An Amateur’s Guide to Hiking Maine’s 100 Mile Wilderness

View from Barren Ledges on Barren Mountain, 100 Mile Wilderness
View from Barren Ledges on Barren Mountain, 100 Mile Wilderness.

Overview

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.

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East Branch, Pleasant River, 100 Mile Wilderness.

Suggested Itinerary


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).

Change-up: for a break and a hot meal, try White House Landing Camps on Pemadumcook Lake (look for the sign along the AT), who will pick you up by boat if you call, (207) 745-5116, and meet them at a landing off the old Mahar Tote Road (appx 5.1 mi south of Nahmakanta Lake).  There is a great 2018 podcast episode on how White House Landing Camps came to be: http://www.outtherepodcast.com/episodes/2018/11/24/perfect-strangers


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.


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Mountain View Pond, 100 Mile Wilderness.

Packing List

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).

Exterior:

Pack raincover (budget alternative is a trash bag) Osprey UltraLight Raincover

Water:

Osprey Hydraulics 3L water reservoir (this can be heavy, but you don’t have to fill it all the way.  You may also prefer 2 smaller liter-size bottles with purification tablets, instead)

MSR Sweetwater Microfilter for water purification (see above)

Camping/hygiene gear:

Headlamp/batteries

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.

Lightweight sleeping bag (we both used Marmot NanoWave 55, which was perfect)

Sleeping pad (Therm-a-rest ProLite Mattress was compact and comfortable)

Wicking towel (Packtowl UltraLite Towel wrapped around clothing doubled as pillow)

Mosquito headnet (get a long one that you can tuck into your shirt)

Parachute Cord (this is great, with StuffSacks, for hanging food up at night, making repairs, and attaching things to your pack)

Baby wipes

Raingear (your choice, would suggest high-quality lightweight jacket and pants, rather than poncho)

Maps (we used Maps 1 through 3 of the Official Map and Guide to the AT in Maine)

Compass

Ivory soap in Ziploc (99.44% pure, and it floats.  Perfect for cleaning up in lakes/streams)

Gold Bond foot powder

Toothbrush

Toothpaste

Sunblock

Bug spray w/Deet

Toilet paper

First Aid kit: tweezers, bandaids, moleskin, itch cream, ibuprofen

Folding knife

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)

Eating (mesh bag for cookware) :

Clothing (this will vary based on timing- this was our mid-summer list):

3 + pairs wool socks (Smartwool Med. Weight Hiker)

2 pairs Ex Officio underwear (quick-drying, anti-microbial)

2 t-shirts/tank tops

2 pairs convertible pants/shorts

Hat

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)
  • Pepperoni
  • Cheese sticks
  • Tortillas/lavash bread (use with pepperoni and cheese sticks to roll up)
  • Oatmeal (breakfast)
  • 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)
  • Chocolate
  • Beef jerky
  • Starbucks Via instant coffee and/or hot chocolate packets

Final Thoughts

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.)

Book Review: Hiking Waterfalls Maine by Greg Westrich

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

Lower South Branch Pond from Pogy Notch Trail, Baxter State Park, Maine

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.

Howe Brook Trail, Baxter State Park, Maine
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Sawtelle Falls

Sawtelle Falls Trail, T6R7 WELS, Maine

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.

Step ledges above Sawtelle Falls, T6R7 WELS, Maine
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Seboeis River Trails

Picnic area at trailhead, Seboeis River Trails, T6R7 WELS, ME

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.

Seboeis River Trails, T6R7 WELS, ME
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Shin Falls

Shin Falls, T6R7 WELS, Maine

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.

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Fish River Falls (Fort Kent)

Entry to Fish River Falls Trail at the end of the runway, Fort Kent Municipal Airport

The Fish River, popular with fishermen and boaters, completes its run north to the St. John River in Fort Kent in a line roughly parallel to Route 11 in Aroostook County, Maine. This portion of the road, beginning at Portage Lake to the south, is the Fish River Scenic Byway. According to a link on the site of the Northern Door Inn, a quiet, clean hotel where we spent a couple nights, locals bring inner tubes to the base of Fish River Falls to float down the approximately four miles to Fort Kent. But even if you don’t have the time or equipment to navigate this stretch, the hike to Fish River Falls is an easy twenty to forty minute round trip with great views.

Descending Fish River Falls Trail, Fort Kent, ME
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Step Falls Preserve (Newry, ME)

Afternoon sunlight on Wight Brook, Step Falls Preserve, Newry, Maine

Step Falls Preserve is a twenty-four acre parcel hugging the banks of Wight Brook in Newry, Maine. We visited at the beginning of May, during a road trip to see waterfalls during the spring melt. In the summer months, the shallow pools and falls are refreshing places to cool off with a dip, wade, or swim. Parking is available in a lot off Bear River Road/Route 26. The 3/4 mile trail to the top of the falls is fairly easy, with some roots and steep spots towards the end. Due to the popularity of this spot, it often fills up quickly on weekends and nice summer days.

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Rines Forest

Light through the trees, Rines Forest, Cumberland, Maine

In mid-March, I hiked a loop using the Loop, Perimeter, and Waterfall Trails in Rines Forest in Cumberland, as a part of a longer loop including Hadlock Forest (Falmouth), which is connected through the Rines Trail. Rines Forest is a 268-acre woodland owned by the Town of Cumberland, and preserved through a conservation easement with the Chebeague & Cumberland Land Trust (CCLT). The Forest has a network of about 3 miles of trails open for hiking, cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, fishing, hunting, picnicking, horseback riding, and snowmobiling as designated (some trails are winter-only).

Loop Trail, Rines Forest, Cumberland, Maine

Parking is available on Range Road, on the south side of the Forest, about 1.2 miles from the intersection with Winn Road. Next to the parking area is a Frog Pond & Salamander Swamp. CCLT’s website includes a printable scavenger hunt for kids. Having begun across Range Road, I continued to follow the green CCLT markings for the trail, until reaching the white blazes of the Loop Trail. The spring thaw still incomplete, I wore micro spikes for the duration of the hike, and in the ice and snow, saw the frozen tracks of a large deer, or possibly a moose.

Waterfall Trail, Rines Forest, Cumberland, Maine
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Blackstrap Hill Preserve

White Trail, Blackstrap Hill Preserve, Falmouth, Maine

Note: According to the Falmouth Land Trust web site, each spring, trails are closed during the transition from frozen ground to ensure that the trails are not damaged during the rain and mud season. This year, trails will begin to close March 25th. All trailheads will be cordoned off and signage posted.

The Blackstrap Hill Preserve, along with the Blackstrap Community Forest, is comprised of two separate properties totaling almost 600 acres, owned by the Falmouth Land Trust (FLT) and the Town of Falmouth, and divided by north and south. On a mid-March day, I parked at the Blackstrap Community Forest parking lot on Blackstrap Road, where there is a parking lot and map kiosk (see the FLT website for a map), and completed a loop of about 4.2 miles in a little under two hours, using the White Trail, Waterfall Trail, Red Trail, Greenline Trail, Saw Whet Trail, and Cross-Cut Trail. The Preserve is also accessible from a trailhead further up Blackstrap Road (same as for North Falmouth Community Forest), just north of Babbidge Road, as well as another small parking lot off Hurricane Road. A connector to the east (from the River Trail) extends to the Hadlock Community Forest, as well.

Waterfall Trail, Blackstrap Hill Preserve, Falmouth, Maine
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