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The Other Way In

Hike to life-list hot spots without waiting in life-list lines. These under-the-radar trails deliver everything but the crowds.

Mt. Katahdin
Baxter State Park, ME

X    Trade route Hunt Trail, Saddle Trail
→   Sneak route Abol Trail
Key stats Nine miles (one-way), 4,000 feet of elevation gain
Off-radar cred “This bouldery gash isn’t a trail by traditional standards,” says park naturalist Jean Hoekwater.

Climbing to Katahdin’s 5,270-foot summit is a rite of passage for Appalachian Trail thru-hikers, New England peakbaggers, Thoreau fans (he climbed it in 1846), and anyone who wants to test himself on the granite monolith. As AT pioneer Earl Shaffer said after he reached the top, “Already I knew that many times I would want to be back again—on the cloud-high hills where the whole world lies below and far away.” None of the routes winding up and between the four glacial cirques on the mountain’s flanks is secret, but you’ll find the fewest people on the Abol Trail. It’s the most challenging, naturally, so bring your scrambling skills for the Abol Slide (slabs and talus exposed after a 19th-century avalanche), and strong quads for the 4,000 feet of elevation gain.

Do it From the Abol trailhead 5.8 miles from the Togue Gate at Baxter State Park, follow the blue-blazed trail through the spruce forest for 1.5 miles, and enter the bottom of the Abol Slide. The steep jumble of boulders and scree continues for more than a mile up Katahdin’s daunting south face, having poured down the mountain in a great avalanche in 1816. Move carefully up the stairstep-like rockslide, mindful to not dislodge loose rock onto hikers beneath you. As you gain elevation and escape the trees, watch as the view of the forest floor opens behind you—and as the boulders of the steep Abol Slide disappear over the edge into the trees below. At the intersection with the AT, exit the Slide onto the football-field-size Tableland and scope the rest of the route one mile along the ridge to the summit. There, you’ll get 360-degree views of the green carpet of trees pocketed with lakes far below, including Chimney Pond, nearly a vertical-half-mile down to the northeast. Descend the gentler, knee-friendly Appalachian Trail/Hunt Trail and walk the road 1.5 miles back to the Abol trailhead. Skip the Abol Slide if showers are in the forecast.

Get there From Millnocket, drive 17 miles northeast on Baxter State Park Rd. to the Togue Gate. Take the left fork and drive 5.8 miles to the Abol trailhead.
Permit None; trailhead parking is limited. Reserve one of the 16 parking spaces ($5, two weeks or less prior to date for non-Maine residents; starting April 1 for Mainers) at Unreserved spaces will be filled first-come, first-serve as soon as the Togue Gate opens at 5 a.m. Alternately, camp at the Abol Campground (reservations fill up three months in advance).
Contact (207) 723-5140;

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