(Note: As of October 23, 2020, Baxter State Park offices and headquarters remain closed to the public, but reservations can still be made online and by calling (207) 723-5140. Togue and Matagamon Gates are open 6am to 7pm. Katahdin and Traveler trails are closed at their trailheads to protect alpine resources.)
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.
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.
Maybe it’s too close to the Matagamon Gate, too low, no summit views, but I loved this hike. The beginning of the hike has a sort of a green tunnel aspect to it, but in the most positive way – there’s an artist’s palette of green with blueberries, princess pine, and hobblebush. I bypassed the spur trail (1.2 miles in) on the way up, headed to the summit. At the peak, I found only the footings of what was once a fire tower, and scattered chunks of the rhyolite that comprises the volcanic mountains of the northern side of Baxter State Park.
This wooded mausoleum was somber and peaceful, and I paused briefly to enjoy the silence. For those looking for a longer hike, the Horse Mountain Trail continues south to the Billfish Pond and the Five Ponds Trail. The East Spur Overlook (.4 miles), which I took on the way back, provides an outstanding overlook of Grand Lake Matagamon and the East Branch of the Penobscot River.
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