Route 113 weaves back and forth along the Maine–New Hampshire border between Fryeburg and Gilead for 30 miles, threading a route through some of the prettiest mountain country in New England. Between Stow and Route 2, the road slices through the White Mountain National Forest, where a bounty of foot trails leads deep into the wild and rugged country that characterizes this region.

The Maine section of the WMNF includes 49,000 acres of the sprawling 728,000-acre forest managed by the U.S. Forest Service. East of Evans Notch is the Caribou-Speckled Mountain Wilderness, a 14,000-acre gem encompassing Caribou, Red Rock, Butters, Durgin, Speckled, Ames and Blueberry mountains, Spruce Hill and a handful of trail-less summits.

Established in 1990, the Wilderness is home to a dozen trails and 25 miles of great hiking possibilities as well as a good measure of solitude. It’s one of my favorite hiking areas in Maine, especially come the cool weather and colorful foliage of autumn.

My top pick for a day hike in the Wilderness is Caribou Mountain, a trek I’ve made at least a couple dozen times each season and one I eagerly return to time and again. The mountain has all the elements of a perfect day hike: two clear and cold streams, a waterfall with a swimming hole, extensive open edges and incredible summit views, all reached via a loop hike of moderate mileage. The half-day’s walk allows plenty of other time for a leisurely drive to and from the trailhead, sightseeing in the Evans Notch area, and perhaps some good chow and a cold brew after the hike.

From Route 113, start up the mountain on Caribou Trail, which follows Morrison Brook to Kees Falls, a narrow 25-foot cascade that drops into a mossy grotto. The brook is crossed a half-dozen times before the saddle between Caribou and Gammon Mountain is reached. Turn right onto Mud Brook Trail and climb to the summit ledges in another half-mile.

The 2,850-foot peak of Caribou rewards hikers with a nearly 360-degree panorama that takes in the Mahoosuc, Carter-Moriah and Presidential ranges, Mount Royce, Baldface, Speckled Mountain, Pleasant Mountain, Mount Kearsarge, Mount Blue, Tumbledown, Bigelow and Sugarloaf, and countless more peaks and valleys. It’s an amazingly scenic perch for such modest effort, one that will have you lingering for some time.


Little-known fact: Two brothers shot the last caribou in the region on the mountain in 1854, hence the name.

While you’re celebrating the view and lamenting the demise of the woodland caribou, be sure to tip your hat to the Wilderness Act that marks its 50th anniversary this year. Signed by President Lyndon Johnson in 1964, it immediately designated 9.1 million acres of national forest land as areas “where the earth and its community of life are untrammeled by man, where man himself is a visitor who does not remain.”

Since the Wilderness Act became law, more than 100 million acres have been preserved with this designation that protects extraordinary natural resources, promotes opportunities for challenge and solitude, and prohibits motor equipment or mechanical transportation.

From the top of Caribou, plenty more of our Northeast wilderness with a capital “W” is within eyeball range, starting with the Wild River Wilderness just west in New Hampshire. In and around Mount Washington, the Great Gulf Wilderness protects the largest cirque in the White Mountains, while the Presidential Range–Dry River Wilderness protects Oakes Gulf and the headwaters of the Dry River. Farther southwest are the Pemigewasset and Sandwich Range wilderness areas.

Two other federal wilderness areas are found in Maine, in the Baring and Edmunds land units of the Moosehorn National Wildlife Refuge far Down East.

When you’re ready to move along, continue on Mud Brook Trail over more ledges before dropping down to meet Mud Brook, which is followed most of the way back to the trailhead.

Carey Kish of Bowdoin is editor of the AMC Maine Mountain Guide. Follow Carey’s adventures in his Maineiac Outdoors blog at:

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