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Backpacker Magazine – August 2009

Where Solitude Rules - Wilderness Hideaways

Lose yourself in a private paradise the crowds have overlooked.

by: Dougald MacDonald

Fairy Head, Cutler Coast (Tim Seaver)
Fairy Head, Cutler Coast (Tim Seaver)
The Boundary Waters (Airphotona - Jim Wark)
The Boundary Waters (Airphotona - Jim Wark)

Guide's Secret The Whites
"Mt. Adams is way less crowded than Mt. Washington," says Jim Shimberg, of Rhino Guides. "King Ravine on Adams is as wild as Tuckerman, but nobody's ever there." Hike 5.5 miles from the Appalachia trailhead.


Find more crowd-free hikes.

Cutler Coast, Maine
See the seashore the way the Abenaki saw it.

You can thank Acadia National Park for the privacy you'll find here. Few hikers make the two-hour drive past Acadia to reach Cutler, leaving the reserve–and nearly five miles of undeveloped coastline–blissfully isolated. You could do this 9.8-mile, moderately hilly loop as a dayhike, but three primitive, first-come, first-serve campsites at Fairy Head, midway around, make this an ideal overnight. (A trailhead register indicates if sites are occupied; pack water.)

You'll want the extra time to explore Cutler's cobbled beaches and tide pools, some of which are only accessible via short log ladders that descend from spruce-topped cliffs. Tailor your hike to maximize views: If it's foggy when you start, follow the Inland Trail past peat bogs and blueberry barrens. With luck, the fog will lift for your hike back along the Coastal Trail (if it's clear on day one, start on the Coastal Trail). Beginning in August, look for minke, finback, humpback, and right whales in the Bay of Fundy. Go in late summer for fewer bugs, more berries.

Days 2
Map USGS topo Cutler (
Permits None Info

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West Coast Red
Sep 23, 2011

Not convinced the writer has done the Sespe trip described. The upper Alder Creek route is ridiculously overgrown and has effectively been abandoned by the Forest Service since the Day Fire (2006). Mutau to the Sespe via Johnston Ridge is fine, best in autumn, but not Alder.

Sep 20, 2011

We attempted this trail last weekend and just about had to get air-lifted out. The trail from little Mutau to McDonald Cabin and on past Alder Creek, is basically non-existent. Even if you find it for a little while, it is obliterated and lost quickly. I do not recommend trying this. The trail from Mutau to Johnston ridge is better maintained, although strenuous going up. No water past the hot sespe creek. Fill a few liters before you leave the Sespe and avoid hiking in the summer months. Maybe an out and back trip from Mutau on Johnston ridge would be a safer choice.

Feb 03, 2011

How much of the Sespe Wilderness hike is in the recent past burn area? Was up in the Mutau Flat area recently and lots of burn. ????

Feb 03, 2011

I have hiked the Cutler trails in Maine for all seasons! They are spectacular...woods and ocean...a great combination!

Oct 29, 2009

We did the hike around Easter 2008 down the creek from Piedra Blanca and camped at Oak Flat. The trail crosses the river several times. The water is chilly and at that time of year but didn't go above mid-thigh on an adult. If there is a good side to the wildfires, it has to be that you can see the wildflowers better. They recovered quickly.

Dale Johnson
Aug 29, 2009

If you want solitude on backpacks, go high and off trail. For 10 such great Colorado backpacks, go to this web site:

Aug 20, 2009

The trail to the Sespe Hot Springs, and certainly the hot springs themselves, are not the place I'd go if seeking solitude. These are well-known hot springs.

Also, the locale suffered from wildfires a couple of years ago; recovery is far from complete. I advise you to check with the local ranger station to determine the current condition of the flora recovery.

Finally, the Ventura, CA County backcountry can get mighty hot in the summer. Visit the Sespe hot springs in the cooler months.

Matthew Davis
Aug 20, 2009

Solitude yes, but hiking the Border Route Trail is certainly not for the novice backpacker. The scenery is fantastic but the trail conditions inside the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness are very rough. Blowdowns are plentiful, the trail tread is obscure in places hit by wildfires, and heavy brush is abundant.

Aug 20, 2009

I strongly recommend you not do this hike in the summer months. We did the hike a few years back and I suffered from heat stroke due to the extreme 100+ temps.

Aug 12, 2009

I just did this hike last month and only saw 2 other people on the trail. Had a great time and the scenery was awesome!


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