Periodic views of Flagstaff Lake were experienced while hiking to Cranberry Peak. Ron Chase photos

In mid-January, I announced a Penobscot Paddle & Chowder Society mountain hike on Burnt Mountain in Carrabassett Valley. The moderately difficult, scenic trek with an expansive exposed summit is situated adjacent to Sugarloaf Mountain and a club favorite. The trailhead begins on the west side of Sugarloaf Village.

A few years had transpired since I’d completed a winter hike on Burnt Mountain, so I checked a trail information website for directions to the trailhead. The report was vague and seemed to contradict my recollection of how we had accessed the trailhead in the past. A long story short, it appears expansion of Sugarloaf downhill skiing now interferes with traditional winter hiking access to Burnt Mountain, and hikers are no longer welcome. A phone call for clarification was not returned.

Ice and hard-packed snow were encountered on the steep Cranberry Peak summit cone.

When five of us met in Carrabassett Valley early on a cold, gray morning with light winds, we contemplated revelations about the recently discovered hiking dilemma. Chowderheads know how to adapt to adversity. We unanimously agreed to forego potential conflicts on Burnt Mountain and changed our choice to Cranberry Peak, a comparable hike on the western end of the nearby Bigelow Mountain Range. My book, “Maine Al Fresco: The Fifty Finest Outdoor Adventures in Maine,” narrates an exciting race against an impending early winter snowstorm during a climb of North and South Peaks on the Bigelow Range.

A short drive north on Route 27 brought us to the Bigelow Range Trail winter trailhead located at the end of Currie Street in Stratton. The steep road and parking area had been plowed and there was space for perhaps six vehicles.

The Bigelow Range Trail leads to and over Cranberry Peak. An inspection of the trail revealed there were a few inches of fresh powder over a packed surface. We decided to wear snowshoes from the outset and that continued throughout our trek.

We began our journey to the summit of the 3,213-foot peak, which has over 2,000 feet of elevation gain, by following a snowmobile trail for about three-tenths of a mile to the summer trailhead. Initially, we ascended gradually in a dense conifer forest in a marvelous winter wonderland. A couple of blowdowns and a partially open stream were obstacles that required attentive negotiation.


After about a mile, the path narrowed and steepened. Progress slowed as we encountered difficulty gaining purchase with our snowshoe claws on the slippery, precipitous, hard-packed surface. The hilly gradient continued for about a half-mile to a series of open ledges that offered partial views west.

After lingering to enjoy the views, we renewed our quest continuing easterly along the north-facing slope of steep, rugged terrain under a spectacular canopy of snow-covered spruce trees. The rolling irregular path was rough going as we progressed towards the ridge line that led to the summit.

Hikers enjoyed a winter wonderland on Cranberry Peak.

Shortly after climbing steeply to the top of the ridge, we caught our first glimpse of the barren, snow-covered summit cone. Invigorated by the view of our goal, we hurriedly traversed the ridge all the while appreciating periodic views of Flagstaff Lake. Snowshoe claws were a substantial benefit during our abrupt ascent on ice and hard-packed snow to the alpine-like mountaintop.

Strong winds and severe chill factors were a significant risk during my two most recent winter visits to the pinnacle of Cranberry Peak. Not this time. A mild breeze allowed us an extended respite at the top for snacks and a break. Our lengthy pause was enhanced by a panoramic vista of the entire length of Flagstaff Lake. Unfortunately, Sugarloaf, Crocker Mountain Range and the elusive Burnt Mountain were enveloped in clouds.

Our group effort during the climb had solidly packed the trail for the descent. Some of the precipitous sections required careful maneuvering to avoid tumbling into potential hazards below. When we returned to the trailhead in Stratton, approximately 6.5 miles of snowshoeing had been completed.

My first full day of snowshoeing this winter, I experienced some foot discomfort when descending. However, that minor inconvenience didn’t distract from an exceptional day of winter mountaineering on Cranberry Peak.

Some interesting Cranberry Peak history: Maine trailblazing legend, Helon Taylor, is credited with opening the Bigelow Range Trail in 1934-35. After crossing the summit of Cranberry Peak, the path continues east for another 1.7 miles to the Appalachian Trail, which traverses the remainder of the Bigelow Range.

Ron Chase resides in Topsham. His latest book, “Maine Al Fresco: The Fifty Finest Outdoor Adventures in Maine” is available at or in bookstores and through online retailers. His previous books are “The Great Mars Hill Bank Robbery” and “Mountains for Mortals – New England.” Visit his website at or he can be reached at [email protected]

A hiker negotiates under a blowdown on the Bigelow Range Trail.

Steep terrain was a challenge climbing Cranberry Peak.

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