|Moose calf emerging from the water.|
The Appalachian Trail (AT) in Maine is more rugged and remote than in any of the other thirteen trail states. The northern terminus of the AT is at Baxter Peak on top of Katahdin in Maine's Baxter State Park. From that peak, you can look to the southwest and see the Maine lake country that the AT crosses in this part of the state.
The trail in Maine traverses several prominent mountains including the twin peaks of the Bigelow Range, Saddleback, and the Mahoosuc Range. A short, but challenging, overnight hike traverses a section of the Bigelow Range and is one of the best wilderness hikes in a state known for its wilderness trails. Western Maine offers some excellent hiking opportunities, but the Saddleback Mountain Range heads the list, boasting a 3 mile, above treeline section with outstanding views. In the Mahoosucs, the AT has what is often described as the"toughest mile." This section through Mahoosuc Notch is a testament to a trail builder's imagination and a hiker's stamina; here the AT goes over and under an incredible boulder-filled notch. The AT continues over Goose Eye and Mount Carlo on its way to the state line of New Hampshire.
Bigelow Range Loop
The AT ascends Bigelow Mountain to a wonderful mountain tarn Horns Pond at more than 3,000 feet in elevation. From Horns Pond, the AT ascends South Horn and the West Peak of Bigelow, where there is an awe inspiring view of Flagstaff Lake and numerous surrounding mountains including Sugarloaf and the Crocker Mountains to the southwest.
The return trip on the Firewarden's Trail and along Stratton Brook Pond Road makes a nice two day trip. A side trip to the summit of Avery Peak is an optional .75 mile hike that will richly reward you for your efforts. Like the West Peak, Avery Peak boasts a commanding 3600 view of the surrounding mountains and lakes.
This hike is located almost entirely in the Bigelow State Preserve. The Preserve is a 33,000 acre wilderness area the people of Maine set aside by a 3,000 vote margin in a general election in the 1970s. Prior to the legislation, developers had hoped to develop the Bigelow Range as a ski area. Led by the Friends of Bigelow, the Maine Appalachian Trail Club and numerous other conservation groups helped force the referendum that saved the range from future development.
The Hike: From the trailhead on Stratton Brook Pond Road, hike north on the AT. In .1 mile, cross Stratton Brook and hike up a slight grade for the next .9 mile. The climb up Bigelow starts gradually and gets steeper. This tough climb reaches the high point on the ridge above Horns Pond at mile 3 and gains more than 2,000 feet in elevation. After topping the ridge, hike 1.1 miles along the ridge to a short side trail that leads to a memorable view of Horns Pond with North and South Horn in the background.
Reach the junction with the Horns Pond Trail .1 mile after the first side trail, and in another .25 mile, arrive at the twin Horns Pond Shelters. There are several tent sites nearby, and water is available from a spring in the camping area. The solar privy was built to minimize hikers' impact on the pond's ecosystem.
From the lean tos at Horns Pond, climb .6 mile to the open summit of South Horn (elevation 3,331). Descend to a ridge that continues for 1.7 miles and then ascend for .4 mile to the West Peak of Bigelow (elevation 4,150). The 3600 view from the rocky summit is tremendous. The Appalachian Mountain Chain marches off to the southwest. Close by, view Crocker and Sugarloaf; on a clear day, Mount Washington in New Hampshire. Down below, view Flagstaff Lake, which was built in the 1940s. Remember, the plants on the summit are fragile. Stick to the trail.
Climb steeply for .25 mile to Bigelow Col and the junction with the Firewarden's Trail. From the Col, there is an optional .75 mile hike to the Avery Peak of Bigelow, a rewarding side trip. For the return portion of this loop, hike down the Firewarden's Trail from the Col and off the mountain. The first .75 mile is very steep; afterwards the trail descends more moderately. Reach the junction with the Horns Pond Trail 2.9 miles after leaving the Col. Hike another 1.4 miles to Stratton Brook Pond Road. Follow the road for about a mile back to the trailhead.
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication