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Climbing Katahdin and Using Baxter State Park

The northern terminus of the Appalachian Trail is Baxter Peak on Katahdin, Maine’s highest mountain.

Kathadin
Kathadin

Katahdin, along with the surrounding landscape, is part of Baxter State Park -a 209,501 acre wilderness sanctuary and forest preserve. The Park was the lifelong project of one man, former Maine governor (1921-1924) Percival Proctor Baxter. Baxter State Park is self-supporting, in large part due to trust funds set up by Percival Baxter and fees paid by users. By his design, the Park is administered separate and distinct from any other agency or state park in Maine. Percival Baxter clearly stated his goal was to place preservation of natural resources as a priority over the recreational use of his park. Our regulations are designed to support this goal. This page is not designed to promote increased use of the Park but to inform those long distance hikers already intending to come here. See our Long-Distance Hiker Alert (tab on this page) for current information on Thru-Hiking in Baxter State Park. Our regulations are distinct from what may be encountered elsewhere, and various groups, including Appalachian Trail and International Appalachian Trail hikers, have expressed confusion or misunderstanding of them. Each of our regulations and operating policies were created to address one or more of the following issues:

  • Protection of the Parks natural features and wilderness
  • Protection of the visitors wilderness experience
  • Promoting an attitude of personal responsibility and safety

There is no other entity comparable to Baxter State Park along the Appalachian Trail corridor, in terms of the Park's origin and mission, as well as the policy-making responsibility and autonomy with which the three members of the Baxter State Park Authority are entrusted. All visitors to this Park are recipients of a very special gift; please work with us to honor the intent of such a generous gift by upholding our policies and regulations.

If you are beginning your hike at Baxter, you should know your itinerary and be able to predict your date of arrival in the Park. To relieve the demand for Long-Distance Hiker’s campsite "The Birches" site during busy times, we ask that visitors starting their long distance hike reserve a regular lean-to or tentsite at Katahdin Stream Campground or Abol Campground (not to be confused with Abol Bridge or Abol Pines down on the West Branch of the Penobscot River). Abol Campground has quiet, wooded sites, located just off the Park Tote Road two miles south of Katahdin Stream Campground and often has sites available when Katahdin Stream is full. Regular Park fees apply in Katahdin Stream Campground and per person rates ($10) apply at the Long Distance Hiker campsite. For more information on making advance reservations, contact BSP Headquarters at (207) 723-5140

There is no camping inside BSP after October 15th. Hikers arriving after Oct. 15th must arrange to camp with private establishments outside Baxter State Park and enter the Park for day use only. Remember: After October 15th, opportunities to climb Katahdin will be determined on a day-by-day basis, depending on access and weather conditions. We cannot emphasize it enough—to avoid disappointment, plan to hike Katahdin by October 15th at the very latest and earlier if at all possible.

Two other points should be clarified regarding thru-hikers in BSP. First, there is no "work for stay" site in BSP; the regular lean-to/tentsite fee applies to everyone camping in Baxter State Park (Remember: Ranger Stations inside the Park do not accept credit cards). Secondly, Park regulations require every hiker entering BSP via the A.T. to register at the information kiosk at Abol Stream as they enter Park lands, and again at Katahdin Stream with a ranger, as they end, or begin, their hike officially. This applies whether you are camping in Baxter or just hiking in for the day from the West Branch. This provides the Park and the ATC with trail statistics and emergency contact information.

Some Common Questions!

Saddle Trail Sign
Saddle Trail Sign
When can I hike Katahdin?
The short answer is: "Weather allowing, May 31-October 15."
A.T. hikers going south should not count on hiking Katahdin trails before May 31st. Before this date, even if trails are clear of snow and ice, soils are so saturated that even light foot traffic has been determined to result in irreparable damage to Katahdin's alpine and sub-alpine areas. Several of Maine's endangered and threatened species live in the alpine area and we take our job of protecting them seriously. The Park Director, with input from field personnel, determines when the trails are open for use. Throughout the year, trail status reports can be obtained by calling BSP Headquarters in Millinocket.
In the Fall of the Year, Hikers Must Arrange to Hike Katahdin by October 15th.

After this date the Park is closed to all camping. Hence, A.T. hikers planning to combine a fall hike of Katahdin with camping in the Park must plan on hiking Katahdin before October 15th. Park officials emphasize October 15th as the cut-off date for hiking Katahdin, regardless of your camping plans, because statistics show that, in this northerly climate, chances are slim you will be able to successfully finish your Katahdin hike after this date.

Beginning about the third week of September it is not uncommon for the Park Director to close one or more trails for public safety or resource protection reasons. If you are advised of a trail closure and you choose to disregard the closure you should be aware of the consequences ( a court summons and fine and Park visitation privileges revoked). During this period, in addition to environmental concerns regarding intermittent freezing/thawing of soils, conditions may become life threatening. Typical above-treeline conditions on trail closure days include very thin ice that warrants the aid of an ice axe and crampons, but is insufficient to support the use of such gear. These conditions make the above tree-line travel treacherous and subsequent rescues put both the victim and our volunteer teams and staff at risk unnecessarily. Furthermore, any hiker determined to be negligent in the face of staff advice may be charged for costs incurred in a search and rescue attempt.

If you cannot meet the October 15th date for completing your hike of Katahdin, the best thing to do is "flip-flop" and hike Katahdin earlier, finishing up the lower elevation hikes in Maine later or wait until next year to climb Katahdin.

What Can I Expect for Terrain & Environmental Conditions in Baxter?
We like to think we manage one of the prettiest spots on the trail but we'll let you be the judge. The Park contains many unusual and rare plants, animals and landforms. Katahdin, because of its extreme weather, has alpine plants, some of which are found nowhere else in Maine, and a number of rare bird and small animal species of interest and concern. Whether you hike above tree-line or below, muddy and/or eroded trail conditions are common in the heavily used sections. Please stay on the trail, use bog bridges where available, and rock hop when possible instead of trampling trailside vegetation.

The white-blazed Appalachian Trail (Hunt Spur) up Katahdin is arguably the most difficult climb on the entire A.T. Allow for a full 8-10 hours for a round trip hike of Katahdin. Following the A.T. up Katahdin requires rock scrambling and the use of hands in some places, and can be a frightening climb for those with even a mild fear of heights.

Though you will likely be visiting us in the summer or fall, bear in mind that it has snowed on Katahdin every month of the year and temperature extremes and high winds are the norm. There are no shelters on the mountain above tree-line. All trails on Katahdin are totally exposed to the elements and descent is at least as slow as ascent. This challenging environment makes rescue an uncertain and lengthy ordeal. A wise hiker is off the summit by 1 P.M. on humid, unsettled summer days, thus avoiding the infamous electrical storms of Katahdin. Hikers are encouraged to leave their full backpacks behind and only carry a daypack for essentials.

Is There Long-Term Parking Available at the Park?
No long-term parking is available at BSP for people recreating outside the Park. If you plan on hiking the 100 mile section south and west of Baxter State Park, check with people in Monson, Millinocket or Abol Bridge campground (on the Penobscot River) for parking space. Parking at all trailheads may fill to capacity until later in the day. In this way, we control the number of hikers in the fragile alpine zone. Understandably, visitors denied parking space at their favorite trailhead would be disgruntled if they discovered cars parked there indefinitely while the owners hiked extensively outside the Park.

Shuttle services are offered by local outfitters, please see the Park's list of commercial users to set up a shuttle service.

On a related issue, many hikers plan to hike the final leg of the trail with family and friends. Typically, they plan to meet at the parking lot of Katahdin Stream. Please tell family/friends that the south gate (Togue Gate) opens at 5 AM during the peak summer season and 6 AM later in the fall. To avoid the disappointment of being told the trailhead parking lot is full, and therefore closed (see above), it is a good idea for your friends/family to be waiting in line when the gate opens. This problem can be usually avoided if you plan your Katahdin hike for a weekday after Labor Day. Please see the Day Use Parking Reservation System section of this website to learn how to reserve a parking spot.

Can I Bring My Pet?
No one was a greater champion of dogs and animal rights than Governor Baxter. He had a succession of companion Irish Setters, each named Garry. One famous story from his days as Governor of the State of Maine tells of his having the flags lowered to half-mast in the State Capitol following his faithful friend Garry's passing– and the public wrath he incurred for so memorializing a dog officially. His heartfelt response in defense of the role of dogs as man's best friend leads one to believe the "no pets" policy in BSP, created and enforced during his lifetime, with his blessing, was created out of necessity. After much thought and many years of the public using the Park with their pets, Baxter decided there should be at least one place in Maine where wild animals could roam free without fear of or exposure to domesticated pets and the associated parasite and disease transmission which might affect either population irreversibly. Please respect the sacrifice Percival Baxter made himself and asked all pet lovers to make: do not bring your dog into the Park. Violating this Park regulation or any Park regulation subjects you to law enforcement action, not the way we, as Park staff, enjoy greeting you after a long hike. Here is a list of nearby kennels (Info tab on this page).

Since the early 1970's, the Park has supported a user-friendly facility with capacity for 12 people for long distance hikers entering the Park via the Appalachian Trail. Because our Park Management Plan and Park mandate clearly assign resource protection as a priority over recreational use, we cannot increase capacities to respond to increased demands.

The facilities at "The Birches" site are intended as a one night stopover for Northbound hikers who have just completed the 100 Mile Woods. All others should make accommodations in or outside of Baxter State Park. Thanks for your understanding of this policy and your cooperation!


What about camping in Baxter State Park?
Baxter State Park has 10 campgrounds, located throughout the Park and available for camping from May 15-October 15. Sites are available by reservation, on a first-come, first serve basis. After mid-July sites in Park campgrounds are usually reserved and and it is unusual to be able to obtain a site for the night by showing up at our office or gate in the morning. Reservations for regular campground sites (not "The Birches"), 14 or fewer days before the desired date, can be made using credit cards over the phone–call Park Headquarters at (207) 723-5140. Ranger stations inside the Park do not accept credit cards (no electricity to verify funds transfer).

In recognition of the difficulty our reservation system poses for most long-distance hikers, the Park has made available two 4-person lean-tos and tenting space for four additional people at a site called "The Birches", not far from Katahdin Stream's main campground. Prior reservations are not required for this site but a fee of $10/person/night is charged. The Park does not offer "work for fee" camping or other discounts. Please take care of all your food, supply and payment needs before entering the Park. Large groups or commercial entities will not use the Birches, but will use their advance knowledge of trip itineraries to work with the BSP reservation system.

"The Birches" is 9.8 miles from Abol Bridge via the Appalachian Trial or 4.4 miles from Abol Bridge via the Blueberry Ledges Trail. Use of "The Birches" facility is limited strictly to Northbound long distance or thru-hikers (must be hiking, at a minimum, the "100 Mile Wilderness") and is limited to 1 night. To assist you as you approach the Park, we post a sign-in sheet for long distance hikers on a clipboard, just after you cross the Golden Road and enter the Park no the A.T. If all 12 spaces are signed up for the night you are hoping to stay at "The Birches", it means that the site will be full and you will need to stay elsewhere. Your choices include:
  • Abol Bridge private campground
  • The nearby Department of Conservation "Abol Pines" site on the West Branch of the Penobscot (both are fee sites)
  • Katahdin Stream or Abol standard reservation sites, Foster Field Group Campsite, any other available site of your choice in BSP
  • Staying in a campground or motel near Millinocket.
In July and August and all fall weekends until the end of the camping season, it is difficult to get a site at Katahdin Stream or elsewhere in the Park, as our sites are often reserved months in advance during the busiest part of the season; however, weekdays from Labor Day through October 15th, it is possible, thought not guaranteed, that you will find vacant sites at Katahdin Stream.

Where Can I Receive Mail and Messages?
Mail drops should be arranged through the Millinocket Post Office, 113 Penobscot Ave., Millinocket, ME 04462. Baxter State Park operates a Headquarters building in Millinocket with business phones and two-way radios; however, Park internal communications are all by two-way radio, used for official communications only. The public pay phone nearest the Park is at the Abol Bridge Private Campground Store on the A.T. or at the North Woods Trading Post, 10 miles from Togue Pond Gatehouse on the southern entrance of BSP. The Park and Park personnel cannot assume responsibility for receiving and delivering your mail/packages.

Information and links for Thru Hikers


Dog and Cat Kennels:
  • Chester Animal Hospital
    RR3 Box 1836
    Lincoln, ME 04457
    Phone: (207) 794-2706
Guidebooks/Maps for A.T. in Maine are available
from our bookstore or from:

Appalachian Trail Conservancy
PO Box 807, Dept. SD
Harpers Ferry, WV 25254-0807

Also: Check out the following sites:

Maine Appalachian Trail Club's Home Page

Appalachian Trail Conservancy Home Page


Distances:
Trail Mileages:
  • Hurd Pond–Abol Bridge (West Branch of Penobscot): 3.5 Miles
  • Abol Bridge–"The Birches" (A.T.): 9.8 Miles
  • Abol Bridge–"The Birches" (Blueberry Ledge): 4.4 Miles
  • Katahdin Stream Campground–Baxter State Park (A.T.): 5.2 Miles
  • Abol Campground–Thoreau Spring Junction with A.T.: 2.8 Miles
  • Thoreau Spring–Baxter Peak: 1 mile

Road Mileages:
  • Katahdin Stream Campground–Abol Campground via Park Tote Road: 2 miles
  • Abol Bridge–Milllinocket Lake: 10 miles
  • Abol Bridge–Milllinocket : 19 miles
  • Togue Pond Gate–Millinocket Lake: 9 miles
  • Togue Pond Gate–Milllinocket : 18 miles
  • Togue Pond Gate–Abol Campground: 6 miles
  • Togue Pond Gate–Katahdin Stream Campground: 8 miles ("The Birches" nearby)

We hope this introduction has been useful for you. Please let us know how we can improve our efforts at informing visitors new to Baxter State Park and this region. Good luck on your journey! Yours in wilderness preservation…

Staff at Baxter State Park!!

KATAHDIN LONG DISTANCE HIKER ALERT!


What You Need to Know for Your Entry into Baxter State Park


Overnight Camping

Until October 15th- At BSP’s Long Distance Hikers site, "The Birches" near Katahdin Stream Campground: Visitors hiking at least 100 continuous miles and arriving at Baxter State Park without reservations may stay at ―The Birches site (limited to one night stay), which has a capacity of no more than 12 (two 4-person lean-tos and one tent platform).Fees:$10/person/night). Large groups or commercial entities will not use the Birches, but will use their advance knowledge of trip itineraries to work with the BSP reservation system.

At Katahdin Stream Campground –Check with any ranger you see for availability of a regular public site (Fees: Per site fee – Lean-to $30 and Tent-site $30 (max. capacities apply.). Availability is least likely in August and on fall weekends, most likely mid-week after Labor Day. Friends/family meeting you for the day may reserve a parking spot. Call 207-723-DUPR (3877) for details.

Phone-in, Credit Card Reservations:for regular campground sites (not the Birches), 14 or fewer days before the desired date, can be made using credit cards over the phone—call Park Headquarters at (207) 723-5140. However, as has always been the case, ranger stations inside the Park do not accept credit cards. The Park does not allow ―work for fee camping or other discounts. Please take care of all your food, supply and payment needs before entering.

After October 15th - There is NO overnight camping ANYWHERE within the Park so you will need to: Camp at the private Abol Bridge Campground OR the Maine DOC Abol Pines Campsite just downriver of Abol Bridge. Both charge fees. There are no other options for authorized overnight camping near the trail after October 15. Your hike to the summit is thus 15 miles (one way) from this area outside the Park. Most late hikers end up staying in a motel in Millinocket instead, and hire a taxi to shuttle them in and out of the Park on the day of their hike.

Your Climb of Katahdin

Until October 15th -No restrictions unless a trail closure is called by the Park Director for reasons of public safety or resource protection. Call the Hiker Info line at 207 723-INFO (4636) for up-to-date information on hiking conditions in the Park.

After October 15th - The Park is open for Day Use only (sunrise to sunset) to ALL hikers (regular visitors as well as Long Distance Hikers), conditions permitting. Again, restrictions apply on trail closure days, which are more frequently declared at that time of the year due to ice and snow. Vehicular access to the Park usually ends completely by November 1 or whenever winter conditions prohibit safe, low-impact vehicle travel.

The ATC, the MATC and the Park all strongly recommend you complete your climb of Katahdin before October 15th - after that there is too high risk of winter conditions and increased likelihood of harm to the environment. If you do not feel you can reach Katahdin by that date you may wish to "Flip-Flop", climbing Katahdin earlier and returning to the rest of your hike afterwards.

For further details to help you plan your visit to the Park, please ask for the brochure ―Long Distance Hiker’s Guide to Baxter State Park by contacting BSP or private hostels and campgrounds along the trail in New Hampshire and Maine. Contents include: BSP’s philosophy of management, arrangements for pets, meeting friends/family in the Park, trail conditions and status, mail and messages, and much more. The Park telephone number is (207) 723-5140.

Thank you!

Baxter State Park

Appalachian Trail Conference Maine

Appalachian Trail Club