On the last day of a mid-September weekend hiking trip to Baxter State Park, I snuck in a morning hike before I packed up my South Branch Pond campsite, heading to Barrell Ridge (2085 ft) via Middle Fowler Pond Trail. I got the route for this moderate six mile out-and-back hike from Hiking Maine’s Baxter State Park and the suggestion of the South Branch Pond ranger. You can navigate using the South Branch Pond printable map from Baxter State Park. The trailhead is shared with the Ledges Trail and South Branch Nature Trail, a short walk north from South Branch Pond Campground, and branches off toward Middle Fowler Pond after about a third of a mile.
The fall morning was quiet and wet with dew, and the only forest sounds were jays and red squirrels hopping about their business. The sun was up but had not yet climbed over the Traveler Mountain massif, the blazing orange outline of which was visible through the deciduous trees to the right of the path. The thick trees briefly opened up above a creek bed with more expansive views of the North Ridge and North Traveler Mountain facing me to the south. The trail climbed steadily uphill, changing to ledges and scrub pine, with more views of the Traveler, then popped back into the fern and maple-filled forest, before emerging back onto a ledge on the side of Little Peaked Mountain with a panorama to the north and west.
Coming off another ledge into the forest, I observed large moose prints in the mud that appeared to be recent and later, fresh dark moose poop. As the trail winds along the side of a ridge in the woods, it briefly becomes more of a goat path, periodically opening up to more ledges. Shortly after a couple stream crossings of Dry Brook, including a waterfall view, the trail bears left and up, getting steep as it climbs the last ridge before the trail intersection, with great views, then a quick descent.
After the intersection with the Barrell Ridge Trail, it’s a short steep climb of about a third of a mile to the top of the ridge, sometimes clamoring hand over hand. The hard, striated rhyolite rock made me glad I was wearing boots, rather than trailrunners. Here at the summit, marked by a sign propped up by a rock cairn, were sweeping views and a cool breeze. After a snack, I picked my way back down to the trail and turned right to head back on the Middle Fowler Pond Trail to pack up, a total hike of about 6.3 miles, completed in about two hours and 45 minutes.
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Machias River Preserve, located on the banks of its namesake, is a 917-acre area protected by the Downeast Coastal Conservancy (DCC), part of the Two Rivers Conservation Area (see description and map here). On a late September day, I used the parking area on 1A in Whitneyville to walk a lollipop-type loop using the Money Island, Homestead, and Hemlock Trails of about 3.3 miles, taking about an hour and twenty minutes. The Machias River Preserve can also be accessed from a small parking lot off 1A in the town of Machias. According to DCC’s site, “Machias” comes from a Passamaquoddy word meaning “bad little falls,” and I had taken this loop on before as part of the Bad Little Trail run sponsored by DCC and Bold Coast Runners.
Shortly after the entrance from the small parking area to the blue-blazed Money Island Trail, I saw the telltale signs of bushwhacking and circles in the grass indicating deer had slept here last night. I was almost immediately hit with the pleasant scent of wet pine and sweet fern. The trail narrowed, leading into a root-covered path along a healthy rust colored stream. At about a third of a mile in, just after the hulk of an old, abandoned car, a small side trail leads to the left to a series of pleasant moss-covered cascades where black-capped chickadees serenaded from the surrounding trees. Shortly after returning to the main trail, a small wooden bridge leads back over the stream, and a small spur trail can be taken to the right, for views of the Machias, flowing around Money Island in the middle of the river. The familiar clicking call of a belted kingfisher filled the cool river air.
The trail intersection here with the Homestead Trail leads inland, and the Hemlock Trail along the river. I opted to go inland and save the reward of the river views for the return loop. The Homestead Trail quickly opened on a field and a marsh populated by songbirds, including common yellowthroat. The trail, covered in roots, rolled over the forest terrain at the edge of the large marshy field, before turning back into the forest. This trail crossed gurgling brooks lined with moss and led to a piney single-track path watched over by rows of trees dripping Old Man’s Beard and lichen.
The path widened then, passing over the old bed of a woods road, running past and through a former apple orchard, with some gnarled old trees still retaining fruit. The trail opened on an area with more apple trees that was clearly popular with deer. I turned right at the sign for the yellow-blazed Meadow Farm loop to continue my smaller loop on the Homestead Trail. According to DCC, the property was owned by William Albee, a Revolutionary War veteran who established the farm after the war. From here, the trail wound its way downhill to the Downeast Sunrise Trail, where I turned left to use the multi-use path briefly until turning right to pick up the Hemlock Trail.
About midway along this half-moon loop, I scared a large hawk out of a tree along the trail, and it broke several branches as it become a brown mass of feathers shooting skyward and away, leaving the grisly remains of a small songbird in the trail. This portion of the trail was full of the musty scent of elderberries and opened on a large marsh. Here I saw withe rod viburnum and wrinkle-leaf goldenrod, as well as rugosa roses lining the path as glimpses of the Machias River appeared through the thick brush to my left. A small handmade sign warned of poison ivy, and it turns out they weren’t kidding. I wound up with a good-sized poison ivy rash on my arm that hung on for about a week, despite no memory of brushing against anything.
I followed the Machias around the bend, where large hemlocks stood as a natural gateway on the trail, which curved back towards the railroad trestle bridge and the Downeast Sunrise Trail. At this intersection, an open area with picnic tables sits next to a shaded grove, and a small path down to the shoreline. Crossing the Sunrise Trail, it was a short walk along the riverbank to rejoin the Money Island Trail, and back to the parking area.
Having explored other difficult but rewarding long hikes in Baxter State Park, I decided to finally try a challenging early fall hike of Mount Coe (3,760 ft), South Brother (3,963 ft), and North Brother (4,052 ft), a 10.1 mi loop (extendable to about 12.5 mi if you include Fort Mountain in the spur hike from North Brother). This exhilarating trek begins with its most difficult ascent first, and hits peaks (including a 4,000 footer) that allow for views on a clear day in all directions of Baxter State Park and its surroundings. I started this hike based upon a route recommended by the book Hiking Maine’s Baxter State Park, a relatively new volume which I have dog-eared, bookmarked, and annotated in pen/pencil. As recommended in that book, every other guidebook, and the Baxter State Park ranger I consulted, I took the loop counterclockwise, in order to tackle the Mount Coe slides uphill, rather than trying to descend (more on that later). To navigate, you can use the free downloadable Kidney-Daicey map from Baxter State Park, or the more durable (my choice) Map Adventures’ Katahdin Baxter State Park Waterproof Trail Map.
The parking area for Mount Coe and the Brothers is on the Park Tote Road just south of Slide Dam picnic area, on the east side of the road. I took a long, quiet morning drive south from South Branch Campground, with the windows down to breathe in the foggy morning dew and listen for about an hour. No moose crossed in front of me, but I saw several ruffed grouse scurrying into the undergrowth lining the Tote Road. At the parking lot, across from Nesowadnehunk Stream, a large hiking group was meeting and beginning to pack up breakfast and coffee in preparation for a hike in smaller pairs and trios. The hike started easily enough on a relatively flat grade, with the trail going across a couple low streambeds. The temperature began to increase as I climbed up and out of the valley, ascending a narrow staircase with the pretty runoff of the stream to my left. At about 1.2 miles, I reached the intersection of the Marston and Mount Coe trails and turned right towards Mount Coe. Almost immediately, I started seeing moose droppings. The trail was flat and mossy, almost downhill at the beginning, with quiet, green Eden-like surroundings of mossy hummocks and clear, cascading brooks.
I had arrived at the trailhead about an hour after sunrise, but the sun had still not summited the peaks to the east, so when it did, at around 8 AM, it peered over like a death ray. So, when the trail crisscrossed the cool stream and moved uphill, I missed the air conditioning that the cold running water had provided. Here, I passed a friendly group of three on my way to the final ascent of Mount Coe, then another, even more amiable group of three making their way up the slick, steep slides. It’s difficult to find grumpy people at Baxter State Park. Back to the slides – they were as advertised, difficult, slick with morning dew and runoff, and sharp (I left some blood there on a handhold). I had planned to only use my hiking poles, collapsed and stowed on my pack, on the descent, but thought twice about that plan while navigating the steep, slippery surface. I can’t imagine the difficulty of climbing down this stretch on coltish, tired legs on a clockwise hike. Thankfully, the slide gave way to a thin path through thin spruce with roots and trees for handholds, leading to the Mount Coe summit, with unbelievable views in all directions.
Some trails at Baxter State Park are quieter than others, and Blueberry Ledges, on the south side of the park, approximately midway between Katahdin Stream Campground and Abol Beach, is a beautiful spot you just might have all to yourself. Appalachian Trail (AT) thru-hikers this close to Katahdin are unlikely to take side trails, and day-hikers are often focused on the more robust peaks to the north and east. The lollipop loop trail to Blueberry Ledges from the trailhead at the end of Abol Beach Road is a 6.6 mile hike (if you take the side trails like I did), using the Abol Stream Trail to briefly leave the Park, then pick up the Appalachian Trail (AT) northbound on the way out, and Abol Pond Trail on the return. On a bright mid-September morning, I used this route recommended by the book Hiking Maine’s Baxter State Park. The Blueberry Ledges are also accessible from the north by using the AT southbound from the Park Tote Road near Katahdin Stream Campground, an out-and-back hike of about three miles each way. The trails are all on the downloadable Kidney-Daicey map from Baxter State Park, and in my pack, as usual, was the durable Map Adventures’ Katahdin Baxter State Park Waterproof Trail Map.
I began by crossing the small bridge at the outlet of Abol Pond, following the trail along a wide, wooded floor dotted with colorful late-season mushrooms. The path rises on an esker above Abol Stream. A little over a quarter mile in, there’s a short side path along the stream, which dead-ends at a robust beaver dam, and after about .4 miles, a small sign-in kiosk for hikers. At about .7 and 1.1 miles are more turnouts with excellent views of Katahdin’s bulk rising clear and crisp over multi-colored marsh grasses. The trail at this point is an old woods road bounded by sweet fern and pine, and serenaded by the chattering of red squirrels and jays.
As the marsh opened up wide to the right, I reached the junction with the Appalachian Trail and turned right, reaching to another kiosk and the re-entry to Baxter State Park, where a friendly Ranger awaited inbound entries off the Appalachian Trail, which he said had slowed for the season, with clumps of hikers every now and again making their last push to Katahdin. I took my leave and continued north, turning right (left would take you out to Abol Bridge) at an intersection after about 1.5 miles to stay on the AT, moving up through long, thin white birches. A fire danger sign at the intersection with the Abol Pond Trail yields a clue to a likely reason for the thin forest bounding the trail, as a 45-acre wildfire burned its way through here in May 2020.
A massive boulder looking like a giant’s tooth sat to the right of the trail, and erratics that size and smaller peeked through the small trees on either side of the path, remnants of a glacial past. A little before two miles, I started hearing rushing water to the left and followed a small side trail towards the sound, finding some small Katahdin Stream waterfalls in what would be a nice place to dip in on a hot day. I returned to a trail that began to move uphill, then levelled out on a tree-lined ridge, with more side trails at about 2.6 miles and 2.8 miles leading down to waterfalls, with rocks treacherously slick from runoff, morning dew, spray, and algae.
With the right preparation, the 100 Mile Wilderness (100MW) can be a challenging but enjoyable eight-day hike (and for thru-hikers and experienced “speedhikers,” who can rip off 20-mile days, substantially less). Dad (then 41) and daughter (then 12) completed this in two segments in 2017 and 2018. We definitely allowed ourselves extra time to enjoy places we liked, or to recover from wet gear or injuries, so plan on ten days. Our 100 Mile Wilderness journey finally complete, we took a look back and came up with a better plan of attack. So, here is our guide, with a suggested itinerary, and a packing list.
Direction: There are arguments for going south to north (like we did), or alternately, starting at Abol Bridge, and finishing in Monson. The northern part is substantially flatter (read: faster) terrain, so starting with a heavy pack might be easier north-south, eating up food weight as you move south. But starting from the south, and climbing over the Barren-Chairback and White Cap ranges might make your tired legs want to finish with the more gently rolling terrain of the north.
Timing: When we started the 100 MW, we did so at the end of June/beginning of July. Once we got down from the higher elevations, the heat was oppressive, and the bugs were brutal. We later finished the 100 MW at the end of September, and it was cold at night, but pleasant during the day, and there were no bugs. I think a happy medium would be the beginning of September (assuming your work/school/life allows this), which would still be warm enough to enjoy dips in the lakes and streams, cool enough at night to sleep well, and at the very tail end of bug season. One caveat to this plan – AT Lean-To’s and tent sites may be fairly full, as many thru-hikers will be making their last push to Katahdin. Some water sources may also be dry by this time of summer, depending on the rains.
Resupply: We didn’t do this, but it’s worth considering. Some purists believe that it’s cheating, but lightening your pack enough to enjoy your walk in the woods might help a great deal, and it’s your hike. Shaw’s Hiker Hostel (Monson), the Appalachian Trail Lodge (Millinocket), and 100 Mile Wilderness Adventures and Outfitters are reputable providers who can coordinate food drops for you along the 100MW. They can also provide advice, shuttle service, Baxter/Katahdin permits, help you stage your vehicle at either end, and provide a place to stay before and/or after.
Day 1: ME-15 in Monson to Wilson Valley Lean-To (10.4 mi)
Overview: Day One is a rolling hike, getting used to a heavy pack, and fording several streams.
Highlight: Little Wilson Falls, a sixty-foot waterfall (mile 6.6)
Day 2: Wilson Valley Lean-To to West Chairback Pond (14.1 mi)
Overview: Day Two is a longer day (start early), with a ford of Long Pond Stream, and a a steady, strenuous ascent of Barren Mountain, to an up-and-down traverse of the Barren-Chairback Range, ending with a tent site on West Chairback Pond (.2 mile side trail).
Highlight: Views from Barren Ledges (mile 6) and insectivorous pitcher plants in Fourth Mountain Bog (mile 10.4).
Day 3: West Chairback Pond to Carl A. Newhall Lean-To (11.8 mi)
Overview: Completion of Barren-Chairback traverse, and descent to the fording of the West Branch of the Pleasant River. The afternoon ascent up Gulf Hagas Mountain along Gulf Hagas Brook will feel long, without many landmarks (note: camping or campfires are prohibited south of the Gulf Hagas Cut-off trail to north of the West Branch of the Pleasant River).
Highlight: Dizzying descent of Chairback Mountain, and a welcome downhill hike through pine forests to Gulf Hagas and the tall old-growth pines of the Hermitage.
Change-up:AMC Gorman Chairback Lodge and Cabins, on Long Pond, accessible via Third Mountain Trail or K-I Road. This AMC Lodge is a place to rest, get clean, relax, and enjoy the wilderness.
Day 4: Carl A. Newhall Lean-To to East Branch Lean-To (10.8 mi)
Overview: A long ascent of the White Cap range, then a descent to the East Branch of the Pleasant River.
Highlight: Cold, clear spring water from the spring near the Sidney Tappan Campsite (source of Gulf Hagas Brook). Summit of White Cap (3,654 ft), with great views (on a clear day) that include Katahdin.
Day 5: East Branch Lean-To to Antlers Campsite (16 mi)
Overview: A climb over the saddle between Big and Little Boardman Mountains, over Little Boardman, a long walk past Crawford Pond and Cooper Pond (watch for moose) to Antlers Campsite on Lower Jo-Mary Lake.
Highlight: Swimming in Crawford Pond (5.1 mi)
Day 6: Antlers Campsite to South End, Nahmakanta Lake (11 mi)
Overview: Short climb over Potaywadjo Ridge, pass Pemadumcook Lake, walk along Nahmakanta Stream to south end of Nahmakanta Lake.
Highlight: Swimming at sand beach on Lower Jo-Mary Lake (1.7 mi), and Lake Nahmakanta (11 mi).
Day 7: South End, Nahmakanta Lake to Rainbow Stream Lean-To (10.7 mi)
Overview: One last mountain to cross, Nesuntabunt, then a long, forested walk to Rainbow Stream Lean-To.
Highlight: Swimming holes near Rainbow Stream Lean-To (10.7 mi).
Day 8: Rainbow Stream Lean-To to Abol Bridge (15 mi)
Overview: Last day, peaceful walk alongside Rainbow Deadwaters and Rainbow Lake, a short ascent and descent of Rainbow Ledges, and a last push across rolling forest and bog to Abol Bridge.
Highlight: View from Rainbow Ledges (9 mi), and finishing.
We will assume that, if you are hiking the 100 MW, you have already chosen your pack and boots, know if you want hiking poles (yes, please, especially on wet, rocky descents), and know how you will cook and purify water. We overpacked, and this list (with links to what we used) cuts out non-essentials like a mini-fishing rod (we didn’t catch anything), and firestarter sticks (we only made two fires – in designated areas, of course, and birch bark worked nicely). Dad had a 75-liter, sixty lb pack because he didn’t want to come up short on supplies with a kid in the woods, but this can be done with a much lighter pack. Remember to leave no trace (empty meal pouches make great trash bags to carry with you). Also, waterproof Stuff Sacks are essential to streamline your packing, keep items dry, and double as bear bags to suspend your food at night. Would recommend at least two (one each for clothing and food).
Solar lantern (lightweight, collapsible, and lights up interior of tent at night)
Tent and ground cloth (we used Kelty Salida 2 two-person, with ground cloth). Some try to cut weight by just using a sleeping bag and pad, and using the AT shelters, but we found that they were crowded and noisy, and the tent gave us the option of finding a beautiful spot early, or pushing a little further, and just finding a flat spot at night.
Ivory soap in Ziploc (99.44% pure, and it floats. Perfect for cleaning up in lakes/streams)
Gold Bond foot powder
Bug spray w/Deet
First Aid kit: tweezers, bandaids, moleskin, itch cream, ibuprofen
Duct tape (mini-roll)
USB solar charger (this is pretty neat, lightweight, and recharges while you hike, using the sun. Great way to keep juice in your phone for photos or proof-of-life text messages when cell service is available)
2 pairs Ex Officio underwear (quick-drying, anti-microbial)
2 t-shirts/tank tops
2 pairs convertible pants/shorts
Clean long-sleeve t-shirt/shorts in Ziploc (to wear at night/in camp)
Lightweight shoes (I can’t wear Crocs, but people love them. Flip flops are no good for river crossings. Happy medium may be barefoot trailrunning shoes)
1 jacket or heavy shirt
Food (plan on 1.5 to 2 lbs per person per day, and realize you will be sick of most of it by Day 3, so variety is good. Get rid of bulky packaging before you hike, and in the morning, take out the food for each day, placing it in more accessible pouches on the outside of your pack):
Mountain House freeze-dried meals or packaged (Annie’s) mac and cheese (dinner)
Tortillas/lavash bread (use with pepperoni and cheese sticks to roll up)
Peanut butter and/or Nutella
Mixed Nuts (mix in with oatmeal, also mixes with dark chocolate are great)
Pre-made PB +J sandwiches
Granola/Energy bars (rotate flavors)
Starbucks Via instant coffee and/or hot chocolate packets
There will always be better ideas, lighter gear, more efficient plans. These are simply lessons we learned, and feedback is appreciated. The itinerary above is intended as a guideline, but there are side trails aplenty, and if you look at our journey, we adjusted to slow down and dry out our gear, avoid lightning and dangerous river fords, and speeded up to push ahead on better days.
If you are taking on the 100 Mile Wilderness, train to do so beforehand, hiking over rough terrain with a heavy pack, and doing multi-day hikes, breaking in all your gear, and finding out where your hot spots/blisters/chafe marks accumulate. There is no gym replacement or substitute for this. Our train-up was a fun couple months in the woods of Maine and New Hampshire, increasing distances and pack loads the entire time.
Additionally, have an exit strategy for the 100 Mile Wilderness. You may sustain an injury or find yourself in a situation beyond your control – that’s why it’s a wilderness, and this is a challenge. Be realistic, and don’t let pride goad you into bad decisions. But above all, have fun, and get outside.
(Disclaimer: This post contains affiliate links, and as an Amazon Associate Hiking in Maine blog earns from qualifying purchases.)
I’m hard-pressed to think of anything that is as simultaneously calming and awe-inspiring as a waterfall. Maine’s rugged terrain, many wilderness areas, and large rivers make it a prime spot for waterfalls. There are many websites and apps that aggregate and “rate” waterfall hikes in Maine, New England, and beyond. We even added a Category to this blog for waterfall hikes, even though I still believe that the best waterfall views should come as a surprise. But our favorite travels, particular in the north Maine woods, Downeast, and western Maine, exist outside data service, and I have always enjoyed “analog” guidebooks, particularly those with maps and photos. Enter Falcon Guides’ Hiking Waterfalls Maine: A Guide to the State’s Best Waterfall Hikes, by Greg Westrich (Rowman & Littlefield, 2020).
We have used this guide for the last six months to enjoy waterfall hikes, from roadside stops to short hikes, to waterfalls embedded in longer multi-day hikes. The book lists sixty-seven distinct hikes with over one hundred waterfalls, with a map at the beginning to show the geographic distribution in Maine, as well as a trail finder listing waterfall themes (solitude, swimming, hikes for kids, etc.). Recently, on a trip to Baxter State Park’s northern half, I used the guide to hit four waterfalls (Howe Brook, Sawtelle Falls, Grand Pitch Seboeis River, and Shin Falls) inside and outside the park. Each hike has its own map, as well as any relevant details about the hike and important info like access to dogs and/or hunting.
Throughout the hike descriptions, Westrich describes the geology of the waterfalls, as well as river terminology – horsetails, pitches, plunges, and cascades are all covered, along with historical notes, primarily around Maine’s logging past. These details and the guide format allow visitors to appreciate, rather than compare, waterfall hikes, making this guidebook a must-have for navigating Maine’s waterfalls.
(Disclaimer: This post contains affiliate links, and as an Amazon Associate Hiking in Maine blog earns from qualifying purchases.)
Howe Brook Falls is a spectacular four mile total out-and-back waterfall hike from South Branch Pond Campground in the northern half of Baxter State Park. I tacked this hike on to a South Branch Pond Loop hike, which is covered separately in another post, but the Howe Brook hike itself can be done in about three hours or less. A detailed description and map of this hike is found in the books Hiking Maine’s Baxter State Park and Hiking Waterfalls Maine, and a Baxter State Park downloadable map of South Branch Pond is available on BSP’s website.
Sawtelle Falls, on Sawtelle Brook in unnamed township T6R7 WELS, northern Penobscot County, is at the end of an out-and-back trail departing from Scraggly Lake Road, a narrow woods road off the north side of Grand Lake Road. Remember: WELS just means “West of the Easterly Line of the State,” the straight north-south line of the U.S.-Canadian border in northern Maine that extends from Hamlin to Amity, and is a reference for unorganized territory. The trailhead, east of Baxter State Park’s north gate, is a short drive from both Shin Falls and the Seboeis River Trails, and the three waterfall hikes can easily be completed in an afternoon. Following the falls, Sawtelle Brook flows south to meet with the Seboeis River, which is then joined by Shin Brook as it flows further south.
I had first passed the sign for the Seboeis River Trails a year or so ago on the way through northern Penobscot County to Baxter State Park’s north entrance, and made a mental note to check them out. Not much exists online regarding this riverside hike from Grand Lake Road, part of the Seboeis River Gorge Preserve in T6R7 WELS, except the description of a 1.1 mile out-and-back trail along the Seboeis River, ending at the Grand Pitch. I had seen the sign, then saw that it was in the guide book Hiking Waterfalls Maine for the section of ledges at the Grand Pitch. So imagine my surprise to find that this trail now extends 6.75 miles, crossing Shin Brook and following the Seboeis downstream to Grondin Road.
The bulk of Sugarloaf Mountain rises above the dirt Shin Brook Falls Road (marked with a handwritten wooden sign), a left turn from the Patten area off Grand Lake Road just before the Seboeis River. Parking is available in an open area at the first hard right turn (1/3 mile) in the road, with the trail marked in the same way. These handwritten “Trail” or “To Falls” boards are the signage on this 3/4 mile total hike near Shin Pond Village (actual location is T6R7 WELS), and were vaguely reminiscent of internet memes with a sign scrawled “Candy” next to an abandoned building. A map and full description (along with many other Maine waterfall hikes) are found in the book Hiking Waterfalls Maine.