From mile-high Katahdin, the tallest mountain in Maine, to Cadillac Mountain in Bar Harbor, where hikers can be among the first on the East Coast to glimpse the rising sun, Maine has excellent hiking opportunities for all ability levels.
While practically every part of Maine offers good hiking, in general, highland regions on the western border and in the north central part of the state have more wilderness hiking. Closer to the coast, hikes tend to be shorter and the amenities more plentiful.
Acadia National Park is perhaps Maine’s best-known hiking destination. Near the coastal town of Bar Harbor, Acadia offers a range of day hikes, including some with beautiful views of the rocky coast, all within easy reach of restaurants, campgrounds and other amenities.
About an hour and-a-half south of Acadia along U.S. Route 1, hikers will find miles of trails for all levels of experience and fitness in Camden Hills State Park, including several that offer views of Penobscot Bay and Camden Harbor. The nearby coastal villages of Camden, Lincolnville and Rockport offer plenty of restaurants and accommodations, and are worth exploring for their own sake.
Hikers looking to get farther from civilization and spend more time on the trail can visit the state’s southern border with New Hampshire near the towns of Newry and Bethel where the Appalachian Trail challenges hikers with peaks like Goose Eye, Old Speck and Bald Pate.
Baxter State Park, near Millinocket, is perhaps the state’s most storied hiking destination with more than 200,000 acres of mountains, lakes and streams featuring hundreds of miles of trails, including several that summit Mount Katahdin, the state’s highest mountain and the northern terminus of the Appalachian Trail.
Bequeathed to the people of Maine by former Maine Governor Percival Baxter, the state park is not as easy to reach as Acadia National Park or Camden Hills State Park, but it offers a wide variety of trails along with striking views and some of the state’s best wildlife spotting opportunities. Moose can often be seen along its lakes and streams, especially in the early morning hours.
Katahdin, Maine’s tallest mountain, was first made famous by Henry David Thoreau who climbed it with two companions in the 1840s and wrote about the experience in “The Maine Woods.”
Summiting Katahdin (5,267 feet high) is normally done as a day hike, with most finishing in about eight to 12 hours. Because the peak is completely exposed and the weather notoriously variable, it is vital that hikers are well prepared for the challenges of their chosen route (there are several trails up the mountain) and consult weather forecasts, as well as park rangers, before heading out.
The most challenging Katahdin trails include the Knife Edge, a mile-long, exposed section of ridge that connects Baxter Peak and Pamola Peak. The Knife Edge is extremely narrow in sections and many hikers have died here from exposure or falls, so careful planning and an up-to-date knowledge of weather conditions is vital.
For more information about Baxter State Park, follow this link.
Less well-known than Baxter State Park, but also popular with hikers is the area around the towns of Newry and Bethel, which features thousands of publicly owned acres in both New Hampshire and Maine.
The Grafton Loop Trail in Grafton Notch State Park is a 38-mile backcountry trail that connects nine scenic peaks, including Old Speck, Sunday River, Whitecap, Puzzle Mountain and East and West Baldpate. This is a challenging trail that takes about three days but can be broken down into smaller sections. This link offers a map of trails in the area.
There are more than 1,200 miles of trails in the White Mountain National Forests, located both in New Hampshire and Maine. On the New Hampshire side of the border, popular trails include the Mount Lafayette and Franconia Ridge Trail Loop, which is eight miles of strenuous hiking on a ridge that includes three peaks. The views are spectacular and there is a waterfall, but the hike is exposed for almost its entirety and it is recommended only for experienced hikers in mild weather.
Acadia National Park on Mount Desert Island is the nation’s first national park. It offers carriage trails for walking or biking, well-run campgrounds and hiking trails for all levels of competence and ambition.
On the less challenging side of the spectrum is the Ocean Trail, an uneven path over level ground that features beautiful scenery, including the famous Thunder Hole, where the collision of water and rock create spectacular sounds and sights when conditions are right.
More strenuous trails include the Cadillac Mountain North Ridge Trail, which is about 4.4 miles long and includes some steep stretches. Hikers are rewarded with spectacular views of Bar Harbor and Frenchman Bay.
Even more challenging is the Precipice Trail, which is very steep and includes some vertical sections that feature ladders and iron rungs set into the rock face. Like many Acadia National Park trails, the rewards are beautiful views of the rocky shore and islands.
Follow this link to the Acadia National Park website.
The Camden Hills State Park in Camden offers a smaller selection of hikes, but several include gorgeous views of the islands of Penobscot Bay and Camden Harbor.
The Bald Rock Trail at the Camden Hills State features some fairly steep climbing in spots but at the top the views of Penobscot Bay and islands are truly spectacular. It is rated easy to moderate according to the official park trail guide.
Also very popular is the Mount Megunticook Trail, which is considered moderate and features a rise of about 1000 feet with views of Penobscot Bay and Camden Harbor. On a clear bay, Mount Washington in New Hampshire is visible to the west. Parts of the trail are fairly strenuous.
A description of trails at Camden Hills State Park is available here.