Difficulty: Moderate. The hike is 4 miles, out and back. About half of the hike is along an old logging road, and the rest is on a footpath that gradually climbs the mountain, switchbacking through the forest to a beautiful outlook near the summit, which rises 1,621 feet above sea level. Exposed tree roots and rocky areas will require you to watch your step.
How to get there: The trailhead for Barnard Mountain is off the Katahdin Loop Road in a day use section of the Katahdin Woods and Waters Recreation Area, which abuts Baxter State Park east of Katahdin. Katahdin Loop Road is gravel and currently only appropriate for vehicles with four-wheel drive because of steep grades and washed out, rocky sections of the road. The road is open to the public during the day much of the year, but keep in mind, it’s not plowed during the winter and is closed during mud season.
First of all, fill up your gas tank.
In about 1 mile, you’ll cross Swift Brook on a bridge. At about 5.2 mile, veer left. At about 7 mile, you’ll cross over the East Branch of the Penobscot River on a fairly long one-lane bridge high above the water. You’ll pass many side roads along the way, but at 7.7 mile, you’ll pass a well-traveled side road called Roberts Road on your left.
If it seems like you’re in the middle of nowhere, you’re on the right track.
At 9.8 mile, you’ll pass by Sandbank Stream Campsite, which includes two nice wildlife viewing benches by a beaver flowage and a kiosk with a recreation area map posted on it. At 10.1 miles, you’ll pass a sign for the recreation area and a brown gate near some wetlands. And at 12 miles, you’ll arrive at the Katahdin Loop Road. Turn right, traveling the loop counter-clockwise for the shortest, smoothest ride around the loop to the trailhead.
You’ll arrive at the trailhead for Barnard Mountain Trail after driving about 5 miles on the Katahdin Loop Road. There are several logging side logging arods along the way, including a well-traveled road that will be on your right about 1.3 miles around the loop. This leads to trails along Wassataquoik Stream to Katahdin Esker and Orin Falls.
Information: Compared to its giant neighbor, Katahdin, Barnard Mountain is just a bump in the landscape, but it’s a great little mountain for those looking for a short hike with a big reward. The Barnard Mountain Trail ends at an open granite ledge near the top of the mountain, where hikers are greeted with a spectacular view of Baxter State Park, with Katahdin front and center.
Rising 1,621 feet above sea level, Barnard Mountain is one of several mountains located in the Katahdin Woods and Waters Recreation Area, approximately 100,000 acres east of Baxter State Park. This land is owned by Roxanne Quimby and managed by Elliotsville Plantation, Inc., a private Maine-based foundation formed by Quimby.
In 2011, Quimby went public with a proposal that this land and additional acreage (up to 150,000 acres) be added to the National Park System, half of it becoming a national park and the other half becoming a national recreation area. Over the past several years, this proposal has met a great deal of resistance, as well as support, in local communities and throughout the state.
While the matter is still under debate, the public is welcome to enjoy the scenic gravel roads and growing trail network of the Katahdin Woods and Waters Recreation Area. Different types of recreation are permitted in different parcels of the land.
Barnard Mountain lies near the Katahdin Loop Road in a large day-use section of the recreation area. The road is open to vehicles seasonally. Therefore, this hike is only easily accessible during the summer and fall.
In this area, hunting is not permitted. Dogs are allowed if on leash. And camping is only permitted by request. In addition to hiking, horseback riding and mountain biking are permitted on certain trails in this area.
The Bernard Mountain hike starts at the north end of the Katahdin Loop Road, on an old logging road that is blocked off to vehicles. You can park there in a small gravel parking lot. A sign at the trailhead indicates that it is a 1.2-mile walk along the old logging road to the more traditional hiking trail, which switchbacks up the mountain for about 0.8 mile to end at an open granite ledge topped with a picnic table.
The logging road section of the hike is a great opportunity for viewing wildlife, since you can see far ahead of you on the road. Moose, white-tailed deer, bear and coyotes often walk along this road. You’ll likely see their tracks, if not the animals themselves.
The hiking trail will be on your right and is marked with a small sign. The trail was constructed by the Maine Conservation Corps in 2014 and includes several short sections of granite steps. It is not currently marked with blazes or any other type of trail markers, but it’s well-maintained. The trail is obvious in the summertime, when the foliage forms a clear corridor, but in the autumn, when the leaves fall, the route is less obvious.
The ledge at the trail’s end is a great spot to have a picnic. Looking out over the woods of Baxter State Park, Katahdin is straight ahead. To its right is South Turner and North Turner mountains; and to its left, off in the distance, you can see the distinctive ridge of Big Spencer Mountain in the Moosehead Region.
For information about the Katahdin Woods and Waters Recreation Area, including an up-to-date trail map, visit katahdinwoods.org. If you have specific questions about trails, visitor use and access, call the Elliotsville Plantation, Inc., recreation managers Susan and Mark Adams at 852-1291, or email them at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Personal note: The bus powered along the gravel road, bumping over rocks and dipping into the occasional pothole on its way to Barnard Mountain on Nov. 8, field trip day for the 9th Northeast Alpine Stewardship Gathering. The small group of hikers on the bus had spent the previous day sitting through presentations on trail maintenance and alpine research; everyone was ready to stretch their legs.
The 90 or so people who attended the gathering had several field trips to choose between on Sunday. I was a difficult decision, but I decided to sign up for hiking Barnard Mountain because I’d yet to visit the proposed national park.
I was lucky to be joined by a number of inspirational conservation leaders, including Barbara Bentley, former president of the nonprofit Friends of Baxter State Park; her husband Bill Bentley, a registered Master Maine Guide who has long been involved in wilderness rescue; and their dog, Davis, named after Davis Pond in Baxter State Park. Also in the group was Charlie Jacobi, longtime Acadia National Park resource specialist; and Howard Whitcomb, author of “Governor Baxter’s Magnificent Obsession,” a documentary history of the formation of Baxter State Park.
It was a blustery, cold day, but the sun warmed our backs as we walked along the old logging road toward Barnard Mountain, following moose and deer tracks pressed into the gravel road. The trees were mostly bare of leaves, allowing us to see far into the forest.
While I enjoyed the trail and the stunning view at the end of the hike, what truly made the trip special was my companions. All of the people in the group had spent years in hiking and camping in Maine, especially in the nearby Baxter State Park, and they had some interesting stories to tell and perspectives to share. And there’s no better way to get to know a person than going for a walk in the woods together.