Starting SOBO: How to Get to Mount Katahdin
You are prepped, packed, and ready to start your southbound thru-hike of the Appalachian Trail. You have researched every ounce and calorie, and you know that for the next five months you are going to be following the white blazes from the top of Katahdin all the way to the summit of Springer. No problem! Right? Wait….but how do you actually get to Katahdin? Where exactly is that first white blaze?
Mount Katahdin (pronounced “k?-TAH-d?n”) was named by the Penobscot Indians and quite literally means the “Greatest Mountain.” The northernmost 15 miles of the Appalachian Trail are located in Baxter State Park (BSP) in northern Maine. Southbound thru-hikers begin their journey at the summit of Katahdin’s Baxter Peak, which stands at 5,268 feet and is considered to be a strenuous hike of 8-12 hours with an elevation gain of 4,000 feet.
BSP opens for camping on May 15th. However, the Hunt Trail (aka the AT) has a variable opening date due to trail conditions, and is typically not open to hiking until early to mid June. In 2017, the trails to Baxter Peak opened for the season on May 27th.
Bangor, which is about an hour and a half (90 miles) away. This airport has many major car rental agencies as well as a bus station. You can also fly into Boston’s Logan airport and take the Concord Trailways bus line to Bangor airport.
Nearest bus station
Medway, which is about 20 minutes (11 miles) from Millinocket. Cyr Bus Lines run services once daily both ways between the Medway Irving Big Stop store and the Bangor airport.
If you are not flying into Bangor but want to take the bus to Medway, Concord Trailways runs transportation to Bangor from several cities around the northeast.
There is no public transportation to or from Baxter State Park.
Millinocket. The town is about half an hour (17 miles) from Baxter State Park.
Below is a list of local accommodations in Millinocket, as listed in AWOL’s AT Guide:
I cannot recommend the Appalachian Trail Lodge highly enough. I wouldn’t have wanted to start our thru-hike anywhere else. The AT Lodge is the northernmost hiker service hostel, and staying here will help to ease your nerves and answer any questions you may have before you start your journey.
They even offer a SOBO Special which includes a shuttle from Medway, a room at the hostel, breakfast, and a shuttle to Baxter.
The AT Lodge: (207) 723-4321
Maine Quest Adventures: (207) 447-5011
Bull Moose Taxi: (207) 447-8079
The facilities in Baxter State Park are rustic and the roads are unpaved. Be aware that if you are driving through the park you will be moving at a slow pace (max 20mph). Take into consideration the type of vehicle that you are driving into the park and check your gas tank before you leave Millinocket, as there is no gas station between the town and BSP.
There is a fee of $14 per non-resident car to enter the park. Entrance is tightly controlled and only a certain amount of people are allowed into the park each day, so if you are driving, it’s best to arrive as early as possible after the gate opens at 6am.
You can make a parking reservation if you are day hiking to ensure your spot, but it’s not a requirement (reservations are available for the Roaring Brook, Abol, or Katahdin Stream lots only). Starting on April 1st, Maine residents can reserve a parking spot for any day of the summer. All non-Maine residents can start reserving a parking spot two weeks prior to the reservation date. Anyone and everyone can reserve a parking spot up until 3pm the day before. Reservations are $5 and are only held until 7am. Print out a hard copy of your parking reservation to bring with you, as they did not accept mobile reservations as of 2016.
You cannot drive out of the park in the dark, and vehicular access is typically prohibited by November 1st.
Driving directions to Roaring Springs Campground from Millinocket can be found here, alternative routes listed below.
The first white blaze of the Appalachian Trail is located on the summit of Baxter Peak, which is the highest point in Maine. You are going to want to get an early start regardless of where you begin your hike; Mount Katahdin is no easy feat and you will want to have ample time so you’re not rushing or heading down in the dark.
**Before you start, you must secure an AT Hiker Permit at either Katahdin Stream Campground in Baxter Park or at the Park Headquarters in Millinocket. These permits are usually available starting in early June when the Hunt Trail opens to hiking and must be secured in person . You will be required to provide your real name, your trail name, and an emergency contact phone number. While there is no fee, they are limited in number (a total of only 3,150 thru-hiker permits will be issued in 2017).**
At 4.4 miles, the Abol Trail is the shortest route to the summit of Baxter Peak. The old trail was closed due to shifting rock conditions, but a reroute was opened in July of 2016. The trailhead for this is the Abol campground parking area.
A second option to reach Baxter peak is the 5.2 mile Hunt Trail, which is the northernmost section of the AT. For this route you start at the Katahdin Stream Campground area and follow the white blazes up the Hunt Trail to the summit of Baxter Peak, turn around, and retrace your steps back down. The majority of this trail is well above treeline, so make sure that you have plenty of sunscreen and water with you, regardless of the temperature. Hikers are welcome to leave their packs at Katahdin Stream Campground and loaner daypacks are available at the ranger’s station for no extra charge.
A third, and totally epic, option is to start your thru-hike at the Roaring Brook Campground parking area (directions in link) and take the Helon Taylor Trail to the summit of Pamola Peak. From there, you will get your first glimpse of Baxter Peak before traversing over the Knife Edge. This trail is very difficult and can be dangerous, so be aware of the constantly changing weather conditions and your surroundings.
The only trail that is currently closed for the 2017 season is the Dudley Trail.
If you have family/friends meeting you at BSP after you summit Katahdin, the hike to Katahdin Stream Falls (Mile 3.9) is a nice walk in from the Katahdin Stream parking area and a gorgeous spot for them to meet up with you (without them having to make the trek up to Baxter Peak). Keep in mind that if you are staying in Millinocket for the night after you summit Katahdin, your ride back into BSP will need to pay the $14 vehicle fee again the second day- even if they are only dropping you off.
Camping in Baxter State Park
Many hikers will reserve a campsite at either Katahdin Stream or Abol campground. You cannot camp inside Baxter State Park without a reservation, and reservations can start being made four months in advance. Maine residents get preference, and the park is typically filled to capacity during the summer. The Birches campsite (Mile 5.2) is not open to southbounders or southbound flip-floppers and camping is prohibited above treeline. There is no authorized overnight camping within BSP after October 15th.
A popular option after summiting Katahdin on Day 1 is to head back into Millinocket for the night, and then start Day 2 of your journey at the Katahdin Stream Campground parking area (Mile 5.2) the next morning…after filling up on coffee and squash donuts at the AT Cafe, of course.
Not allowed in Baxter State Park:
Pets, firewood, drones, parties larger than 12.
Leave your hiker pups at home, or call Connie McManus, at 207-723-6795 or 207-731-3111, who provides kennel service with pickup/dropoff at Abol Bridge.
*Note that Abol Campground in BSP, Abol Pines at Abol Bridge, and Abol Bridge Campground are three different entities.
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