A hiker from Ohio who was stranded for three days before being rescued got himself into trouble when he decided to veer off the ridge between Baxter State Park’s highest peaks, apparently seeking a shortcut down to his rental car, the park’s director said Tuesday.

After reaching the top of 5,267-foot Mount Katahdin, Michael Hays was returning along the narrow, rocky Knife Edge Trail when he decided to leave the path before reaching Pamola Peak, where it would have been another 3½ miles to the parking lot, said Director Jensen Bissell.

Instead of choosing a shortcut, Hays took a more demanding route, where he injured his knee, limiting his mobility on treacherous terrain, Bissell said.

“It’s not a shortcut at all,” he said. “Sometimes people think it’s going to get better around the corner. This actually gets worse. It gets more difficult.”

Hays, 41, of Stow, Ohio shattered his kneecap in a fall, a co-worker said, and he was dehydrated and covered with bug bites when he was found Monday afternoon.

After being airlifted off the mountain, Hays was taken to nearby Millinocket Regional Hospital before being taken to a larger hospital in Bangor, said Rich Hohman, who happened to be hiking in Maine at the same time as Hays. The two work at the headquarters of Jo-Ann Fabric and Craft Stores in Ohio.

Doctors were concerned about possible infection from a puncture wound to Hays’ knee, in addition to the shattered kneecap, but he was in good shape otherwise, Hohman said.

“Physically, if it wasn’t for the knee, he would’ve been able to leave the hospital,” he said.

Hays was expected to remain overnight at Eastern Maine Medical Center, where he had surgery and was listed in fair condition Tuesday evening, a hospital spokeswoman said.

The search, which began Saturday when Hays failed to sign out on a trail register, was the biggest in four decades in 200,000-acre Baxter State Park.

Bissell said hikers should learn from Hays’ mistakes: They should stay on established trails, and they shouldn’t count on cell phones to bail them out.

“Mr. Hays had a BlackBerry the whole time, and it was no good at all,” Bissell said. “The second issue is, no matter what shape you’re in, please don’t leave the trail. If you are on the trail (and something happens), we’ll find you and make it OK, but if you leave the trail, all bets are off.”

Although Hays couldn’t get a signal to use his phone to call for help, his cell phone carrier was able to tell searchers that he had tried to check his voice mail during the time he was missing, giving searchers hope that he was alive, Bissell said.

The helicopter crew that found Hays passed over once without seeing him. On the second pass, Hays waved his bright-orange rain poncho, and someone spotted him. It probably would have been several days before searchers on foot checked out the area, Bissell said.

For Hays, the injury cut his trip short.

In addition to Mount Katahdin, Hays intended to hike the tallest peak in New Hampshire, 6,288-foot Mount Washington, and in Vermont, 4,350-foot Mount Mansfield, Hohman said.