Every time I went to Baxter State Park, we hiked one good hike either to Katahdin, Russell Pond, or other long trails. One time my daughter, son-in-law, husband, and I went to Russell Pond for a couple of days. Our loads got shifted and the food bag got left behind, but it wasn’t discovered until after we were preparing for our first evening meal after a strenuous day of hiking! We survived on snacks and water. We survived and learned our lesson: check your packs before taking a single step onto the trail.
We would take days off from strenuous hiking, go in to Sandy Stream Pond, sit on the big rock, and watch moose. I was never disappointed, as one or several will come out at almost any time during the day. We would take our car, go around the perimeter road, enjoy the views, stop at one of the waterfalls, and let the kids get cooled off in the mountain pools below the falls.
One of the craziest, scariest, and most irresponsible sights I saw was at Avalanche Field, a picnic area near one of the three entrances to Baxter State Park. Nearby was a town dump that was prone to black bear activity. As we gathered for ,lunch we saw a party of 4 teenagers standing around laughing and having fun. Unbeknownst to them, their toddler had walked away and was now at a distance, running towards a black bear, calling “Teddy bear…teddy bear.” The bear was slowly walking away from this running tiny child, until it came to a high cliff. It was trapped there, with only the toddler blocking its way. At our picnic table, we all jumped up, horrified at the scene unfolding. But we were further away even than the teenagers, who didn’t have a clue as to what was happening. A man sitting in a car closest to the situation got out of his car, ran to the toddler, scooped her up in his arms, and ran towards the picnic tables. We met him part way and told him the child belonged to the teens. The teens never seemed concerned, but the rest of us knew that child was very lucky that day.
Over the years I have been to Baxter State Park though all three entrances, coming from Greenville, Lily State Park, and Kokadjo on a private gravel road. It is slow going for many miles to Ripogenus Dam and the West Branch of the Penobscot River, but 54 miles from Greenville, you finally arrive at Abol Bridge. Then you must continue on the private Golden Road and enter the park at the Togue Pond Gate, 64 miles from Greenville. This tells you the park is surrounded by acres and miles of woods.
Another way to enter is by way of Pattern in Aroostook County, which is the northern entrance to Baxter State Park. Fuel your car in Pattern, 10 miles to Shin Pond, then Matagamon Lake, 16 miles across the bridge on the Sebois River. Continue on now 26 miles and cross the East Branch of the Penobscot River, then the Grand Lake Dam, a starting point for canoe trips down the rugged river, with many rapids and falls.
The East and West Branches of the Penobscot River combine to form one of the biggest rivers in Maine. The park is a mile beyond this dam, which is a 27-mile trip to this park entrance from the nearest small town. I have kayaked in this area of the park, and Travelor is the most well-known mountain in this area of the park. The third and the most popular park entrance is by way of Millinocket, off a major interstate, and it’s 18 miles from the park entrance: easiest, most popular, and closest to gas and supplies. Once you are in the park, you can settle down and let nature take hold.
One challenge in hiking different trails is to have a member of your hiking party volunteer to drive and meet the hikers coming down another trail at the end of a long hiking day. It takes an hour just to drive from one trail head to another, and no gas is available within the park. There are rangers at all the campgrounds and sign-in books for all hikers leaving on trails each morning.
Baxter State Park is a very strictly, carefully protected and maintained park, and therefore pristine and naturally wild and remote. For this I am glad.
(posted September 22, 2015)