QUICK TRAIL FACTS
- Preserve Size: 36,000 acres
- Trail Mileage: 12-mile loop
- Pets: yes
- Difficulty: challenging
- Sights: high, open summits, alpine ponds
Map shows Bigelow Preserve trails (except for Safford Brook Trail.) The Avery-West-Horns loop is marked in red.
Based on the numbers of people hiking this 12-mile loop on a beautiful Saturday in July, it is probably the most popular hike in the state-run Bigelow Preserve. It doesn’t hurt that you can summit four peaks in one day. Also, it’s easy to get to the trailhead—from Route 27 you just drive 1.6 miles down the fairly well-maintained dirt Stratton Brook Pond Road to the end where there is a large parking lot that fills early on the weekends. There is a large trailhead kiosk here. Here’s a link to the great state map.
This is just one loop of several possible ones you can do in Bigelow Preserve. The complete Range Trial that traverses the preserve and all six peaks is almost 19.5 miles long. (Two other great day hikes are up Cranberry Peak and also up Little Bigelow.) It is mostly wooded (much of it mossy and cool), except when you ascend its six open, rocky summits—each is which has stunning views. There are two ponds tucked in between sharp peaks—Cranberry and Horns ponds—and many campsites, including a large camping area near Horns Pond.
The hike to Avery Peak, West Peak, and the Horns starts on the Fire Warden Trail, which heads north from the parking area and is marked with a Maine Huts and Trails sign to distinguish it from the other dirt road leaving the parking lot. The trail remains a wide track all the way to Stratton Brook Pond and a bit beyond, before it turns into a narrower footpath for the remainder of the hike.
The trail climbs gradually and meets Horns Pond Trail at 2.1 miles. You can certainly do the loop clockwise—Horns Pond to West Peak to Avery and down the Fire Wardens Trail. I think it is equally difficult? But we continued straight. The next 1.4 miles on the Fire Warden Trail becomes more arduous, and as you get higher, you must conquer a seemingly endless and very steep rock staircase. At 3.5 miles, you reach the Bigelow Range Trail/Appalachian Trail. Here you can turn right and climb a steep and rock-strewn .4 miles to the 4,088-ft Avery Peak, which has a nice stone wind block (the base of an old fire tower.)
Turn back the way you came to summit West Peak (4,145-feet), which is .7 miles from Avery Peak. Very beautiful. From here, it’s a bit more than 2 miles to South Horn. You can also hike .2 miles out of your way to summit North Horn (another beauty!), before you head down the steep .6-mile descent to the idyllic Horns Pond. There is a short trail that will take you to the far side of the pond, which is a quieter and lovely place to swim! There is also a large camping area near the pond.
Hike another .2-miles to the intersection with Horns Pond Trail, which felt less steep than the Fire Warden Trail. But it’s always harder to asses this when you are climbing down! You’ll reached Fire Wardens Trail at 2.3 miles. Turn right and walk the fairly flat 2.1 miles back to your car.
Note: In mid-to-late July, the trail was often muddy and wet.
Directions: From the access road to Sugarloaf, drive 3.2 miles to the fairly well-maintained gravel Stratton Brook Pond Road. You’ll cross the Appalachian Trail at .9 miles, and reach the end of the dirt road at slightly more than 1.5 miles, where you’ll see a trailhead kiosk.