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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Celia and Jackson Ponds (Baxter State Park)

View across Kidney Pond, 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.)

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.

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