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  1. #1
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    Default A little overwhelmed with so many options in/around Baxter SP

    Hi All,

    New to the forum and with backpacking in general. I've recently acquired some gear and intend to use it a lot over the summer and fall. My wife and our 2 friends are headed to Maine at the end of the month and want to make sure we head to the Baxter area for 2 nights / 3 days. A lot of what I've found online entails much longer trips. Is it possible to find a remote/wilderness type spot (we'd really prefer to stay away from crowds) for 2 nights? Or is there a hike someone can suggest where we can camp somewhere on night 1, hike to another spot on night 2 and then back to the car on day 3?

    I looked a bit into debsconeag and thought that one of the loops there might work, but like I said I'm pretty new to this and could really use some advice.

  2. #2
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    My first thought is you're new to backpacking and you're going to start with Baxter? Maine has some rugged trails, but you're young so hopefully you'll be alright. If it proves to be more than you're ready for, don't give up, just scale back. Hope you enjoy your trip. And welcome to WhiteBlaze.

  3. #3

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    If you're willing to pay the reservation fee there are some nice options in the north part of the park. The Fowler Ponds/Long Pond/Billfish Pond area would let you do multiple spots with low miles and lots of privacy. You may see some people, but the sites are far apart. Other options up that way would be Frost Pond or Little East which are a bit farther, but still short miles on easy trails.
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  4. #4

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    Loops are tough at Baxter and there is no commercial shuttle services that service the park (except for the AT lodge which is of most use to through hikers). There are two types of trails at Baxter, one type are the trails up the mountains. These really are far more suitable for day hikers as they are unlike anything you might find in PA. They are steep rough and rocky and overnight backpacks are not really recommended for first timers. The other trail run in the valleys which gives a hiker to the remote campsites and many lakes and ponds. Unfortunately they tend to be "out and back" via the same trail if you want to end up at your car.

    I would suggest that if you can get reservations at Russell Pond it may be the ticket. Go to the website and look over the hike planning section and download this map https://baxterstatepark.org/wp-conte..._28mar2017.pdf. Russell Pond is strictly backpack in there are no roads. Unlike the trails to the summits, there is very little traffic on these trails. The tents sites and shelters are circled around a large very wooded pond and are well separated. There are resident moose and you are just as likely to encounter one in the evening as another person camping there. The only down side is the water source got ruined by beaver and therefore you need to take it out of the pond. A filter is recommended as chemical treatments don't take out the pond taste. If this place is too busy and you want more privacy there are a outlying shelters managed by the Russell Pond ranger where you may be the only campers for miles. https://baxterstatepark.org/wp-conte...SP_20Apr17.pdf. The two shelters on Wassataquoik Lake and the Center Pond Shelter are very private. The two Wassataquoik Stream Shelters are in a great place but you will have a neighbor. If you are into big miles you may be disappointed but there are all sorts of places to day hike in the Russell Pond area. A possible itinerary is drive to Roaring Brook campground, then put on the backpack and take an easy hike to Russell Pond with a few detours. Take the trail around Sandy Stream Pond to check out the view and the resident moose with Katahdin in the background. Consider hiking up South Turner mountain with your backpack ( I wouldn't leave it at the base or the critters may raid it) The view of the East side to the Katahdin massive from South Turner is hard to beat. Now head down south turner and take one of two trails, either the Russell Pond Trail or the Wassataquoik stream trail. Note there is no bridge over Wassataquoik Stream and if you have to ford it after a rain if can be waist deep and cold. The Russell Pond trail has some wet crossings but nothing as substantial. Now it comes down to where you could reserve a site. If you are moving fast with no stops you can go between Roaring Brook and Russell Pond in about 2.5 to 3 hours so take your time. Wassataquoik lake its 45 minutes from Russell. Russell has a couple of local hikes while the lake has fewer. Some folks would just head in for two days and head out. This area is about as remote as you can get in Baxter, the stars are incredible as the sky is super dark.

    Note I really don't recommend trying to overnight backpack over Mt Katahdin, people do it but for first timer definitely not recommended. I would suggest if you want to climb the mountain head out to Russell for one night come back to Roaring Brook for an overnight and then do a day hike to the summit from Roaring Brook via Chimney Pond Trail, Cathedral Trail if you are brave and then down via Saddle of Hamlin Ridge trail (Hamlin ridge trail makes for long day). I would do this on the last day of your trip as you will be beat and not in the mood to hike anywhere the next day.

    So now what you need to do is go on the reservations system now and see what sites are open on the dates you plan to visit. If you are going to Russell Pond you can reserve individual sites. Leanto #5 is the most private but sits back from the pond a bit. The woods are very dense at Russell Pond with the exception of two canoe docks so it looks very wild.

    There is also one of the rare loop options in the north end of the park in the Scientific Forest Management Area. This area is managed for sustainable wood production and is less wild than the rest of the park. There is loop using the Wadleigh Brook trail to the Hudson Pond Shelter for the night. Next day head north to the Freezeout trail and hike along Webster Brook to the Little East Shelter on the shore of Grand Lake Matagamon the south to the Frost Pond trail and back to where you started the next day. This is classic Maine woods, not a lot of views. I haven't hiked it and in early season it could be more buggy than the rest of the park.

  5. #5
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    Quote Originally Posted by peakbagger View Post
    Loops are tough at Baxter and there is no commercial shuttle services that service the park (except for the AT lodge which is of most use to through hikers). There are two types of trails at Baxter, one type are the trails up the mountains. These really are far more suitable for day hikers as they are unlike anything you might find in PA. They are steep rough and rocky and overnight backpacks are not really recommended for first timers. The other trail run in the valleys which gives a hiker to the remote campsites and many lakes and ponds. Unfortunately they tend to be "out and back" via the same trail if you want to end up at your car.

    I would suggest that if you can get reservations at Russell Pond it may be the ticket. Go to the website and look over the hike planning section and download this map https://baxterstatepark.org/wp-conte..._28mar2017.pdf. Russell Pond is strictly backpack in there are no roads. Unlike the trails to the summits, there is very little traffic on these trails. The tents sites and shelters are circled around a large very wooded pond and are well separated. There are resident moose and you are just as likely to encounter one in the evening as another person camping there. The only down side is the water source got ruined by beaver and therefore you need to take it out of the pond. A filter is recommended as chemical treatments don't take out the pond taste. If this place is too busy and you want more privacy there are a outlying shelters managed by the Russell Pond ranger where you may be the only campers for miles. https://baxterstatepark.org/wp-conte...SP_20Apr17.pdf. The two shelters on Wassataquoik Lake and the Center Pond Shelter are very private. The two Wassataquoik Stream Shelters are in a great place but you will have a neighbor. If you are into big miles you may be disappointed but there are all sorts of places to day hike in the Russell Pond area. A possible itinerary is drive to Roaring Brook campground, then put on the backpack and take an easy hike to Russell Pond with a few detours. Take the trail around Sandy Stream Pond to check out the view and the resident moose with Katahdin in the background. Consider hiking up South Turner mountain with your backpack ( I wouldn't leave it at the base or the critters may raid it) The view of the East side to the Katahdin massive from South Turner is hard to beat. Now head down south turner and take one of two trails, either the Russell Pond Trail or the Wassataquoik stream trail. Note there is no bridge over Wassataquoik Stream and if you have to ford it after a rain if can be waist deep and cold. The Russell Pond trail has some wet crossings but nothing as substantial. Now it comes down to where you could reserve a site. If you are moving fast with no stops you can go between Roaring Brook and Russell Pond in about 2.5 to 3 hours so take your time. Wassataquoik lake its 45 minutes from Russell. Russell has a couple of local hikes while the lake has fewer. Some folks would just head in for two days and head out. This area is about as remote as you can get in Baxter, the stars are incredible as the sky is super dark.

    Note I really don't recommend trying to overnight backpack over Mt Katahdin, people do it but for first timer definitely not recommended. I would suggest if you want to climb the mountain head out to Russell for one night come back to Roaring Brook for an overnight and then do a day hike to the summit from Roaring Brook via Chimney Pond Trail, Cathedral Trail if you are brave and then down via Saddle of Hamlin Ridge trail (Hamlin ridge trail makes for long day). I would do this on the last day of your trip as you will be beat and not in the mood to hike anywhere the next day.

    So now what you need to do is go on the reservations system now and see what sites are open on the dates you plan to visit. If you are going to Russell Pond you can reserve individual sites. Leanto #5 is the most private but sits back from the pond a bit. The woods are very dense at Russell Pond with the exception of two canoe docks so it looks very wild.

    There is also one of the rare loop options in the north end of the park in the Scientific Forest Management Area. This area is managed for sustainable wood production and is less wild than the rest of the park. There is loop using the Wadleigh Brook trail to the Hudson Pond Shelter for the night. Next day head north to the Freezeout trail and hike along Webster Brook to the Little East Shelter on the shore of Grand Lake Matagamon the south to the Frost Pond trail and back to where you started the next day. This is classic Maine woods, not a lot of views. I haven't hiked it and in early season it could be more buggy than the rest of the park.
    It looks like not a lot available at Russell Pond for the days we're looking for. Not too surprising since I am looking for Saturday July 1st and Sunday July 2nd. It does look like little wassataquoik tent is open for both nights. As are several of the other backpacking tent sites. What's your opinion on little wassataquoik? Also, where would be the closest area to park and begin hiking in? Any idea how long it might take?

    Thanks again for your and everyone's help.

  6. #6
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    Quote Originally Posted by LoneStranger View Post
    If you're willing to pay the reservation fee there are some nice options in the north part of the park. The Fowler Ponds/Long Pond/Billfish Pond area would let you do multiple spots with low miles and lots of privacy. You may see some people, but the sites are far apart. Other options up that way would be Frost Pond or Little East which are a bit farther, but still short miles on easy trails.
    Ok so I assume from the map that I might drive to trout farm or matagamon gate and then hike in from there? I figured because of the proximity to the gate that it might have a lot of people.

  7. #7

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    The north end of the park get far less use than the south end. For the dates you want to go up your choices are limited but there are "usually" spots at Trout Brook. Note its long drive on back roads to the North Gate, they are in good shape but its about 2 hours from the turn off on I 95 in Medway you would use for the south gate to the park. I don't know where you are starting from the day before but unless you are staying nearby, getting to the park and on the trail takes a lot longer than you might think.

    I haven't been by Little Wassataquoik Lake shelter. The map shows its 9.5 miles in from Nesowadnehunk Campground (drive in via Togue Pond south gate). Note the map on the BSP website shows it as a tentsite while the listing shows it as a lean to. In early July I would prefer a tent as it could be buggy in the evenings. Since you have reserved the lean to for your group its the rare occasion where setting up the tent in the lean to is okay (if it fits). It may take a few tries but call the park to confirm if its campsite or a lean to. I believe the trail from Nesowadnehunk CG to the lake is an old tote road and therefore should be easy hiking.

    A general comment is the park is mostly thick mature woods without a lot of openings, you really don't get to see the mountains from the roads, you need to get up higher. There are a few nice views of Doubletop along the road to Nesowadnehunk and its worth taking the short road to Daicey Pond to check out the view from the shore. Unfortunately if you can only get a backpack in campsite your options for dayhiking the larger mountains is limited.

  8. #8

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    Some of the places Peakbagger has mentioned will be quite a bit of a walk for a novice backpacker. Since you say you are new to this I'd suggest starting out with low mileage so that you have fun rather than a deathmarch. Even the flatter terrain in Baxter can be quite challenging with lots of roots, rocks and mud.

    One thing you definitely don't want to do is the Freezeout Loop. It is too long for the amount of time you have and there are parts that require serious route finding skills. The section from Webster Outlet to Hudson Pond traverses the scientific forest with little or no blazing in the open areas. The trail sees almost no use in this area so you can't follow a footpath or even bent grass.

    Little Wass Lake is in fact a tent site now. The LT was removed a while back. Haven't been there yet but we have reservations for an August visit this year. Neat looking spot, but again, a fair bit of walking for novice backpackers. Russell Pond is pretty, but not very private. Most of the sites are along one shore with a trail running behind them. Many are in sight and hearing of neighbors.

    Looking at your dates in the reservation system I am seeing openings at Fowler Pond sites and amazingly enough Long Pond Pines is open both nights. The sites in the Five Ponds area are all tent sites and pretty easy to reach, yet totally remote. For a first timer backpacking in Maine you won't do much better in terms of beauty and peace without working too hard. Depending on which way you were headed there are two parking spots along the road with trailhead signs after you've passed through the gate. The ranger on duty can answer any questions on your way in, but bring a good map because you are on your own once you hit the trails.
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  9. #9

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    Hard to make a call on the OP's ability. 10 miles on what is essentially an old logging road is pretty reasonable which would be the hike to Little Wassataquoik Lake. The Freezeout trail is more advanced . If the OP is looking for just a short walk in, then he should have asked for it. I would have suggested Katahdin Lake area but given the popular week and late reservations its going to be a challenge.

    Realistically if I was going up to Baxter for a first time trip I would probably stay at one of the commercial campgrounds outside the park and play the day use parking reservation game and day hike the mountain. Even if he cant get DUPR for Katahdin, Doubletop and the Brothers or Coe are great day hikes

  10. #10
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    If you still want to hike in Baxter State Park but are having a hard time finding a campground within the park, as is often the case, there is a privately owned campground about 5-10 minutes from the entrance of the park in Millinocket. They have nice camping sites and an area called ''remote'' where there is very few people. I've stayed there many times and it's a nice place. You'll need to use your car every day but it's an option. Also, be advised that if you are NOT camping in the park, you'll need to buy a parking permit.

    Big Moose Inn Cabins & Campground
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  11. #11

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    Make sure you get a remote site if you stay at any campground outside the park, the prime clients are whitewater rafters and they tend to party. If you do stay outside the park and decide to dayhike instead of backpacking, you do need to pay a road fee every day you enter. Its in the $14 to $18 range. Anyone camping in the park pays it once for the entire trip. To reiterate on day hiking, it you want to climb Mt Katahdin from anyone of the three trailheads you are strongly urged to make a day use parking reservation in advance. If you feel lucky and want to wait in long line at the park gate you may be able to get a pass that was not reserved in the morning. If on the other hand you want to hike any other mountain in the park that is not accessed from those three lots (Abol, Katahdin Stream and Roaring Brook) you do not need a day use parking pass. I can highly recommend Doubletop from the Nesowadnehunk Campground (the southerly approach from Daicey Pond a has very steep eroded section near the top. Mt OJI is another option and the views from South Brother and Coe are great. Note that Coe has a very large section of open granite slabs that are slippery when wet. North Brother has great views but the trail up to the summit is super eroded the equivalent of hiking up an wet eroded ditch in spots. There are smaller mountains like Sentinel and multiple trails to various remote ponds.

  12. #12
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    Quote Originally Posted by LoneStranger View Post
    Some of the places Peakbagger has mentioned will be quite a bit of a walk for a novice backpacker. Since you say you are new to this I'd suggest starting out with low mileage so that you have fun rather than a deathmarch. Even the flatter terrain in Baxter can be quite challenging with lots of roots, rocks and mud.

    One thing you definitely don't want to do is the Freezeout Loop. It is too long for the amount of time you have and there are parts that require serious route finding skills. The section from Webster Outlet to Hudson Pond traverses the scientific forest with little or no blazing in the open areas. The trail sees almost no use in this area so you can't follow a footpath or even bent grass.

    Little Wass Lake is in fact a tent site now. The LT was removed a while back. Haven't been there yet but we have reservations for an August visit this year. Neat looking spot, but again, a fair bit of walking for novice backpackers. Russell Pond is pretty, but not very private. Most of the sites are along one shore with a trail running behind them. Many are in sight and hearing of neighbors.

    Looking at your dates in the reservation system I am seeing openings at Fowler Pond sites and amazingly enough Long Pond Pines is open both nights. The sites in the Five Ponds area are all tent sites and pretty easy to reach, yet totally remote. For a first timer backpacking in Maine you won't do much better in terms of beauty and peace without working too hard. Depending on which way you were headed there are two parking spots along the road with trailhead signs after you've passed through the gate. The ranger on duty can answer any questions on your way in, but bring a good map because you are on your own once you hit the trails.
    Sounds like Long Pond Pines might be a good option for my group. someone mentioned that the drive to Matagamon gate is significant. Anyone have an estimate on time to drive there from Portland and time to hike to Long Pond Pines tent site from the gate?

    It looks like from google images that the area there still has some good vistas but can anyone confirm? Once thanks for everyone's advice and helping me to narrow this down.

  13. #13

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    Its about 2 miles in from the park road from either trailhead (I don't have my map handy). There are a couple of mountains in the area that aren't real high but have open views. Traveler Mountain may block your view of Katahdin, best idea is ask the ranger at the gate. There usually isn't a lot of traffic so they don't mind helping you out (gives them something to do).

    The drive from Portland is roughly 2 hours to Bangor and another hour to Medway. You are going past Medway (the exit for the south gate) to the Sherman Mills exit and then its RT 11 to Patten and then RT 159 west to the park. I would plan on 30 minutes to Sherman from Medway including the "mandatory" stop at the Mt Katahdin viewpoint on I 95 (seriously its worth stopping on a nice day). Its only on the Northbound side so if you don't stop driving north you don't have the option driving south. From Sherman its 1 hour 15 to 1 hour 45 depending on your driving style to the park gate. Stop and get gas at the Irving station when you get off I 95. There is no fast food and not much for services once you go past Medway (even then to get to most services means a 20 minute ride into Millinocket off the highway). Then drive north to Patten. Once you leave Patten on state RT 159, it starts out rural and gets downright desolated until you reach the park. Watch out for wildlife, I have seen moose, bear and deer and they regard the road as theirs. Of great importance is don't trust a GPS car nav, it will bring your to the park headquarters in Millinocket The road database used by most GPS companies is very bad for that area and the GPS may have you taking roads that haven't been there for many years. Add it all up and it takes most folks 5 to 6 hours from Portland as most folks stop for lunch.

    I wouldn't recommend the alternative of driving to the south gate and driving through the park. The road is narrow with no shoulders and at best 30 mph is about all you will dare drive. There are very few views. It takes longer than driving around the park.

    The classic hiking route in this area is the Traveler Loop out of South Branch Pond. I dont recommend it for someone new to the park and the style of hiking, its a very long day with lots of ups and downs. You can get a good taste of it by hiking up the North Ridge to North Traveler, even it you dont summit there are plenty of great views south to Katahdin along the way . You will want to visit the South Branch Ponds no matter what and expect you will want to make reservations after you visit there. One thing to keep in mind is that if the ranger is in the mood, he can let you swap campsites if one opens unexpectedly. Lone Pines in theory will have more privacy ( I haven't been there) but south branch is the big attraction.

    A few reminders, there is no treated public water in the park. You need to treat all water, carry it in or take your chances. There is little or no cell coverage in much of the park except when you get on the higher summits (no guarantees). There is no power in the park expect for a few solar panels and DC batteries for rangers use. There are no public phones. They work on cash at the gates, no credit cards (they are doing a trial at the south gate) but bring some cash. If you need ice for the cooler I would guess there is ice at the Irving gas station in Sherman. There may be spot in Patten.

  14. #14

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    I find that travel time from our house to either side runs about the same in terms of driving time. Matagamon gate is more miles, but almost all of it is on paved roads and you only have a few miles of park road to reach your trailheads. Coming in from the south you have a long drive on the park road which really slows you down so it all seems about the same to me. We live a bit north of Portland and generally allow 4 hours for the drive, including a stop to eat a picnic lunch at the rest stop before getting off I95, checking in at the gate, reaching the trailhead and getting packs on. As for hike time to Long Pond I can't help you. Alone I walk into the park since I have to leave my scoot outside and go over Horse Mtn. On family trips our daughter was pretty young and we went slow. It is only a few miles so shouldn't take very long at all assuming able bodied adults.

    If you do both nights at LPP you can day hike out to the Fowlers or even do Barrel Ridge which has a nice view of Traveler Mtn and some of the surrounding area. This is a nice quiet part of the park because it is far from Katahdin and there are no campgrounds, only individual sites. If you do want campgrounds you can find one at South Branch as PB has mentioned and Trout Brook also has a large number of tent sites. If you want to see Katahdin you'll want to stop at the pull out on Rt 11 between Stacyville and Patten because you won't see it from within that part of the park.

    PB is very correct that you need to be prepared to take care of yourselves up there as you will be truly on your own. Filter your water and hang your food to be safe. Keep your dry stuff dry and don't create any garbage you don't want to carry, because you need to pack everything out.
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