Hundreds of miles of maintained foot trails that reach far into the scenic and remote backcountry and an excellent system of shelters and tent sites across Maine offer backpackers plenty of possibilities for exploration on foot for several days to a week or more. Hikers equipped with a pack load of gear really can “get away from it all” in the Maine woods, traveling over a wide variety of terrain where moose, deer, eagles and loons are plentiful, and quiet and solitude are easy to find.
The Grafton Loop Trail circumnavigates the rugged Grafton Notch on a spectacular 40-mile route through the Mahoosuc Mountains that includes a trek over 4,180-foot Old Speck, Maine’s fourth highest peak. The trail is well-suited to overnight and weekend hikes, while backpackers planning to travel the entire distance can spend 4 to 5 days doing so. Primitive campsites and several shelters en route provide convenient stopping points, complete with fire rings and water sources.
The wilderness backcountry of Baxter State Park is the premier attraction for backpackers wanting to get far away from civilization. An extensive 215-mile trail system leads deep into the park to wild and scenic places like Davis Pond, Russell Pond and Wassataquoik Lake. East of South Branch Pond a network of trails access the beautiful Fowler Ponds area. At the north end of the park the Freezeout Trail traces an old logging road and forms the backbone of a 35-mile route of ponds, streams and waterfalls. Three sided lean-tos along the way provide comfortable shelter from the elements.
The Maine section of the Appalachian Trail stretches 267 miles from the Mahoosuc Mountains to the summit of Mount Katahdin and offers almost limitless backpacking possibilities for an overnight camping trip, a weekend, or a week or more. Log shelters and simple tent sites provide respite along the trail and places to meet other trail walkers. The high alpine terrain of the Bigelow Range and Saddleback are popular backpacking destinations. North of the village of Monson the famed “100-Mile Wilderness” section of trail traverses the rugged Barren-Chairback and Whitecap Ranges before passing a series of remote lakes and ponds.
The lightly-used trail systems of the Maine Bureau of Parks and Lands Public Reserved Lands offer incredible backcountry trekking opportunities. The Debsconeag Backcountry and Turtle Ridge Trail in and around Nahmakanta Lake lead hikers across scenic ridges and past quiet ponds where moose are common. At Cutler Coast backpackers can tackle the magnificent Bold Coast Trail which wends along the ocean for four miles. Three primitive cliff-top campsites allow hikers to spend the night in sight of the ocean swells, lulled to sleep by the rhythmic sounds of the Little River buoy.
The International Appalachian Trail extends 1,900 miles from Baxter State Park to the northern tip of Newfoundland in Canada. There are 130 miles of trail route available to backpackers on the Maine section, allowing plenty of opportunities for long-distance walking. The traverse of long ridge Mars Hill on the international border is a highlight with extensive views in every direction.
The Maine section of the White Mountain National Forest, centered around Evans Notch, offers backpackers a variety of primitive hiking experiences, including the only federally designated wilderness area in the state. The 12,000-acre Caribou-Speckled Mountain Wilderness provides 25 miles of hiking on 12 trails.
A number of outfitters offer guided backpacking trips into the Maine woods. Going with an experienced guide is a great way to experience the best our backcountry has to offer. And it’s easy, too, when gear, food and transportation are provided.