Baxter State Park: 200,000 Acres of Wilderness Wonder
Please be sure to check the park’s website for the latest updates on health and safety measures currently in effect.
When Maine Gov. Percival P. Baxter decided to give his state a new park, he wanted something different.
First, he went big. In 1930, Baxter bought almost 6,000 acres of northern Maine woods, streams, rivers and peaks—including Katahdin, Maine’s tallest mountain. Until 1962, the Governor continued to buy land in the region and give it to the state. What is now Baxter State Park contains 209,644 acres. In that vast landscape are streams, ponds and lakes, over 40 peaks and ridges besides Katahdin, more than 215 miles of hiking trails, 10 campgrounds and numerous backcountry camping sites.
But what makes Baxter’s park unusual is not just the vastness of his gift, it’s the strength of his vision for it. From the start, Baxter declared that this new park be kept forever wild, designed, in his words, “for those who love nature and are willing to walk and make an effort to get close to nature.” Baxter State Park has followed those wishes closely from the start. Visiting Baxter is a bracing wilderness experience, not your standard park visit.
Baxter’s dirt roads are narrow. Park facilities are described by the Friends of Baxter State Park as “rustic and without electricity.” Want a hot shower? Take it at home; there are no showers, only outhouses. If you come, bring your own water or plan to treat the water available. In fact, plan to bring everything—food, clothing, sleeping and cooking gear, etc. And when it’s time to head for home, pick up all your garbage and take it with you.
Perhaps the greatest challenge, one that draws many each year, comes from 5,267 ft. Katahdin, named by the Penobscot people and dubbed a National Natural Landmark by the federal government. Ascending this granite giant means an elevation gain of around 4,000 feet. This strenuous, and sometimes technical, climb takes an average of eight to 12 hours. The park offers specific guidelines, trail maps, and advice on what to expect when hiking in the park and on the peak.
Yet despite its many challenges, Baxter has legions of fans. The park is like no other on the East Coast. Visitors enjoy unparalleled solitude. They can sleep with only the sounds of the wind, the birds and the rustle of trees. And they stand a good chance of seeing many of the animals of Maine, including moose, black bear, white-tailed deer and lynx.
Katahdin’s weathered granite has drawn traditional rock climbers for decades. It takes dedication to enjoy. Rock climbing in the Park is centered around the Chimney Pond area—a two-hour hike from the roadside. Climbers should register with the ranger at Chimney Pond, who keeps climbing route information. Read the park’s technical rock-climbing guidelines.
Day Hikes and Walks
As Baxter intended, the park is great for walkers and not just for those seeking gut-busting experiences. There are plenty of gentler pathways, especially around park ponds and waterways.
While camping in the park is decidedly old-school, visitors can choose from both campgrounds and remote campsites for backpackers. Depending on which spot they choose, they’ll find bunkhouses, cabins, lean-tos and tent sites. Camping requires a reservation. Savvy visitors reserve prime spots months in advance.
Canoes & Kayaks
Paddling is popular throughout the park. Canoes and kayaks are available for rent at pondside campgrounds in the Park and at most backcountry ponds with trail access. Most backcountry lean-tos on a lake or pond have a dedicated canoe for campers staying at the site.
Fishing & Hunting
Baxter is full of water. There are plenty of ponds to boating and fishing and streams abound. Check the Maine Dept. of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife for fishing rules. Hunting is also allowed in about 25% of the park.