Difficulty: Very strenuous. The 3.4-mile trail is steep and extremely rocky. Sections of the trail require hand-over-foot climbing over boulders. The trail leads to the Hunt Trail about 1 mile from Baxter Peak, the summit of Katahdin. Therefore, if hiking to the summit, the hike out-and-back is 8.8 miles.
How to get there: Travel on I-95 to Exit 244, then turn west on Route 157 and travel through Medway, East Millinocket and Millinocket. Drive straight through two traffic lights in downtown Millinocket, then bear right at a three-way intersection, then bear left at the next “Y” intersection, staying on the main road. (Along the way will be signs directing you to Baxter State Park.) Drive about 16 miles to the Togue Pond Gatehouse. (The blacktop road turns to gravel soon before the gatehouse.) After registering at the gatehouse, veer left at the Y intersection and drive 5.7 miles to Abol Campground, which will be on your right. Park in the day use parking lot and register at the ranger station before starting your hike.
Information: Several blazed hiking trails explore the rocky slopes, ridges and peaks of Katahdin, Maine’s tallest mountain, in Baxter State Park. One of these trails is the Abol Trail, which climbs a steep rock slide up the southwest side of the mountain to join with the Hunt Trail at Thoreau Spring, just a mile from the mountain’s summit.
To the dismay of many hikers, the management of Baxter State Park decided to close Abol Trail in the spring of 2014 due to landslide activity. Boulders as big as houses had shifted on the Abol Slide that spring, making the trail unstable and unsafe for hikers. It wasn’t the first time that Abol Trail had been closed. The trail was closed for several years in the 1930s and 40s for the same reason.
This time, park management decided to find a longterm solution and approved a $100,000 project to relocate a large section of the trail to avoid the rockslide altogether.
Over the course of two years, Maine Conservation Corps crews worked hard to build the new section of the trail, which opened to the public in the spring of 2016.
The new section of the Abol Trail starts about 1 mile into the original Abol Trail from the trailhead at Abol Campground. Skirting the rockslide, the trail switchbacks through a thick alpine spruce forest and over jumbles of boulders, steeply climbing the mountain. MCC has constructed several sections of granite staircases and drainage features throughout this new trail to prevent erosion and help hikers up the steep slope.
At about 1.9 mile, the new trail reconnects with the old Abol Trail, which climbs the top part of Abol Slide, traveling over and around large boulders, to Katahdin’s Tableland, where it meets Hunt Trail at Thoreau Spring.
This new Abol Trail is 3.4 miles from Abol Campground to Thoreau Spring. (In comparison, the old Abol Trail was 2.8 mile from the Abol Campground to Thoreau Spring.)
From Thoreau Spring, it’s just 1 more mile on the Hunt Trail to Baxter Peak, the summit of Katahdin at 5,268 feet above sea level.
Hiking down the Abol Trail is just as challenging, if not more challenging, than hiking up. Because the trail is steep, descending it is tough on your joints. And like all trails on the slopes of Katahdin, loose gravel and rocks add to the challenge. Watch your footing, stay focused, and plan to use your hands and scoot across rough granite on your butt frequently while descending the Abol Trail.
However, the new Abol Trail is a bit gentler of a descent then the old Abol Trail.
Before you hike Katahdin, it’s important you prepare. I advise visiting the official Baxter State Park website, baxterstateparkauthority.com, and reading its section on hiking, and specifically hiking Katahdin. Hikers are expected to take responsibility for their own adventures in the park by planning and packing appropriately. Park rules require hikers to carry a flashlight or headlamp. Hikers should also carry sufficient water and food, first aid, insect repellent, extra clothing layers (such as a rainproof, windproof jacket) and navigation items, such as a trail map and compass.
It’s also important to know Baxter State Park rules before traveling to the park. Pets are not permitted in the park, and firewood purchased outside the park is also prohibited. Hiking groups can not be larger than 12 people, and hikers under the age of 6 years old cannot hike above treeline.
To learn more, visit baxterstateparkauthority.com, call 723-5140 or visit the park visitor center, just before Togue Pond Gatehouse.
Personal note: For my family’s semi-annual camping weekend in Baxter State Park, Sept. 9-11, we stayed at Foster Field group campground and on Saturday, the hikers at camp split into two groups. One group hiked Mount OJI, an impressive mountain that rises about 3,410 above sea level, while the other group hiked the new Abol Trail up Katahdin.
I chose Katahdin.
Our group was seven people strong: me, my husband Derek and his mom Geneva, plus our friends Josh, Danielle, Jim and Gail. We were a diverse group of young adults and what my family refers to as 60-somethings. And we stayed together, encouraging each other onward and taking breaks when we needed them.
For Josh and Danielle, it was their first time hiking Katahdin. And for all of us but Geneva, it was our first time hiking the new Abol Trail. Geneva had hiked the new trail just about a month prior, but it had been an overcast day and she hadn’t been rewarded with any of the spectacular views atop Katahdin. So with a weather forecast of clear, sunny skies on Sept. 10, she was ready to hike it again.
The new section of the Abol Trail was great, thanks to the hard work by Baxter management and staff and the Maine Conservation Corps crews. I especially appreciated the new trail on the way down the mountain, when the trail left the rockslide behind and started switchbacking through the forest. It wasn’t an easy descent, but it was easier on the legs than the old Abol Trail, which I have hiked several times.
What seemed like the only cloud in the sky settled over Baxter Peak as we neared the top of the mountain, and for a few minutes, we were worried that we would be summiting without the reward of any views of Knife Edge, Pamola Peak and down to the Great Basin and Chimney Pond. But as we reached the peak, the cloud lifted, revealing the mountain in all its glory.
As we sat eating lunch by the great cairn at Baxter Peak, everyone’s head was turned northeast to take in the breathtaking view, one that is difficult to capture in a photo or video or words. For Josh, Danielle and Geneva, it was their first time experiencing the dramatic sight, while for me, it was perhaps my 10th time at the peak. But I don’t think I was any less amazed. Every time I sit there at the top of Maine, I feel like I’m at the top of the world.