Mt. Katahdin via Hunt Trail (Maine State Highpoint)

Baxter State Park, Maine

Trip Date: Friday, September 20th, 2019
Last Updated: Thursday, October 31st, 2019
By Ricky Holzer

Hike Information

Rating ★★★★★(5/5)
Overall Difficulty Very hard
Navigation Difficulty     Medium
Distance 10.4 miles roundtrip
Time 10 hours
Terrain Strenuous Climbing, 4200 feet of elevation gain
Best Seasons Spring, Summer, Fall
Family Friendly No
Dog Friendly No
Accessible No

Highlights

Hike Walkthrough

Though Mount Katahdin is lower in elevation than Nebraska's highpoint by about 160 feet, the hike to the top is no joke. With over 4,000 feet of elevation gain with 5.2 miles to reach the 5,267-foot summit, your legs are in for a workout! (I'd almost compare the difficulty of this hike with Mt. Humphreys in Arizona, except Mt. Katahdin is less than half as high). Most of the hike is above treeline, so you'll enjoy every break you take as you gaze across Maine's largest wilderness. This is a destination you shouldn't miss, especially if you enjoy climbing mountains.

The Hunt Trail coincides with the final segment of the Appalachian Trail (there's nothing like ending a thru-hike by climbing a mountain and having to climb back down). As such, the trail is well-marked, well-maintained, and well-traveled. From the parking lot, you'll follow a wide path through the campsite until you reach the trailhead marker. Be sure to sign the trail register located on the left so park rangers can know who is on the trail for emergency purposes! The climb begins gradually as you walk over tree roots and rocks, as pictured below. You can hear Katahdin Stream to your right with occasional glimpses of the water between the trees.

Twisted roots and mossy rocks are frequent obstacles on this section of the Appalachian Trail

Twisted roots and mossy rocks are frequent obstacles on this section of the Appalachian Trail

About a mile from the trailhead, you'll reach the stream crossing. At the time of writing, the bridge here was no longer in existence, so I had to carefully traverse the rocks with the assistance of a strategically placed log handrail. The scenery up until this point is mostly the same dense forest, but the spectacular stream breaks the monotony with its perfectly transparent water, as pictured below.
The sparkling clear water of Katahdin Stream

The sparkling clear water of Katahdin Stream

A little further up the trail from the stream crossing, a sign will indicate Katahdin Stream Falls to your left. A use-trail leads to a good viewing spot, yielding the picture below.
The gorgeous Katahdin Stream Falls is about a mile from the trailhead

The gorgeous Katahdin Stream Falls is about a mile from the trailhead

After the falls, the trail becomes more difficult and steep. Rocks gradually become larger and more numerous, and at about 2 miles from the trailhead you'll need to high-step up boulders and occasionally use your hands -- see the image below. Parts of the trail may be flooded, though large rocks were placed in areas that flood more often to help you keep your feet dry.
You'll have to climb up many boulders like these on this steep trail

You'll have to climb up many boulders like these on this steep trail

As you climb higher, you'll begin to see some amazing views through the trees, as pictured below. At these points, you can appreciate how high you've come as the forest floor looms so far down.
A gap in the trees hints at the views to come

A gap in the trees hints at the views to come

Past the halfway point, you'll ascend above treeline, revealing mountain vistas that rival scenes from more famous national parks, as pictured below. Looking around, you can get a sense of the ruggedness of these northern Appalachians with their jagged, rocky peaks -- in fact Mt. Katahdin is often referred to as a "western peak east of the Mississippi".
Once above treeline, you'll have stunning views of the Appalachians

Once above treeline, you'll have stunning views of the Appalachians

Although you have finally earned some views, your work is just beginning. Looking up, you'll see a tree-studded boulder field forming a false summit, as pictured below. This is the first of a handful of false summits that will break your spirit if you're not careful; instead, use the false summits as goals with a break as a reward.
Looking up at the first of many false summits

Looking up at the first of many false summits

Here, the trail follows the ridgeline known as Hunt Spur, a grey line of rocks poking above the backbone of the green, forested mountain. You'll frequently use your hands to climb up these large rocks, and you'll navigate by following white painted rectangles on the rocks. Do your best to stay on trail and avoid stepping on the fragile, high-altitude plants.
The jagged ridgeline of Hunt Spur

The jagged ridgeline of Hunt Spur

In about two or three places, you'll find metal bars, as pictured below, to help you ascend the steepest sections. After reaching the top of Hunt Spur, your hands may feel sore from constantly grabbing the sandpaper-like granite (I recommend bringing gloves if you have sensitive skin).
In some places, metal bars help you up and down particularly steep rocks

In some places, metal bars help you up and down particularly steep rocks

The hardest part of the hike is over! As a reward for your effort on Hunt Spur, you finally get a break from the steepness when you reach the Tableland. This was my favorite part of the hike -- it feels like you're walking on a plateau on top of the world. Alpine grasses and flowers grow all around you and the views are endless, as pictured below. To the northeast, you can see the actual summit of Mt. Katahdin, which more than likely will have a group of people standing on top.
The alpine grasses of the Tableland

The alpine grasses of the Tableland

About halfway across the Tableland, the trail intersects with the Abol Trail (the shortest Katahdin trail from base to summit) at Thoreau Spring, named for the author of Walden who was also one of the first people to describe the Maine wilderness. Beyond the spring, a makeshift string and stake fence discourages off-trail travel to protect the fragile grasses. You'll encounter more people now that the two trails have merged for the final push to the summit.

The remainder of the climb follows a series of stone steps punctuated by large rocks. The trail is steep, but it's nothing compared to what you hiked earlier. You may start to feel the effects of altitude now that you approach a mile above sea level, but it's pretty minimal compared to what you may have experienced climbing western peaks.

A wooden sign and a massive stone cairn greet you at the top, along with several other tired hikers. To the east, you'll have your first view of the other side of the mountain towards Pamola Peak and Chimney Pond, as shown in the first picture below. To the southeast, you can peer down Knife Edge (in the second picture below), the most challenging route to the summit, which involves steeper climbing than on Hunt Spur with the added danger of steep drops on either side. To the south and west, you can see the endless green land of lakes and mountains as they stretch to the horizon, as shown in the third picture below.
Pamola Peak and Chimney Pond to the east of the summit

Pamola Peak and Chimney Pond to the east of the summit

The sharp rocks leading down Knife Edge

The sharp rocks leading down Knife Edge

Looking south from the summit at the many lakes and distant mountains of Maine

Looking south from the summit at the many lakes and distant mountains of Maine

The return trip is straightforward, but you'll need to be careful on Hunt Spur, taking your time to slowly descend the boulders. The trail length and steepness are hard on your legs and knees, and this is the part you're really going to feel the next morning. Don't forget to sign the trail register on your way out!

Undoubtedly, this hike was one of my highlights for 2019. Words cannot describe the beauty of this hike, and I strongly encourage you to try this peak for yourself. Let me know what you think in the comments section below and be sure to use #nocoastbestcoast on Twitter and Instagram!

Important Information

In order to preserve the wilderness character of the park, dogs are not allowed. This rugged, steep, long-distance trail is not suitable for children; instead, hike with kids to Cranberry Pond or Caverly Pond. Group size is limited to 12 people.

Climb Mount Katahdin during the three warmer seasons; a winter trek typically requires snowshoes and is very difficult to do in one day. No matter which season you hike, the 5200-foot summit will be around 15 degrees cooler, so bring a jacket or sweater even in the summer. The park mandates that hikers must carry a flashlight or headlamp.

The Hunt Trail as well as all other routes to the summit of Mount Katahdin are extremely popular hikes. You can reserve a parking spot for $5 on the Baxter State Park reservations page up to two weeks before your hike (plan months in advance if you intend on going on a summer weekend) -- note that you must input a license plate number, which makes reservations impossible if you plan on driving a rental car. After 7am, parking reservations expire and rangers allow cars in on a first-come, first-served basis until each lot is full. Though many people hike this trail, the limit of parking spaces ensure that you will enjoy solitude for most of the hike (until you reach the generally crowded summit).

Directions

Baxter State Park is about 5 hours from Boston. Take Interstate 95 North for about 4 and a half hours, then take the exit for Maine Highway 157. Turn left and continue straight until you reach the town of Millnocket. Once in town, there are signs indicating the turns for Baxter State Park. Turn right onto Katahdin Avenue, then turn left onto Bates Street. Continue straight until you reach the park entrance station. Pay the fee if necessary, then turn left at the fork. Turn right at the sign for Katahdin Stream Campground and park in the day use parking lot on the left -- note that from the entrance station to the parking lot, it takes about half an hour due to the slow speed limit on the dirt road.

Google Maps Directions

Parking, Fees, and Facilities

Parking is free for all Maine residents. Non-residents must pay for a $15 gate pass (or $40 for an annual pass); cash is preferred due to slow internet processing time, but cards are accepted. You can also buy your pass ahead of time on the Baxter State Park reservations page. There are pit toilets near the lot, but you must bring all your own water or treat the water from Katahdin Stream.

External Links

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