Barrel Ridge, Baxter State Park
Map shows trails near South Branch Pond and Trout Brook Farm campgrounds. Barrel Ridge Mountain (via Middle Fowler Pond trail) in dark green.
This is the one mountain near the South Branch Pond Campground that the park ranger recommended for hikers with sore knees. (He’s a nice fellow who is good about warning hikers of the dangers they’re about to face.) And he was right — as long as you stick to the trail that leaves from the South Branch Pond Campground parking lot. (Going down the other side, on the eastern slop, the trail gets quite a bit steeper.)
The footpath to Barrel (Barrell?) Ridge—called the Middle Fowler Pond Trail—gently climbs from South Branch Campground through a beautiful birch forest for about three miles to the final 0.3-mile spur to the 2,067-foot summit. This is the only truly steep part of the hike — and it is over fast (with a few scrambles over rocks) to get you to the ledgy top with great views.
You can also access Barrel Ridge’s summit from Trout Brook Farm Campground. This is a longer hike — about six miles — and includes a steep 1.3-mile climb from Middle Fowler Pond to the summit (this figure includes the final 0.3-mile push to the top). If you go this way, and if the campsite is not occupied, take a break at the well-situated camping spot at the north end of Middle Fowler Pond. It’s one of the best remote sites in this part of the park in my opinion!
Directions: For the easier way to summit this mountain, start at the South Branch Campground parking lot. The trail head is shared with the Ledges Trail, which branches off to the left after 0.3 miles. You can also access the summit from Trout Brook Farm Campground. Start on the Five Ponds Trail (or Fowler Brook Trail, farther down the Park Tote Road) to the Middle Fowler Pond Trail, which takes you up to the mountain and over to Lower South Branch Pond.