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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Five Ponds Loop (Baxter State Park)

September greenery, Five Ponds Loop, 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 day after a strenuous Traveler Mountain hike at Baxter State Park, I chose to take the approximately seven mile Five Ponds Loop, both for its relative ease and for morning opportunities to see wildlife. A detailed description of the trail can be found in the AMC Maine Mountain Guide and Falcon Guides’ Hiking Maine’s Baxter State Park.

I hiked the loop in a clockwise direction from its trailhead at the Trout Brook Farm Campground, familiar to me from my hike of Trout Brook Mountain two days prior. The ponds, in that east to west sequence, are Littlefield Pond, Billfish Pond, Round Pond, High Pond, and Long Pond, accessed through a series of side trails. Billfish and Long each have canoe rentals (through the ranger at Trout Brook Farm campsite).

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Trout Brook Mountain (Baxter State Park)

Trout Brook Mountain 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 trail up Trout Brook Mountain (1,767 ft), 3.3 miles, about 1 hr 45 mins, begins from a small day use parking lot at the Trout Brook Farm Campground at Baxter State Park. Like Horse Mountain, the best maps and descriptions I found were in the AMC Maine Mountain Guide and Falcon Guides’ Hiking Maine’s Baxter State Park. This hike also gets its own treatment in Maine Hikes Off the Beaten Path. For those planning to explore more of Baxter State Park than one place, Map Adventures’ Katahdin Baxter State Park Waterproof Trail Map is a great analog navigation tool in a place where digital devices don’t belong. Baxter’s great official website also has downloadable/printable trail maps, and the Trout Brook Farm map covers this area.

Steeper climbing, Trout Brook Mountain, Baxter State Park

At the beginning of the trail up Trout Brook Mountain, the emerald colors of hobblebush contrast with the darker forest, particular as it transitions to evergreen. The trail winds through this forest and climbs rocky ledges dressed in soft green moss, with excellent northward views toward Trout Brook, Grand Lake Matagamon and the north woods.

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