Hundreds of hardy adventurers are drawn to the wildlands of Baxter State Park each winter, some seeking to climb the snow and ice slopes of Katahdin with hopes of standing atop the summit, while others are content to ski and snowshoe amid the immense solitude of the deep forests and frozen ponds around its base.

Whatever the objective, a winter trek into the park’s remote environs is a serious undertaking and one that demands good advance planning. A recent conversation with Jean Hoekwater, longtime park naturalist, yielded some great information and advice on preparing for and understanding the realities of a Baxter State Park winter trip.

“Because there’s no vehicle access it’s more of an expedition,” said Hoekwater. “Users must be prepared and have good winter skills, but they don’t need to go above treeline to enjoy the park.”

Winter campers can choose from a variety of destinations and accommodations in the park. Bunkhouses and cabins are the most popular, but tent camping and staying in lean-tos are also possibilities. Reservations are mandatory.

Bunkhouses with capacities of 8-10 people are located at Roaring Brook, Chimney Pond, South Branch Pond and Russell Pond; these may be shared with other groups. At Togue Pond, Trout Brook and Nesowadnehunk, four-person bunkhouses can be reserved for just your party. Bunkhouse amenities include a wood stove and gas lights but no mattresses. Cabins at Daicey Pond and Kidney Pond feature mattresses in addition to the stove and lights.

Two official winter trailhead parking lots are available, at its south end on the Golden Road just east of Abol Bridge, and a half-mile beyond Matagamon Wilderness Campground and the East Branch of the Penobscot River at the north end.

Hoekwater recommends that winter trekkers stay overnight in Millinocket or Patten, then drive to the trailhead the next morning. A good night’s sleep in a warm bed, and a hot shower and hearty breakfast make for a good beginning to any cold-weather trip.

Weather conditions can be very different when exiting the park days later, so be sure to have a shovel, sand and jumper cables at the ready in your car; you might well need them.

Snowmobiles are permitted to use the Park Tote Road (but not the Roaring Brook Road) so that route may be packed, but the regular park trails are not groomed. As such, the going may be slow and the miles longer than expected.

Hoekwater offers this rule of thumb for winter travel: “Plan to cover no more than 2 miles per hour. Add a half-hour for each 1,000 feet of elevation gain, another half-hour for trail breaking, and that much again for a heavy pack and sled.”

The minimum distance to shelter with a roof and four walls are the bunkhouses at Trout Brook and Togue Pond, five miles in from the north end and south end, respectively. Mileages increase from there, making it easy to see why an early start, a modicum of experience and familiarity with your gear is essential to reaching your destination well before nightfall.

“Baxter may not be the place for your first winter trip. Visitors who enjoy the experience have the gear and the skills to stay warm and dry in all circumstances because they understand the margin for error is just not there,” cautioned Hoekwater.

There’s no cell phone service in Baxter, GPS batteries can be unreliable, and park rangers may not be readily available, so rescue can be uncertain and may take hours. Plan to be self-sufficient, use good common sense, know how to use a compass and map, and don’t assume help will be at hand.

Noted Hoekwater: “Your safety is your responsibility.”

Park staff members are happy to assist at 723-5140. Find winter policies and procedures, including a great winter camping handbook, at

Carey Kish of Southwest Harbor is the author of AMC’s Best Day Hikes on the Maine Coast (available Spring 2015). Follow Carey’s adventures in his Maineiac Outdoors blog at: maineiac-outdoors