Earl Shaffer–the Appalachian Trail's first thru-hiker–said it best: "The glory of Katahdin is in its dual beauty: to look at, and to look from." Get the full Shaffer experience by seeing the peak reflected in Rainbow Lake and then gazing from its summit. Hit the four-day, 33-mile AT section starting from Pollywog Stream, off Jo-Mary Road, 35 miles northwest of Millinocket. You'll arrive at the Rainbow Dam Campsite in just a couple of hours.
Pitch your tent on Rainbow Lake's eastern shore to see Katahdin's 5,267-foot summit (Baxter Peak) mirrored in its waters. In the morning, continue 2.8 miles to another big-K view from the bald summit of 1,660-foot Rainbow Mountain. End the day at Hurd Brook Lean-to, a three-sided log shelter that sleeps about 10. On day three, you'll enter Baxter State Park after 3.5 miles, then in another seven, reach Daicey Pond Campground and its 10 cabins.
Ascend the Hunt Trail (it overlaps the AT) on day four. The 4,100- foot elevation gain is daunting, but there are plenty of places to rest, like misty Katahdin Stream Falls (mile 3.6). The trail levels out in three more miles when it reaches The Tableland, a broad, tundra-like plateau at 4,500 feet. Cairns lead to the summit.
Gaze across Maine's Yukon-like North Woods, its myriad lakes scattered throughout the greenery like a broken mirror, then continue to the mountain's second most famous feature: the Knife Edge, a mile-long ridge, skinny as a saw blade, linking Baxter and Pamola Peaks. Sheer cliffs plunge 1,500 feet from either side to the floor of the Great Basin. Nothing else in the East compares to this.
Guidebook Maine Mountain Guide ($19, Appalachian Mountain Club)
Chimney Pond. Get sites four months out. $10/person; baxterstateparkauthority.com
Peak to view
Katahdin Climb The Owl (3,736 feet) via the Hunt and Owl Trails to stand in a virtual pulpit to big-K's assembly of rock.
Link Chimney Pond and Cathedral Trails to Baxter, then descend to Roaring Brook Campground via Helon Taylor Trail for a nine-hour, 9.3-mile epic.