The scalloped clouds are streaming with pink and purple and the hardwood trees on the mountainside are afire with the alpenglow of early evening. The wind has ceased and the surface of Katahdin Lake is like glass.
I take a gentle paddle stroke, and my wife follows with another. With ease the canoe swings around to the west. And there the beauty of the Katahdin massif is revealed, from Howe and Hamlin peaks in the north to the prominent Saddle to the crowning point of Baxter Peak.
Then South Peak and the jagged ridge of Knife Edge, the spire of Chimney Peak and Pamola, legendary home the namesake mountain god.
It is as fine an October night in the Maine woods as one can imagine. We sit quietly for a time, content. A loon calls from the cove nearby, and stirred by its cry, we head back to shore in the coming darkness and stow the boat and gear. A crackling fire and friends greet us at the log shelter. The night air is chill now, promising hours of deep sleep sheathed in layers of cozy down. Nothing wrong with that, except that tomorrow, after three glorious days exploring this special place, we must pack up and hike out. But the awe will remain.
The trip last fall was my first to Katahdin Lake, and I’d waited a long time to make it. But then, we’d all waited a long time for the lake to become part of Baxter State Park, something that just naturally seemed like it needed to be.
And finally it happened in 2006 when, after a long and complicated conservation deal involving a host of public and private entities and a lot of wrangling and money, 4,100 acres around the lake were gifted to the park. Thirty-seven years after the passing of Gov. Percival Baxter, Katahdin Lake was “home.”
“There’s strong evidence that Governor Baxter always wanted the lake as part of the park,” said Jensen Bissell, Baxter State Park director. “If you look at the landscape you can see that it fits in really well.”
Park officials immediately set out to prepare a management plan for the new acquisition to properly assimilate it into the existing park. This included a thorough inventory of the flora and fauna, mapping of the ecological features and determining the best balance of operational uses. A 3.3-mile trail from Avalanche Field on Roaring Brook Road, just south of Roaring Brook Campground, has existed for years, serving as the primary access to the lake (other than float plane) and Katahdin Lake Wilderness Camps, a private sporting camp circa 1884 that continues to operate via a lease agreement with the park.
Based on the data collected over three years, Bissell and his staff developed a number of recommendations, which included expanding the trail system, constructing three six-person lean-tos for backcountry camping and developing a picnic shelter for day use and canoe storage.
Today hikers can enjoy Katahdin Lake by an easy day hike and from the south end, launch a canoe for a tour of the lake.
Backpackers can set up camp at two shelters on Katahdin Lake, one situated on the south shore and another on the north shore. A third shelter is tucked into the pines above the westernmost of the Martin Ponds. In all, 12 miles of trails connect the three locations and make for a sweet overnight or long weekend excursion.
“With the easy terrain, short distances and large lean-tos, we’re hoping to entice more families to visit and stay overnight,” Bissell said.
As an added bonus, each campsite is equipped with a canoe, paddles and PFDs. Canoe rentals are $1 per hour, paid on the honor system at the gate when you leave the park. There are plenty of fine viewpoints along the lake from which Katahdin is visible, but as I described earlier, there’s nothing finer than paddling out a distance and drinking in the amazing panorama of the mountain and the surrounding wilderness from the big lake.
From the North Katahdin Lake Lean-to, trail crews have cut a new trail extending 3.9 miles to Twin Ponds, nestled in a glacial cirque between North and South Turner mountains. The trail will be open for day use this fall.
Bissell himself was planning to walk the new path a few days after we spoke and write a proper trail description.
“Somebody’s got to do it,” Bissell said, clearly a man who enjoys his job.
Future plans call for the trail to Twin Ponds to be extended to Wassataquoik Stream where it will join trails in the Russell Pond area.
“We hope eventually to create a long backcountry loop from Nesowadnehunk Field to Katahdin Lake that will allow hikers to enjoy a week or more on the trail,” said Bissell.
For more information and to make reservations, go to www.baxterstateparkauthority.com or call 723-5140.
Carey Kish of Bowdoin is a freelance writer and avid hiker. Send comments and hike suggestions to: