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1-minute hike: Katahdin’s Hunt Trail in Baxter State Park

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Difficulty: Very strenuous. The trail is 5.2 miles, one-way, and has an elevation gain 4,188 feet. The trail is extremely steep while traveling along Hunt Spur, a narrow, rocky ridge on the west side of the mountain. Many sections on the spur require hand-over-foot climbing. A few metal rungs embedded in rocks help hikers navigate sections where there aren’t any natural handholds and footholds in the boulders.

How to get there: Travel on I-95 to Exit 244. Turn west on Route 157 and travel through Medway, East Millinocket and Millinocket. Bear right at the three-way intersection after the second traffic light in downtown Millinocket. Bear left at the next “Y” intersection, staying on the main road. Drive approximately 14 miles to Togue Pond Gatehouse, the south entrance of Baxter State Park.

After checking in at the gatehouse, veer left and drive about 7 miles to Katahdin Stream Campground where there is limited day use parking. From the parking lot, signs will direct you up a gravel drive to the trailhead.

Bangor Daily News photo/Aislinn Sarnacki
HUNT TRAIL — The Hunt Trail traces the edge of a ridge on the west side of Mount Katahdin in Baxter State Park known as Hunt Spur.

Information: Hunt Trail is one of several hiking trails that lead to the top of Katahdin, Maine’s tallest mountain, in Baxter State Park. Measuring 5.2 miles, the trail climbs a dramatic ridge known as the Hunt Spur then crosses Katahin’s scenic tablelands before ending at Baxter Peak.

The trail is also the northernmost section of the Appalachian Trail, a 2,190-mile footpath that spans from Georgia to Maine. For this reason, it’s marked in white blazes while the other trails in Baxter State Park are marked with blue.

Starting at Katahdin Stream Campground, Hunt Trail travels gradually uphill through a beautiful mixed forest as it parallels Katahdin Stream. This relatively flat section of the hike is a great time to warm up and get your heart pumping before the actual climb.

At 1.1 mile, The Owl Trail — which leads to the summit of a mountain called The Owl — branches off to the left. Continuing on the Hunt Trail, you’ll crosses Katahdin Stream on a scenic footbridge. After the bridge are two wooden benches and an outhouse (the last that will be available on the hike).

Past this little rest area, the trail travels up a steep slope of exposed bedrock and tangled tree roots before reaching a viewpoint of Katahdin Stream Falls (at 1.2 mile). From there, the trail continues to climb under the shelter of a thick forest canopy and becomes increasingly rocky and steep. Some areas of the trail may be saturated with water, which runs down the mountain in rivulets. There’s also a long rock staircase in this part of the hike. It’s made up of more than 400 granite steps (I counted).

As you gain elevation, the rocks on the trail become larger and you’ll need to use your hands to boost yourself up in many places. At 2.7 mile, you’ll pass by a “cave” formed by two large boulders leaning against each other. Soon after is the first major overlook where you can sit on a large granite boulder and look out at Barren Mountain and The Owl to the north.

Past the overlook, the trail winds through stunted trees and forges past the treeline to reach the bottom of Hunt Spur about 3 miles into the hike. Traveling along the crest of the spur, the trail is especially steep in some places, requiring hand-over-foot climbing. Near the bottom of the spur are a few iron rungs embedded in the rock that serve as handholds and footholds. In this section, the white blazes that mark the trail are painted on the rocks. The trail is entirely exposed to the elements and offers stunning views of nearby mountains and ponds.

As you climb, the ridge narrows. Some describe it as being similar to Knife Edge, a famously narrow ridge that runs between Baxter and Pamola peaks. Near the top of Hunt Spur, at its narrowest point, the trail levels off a bit. This is known as The Gateway. As you walk along this fairly flat and scenic stretch of the trail, the last big hump of the ridge will loom ahead of you.

At 3.6 mile, after a final boulder scramble, the trail travels over the lip of the Tablelands, a high-elevation plateau that’s home to a number of rare and delicate alpine plants. The trail strikes east across this relatively flat area, marked with large stone piles called cairns.

At 4.2 mile, you’ll reach Thoreau Spring, a small spring named after Henry David Thoreau (1817-1862), a writer and naturalist who ascended Katahdin in 1846 and wrote about it in his book “The Maine Woods.” This spring also serves as an intersection with the Baxter Peak Cut-Off Trail and Abol Trail.

Continuing on Hunt Trail, the trail makes on final, gradual climb to Baxter Peak, the summit of Katahdin, at 5,267 feet above sea level. The summit is marked with a sign and a large stone cairn. At this point, you’ll be rewarded with a view of the Great Basin and Chimney Pond to the north, and Knife Edge and Pamola Peak to the east.

While many hikers follow Hunt Trail out and back, keep in mind that this steep trail is very challenging to descend. Some opt to descend the mountain on another trail, such as the Abol Trail or Saddle Trail. Just keep in mind that this will lead to you a different parking area — and in some cases, the other side of the mountain. You’ll need to plan transportation between trailheads.

Baxter State Park is home to 215 miles of hiking trails that visit pristine ponds, waterfalls and a number of impressive mountains. Pieced together by former Maine Gov. Percival P. Baxter between 1931 and 1962, the park covers 209,644 acres north of Millinocket.

Katahdin is the most popular mountain to climb in the park; therefore, parking lots at Katahdin trailheads usually fill up early in the day. For this reason, you may want to reserve a parking spot ahead of time. For more information, call 207-723-5140 or visit baxterstatepark.org.

Personal note: During my annual family trip to Baxter State Park, I decided to hike Katahdin with my uncle Bruce Jordan, my coworker Sam Schipani, my cousin Sara Clark and her boyfriend Lucien Knights. Starting 7 a.m. on a sunny day in late July, we followed Hunt Trail up the mountain, pointing out orange spotted mushrooms (poisonous), wild blueberries (just starting to ripen) and blossoming sheep laurel along the way.

For much of the hike, we enjoyed amazing views, but not without paying the price of exposure to the sun. Slathered in sunscreen, we navigated the boulders of Hunt Spur. With temperatures reaching the 80s and an elusive breeze, the ranger had instructed that we each carry at least 3 liters of water for our climb, and it’s a good thing we did. By the end, we were sharing the last of it.

During the hike, our group faced some unexpected challenges, including a turned ankle and difficulty navigating especially steep parts of the trail. From my experiences climbing the mountain, this isn’t at all unusual. Katahdin is a special mountain, and it requires a special type of effort to climb. Together, we got through it. No one was left behind, and all of us felt a great sense of accomplishment when we arrived back at the campground that afternoon, sore and tired, and were greeted by our family and friends.

One of my favorite parts of the hike was standing on the narrow ridge of Hunt Spur on the way down. As I looked down at The Owl bathed in the afternoon sun, a raven soared past and for a moment, I felt like I, too, was flying. Mimicking the bird, I stretched my arms out to both sides; and Sam, who was hiking behind me, let out her best raven call.

For more of Aislinn Sarnacki’s adventures, visit her blog at actoutwithaislinn.bangordailynews.com. Follow her on Twitter: @1minhikegirl. Her guidebooks “Family Friendly Hikes in Maine,” “Maine Hikes Off the Beaten Path” and “Dog-Friendly Hikes in Maine” are available at local bookstores and at Amazon.com.

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