Looking for the best hike in the Northeast U.S.? Look no further than Katahdin, the roof of Maine. Tree line is reached quickly, and all trails leading to its seemingly endless summit ridge and plateau are great. This classic loop takes you to Baxter (5,267 feet) and Hamlin (4,756 feet) peaks via the scenic Knife Edge and Hamlin Ridge Trails.
Baxter State Park lies roughly in the middle of Maine, far from any large urban area, and it observes strict conservation rules. Plumbing and hookups are absent from the park, the roads are not paved, and nothing is plowed in winter, which makes any cold season hike here a real adventure. However, this doesn’t deter outdoor enthusiasts attracted by the sheer beauty of the area. You should plan ahead to ensure getting a campsite or a day use pass for the coveted Roaring Brook Trailhead and campground, the starting point of this outing.
Get an early start and keep a steady pace in the wooded section of the trail to distance yourself from the crowds hiking this popular loop. At the first intersection, take the Helon Taylor Trail. After 1,000 feet of gradual ascent, it starts getting steeper and rockier. Luckily, tree line is reached quickly as the trail sometimes becomes a field of talus and boulders, making for some fun hiking with Maine’s wilderness in the background.
The Helon Taylor Trail ends at Pamola Peak. Take time to appreciate the first views of the imposing presence of Katahdin, its knife edge, and its secondary summits. To the northeast, don’t miss Chimney Pond and the South Basin 2,000 feet below (where camping is available). North of the pond, notice Hamlin Peak and the Hamlin Ridge Trail, the final highlights of this day.
The Knife Edge Trail runs 1.2 miles between Pamola Peak and Baxter Peak. This exposed and sometimes steep trail, especially around appropriately named Chimney Peak, offers stunning and unobstructed 360-degree views of this impressive mountain. There is nothing else quite like this in the Northeast. It is worth noting that this trail is not recommended in wet or windy weather, or in winter. If you don’t like exposed trails, see another option in the notes below.
After completing the Knife Edge, enjoy the view from Baxter Peak; you will not get another one like this in the Northeast. A large sign marks the summit and the northern terminus of the Appalachian Trail. Thru hikers usually finish this grueling 5-month traverse around late August.
Head north to Hamlin Peak across a plateau of rocks and alpine vegetation. The area is beautiful and becomes quite peaceful after the intersection for the Saddle Trail. Though most hikers only hit Baxter Peak, Hamlin Peak also has 360-degree views and counts toward the Northeast 115 if you’re peak bagging. The Hamlin Ridge Trail offers a different vantage point of the Baxter area of Katahdin to the south and a view of the North Basin to the north.
The last few miles of the trail are a wooded and gradual descent back to the trailhead. There are a few good views around the Basin Ponds.
Don’t like exposed trails? Your preferred option to summit will be the Saddle Trail. It will add 1.4 miles. From Baxter Peak, use the description above.
Want to camp close to Katahdin? Book early or go during the week. Black flies are active early in the summer, but they are practically gone by late August.