Hike: Baxter/Hamlin Loop

Date Hiked: 04 July 2015

Last year when my older son went to summer camp at the Maine School of Science and Mathematics we stopped at Baxter State Park and hiked Baxter Peak as a family. When he went this year just the two of us took the trip, but we stopped and hiked Mount Katahdin again. We stayed just outside the south entrance of the park at the Penobscot Outdoor Center Campground . I was previously unaware of this campground but it still had sites available even though it was 4th of July weekend. It was the base camp for whitewater rafting trips and other adventures in the area but we got a campsite deep in the woods away from the crowds.

The following morning, on the 4th of July, my son and I got up with sunrise in order to get into the park at a reasonable time. I had already picked up a parking pass for the park, so we were guaranteed to get in as long as we showed up by 7:00 am. We got to the park entrance at 6:30 am and got the last parking spot in the Roaring Brook parking lot. We signed in at the ranger station and then started up the Helon Taylor Trail.

It was hot and humid and we were looking forward to getting above treeline. The Helon Taylor Trail climbed Keep Ridge fairly aggressively with lots of boulders to pick our way over and around. When we broke through the treeline we were greeted by a massive cloud of biting black flies. Those little buggers bit hard enough to draw blood and would congregate on any exposed skin if we stopped moving for a moment.

Teenager sitting on large boulder

Helon Taylor Trail

Luckily, as we moved above the trees the black flies found the sun and heat inhospitable and the insect population became more bearable. We made our way up Keep Ridge, passing group after group of people. It was by far the most crowded I had ever seen in Baxter State Park. But, the views still outweighed the inconveniences.

Teenager looking down steep ridge

Keep Ridge

At the top of Keep Ridge we climbed the talus-strewn cone of Pamola and made it to the summit at 9:40am. There were groups of people gathered about the mountain top, so we found a quiet spot looking over the edge to the basin below. We ate a quick snack and then started the climb down into the notch below Chimney Peak and the start of Knife Edge.

It took quite a while to get over Chimney Peak as there was a queue people waiting to take their turn climbing down into the notch and then up the face of Chimney Peak. I might have normally been frustrated by the number of people and having to wait, but the notch and the sketchy climb up Chimney Peak was my favorite part of the entire hike. Once we did climb out we were still stuck behind folks for a while on Knife Edge. Eventually we were able to pass the groups and get our own space on the trail.

Line of people on steep ridge line

Queue on Knife Edge

We thoroughly enjoyed the hike along Knife Edge and stopped frequently to take in the views toward the Allagash Wilderness on one side and the drop toward Chimney Pond on the other. Parts of Knife Edge were very narrow and should not be attempted by people afraid of heights or unsure of their footing on uneven terrain. My son had no problem navigating the challenging trail and lead us at a decent pace when we weren’t gawking at the scenery.


Steep ridge line and mountains

Looking back at Knife Edge

We got to Baxter Peak at around 11:00 am and much like Pamola Peak and Knife Edge it was very crowded. We climbed down a little bit toward Chimney Pond to get away from the crowds and out of the wind and had an early lunch. We dangled our feet over a massive drop-off and relished our quiet reign over the mountains below.

Teenager standing on mountain summit next to large cairn

On Baxter Peak

At one point during lunch I watched two adults hiking along Knife Edge and approaching Baxter Peak. I took them for father and son and the younger adult seemed a bit out of shape and exhausted. Right as they were making the summit the young adult stumbled and started a head-first plunge over the edge of the trail. The older gentleman grabbed his pack and stopped his forward progress. He most likely saved the other’s life. They exchanged knowing glances and continued toward the peak.

By the time we finished our lunches we were being pestered by flies and other hikers seeking solace from the crowds above. We packed up and started out trek down Baxter Peak via the Saddle Trail. Going down Saddle Trail was fairly mild (at least prior to it dropping into the basin) though there was an area comprised of softball-sized rocks where the footing was unstable.

When we got to the intersection with Northwest Basin Trail, we took it toward Hamlin Peak instead of following the Saddle Trail down to Chimney Pond. I was fairly tired at that point and asked my son if he was sure he wanted to do another peak. I assumed he would be getting tired as well but he seemed enthusiastic about doing Hamlin.

The trail up Hamlin was pretty mild, it matched the slope going up Baxter Peak from the saddle but shorter in distance and elevation. Once we got off the popular trails we passed one person and saw two more from a distance. Otherwise we had Hamlin to ourselves.

We got to Hamlin Peak at 12:30 pm and my son raced ahead to beat me to the summit. It was his first New England 4000 Footer to bag before me. The view from Hamlin was great. It provided an excellent profile view of Pamola Peak and Knife Edge.

Teenager standing on rock looking at mountains

Hamlin Peak

After a couple of Clif Bars we started down the Hamlin Ridge Trail. It had amazing views into North Basin and many scrambles over boulders and outcroppings. The first time I had hiked in Baxter State Park the ranger I spoke with suggested climbing Hamlin Ridge Trail as it provided some of the best views and was less crowded than the rest of the trails on Katahdin. Having now hiked it, I would definitely echo his suggestion.

Teenager looking down into basin

Looking into North Basin

Once we hit the treeline again we were attacked by more biting black flies. The rest of the hike out was just navigating around the basin trails followed by the flat slog down Chimney Pond Trail. We got to our car shortly before 4:00 pm and made the short drive back to the Penobscot Outdoors Center Campground.

Before heading back to our campsite we went to the Outdoor Center and rented a canoe and paddled around Pockwockamus Pond, in the shadow of Mount Katahdin. It was definitely a great perk to staying at the Outdoor Center as there was no additional charge for the rental.

Mountain and pond at sunset

Canoeing on Pockwockamus Pond

After canoeing we settled back at our campsite and made dinner. We had gotten directions to the 4th of July fireworks launching in East Millinocket but I was too worn out to drive into town and back that evening. Instead we watched sunset from Pockwockamus Pond and whittled by the campfire until we were too exhausted to keep our eyes open.

I was incredibly impressed with my son as we hiked over 11 miles and 4000 feet elevation gain as he never once seemed tired; only enthusiastic to continue on. We he returns to MSSM Summer Camp next year we plan to stop at Baxter State Park again so that we can do North Brother. I’m glad we’ve made Baxter State Park a yearly tradition and look forward to hiking it for many years to come.

May your trails be crooked, winding, lonesome, dangerous, leading to the most amazing view.
—Edward Abbey

Trail map

Map of hike (interactive map)

Highest Elevation: 5268′
Elevation Gain: 4368′
Distance: 11.2 miles
Book Time: 7:45
Actual Time: 8:40
Temperature: 70°s
Weather: mostly sunny, hazy
Wind: SW 5mph

Day Use Parking Reservation System.” baxterstateparkauthority.com. Baxter State Park Authority. 13 November 2015.
Penobscot Outdoor Center.” neoc.com. New England Outdoor Center. Web. 13 November 2015.
Summer Camp.” mssm.org. The Maine School of Science and Mathematics. Web. 19 November 2015.

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Hike: Baxter Peak

Hike Date: 21 June 2014

My family has a goal of reaching the high point in every state in the U.S. So far we’ve only done Mount Mansfield in Vermont (and we hiked from the visitor center, so we’ll have to do it again). This summer’s goal was to do our home state, Maine. Baxter Peak is the highest point in Maine, the 22nd highest state high point and the northern terminus of the Appalachian Trail. It sits in one of my favorite parks, Baxter State Park, which is the largest state park in New England and 4th largest in the country. The park was established with a goal of preserving the land in a natural state, so the trails are minimally maintained and there is a daily limit to the number of vehicles allowed in the park.

We arrived Friday afternoon and camped at a site we reserved at Roaring Brook Campground. This was the best way to guarantee getting into the park and having enough daylight to hike the mountain, which can easily take a seasoned hiker 8 hours so we knew we would need plenty of daylight. It also helped that we were hiking on the summer solstice. While checking in I heard other hikers discussing the snow that had fallen on the summit that day.

Always be prepared for winter-like weather when hiking above tree-line, no matter the time of year.

We had dinner and turned in early, so that we could wake up and get going early. The next morning I was up before the rest of the family so I got firewood and had a morning fire by which to stay warm.

Morning camp fire

Morning camp fire

We packed up camp and moved our vehicle to the day-use area. We started our big hike heading up Chimney Pond Trail. The trail was a moderate hike to Chimney Pond, a small pond that formed in the center of the horseshoe-shaped ridge of Mount Katahdin. About halfway up the trail there was a spur trail that led to a nice vista of the mountain.

Chimney Pond Trail vista

Chimney Pond Trail vista

We continued up the trail at a decent pace and took our next break at Middle Basin Pond. From the pond we had our first view of the saddle between Baxter Peak and Hamlin Peak, where the Saddle Trail exited the treeline and the ridge climbing up to Baxter Peak. After some trail mix and water we continued on.

First sight of Baxter Peak and the saddle from Middle Basin Pond

First sight of Baxter Peak and the saddle from Middle Basin Pond

We concluded the hike up to Chimney Pond and took a break in the day shelter. After the short rest we headed down to the pond for a view of it and Mount Katahdin. Chimney Pond is one of my favorite secluded locations. The pond is wrapped in an embrace by the mountain and across the pond you can see a small flat field (it is probably marsh). It would be the ultimate location for a log cabin (if not for being in the middle of a state park and visited by dozens of people a day). Unfortunately, panorama photos have a way of taking away the feeling of being surrounded and presenting the view at a distance. It is a must see in person.

Chimney Pond

Chimney Pond

We signed in at the ranger station and then began our slog up Saddle Trail. About a mile from the upper terminus of Saddle Trail we hit the Saddle slide. Saddle Trail is the easiest route up to Baxter Peak, but it is by no means easy. The slide is a mass of boulders with loose gravel between. Earlier that year a refrigerator-sized boulder slid loose on the Abol slide, closing the Abol Trail on its approach to Baxter for at least the rest of 2014. You could easily see the same thing happening on Saddle Trail. After many breaks and a whole bunch of sweat we made it to the top of Saddle trail.

Top of Saddle Trail

Top of Saddle Trail

So far the boys had done well. My older son led the charge and was often sitting on a rock waiting for us to catch up. My younger son was slow climbing over the rocks twice his size, but he had not complained yet and seemed determined to make it to the top (a huge improvement from last year when we climbed 3000′ Mount Blue and he said it was the worst day of his life). I was pretty tired but also determined to see my boys make it to the top of Baxter Peak. Unfortunately, my wife was exhausted and was feeling light-headed, so she stopped her hike near the Saddle Trail junction. She insisted that we continue to the peak, so I left her with her jacket, a peanut butter and jelly sandwich and water.

We set up the one mile hike to the top of Baxter Peak. The trail was very rugged and continued over many false peaks before we got our view of the summit. Along the way people coming down from the peak congratulated me on bringing my sons all the way to the peak and even took pictures of my 7-year-old, amazed that he hiked all the way up himself. One large group even clapped and patted me on the back as we passed them.

We reached the chilly and breezy top and had our photo taken by the famous Katahdin sign.

Baxter Peak

Baxter Peak

We spent a few minutes taking in the view spread out around us, like the ragged ridge line of The Knife Edge:

Knife's Edge

The Knife Edge

And the expansive and water strewn Allagash Wilderness to the north:

Allagash Wilderness

Allagash Wilderness

We were soon chilly and found some shelter below large boulders and ate our lunch of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. While we were eating we saw a young man complete his hike of the Appalachian Trail. Being only June he was very early. He said that he started in March. I didn’t ask, but considering that it was the Summer Solstice, I had the feeling that had began on the Vernal Equinox. 2180 miles in 3 months, that is fast.

Once we finished our lunch we headed down to meet back up with my wife. This began the slowest slog of the hike; waiting for my 7-year-old to navigate the tough terrain from the summit to the bottom of the Saddle slide. My older son went ahead to reach his mom at his own pace and I took in the view of the Baxter tableau.

Baxter Tableau

Baxter saddle

We reached my wife and stopped for a break before descending Saddle slide. My younger son had worked very hard to hike down the mile of rugged trail from the peak without a break, so we figured he deserved one.

Getting ready to descend Saddle

Getting ready to descend Saddle

For me, descending the Saddle slide was the most nerve-wracking part of the hike. I basically hiked down it backwards with my arms out, waiting for my younger son to stumble. If we hadn’t spent so much time climbing the rocks on the back shore of our island and I hadn’t known how well he climbed rocks, we probably would have waited a few more years to do this hike.



The hike back to Roaring Brook Campground was long and uneventful. We stopped once again at Chimney Pond for our final snack and then made good time the rest of the way down. We got back to our car in just under 12 hours with plenty of daylight to drive out to another campground and set up camp. It was a long and arduous but total worth it. I could not have been more proud of my whole family and I look forward to more state high points in the future.

The family is one of nature’s masterpieces.
—George Santayana

Map of Hike

Map of Hike

Elevation: 5267′
Elevation Gain: 3778′
Distance: 11 miles
Book Time: 7:25
Actual Time: 11:45
Temperature: 50°s
Wind: 10mph NW
Weather: Partly Sunny

About the Trail.” appalachiantrail.org. Appalachian Trail Conservancy. Web. 30 July 2014.
Facts About Mount Katahdin.” about.com. About.com. Web. 25 July 2014.
Hiking Katahdin.” baxterstateparkauthority.com. Baxter State Park Authority. Web. 31 July 2014.