field Trips in Western Maine and Northern New Hampshire: New England Intercollegiate Geological Conference, Bates College, p. 35-60. https://doi.org/10.26780/2017.001.0003

Horse Mountain (Baxter State Park)

Horse Mountain Trail, Baxter State Park

Horse Mountain (1,589 ft) is the first trail you will encounter through Baxter State Park’s Matagamon Gate. This hike, about 3.3 miles, taking about an hour and twenty minutes with the inclusion of the East Spur Overlook, starts uphill on a narrow track through a forest dominated by birch. Map and description are available from two indispensable books – the AMC Maine Mountain Guide and Falcon Guides’ Hiking Maine’s Baxter State Park by Greg Westrich. Throughout Baxter State Park, I used Map Adventures’ Katahdin Baxter State Park Waterproof Trail Map to navigate.  Baxter’s great website also has downloadable/printable trail maps, and the Trout Brook Farm map covers this area.

Horse Mountain Trail near summit, Baxter State Park

The sparsely recorded trail log and spiderwebs across the trail attest to its lesser-used nature. In fact, as I was getting ready to hike at the tiny parking area, a man stopped his vehicle and told me that he had hiked every mountain in Baxter State Park except Horse Mountain. I don’t know why he stopped to tell me this, but it provided the proper motivation for me to do something that he had not.

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Tunk Mountain (T10 SD)

Plank bridges on Tunk Mountain trail

Located between the blueberry fields of Cherryfield and the Downeast coast, Tunk Mountain (1,157 feet) is part of the Donnell Pond Public Lands, managed by Maine’s Bureau of Parks and Lands (BPL), with the upper summit area on land owned by The Nature Conservancy (trail map). Parking for this moderate hike (about 3.9 miles out and back) is on the north side of the Blackwoods Scenic Byway (ME-182) between Sullivan and Cherryfield, consisting of a large lot, a pit toilet, and an information kiosk. This lot does fill up quickly, however, on weekends.

Boulders and caves, Tunk Mountain trail

The Tunk Mountain Trail is marked by blue blazes, and starts with a downward pitch, towards plank bridges, tree roots, chattering red squirrels and chipmunks, and the sound of birds, including mourning doves and hermit thrushes. The geologic past is clearly visible in the mixed forest along the trail, with boulders haphazardly strewn among the trees. About 1/3 of a mile along the trail, some of these boulders hold small caves accessed through short side trails.

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Cliff Walk at Prouts Neck (Scarborough, Maine)

Cliff Walk at Prouts Neck, Scarborough, Maine
Cliff Walk at Prouts Neck, Scarborough, Maine

(Update August 1, 2020: From spring to earlier this summer, this trail was temporarily closed, and is now re-opened. Please abide by distancing requirements, any posted signage, and turn around if the gates are closed.)

If you like dramatic cliffs, ocean views, rocky beaches and stunning homes, this may be your walk! The residents at Prouts Neck in Scarborough, Maine harbor a secret gem in their gated community – but fret not – while the entrances are hidden and parking is complicated, it is still possible (and legal) to walk variations of the same 1-mile route that Winslow Homer did, even if you are not an “insider.”

This is definitely categorized as a Sunday stroll-type of walk, a walk with a good friend that you haven’t seen in a while or a lone walk with a camera or sketch book. The uneven terrain and sometimes narrow path demand a leisurely pace. The smell of rugosa roses, the salty ocean breeze and the lobster boats are center stage and require frequent pauses. The views are unbeatable. The only problem is logistics. Below we will describe how to safely and lawfully enjoy a hike in summer, or even winter, from the Black Point Inn (45 minutes to an hour) or a longer “lollipop” loop from Ferry Beach (3.7 miles, about an hour and a half).

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