A weekend in Baxter State Park’s northern half

View west on North Traveler Trail, Baxter State Park

(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.)

The last couple years, dad and daughter have picked a late-summer weekend to climb Mount Katahdin together at Baxter State Park (BSP). On last year’s trip, we diverted to explore some easier trails from Katahdin Stream Campground, and this year, due to daughter’s same lingering knee injury from last year and her recovery from late August knee surgery, it was a solo trip for dad. Not wanting to climb Katahdin without my hiking buddy, I set my sights on the Traveler Loop. South Branch Pond Campground was full, so I canceled our mid-September Roaring Brook parking reservation, and found a tent site instead at Trout Brook Farm Campground.

Katahdin from I-95 Overlook, Medway, Maine

The drive in to Matagamon Gate from the south was a gradual journey back in time. I stopped at the scenic overlook off I-95 in Medway to peer through the morning clouds at the Katahdin massif looming ever larger to the west, over Salmon Stream Lake and the East Branch of the Penobscot. Off the highway, I slowed on Rte 11 for Amish horse-drawn carriages and tractors, and passed through the vintage downtown of Patten. Turning west toward Baxter State Park, I made mental notes as I drove by interesting spots for future hikes – Mount Chase, Owl’s Head, Seboeis River Trail, and Mount Deasey and Barnard in Katahdin Woods and Waters.

View from Horse Mountain, Baxter State Park

Being an early riser, I got through Matagamon Gate too early to check in at my campsite (check-in is at 1 PM), so I turned into the first available trailhead, for Horse Mountain. Following a great view and a quick descent, I signed in at the ranger station, and began to set up camp at Trout Brook. The site, with a picnic table and fire ring, was on Park Tote Road, but far enough away from other campsites, and with the tent spot recessed sufficiently to provide some privacy. A large apple tree stood in the tree line and attracted woodland animals, remnant of a long-ago orchard. The site was also very close to the trailheads for Trout Brook Mountain and the Five Ponds Loop.

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Burnt Mountain (Baxter State Park)

Trail to Burnt Mountain summit, Baxter State Park, Maine

(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.)

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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