There’s no question that Maine should be at the top of anyone’s vacation destination bucket list. Home to hip and happening cities like Portland—with its cobblestone-lined streets, boutique stores, craft brewpubs, and seafood shacks—as well as quaint little adventure towns like Bar Harbor—the gateway to Acadia National Park—it’s the type of state where arts, culture, outdoors, and lifestyle all blend together; where you can have your lobster mac and cheese and eat it too; and where a cold craft micro-brew is never far away after a long day spent logging miles and bagging peaks.
And speaking of trail miles and peak-bagging, there’s no shortage of either in Maine. From the rugged, wild beauty of Baxter State Park, to the coastal mountains of Acadia, the state is simply loaded with some of the best hiking trails in the Northeast. So, if you’re planning a late summer trip or a leaf-peeping tour in the fall, here are some hikes that should be on your radar.
1. Mt. Katahdin via the Knife Edge Trail
Mount Katahdin, the crown jewel of Maine’s Baxter State Park and the famed northern terminus of the Appalachian Trail, has a way of testing one’s fear of heights, with an impressive set of adrenaline pumping footpaths spiraling and scrambling up to its rocky summit.
The Knife Edge Trail, in particular, is a 1.1-mile scramble that stretches from Pamola, across Chimney and South Peaks, to Baxter Peak. Not technically a “footpath”, this notoriously slim passageway features frighteningly steep drop-offs on either side, and what it lacks in distance, it more than makes up for in beauty and adrenaline-inducing excitement.
While this may sound daunting, it’s doable, and totally worth it. Arguably one of the most spectacular hikes in the East—and the in the country—the serrated passageway looks out over some of the state’s most breathtaking views, fluctuating with boulders and jagged ascents along the way.
After descending from Pamola Peak, you’ll journey along a steep segment nicknamed “the Chimney”—a climb with startling 30-foot drops into a deep gulley, without access to metal rungs or ropes. At the Chimney, you’ll see stunning views across Katahdin, down into the South Basin—and by “down”, we mean a literal drop, straight down. From here, there is another steep descent to the base of South Peak, before continuing on to another climb. Once you’ve reached the summit, the trail turns northwest for a slim walk that dismisses at Baxter Peak.
Please note that accessing the Knife Edge Trail is a feat in itself. From the west of Katahdin, once can ascend via the Hunt Trail or Abol Trail. There are various options via Chimney Pond, Cathedral, Saddle Trail and more. Although the Saddle Trail is less difficult than others, it is fairly roundabout. We suggest heading out from the Roaring Brook Campground, hiking via the Hunt or Abol Trail.
2. Acadia Mountain Trail
Though short in distance, the 2.8-mile Acadia Mountain Trail is considered by some guidebooks to be quite strenuous, with several steep climbs and technical portions on frequently slippery portions of exposed granite rock. But if you’re in relatively good shape, you shouldn’t any issues going up… it’s coming down that can be hard on the knees. However, with stunning views of Somes Sound, Echo Lake, Cranberry Isles and Southwest Harbor, it’s one of Acadia’s most popular hikes. Be prepared for a 700-foot steady climb and several difficult scrambles; but know that the fight is worth the reward. The view from the top is simply incredible. For a longer option, you can link up with the St. Sauveur Trail to make it a 3.8-mile loop which tacks on the summit of St. Sauveur Mountain as well.
3. Appalachian Trail through Mahoosuc Notch
For many, this portion of “trail” (if you can call it that) is considered the slowest, most difficult mile along the entire 2,200-mile Appalachian Trail. Located in Western Maine, this deep, glacier carved gap in the Mahoosuc Range features a boulder-strewn obstacle course that hikers are forced to scramble over in any which way they can.
Though water rumbles beneath the trail’s boulders, it is rarely seen; and even on the sunniest of days, the trail remains cool and damp, hiding tucked away deposits of snow and ice and featuring certain air pockets that blast you like a natural AC unit. In the best conditions, this particular route is challenging; and even the most fit of backpackers consider it an honor to merely complete its passage.
(Note: the Notch is a dead zone for water bottles and climbing poles. Be sure your equipment is safely and securely stored, and that you always have waterproof gear on hand for inevitable rainfall and capricious weather.)
4. Cadillac Mountain, Bar Harbor
The Cadillac Mountain North Ridge Trail is a 4.4-mile round trip out-and-back that follows historic Native American footpaths, before ascending the 1,532-foot Cadillac Mountain. As the highest point on the Atlantic coast, this pathway is fairly difficult, utilizing exposed granite cliffs for most of the way. With grand views of both land and sea—such as Bar Harbor, Frenchman Bay and more—this hike is an iconic hiking experience in the area.
If you’d like to hike further, consider arriving at Cadillac Mountain via the South Ridge Trail. This 7-mile trip also takes you to the Atlantic seaboard’s highest mountain, boasting remarkable views the entire way. And as one of the first places in the United States to receive sunlight, it’s a place of pure magic if you arrive at the summit in time for sunrise.
To reach the trailhead, travel south on US Route 3 from Bar Harbor Village. The trailhead is on the right, just after Blackwoods Campground.
5. Precipice Trail
Located about a mile north of Beehive and Sand Beach, Champlain Mountain is among the tallest peaks in Acadia. The 1.8-mile Precipice Trail courageously conquers the mountain, with its trailhead located at the Park Loop Road, roughly two miles from the entrance of Sieur de Monts. Though the trail starts out fairly easy with an official staircase and touristy greeting signs, things quickly get rugged as you enter the slopes.
You’ll soon come across a boulder test, with two awkwardly-placed iron rungs. If you feel at all unstable or weary at this point, it’s best to turn around, as things will only get wilder from here.
Eventually, you’ll come across iron rungs that zig-zag up numerous faults and cliff tables. One of the more noteworthy obstacle-like aspects is an iron ladder that inclines over a flat piece of rock, with a dizzying drop just to the right. Near the top is another set of ladders, followed by a leaning bridge, using handrails and rungs.
Among the most thrilling trails within Acadia National Park, the Precipice Trail is modeled after European Via Ferrata routes, with ample iron rungs and ladders to assist you at its technical exposed and adrenaline-pumping climbs. Though no climbing equipment is needed, it’s important to take caution and be prepared for dramatic drop-offs. Like many of these hikes, if you’re scared of heights, this may not be the hike for you. Similarly, you won’t want hiking poles, because much of the trail will require use of hands.
(Note: The trail sometimes closes to protect returning endangered peregrine falcons, so be sure to check with the park system before arrival.)
6. Bigelow Range via Appalachian Trail
This 16.3-mile hike takes you along ridges, in a limited alpine environment. East of Stratton, between Flagstaff Lake and Maine Routes 16 and 27, near Sugarloaf Mountain Ski Area, this long day-hike traverses the famed Bigelow Range, including the summit to West Peak.
If you’re looking for a full day of hiking, with quad-burning challenges, supreme beauty, and minimal crowds, this hike is your winner. Though not for the faint of heart, this challenging pathway connects a string of peaks, with immaculate views of the White Mountains throughout its entirety.
Many consider this particular hike the second-best in Maine, with Katahdin as the top choice. And at one point, Backpacker Magazine dubbed it one of the top 10 hardest day-hikes in America.
7. Table Rock
This 2.5-miler gains 950 feet, starting at the Grafton Notch State Park . Not quite a summit, Table Rock is considered a prime vista point on Bald Pate Mountain. To exit Table Rock, hikers must climb metal bar steps, or continue onto the AT portion, meandering down mountains and passed intriguing caves. For those looking for an easier hike, this is a great option, still offering incredible views.
With lovely lookouts to Speck Mountain, the Eyebrow, and Grafton Notch, this is a great option for less-experienced hikers. That said, be careful at the plateau’s “summit”, where things can be steep.
To extend your trip, continue on to Baldpate Mountain, a 5.8 to 7.6 mile round-trip. Located beyond the Table Rock Trail in the Mahoosuc Public area, this particular journey includes two summits with awesome views. Hiking to West Peak is 5.8 miles, and continuing to East Peak is another mile.
To access the trailhead for all options, you’ll come from intersection of US Route 2 and ME Route 26 in Newry, following Route 26 for about 12 miles, until the AT crosses the road. Coming from US Route 2, the trailhead and parking area are on the left.
8. Gorham Mountain
One of the most popular trails in Acadian National Park, the 1.8-mile Gorham Mountain Trail takes you along the shore of Newport Cove, past Thunder Hole, and over the cliffs of Gorham Mountain. Once you’ve reached the shores of Sand Beach you’ll be beyond ready to take a dip in the ocean.
This popular trail includes a 525-foot summit, with granite outcroppings, lovely views, and encounters with massive fields of wildflowers.
The trailhead starts at Gorham Mountain, with a parking area located on the Park Loop Road, a short distance passed Thunder Hole. To access the trailhead, follow the Park Loop Road from Route 3 on the north side of the island, until you reach the Sand Beach parking area. Note: There is a $10 fee per car that enters the park.
9. Beehive Loop
Similar to the Precipice Trail—only much more forgiving—is the Beehive Loop . Though still not suitable for small children or those with a fear of heights, the Beehive is a much more tame hiking option than some of Maine’s other trails.
The Beehive is a majestic peak, overlooking Sand Beach, and hiking along this track is an Acadia classic. This pathway again includes granite steps, iron rungs, and handrails for the exposed scrambling segments. And the views of Sand Beach, Great Head, and surrounding areas are quite an ocular treat.
The summit at Sand Beach is a great place to relax and take in the views of the ocean’s edge as well as the layered mountains surrounding you. After taking a break, continue down the backside of the Beehive, to get higher views of Enoch and Champlain Mountains. From here, things are tame, as you descend into “The Bowl”, a gorgeous lake nestled in the mountains. After a short dip, continue back on the Bowl Trail to complete your lollipop-shaped trek.
(If you want to hike to the top of Beehive without worrying about any dangerous scrambles, hike up the family-friendly Bowl Trail, coming up from the backside of the peak.)
Featured image provided by Paul VanDerWerf
Rock/Creek’s tips for hiking in Maine:
Hiking in the north is best between August and mid-October, when the forest leaves are exploding in a kaleidoscope of sunset-colors. When hiking in late summer, especially in higher elevations, make sure you are prepared for a variety of temperatures/conditions.
- Make sure you have the appropriate clothing for venturing into the mountains. You want to have quick drying clothing so that your sweaty clothes will dry fast in case of a change in temperature.
- You’ll never regret bringing a light jacket if you happen to stay out past dusk or find yourself exposed to cooler temperatures or wind/rain.
- Wool socks are still the standard selection for hiking footwear, though some people prefer synthetic options. Cotton is not ideal in the backcountry due to it’s poor moisture management properties.
- Extendable poles are an invaluable tool if you plan on hiking long miles or steep terrain. You’ll be glad to have “four wheel drive” when things get steep or you just get tired.
- Plan out a nice lunch spot. This will ensure that you take a second to stop and really sit and enjoy the scenery.
- If you are going to be hiking past water sources, there is no need to carry a gallon of water. Instead, carry a water filter and refill as necessary. Never drink unfiltered/untreated water!
- Invest in a reliable headlamp that never leaves your pack. Make sure the batteries are charged! You’ll eventually be glad you did.
- Pack a first aid kit capable of treating a variety of issues you may encounter while in the backcountry; blisters, cuts/scrapes, stings, and common aches/pains.
- Leave a note telling where you are going, which trails you will be hiking, which trail head you have parked at, who you are with, and when you expect to be back.
- No matter how many times you have been on a trail, it’s a great idea to carry a map.
- Take your phone and either turn it off or put it on airplane mode to conserve battery life. Put your phone in a zip lock bag or a waterproof container. If you really want to get fancy, invest in a Spot.
For more helpful advice, come by one of our locations, or give us a call at 1-888-707-6708 (Toll Free). Helping people get outside is what we love to do!