Burnt Mountain, Baxter State Park

For relatively little effort (for this park at least!), you can hike to an outstanding view of Baxter’s peaks and valleys.

The 1.3-mile trail follows a wide path to the 1,810-foot summit, along a weathered old road to the former fire tower that stood on the now view-less peak. (All that remains of this structure are the concrete feet.) The climb is fairly gradual until the final 0.25-mile push to the summit, when it gets a bit steeper. After arriving at the remains of the tower, the path continues a hundred yards or so beyond it to an open rock ledge with incredible views.

Here’s a great hiking resource to Baxter State Park, with lots of maps.

Directions: From the Matagamon Gate, the trail head is about 13.7 miles down the Park Tote Road. The trailhead and small parking area is on the left.

Trout Brook Farm Campground Trails, 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; Five Ponds Trail in olive green; Horse Mountain trail in purple; Trout Brook Mountain in magenta; Fowler Brook Trail (drawn by me, not a GPS, in black). See more about South Branch Pond Campground trails.

Trout Brook Mountain — A relatively small but quite steep mountain with beautiful southerly views from the ridge near the summit.

Horse Mountain — A rare find in Baxter State Park: a relatively easy hike to glorious views. It’s about 1.6 miles to the Eastern Spur Overlook if you leave from the trail head off Park Tote Road; it’s roughly 5 miles to the view from the parking area closer to Trout Brook Farm Campground. Both ways are moderate climbs.

Middle Fowler Pond Trail to Barrel (Barrell?) Ridge — From Trout Brook Farm Campground, it’s roughly 5 miles to ridge’s summit. (Broken down, that’s 3.8 relatively flat miles to Middle Fowler Pond and to the steep 1.2 mile-path up to the peak.) Middle Fowler Pond, on the northern end, is a particularly good place to swim, with sunny ledges edging the clear waters of the pond.

Five Ponds Trail — This trail forms a 6.1-mile loop from the trail head near Trout Brook Farm Campground. While it is mostly flat, the trial is rough and rocky at times. The 0.2-mile section bisecting Long Pond is the high point. If they are unoccupied, check out the remote camping sites on Long Pond.

Fowler Brook Trail — I’ve got this drawn on my map but I ran out of time to hike it on my recent trip to this section of the park. It looks like it takes you to another lovely remote pond, Lower Fowler, with two camping sites.

And here’s a great hiking resource (with lots of maps!) to Baxter State Park.

Directions: Most of these trails leave from the parking area near Trout Brook Campground, about 2.5 miles from Matagamon Gate. Horse Mountain can also be accessed from a trail head about a half mile from Matagamon Gate, on the left.

Traveler Mountains Loop, Baxter State Park

Map shows trails near South Branch Pond and Trout Brook Farm campgrounds. Traveler Loop in blue.

When we hiked this 10.6-mile loop in mid October, the wind gusts on the exposed ridge almost knocked us off our feet. And the wind chill was hovering around zero, according to the ranger. I guess it’s all part of the adventure. The loop includes two high summits: North Traveler and Traveler mountains, respectively 3,144 ft and 3,541 ft.

The loop that connects them is a very popular hike in the northern part of Baxter State Park: it is rugged, tough, and exhilarating. But be prepared for a long day, anywhere between six and twelve hours, and potentially extreme conditions on the exposed peaks and ridges. When the wind is blowing, it’s nice that the trail dips into patches of scruffy forest every periodically, giving hikers breaks from being buffeted about.

The park recommends hikers do the loop counter clockwise, to get the arduous and steep ascent up Traveler Mountain over first. If you do this, you begin your hike along Upper South Branch Pond, on the Pogy Notch Trail. At 1.5 miles, you take a left onto the Center Ridge Trail to begin your ascent; the change is dramatic from flat path to what feels disconcertingly like a near vertical climb!

Throughout a lot of the hike above tree line, the path crosses rock fields that require nimbly stepping from stone to jagged stone. You need to have pretty good balance—walking sticks might help.

If you don’t want to do the whole loop, you can chug up a steep 0.5 mile from South Branch Pond Campground to a pretty overlook on the way up to North Traveler’s summit (3,152 ft.). The length to N. Traveler summit is about 2.8 miles one way from the campground.

Note: Wikipedia says the Travelers got their names from the loggers who used to drive trees down the East Branch of the Penobscot River, because the peaks could be seen at many points along the river, seemingly moving with the men.

Undercover Hiker has a vivid account of this walk and what to expect. And here’s a great hiking resource to Baxter State Park, with lots of maps.

Directions: The trail begins at the eastern end of the South Branch Pond Campground. You can park in the general lot for the campground if you’re not staying there, and walk down the campground road.

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!

Here’s a great hiking resource to Baxter State Park.

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.

Horse Mountain, Baxter State Park

Map shows trails near South Branch Pond and Trout Brook Farm campgrounds. Horse Mountain trail in purple.

Some might say there are no easy hikes in Baxter State Park, but this one I think proves the exception to the rule! (That and Burnt Mountain, Barrel Ridge Mountain, and Sentinel Mountain….so maybe the rule is void.)

From the Park Tote Road, you hike up an old fire tower trail for 1.2 miles to a 0.4-mile side trail to the East Spur Overlook, the only view from the mountain. And it is glorious!

If you want to continue to the nearby albeit treeless 1,589-foot peak, return to the main trail and continue another 0.1 miles to a second side trail to your right that leads you up, in 0.3 miles, to the top. You’ll see the concrete feet of the former tower.

You can also access Horse Mountain from Trout Brook Farm Campground by taking the Five Ponds Trail. This is a much longer (it’s about 4.3 miles one way to the intersection with the spur trail) but still relatively easy hike, and you get to pass the beautiful Billfish Pond. For the first 3.3 miles, it’s mostly flat (albeit rocky!), and even the final 1.0 mile push to the top is not very steep.

Note: There is a very steep side trail off the Horse Mountain Trail to what is known as the Billfish Pond Gorge. If you’re too tired to hike down and back up, feel free to skip it; it isn’t the most impressive site I’ve seen. But the trail does take you close to the pond’s edge, which is nice. The gorge is marked with a sign on the top of a rocky ledge, letting you know when you’ve reached the end of the trail.)

Directions: To hike up the shortest route, 1.6 miles, start at the parking area and trail head about 0.5 miles from Matagamon Gate on your left. If you opt to go the longer way, you pick up the trail from the parking area and trail head near Trout Brook Farm Campground, 2.5 miles from the Gate on the left.

Trout Brook Mountain, Baxter State Park

Map shows trails near South Branch Pond and Trout Brook Farm campgrounds. Trout Brook Mountain in magenta.

For me, this was a deceptively difficult mountain (1,767 feet) — but worth the effort! The views from the summit are good; the views of North Traveler and Traveler Mountain from the ridge just south of the summit are amazing.

From Trout Brook Farm Campground, the trail begins along the Five Ponds Trail (old maps show the Trout Brook Mountain trail starting directly from the parking area, but it has been rerouted).

Soon you have a choice of taking a right to start your 1.3-mile ascent up the mountain and doing the loop counter-clockwise, or continuing on the flat (but rock-strewn) Five Ponds Trail. If you go up counter-clockwise, you’ll reach a few open areas with views of Grand Lake Matagamon and the vast marsh.

Both ascents, from either side of the loop, are steep. I recommend doing the loop counter clockwise, so you reach the summit first and the ridge with marvelous views soon after.

Here’s a great hiking resource to Baxter State Park.

Directions: The trail leaves from the parking area near Trout Brook Campground, 2.5 miles from Matagamon Gate.

South Branch and Black Cat Mountains, Baxter State Park

Map shows trails near South Branch Pond and Trout Brook Farm campgrounds. South Branch Mountain trail in orange.

This hike looks more benign than it actually is as you’re gazing up at it from the ponds below. The other important thing to know about this hike is there are no views from South Branch Mountain’s 2,630-foot summit, the one closest to the campground. But the views from the neighboring 2,611-foot peak of Black Cat Mountain more than make up for this! They’re great, especially if you walk about 100 feet south of the summit, to an open knob with beautiful views of Traveler Mountain and Mount Katahdin, and all the peaks and valleys between them.

Leaving the campground and heading up South Branch Mountain, you start your hike by crossing a little brook. For us, that meant taking off our shoes and socks, since the water was running quickly over the stepping stones. The trail head is to the right of the beach, if you’re looking out over Lower South Branch Pond.

After following the brook for a bit, the trail climbs steadily, and at times, steeply. There are a few places you get a break in the trees for views to the north. You’ll reach the wooded summit at 2.0 miles, before heading down into a saddle and then up steeply for 0.5 miles to Black Cat Mountain’s summit. Continue another 100 feet for the best views!

You can continue down the 1.9-mile steep path from Black Cat Mountain to Upper South Branch Pond. After you pass the remote camping site, you’ll walk along bog bridges and past a small marsh to the intersection with Pogy Notch Trail. Turn left and you have a flat and pretty 2-mile walk back to the campground.

And here’s a great hiking resource to Baxter State Park.

Directions: One end of this loop trail starts near the ranger station of South Branch Pond Campground, at the right end of the beach. The other end of the trail comes out at the eastern end of the campground.

Mt. O-J-I, Baxter State Park

The roughly 4-mile trail up the 3,434-foot Mt. O-J-I is part of a longer traverse connecting the peaks of Mt. Coe and The Brothers. We were content to just climb to the top of O-J-I on an autumn day with heavy clouds that at times shrouded the tops of nearby mountains, including our own. (The mountain is named for three once-prominent rock slides that seemed to form the letters O, J, and I. But this rock alphabet was altered in a 1930s hurricane.)

The trail up the mountain begins gently, crossing a few wet patches and bog bridges, and gradually climbs to an intersection at 2.7 miles with a short .2-mile climb to West Peak. Don’t miss the overlook! The views are great from the open-air rocks that form a comfortable place to sit.

From this point, the ridge and Old Jay Rock is another 0.8 miles and the steepest section of the hike. From the rock, the viewless summit is another 0.5. (That’s what the park sign says at least: my GPS had a different measurement—that the summit was about 1.5 miles away from the junction with the overlook spur.)

The half mile between Old Jay Eye Rock (OJI?!) and the viewless summit takes you along an open ridge with astonishing views and short spruce trees. The summit itself is a let down, but if you continue another 0.1 miles on the trail, you’ll reach a ledge with views of Katahdin (not that we could see it through the mist!).

In the last half-mile stretch of the hike, after you climb above the tree line, there are a couple of tricky climbs up boulders, and one dramatic squeeze through a crack in the ledge.

Here’s a great hiking resource to Baxter State Park.

Directions: From the Togue Pond Gatehouse in Baxter State Park, the trail head is 11 miles along the Park Tote Road. Park right before the Foster Field campground. The trailhead is on the right.

South Branch Pond Campground trails, Baxter State Park

Map shows trails near South Branch Pond and Trout Brook Farm campgrounds. Traveler Loop in blue; South Branch Mountain trail in orange; Ledges Trail in red; Howe Brook Trail in yellow; South Branch Falls trail in pink. See Trout Brook Farm Campground trails.

It it enough to just hang out at the campground, and possibly paddle around Lower and Upper South Branch ponds on one of the park’s canoes or kayaks, to be immersed in this area’s beauty. But this is a hiking guide, so I really recommend getting out on the several trails that fan out from the campground! Several of them are super for young kids or painful knees/hips/ankles. There are also longer, very scenic ones for more experienced hikers.

Traveler Mountains Loop — A very tough 10.6-mile loop, with fantastic views and hard hiking!

South Branch and Black Cat mountains — An arduous hike, but less challenging than the Travelers Loop, on the other side of Lower South Branch Pond. Lovely views from Black Cat summit and ridge.

Barrel Ridge — A relatively easy hike, with a nice summit about 3.3 miles from the campground. The final 0.3-mile spur to the top is the steepest section.

Ledges Trail — This 0.7 trail has a gentle climb to a ledge with views over Upper South Branch Pond, and the tiniest peek of Lower South Branch Pond. It is a great one for kids.

Howe Brook Trail — Another super trail for children, as it is relatively short and easy. From the campsite, you follow Pogy Notch Trail along the edge of Upper South Branch Pond for about 1 mile before turning inland. From this point, it is roughly .3 miles to the first pool with clean, clear, deep water. Two or three other pools and chutes worth visiting are just a bit farther along the trail. Then the path, while still lovely, becomes slightly less spectacular, until you emerge at 2.8 miles at the tall waterfall and pools below it.

South Branch Falls — Another kid-friendly hike! The .5-mile trail leaves from the access road to the South Branch Ponds Campground. The walking is easy, until the final few feet where the trail gets just a touch steeper as you descend to the falls. Actually, the trail emerges above the falls, which is nice change from many waterfall hikes. You’ll then cross a large shoulder of a boulder to make your way down to the crystalline aquamarine pool below the falls.

Here’s a great resource for hiking in Baxter State Park.

Directions: From Matagamon Gate, drive almost 6 miles to the entry road to the campground, on your left. Go 2.3 miles to the general parking area. The ranger’s station and pond beach is just a bit farther in.

Sentinel Mountain, Baxter State Park

Sentinel Mountain trail in yellow.

The hike to the 1,842-ft. mountain is approximately 2.8 miles one way from Kidney Pond. From the trail head, the trail to Sentinel Mountain winds around Kidney Pond for ~0.5 miles before heading off to the right (south). This section around the pond, while flat, is quite rock-strewn (it’s fun for kids to jump from rock to rock). There are some great views over the pond.

Once you make the turn to the mountain, you walk 2.3 miles through forest and over bog bridges. The final 0.5 miles to the summit is up a steeper pitch, until you reach the .6-mile relatively easy loop around this small but magnificent mountain. There are views in every direction. Do the loop — and then if you have time, do it again! It’s amazing. One ledge is called Sunset Ledge, and I imagine they’re wonderful from here.

Here’s a great hiking resource to Baxter State Park.

Directions: One place to catch the trail up Sentinel is from the parking for the Kidney Pond cabins. From Togue Gatehouse, drive 11 miles west along the Park Tote Road. You’ll see a sign for Kidney Pond on your left, and the drive in is about a mile. You can also hike Sentinel Mountain from Daicey Pond, the road for which is slightly before Kidney Pond, again on the lefthand side of the Park Tote Road. The hike is a little longer from Daicey Pond, all told about 3.5 miles one way.