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Backpacker Magazine – Online Exclusive

Maine's Bigelow Preserve

Follow the Appalachian Trail to new heights in the rugged New England high country.

by: Mark Condon

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Contact Information:

Maine Bureau of Public Lands 25 Main St. Box 327 Farmington, ME 04938 207/778-4111

Maine Appalachian Trail Club c/o Philip Pepin, Corresponding Secretary Box 536 Stratton, ME 04982-0536

Location: Bigelow is in western Maine, 125 miles north of Portland and 40 miles north of Farmington. Five miles away via Hwy. 27, Stratton provides motels and restaurants.

Getting There: For more information on the surrounding area, contact:

Sugarloaf Area Chamber of Commerce RR 1, Box 2151 Kingfield, ME 04947 207/235-2500.

From Portland take I-95 north to Augusta. Turn onto ME 27 north and follow that through Farmington to Carrabassett. Bigelow Preserve is accessible from Carrabassett Valley or farther north at Stratton.

Seasonal Information: Travelers stream to Bigelow year-round, but spring sees the least usage. Since elevations range from 1,000 to 4,000 feet, temperatures and weather conditions vary, but sub-zero is the rule in winter.

Wildlife: The flora isn't the only reward for hikers. Fauna include deer, bears, squirrels, beavers, and coyotes, plus more than 60 species of birds ranging from American woodcocks to black-capped chickadees to gray jays to hairy woodpeckers. But the most commanding creature, lumbering through the area like a small-town mayor at the county fair, is the moose.

Insects: For more information contact the park office.

Plant Life: While traveling the roller coaster routes through the area, you'll meander through forests of maple, birch, poplar, spruce, and fir trees. At higher elevations swatches of delicate alpine flowers ~ goldenrod, bilberry, sweetgrass, and mountain sandwort ~ decorate the trailside.

Facilities: There are a number of camping areas, including lean-tos at Piazza Rock, Poplar Ridge, Spaulding Mountain, Horns Pond, Bigelow Col, and Little Bigelow, as well as campsites at Crocker Cirque and Safford Notch. Facilities at these sites typically include a lean-to or tent platform, fire ring, and pit toilet. But visitors should bring their own tents, since lean-tos are hard to come by because of the number of campers.

Tenting is available free of charge at the Round Barn campsites on the shore of Flagstaff Lake. These sites are accessible by water or by a short trail originating from the vehicle parking lot. They have fire rings and pit toilets.

From the Round Barn parking area the trail leads easterly along the shore to a half dozen secluded single party campsites. To the west is a large group site that can accommodate up to 30 people.

A nearby day-use area on the shore of Flagstaff Lake offers swimming and picnicking. A hand-carry boat or canoe may be launched from the beach.

A spacious lodge, located near the Round Barn Campsites, is kept open on winter weekends as a warming stopover for skiers and snowmobilers.

Parking: Vehicles may be parked along the roads at the trailheads on the preserve. Please park as close to the edge of the road and as far out of the travel lane as possible.

Permits: You'll need a permit from the Maine Forest Service (207/287-2275) to build a campfire at primitive, non-authorized campsites. Call ahead to locate authorized sites (generally car-camping sites). In a move toward more resource protection, some sites that formerly allowed campfires (Horns Pond and Bigelow Col) will soon be declared non-fire sites.


  • Snowmobilers must stay on designated trails.
  • Limit your camping stay to 14 days in any 45-day period.
  • Keep pets on a leash while at campsites.

Hazards: Although bears inhabit Bigelow, preserve officials say visitors should not have any problems as long as they take care to protect their food. ~ Avoid established game trails that could be well-used moose routes to favorite watering holes.

Leave No Trace: Camp in established areas at least 200 feet from trails and water sources. ~ And, most importantly, remember the cumulative impact of actions; ignorance and lack of respect for the environment are compounded by the numbers of visitors to Bigelow.

All LNT guidelines apply.

Maps: "The Map and Guide to the Appalachian Trail in Maine" is available for $17.50 (members), $23 (non-members) from:

Maine Appalachian Trail Club Box 283 Augusta, ME 04330. AT Trail Club membership is $10.

USGS 15-minute series maps include "Phillips and Rangley," "Kingfield and Phillips," and "Stratton and Little Bigelow" quadrangles. Maps are available from local sporting goods stores or:

Maine Geological Survey State House Station #22 Augusta, ME 04333.

Other Trip Options: Sugarloaf is just across the valley with ski hill trails.

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