Katahdin Trail Mix
Northwest Basin Trail
This 8.3-mile pathway takes travelers from the shoulders of Katahdin into the Northwest Basin, home of Davis Pond and an area of almost mystical beauty that's seen by relatively few Baxter visitors.
Every ranger will tell you there's no easy way up the mountain, but the 2.2-mile Saddle Trail, leaving from Chimney Pond, is considered the most gradual approach. Like a dry riverbed, with all sorts of rocks to trip tired trekkers, it's not without its challenges, especially to tired gams.
Hamlin Peak is the second-highest mountain in Maine, at 4,756 feet, but it's usually considered to be part of Katahdin and thus most people don't know this fact. The mountain sees few hikers compared to its neighbor, but the 1.7-mile trail along its southern ridge offers absolutely stunning views of the North Basin, Chimney Pond, and the wall of Katahdin. Some people like to do a loop from Chimney across Hamlin Ridge to the summit, then over the Knife Edge and back to Chimney, but that's an extremely rugged day of hiking.
Chimney Pond Trail
A magical little mountain tarn, Chimney Pond has jaw-dropping views of Katahdin's great wall, which towers one thousand feet above it, and the campground here allows climbers to stretch the ascent of Baxter Peak into two days rather than one. The trail to the pond from Roaring Brook Campground is 3.3 miles and not as strenuous as many other ways up the mountain.
Helon Taylor Trail
Named for the park's long-serving and legendary superintendent, the Helon Taylor trail takes hikers from Roaring Brook Campground 3.2 miles up and over Keep Ridge to Pamola Peak, a rugged climb — and the Knife Edge awaits.
Roy Dudley was a guide, game warden, and caretaker at Chimney Pond from the teens to the forties, and he was as famous for his yarns as his hospitality. A great friend of Pamola, the half moose/half eagle spirit that the Penobscots believe lived at the top of the mountain, Dudley blazed this 1.4-mile trail. It leaves Chimney Pond and makes a direct — and very exposed — climb up Pamola Peak.
So steep it's not recommended for descending, the Cathedral Trail passes a series of three jutting rock promontories — the Cathedrals, which some say look like the buttresses of a Catholic church — and is the shortest way to get between Chimney Pond and the summit. The route is less than two miles and is so vertical in its ascent it looks like something more appropriate for roped-up technical climbers than hikers.
Perhaps the most dangerous mile of hiking in New England, the infamous mile-long Knife Edge is only three feet wide in sections with vertiginous thousand-foot drops on either side. Not for the faint of heart — or windy days.
This is the last 5.2 miles of the Appalachian Trail, leaving from Katahdin Stream Campground, and it's loved by hikers for its varied terrain, from forest walking to hand-over-hand bouldering to the long walk across the mesalike Tableland near the summit.