Leave Katahdin to the masses; there’s more than one must-see massif in northern Maine. This three-day, 34-mile lollipop from the Horse Mountain trailhead (1) hits one of the best: 3,541-foot Traveler Mountain. In the first 1.1 miles, climb moderately up 1,589-foot Horse Mountain, where a .4-mile spur leads to views of Grand Lake Matagamon. Descend to the sheltered Billfish Pond and past a junction with the Five Ponds Trail (2) at mile 2.7. Pass Round, Long, and High Ponds, merging onto the Middle Fowler Trail (3) at 4.4 miles, and reaching the Middle Fowler South Campsite (4) at 5.7 miles.
Climb for 1.8 miles, and then drop to South Branch Pond Campground (5), but keep going. A better campsite lies 4.1 miles ahead. Sign in at the Ranger Station, and walk 20 yards to Lower South Branch Pond, a narrow tarn tucked in a fjordlike valley between North Traveler and South Branch Mountains. Ford the outlet and begin climbing through dense conifers on South Branch Mountain. Views of The Traveler broaden on Black Cat Mountain (6) (also called South Summit) at mile 13. Be careful on the steep, rocky descent, and hit Upper South Branch Lean-to (7), nestled in a pine grove near Upper South Branch Pond and its resident moose and loons. Next day, tank up on water (Traveler’s ridgeline is bone-dry) and climb 2,254 feet in two talus-choked miles to 3,225-foot Peak-of-the-Ridges (8).
Rock-hop across Little Knife Edge, a spine of granite pillars, for .3 mile, and take in a panorama from The Traveler (9) that includes every peak in the park, including Katahdin, eight miles southwest. It’s another 2.7 miles along bare rock to reach the view from North Traveler’s summit (10). Descend 2.6 miles through alpine fields to South Branch Campground (11). Overnight here, then exit via Middle Fowler Pond, Five Ponds, and Horse Mountain Trails.
Get There From East Millinocket, take I-95 north 19 miles to ME 11 north, and go west on ME 159 in nine miles. Go 25 miles to Matagamon Gate, park at the canoe launch, and road walk .6 mile to the trailhead.
Gear Up Nicatou Outfitters, Medway. (207) 746-7211; mainecampingtrips.com
Permit Reserve lean-to four months ahead. baxterstateparkauthority.com
Map AMC Maine Mountain Guide ($20, outdoors.org)
Trip Data backpacker.com/hikes/765849