There are 210,000 spectacular acres in Baxter State Park, one of Maine’s most iconic natural landscapes and certainly its largest wilderness area. Day hikes are fine, but many miles of trails penetrate the remote Baxter backcountry, where you can really get a sense of the scale of Gov. Percival P. Baxter’s precious and enduring gift to the people of Maine.
Recently I reviewed with the park’s director, Jensen Bissell, some of the best backpacking trip options in Baxter, which is open for camping through Oct. 15. Here’s what we came up with.
Situated at 2,900 feet in the Great Basin beneath the towering rock walls of Katahdin, Chimney Pond is a pretty special place to spend the night.
“It’s a stunning natural setting,” said Bissell. “You can stand and look 2,000 feet straight up at Baxter Peak.”
The shortest access to Chimney Pond is via the 3.3-mile Chimney Pond Trail from Roaring Brook Campground, a 1,500-foot climb past the Basin Ponds. Nine lean-tos provide rustic accommodations. Three trails ascend from the pond: Saddle, Cathedral and Dudley. A fourth goes to Hamlin Peak. All are healthy, full-day ascents, so plan on spending several nights at Chimney.
Adventurous backpackers can continue up and over Hamlin Peak for a stay at Davis Pond Lean-to at 3,000 feet in the high and wild Northwest Basin. You’re only allowed one night at a time at this competitive spot, however.
Russell Pond in the central interior of the park is reached by a seven-mile hike from Roaring Brook or an eight-mile jaunt from South Branch Pond. Three tent sites and five lean-tos are spaced around this lovely pond deep in the heart of the Baxter wilderness.
Several miles west are Wassataquoik and Little Wassataquoik lakes, located between the steep walls of Wassataquoik and South Pogy mountains. Two lean-tos and a tent site here are your home away from home.
“It’s one of the wildest places in Maine, a high Alpine lake with clear, blue water,” Bissell said. “You sense you’re really far away from it all.”
Approach Russell Pond from the west at Nesowadnehunk Campground and you’re in for a 14-mile trek. Make it a two-day affair with an overnight at the new lean-to on Center Pond.
Pogy Pond and Wassataquoik Stream are outlying locations near Russell Pond also worthy of a camping visit.
Some 4,100 acres around the jewel that is Katahdin Lake were gifted to the park in 2006. From many shoreline vantage points – and especially from the seat of a canoe – visitors are treated to a panoramic view.
An easy 3.3-mile hike to the south end of Katahdin Lake via Katahdin Lake Trail gets you to one of the three lean-tos in the area. Another is located at the north end of the lake while a third is tucked in next to the Martin Ponds.
“The larger lean-tos here hold six people and are good for groups,” said Bissell. “It’s an easy place for novices and families to experience backpacking in a pristine environment.”
East of South Branch Pond and south of Trout Brook Mountain is the Fowler Ponds area, home to a fine network of trails, eight mountain ponds and at least that many backcountry tent sites.
Base camp at one pond or meander about and pitch camp at several ponds. And bring your rod and reel for some good trout fishing. Make a climb of Horse or Trout Brook mountains for far-reaching views over the north woods.
SCIENTIFIC FOREST MANAGEMENT AREA
The 30,000-acre Scientific Forest Management Area is my favorite place to escape for a while. Take five days to walk the 30-mile Freezeout Loop, taking in Frost and Hudson ponds, Webster Lake and Matagamon Lake, with lean-tos at each.
For more information and maps, go to baxterstateparkauthority.com. To make reservations, phone 723-5140. Canoes, PFD’s and paddles are available for use (small fee) at many remote lakes and ponds; ask for details.
Carey Kish of Bowdoin is editor of the AMC Maine Mountain Guide. Follow Carey’s adventures in his Maineiac Outdoors blog at: