If you can’t go to the Rockies, go to Mt. Katahdin. At 5,270 ft, Katahdin is not the tallest mountain in the east, but it is the tallest mountain in Maine and without a doubt the most Rocky-esque hike the Appalachians have to offer.
Before we dive into the hike, a quick sidenote is in order… Moose are basically the equivalent of squirrels in this area. The golden road, as well as a few areas in Baxter State park, are as close as it gets to a sure shot when it comes to moose sightings – particularly in the spring and early summer. Although it’s supposedly “difficult” to spot moose later in the summer, it took us about five minutes of searching along the Golden Road before we saw a female moose and her calf hanging out along the side of the road. On a previous visit earlier in the season, we spotted 17 moose over the course of a few days.
The Ascent (trail map)
There are a few routes up and down Katahdin with varying levels of difficulty and length. On this particular trip, we started at Roaring Brook Campground and ascended via Chimney Pond Trail and Cathedral Trail. It is possible to reserve a parking spot at Roaring Brook Campground, but if you don’t, you’ll have to arrive extremely early if you hope to snag one of the limited spots. We’re talking really really early…like 4AM if it’s a summer weekend. The first 3.3 miles hiking along the Chimney Pond Trail was a breeze in comparison to what was coming up next. This stretch of the hike only involved a moderate elevation gain, and served as a good warm-up for the real deal. Chimney Pond itself was a nice spot to relax for a while and the view of the mountain from below is amazing.
The segment of the hike on Cathedral Trail was half as long as the hike to Chimney Pond but at least ten times as difficult. The trail is covered in boulders and extremely steep. Some of the boulders were so big that we had to either jump or give each other a boost in order to pull ourselves over. Somehow, a father and his (presumably superhuman) young children managed to make it to the top via Cathedral with what appeared to be relative ease, so apparently this trail is suitable for people of all shapes and sizes. Although challenging, the trail is entirely above the tree line, so the views along the way distract your mind from the fatigue.
We lucked out with a cool, clear day atop Katahdin so the views were spectacular. Previous trips to the summit have been foggy, windy, and freezing, even in August. Katahdin differs from many of the taller peaks in New England in that it more or less stands alone. There aren’t views of neighboring peaks like you would expect if you were to hike in the White Mountains, but the views are equally impressive if not more so. It’s more a matter of getting views of Katahdin from Katahdin…if that makes any sense.
The Knife Edge
Generally speaking, climbing up mountains is the fun part and the descent is just a chore. That’s why we saved the best for last: The Knife’s Edge. Here’s how Baxter State Park’s website describes the trail:
“This route is completely exposed and several people have died or have been seriously injured while attempting a traverse in inclement weather and/or high winds. Do not attempt to leave the ridge once you have started.”
…duly noted. In reality, there aren’t many places along the Knife’s Edge where you could fall off a vertical cliff… but there are a few.
Luckily we managed to keep our feet under us while hiking the Knife’s Edge. Laura waited to fall down the mountain until after we were safely off the ridge, which was an impressive display of hiking sense and awareness on her part.
Bruised, exhausted, and starving, we finally reached the car back in the Roaring Brook parking lot and booked it to the nearest (only) Chinese food restaurant in Millinocket.
Where to Stay:
We camped here the night before hiking Katahdin. By far the best place to camp near the park. We can only speak for the camping experience, but the inn and cabins also seemed like good options. The photo below on the right is what we like to call the “pizzadilla.” It is a a combination of cheese, pepperoni, and tortillas. It’s a work of campsite culinary genius.
We stayed in one of the cabins the night after hiking Katahdin. By that point, we were exhausted and needed a bed to sleep in rather than the tent. The cabins are far from luxurious but perfect for what we needed. The family who owns the cabins had fresh baked muffins waiting for us when we arrived which was a major bonus.
Katahdin is the tallest mountain in Maine. Check out the list of the highest points in each state.