Meeting a Thru-Hiker at Katahdin? Here’s What You Should Know.
Many Appalachian Trail thru-hikers meet up with family and friends when they reach Baxter State Park. Katahdin, the highest peak in Maine, is a remarkable mountain and a popular destination among day hikers and car campers. Meeting a thru-hiker at Katahdin, especially if you’ll be joining them for their final ascent of Baxter Peak, is a great way to participate in your loved one’s trek.
Finishing the trail is a powerful emotional experience, and getting home from the isolated peak can be a frustrating logistical puzzle. Your thru-hiker will surely appreciate your company and support.
That being said, summiting Katahdin is no cakewalk. The terrain and elevation change are very challenging, even for a seasoned hiker. What’s more, just getting into Baxter poses challenges. Whether you’re planning to camp in the park and summit Baxter Peak or just pick your thru-hiker up at the trailhead, here are six things you should know before meeting a thru-hiker at Katahdin.
6 Things You Should Know if You’re Planning on Meeting a Thru-Hiker at Katahdin
1. The closest town is Millinocket.
Millinocket is a small town about 50 minutes (25 miles) south of Baxter State Park. The town has several options for lodging and dining, including the hiker-friendly Appalachian Trail Lodge, which has both private rooms and bunks and offers food drops, mail drops, slackpacking, and shuttles.
Millinocket is also home to Baxter State Park’s headquarters. If you’re planning to fly to Maine, your best bet is to fly into Bangor, rent a car, and drive to Millinocket. Bus service is also available between Boston and Bangor, at which point you would again need to rent a car to get the rest of the way.
If you want to stay closer to Baxter, you can car camp at Abol Bridge Campground or Abol Pines State Campsite. Both are located along the AT just north of the Hundred Mile Wilderness and just south of the Park border. Abol Bridge Campground has primitive cabins in addition to traditional camping spots, a store, a restaurant, and bathrooms. Abol Pines State Campsite is a traditional primitive campground with no amenities, but it’s just on the other side of Golden Road from Abol Bridge.
This would be a great place to meet your hiker as they come out of the Hundred Mile Wilderness. If you hike into the Park along the AT, you must register at Katahdin Stream Campground. You’ll need to have reserved a campsite at Katahdin Stream if you plan to stay overnight.
2. No dogs allowed in Baxter State Park.
You will not be permitted to enter the park on foot or by car with a dog or any other domestic animal. This is to avoid disturbance to the local ecosystem. If you or your thru-hiker has a dog with you, you can leave them for the day at Katahdin Kritters Pet Resort while you’re summiting. Incidentally, Baxter State Park has a number of other Leave No Trace-centric rules you should be aware of, for instance:
- No removal of natural or cultural objects
- No human waste or soap within 200 feet of a water source.
- Everything you pack in must be packed out. Fires and cooking devices are only permitted in designated areas and may be prohibited altogether in some parts of the Park.
- Noise pollution: “no person may create a disturbance that impairs the enjoyment of the Park by others.”
3. There are several trailheads that lead to Baxter Peak (the Northern Terminus).
The Hunt Trail is the official route of the AT. It’s 5.2 miles one-way to Baxter Peak and starts at Katahdin Stream Campground. Some hikers take the Hunt Trail up to Baxter Peak and catch the Abol Trail down for a change of scenery. The Abol Trail is shorter, steeper, and rockier than the Hunt Trail, which is saying something, and starts from Abol Campground.
Others will want to experience the Knife Edge on the way to or from Baxter Peak. This route approaches Baxter Peak from the east side, as opposed to the Hunt and Abol trails, which approach from the west. To hike the Knife Edge, you first have to hike 1.3 miles to Pamola Peak on the Dudley Trail from Roaring Brook Campground. Then take the Knife Edge 1.1 miles across to Baxter Peak.
The big appeal of this route is the infamous Knife Edge, a narrow, treacherous spine with immense drops on both sides. Hiking the Knife Edge is thrilling and sure to earn you serious hiker cred, but also slightly terrifying. Note that Roaring Brook Campground, where this trail begins, is an hour away from the AT trailhead at Katahdin Stream Campground. BSP doesn’t offer shuttles between the two, but the folks at the AT Lodge pick up and drop off at both trailheads.
4. Summiting Katahdin (on any trail) is considered extremely challenging.
Make sure you’re up for the journey physically and that you’re adequately prepared with the Ten Hiking Essentials. Baxter State Park actually requires you to carry a headlamp or flashlight when hiking trails within the park and forbids children younger than six from hiking above the treeline for safety.
The Hunt Trail, the official route of the AT, climbs nearly 4200 feet in just over five miles to reach the summit. Note that the first couple of miles are relatively gradual and have smooth tread underfoot. But don’t be fooled: the trail gets steadily steeper as you go (the elevation profile looks like an exponential curve). By the time you break out above treeline, the Hunt Trail becomes extremely steep, rocky, and technical. You’ll be completely exposed to the weather for the remaining 2.4 miles to the peak. The weather can change on a dime and it can be frigid up top even when it’s relatively mild at the trailhead.
The other trails that lead to Baxter Peak are no easier than the Hunt, and some are harder.
If summiting Katahdin isn’t realistic for you, you can still join your thru-hiker for some of the final miles of the AT in Baxter State Park. The first five miles from the park border to Katahdin Stream Campground are very mild. The best way to do this would be to meet your hiker at Abol Bridge and walk into the park together. Then you can hike back to Abol Bridge and drive into the park to pick your hiker up from Katahdin Stream Campground.
5. You’ll need permits and reservations.
You’ll need to make a reservation in advance to camp within Baxter State Park during thru-hiking season. Large vehicles like RVs are prohibited in the park. Note that all campsites in the park are primitive campsites with natural water sources but no spigots. Standard campsites cost around $30 per night on top of the $15 park entrance fee.
Katahdin Stream Campground, which is on the AT, has toilets, picnic tables, and lean-tos that can be reserved for camping. Baxter notes that you’ll need to bring all supplies with you, as the Park doesn’t provide anything but campsites and there are no stores within the boundaries.
Reservations are available on a four-month rolling basis. This is a popular camping destination, so you should make reservations as early as possible. (Admittedly, it’s tough to predict very far in advance when your thru-hiker will finish).
Day users must reserve a parking spot to climb Katahdin. Non-Maine residents can make a reservation as early as two weeks in advance and as late as 3 p.m. the day before their hike. This only applies to Katahdin trailheads. If you don’t have a reservation, you may still be allowed to park at a Katahdin trailhead, space allowing. The parking reservation is the only permit you’ll need to summit Katahdin.
We recommend reserving parking even if you’re just picking someone up and don’t plan to hike. It takes the guesswork out of the equation, especially since you probably won’t know exactly when your hiker will emerge triumphant from the woods. A parking permit costs $5 on top of the $15 park entrance fee (which you’ll have to pay either way).
Thru-hikers must obtain a permit from the Katahdin Stream Ranger Station in order to summit. Only a certain number of thru-hikers are permitted to summit in the traditional way each year. If you can’t get one, you can still summit by entering the park through the Togue Pond Gate and registering as day hikers.
6. Katahdin is a sacred mountain.
Katahdin plays a significant role in the spiritual tradition of the indigenous Penobscot people. “Katahdin” means “Greatest Mountain” in their language. Members of the Penobscot Nation still make pilgrimages to Katahdin regularly. In the past, Katahdin Stream Campground has closed and thru-hikers have been discouraged from summiting around Labor Day weekend during the annual Katahdin 100 pilgrimage.
With all of this in mind, visitors to Baxter State Park should treat Katahdin and surrounding lands with particular respect. Be sure to closely observe Leave No Trace principles (you should be doing this anyway, of course).
Finishing a thru-hike is exciting. However, Baxter Peak isn’t the place to have a loud celebration or pop off a bottle of champagne. Save that for Millinocket.
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