Baxter State Park is famous for being the last stop on the Appalachian Trail, where hikers conquer the grueling Mt. Katahdin to finish their 2,190+-mile trek from Georgia to Maine. But Baxter has so much more to contribute than just its iconic peak, offering a plethora of recreation in the park that includes hiking, boating, fishing and mountain biking.
Having never been to the park even after 6 years of being an official New Englander, I felt it was time to explore a new part of Maine. My partner, Mike, and I originally planned to bring our gravel bikes and explore Baxter on wheels but plans of strenuous exercise were quickly scrapped a week before the trip when Mike’s back gave out. (Womp womp.) As we got closer to the trip and Mike clocked some rest time, we decided to still go but take it easy.
Per usual, our trip was hastily thrown together with little planning and the experience taught me some crucial ins and outs of the park. If you plan to visit Baxter for the first time, I hope my tips will help you make the most of your visit!
1. If you want to hike Katahdin, plan ahead — you need a permit!
With Mike’s back injury, we had no plans to hike Katahdin. (I would love to hike it eventually, but it was just not in the cards for us on this trip.) If you do plan to hike the mountain, make sure to apply for a permit beforehand! Most folks assume you can just show up (like you can with most mountains in state and national parks); that is not the case in Baxter.
Baxter is known for its strict hiking policies and limits the park’s usage to cut down on overuse. Often in the summer months, Katahdin hikes are booked out early and the weather itself limits the overall ideal window of time for a summit. Do your research and plan ahead; Baxter’s website has some excellent information on hiking the mountain, recommended routes, and any other info you might need for your trip.
Mt. Katahdin in the distance.
2. Along the same lines: Plan ahead for your park visit
Summer is a busy time for Baxter. The park fills up fast and, as mentioned previously, the park limits its day-use access. When Mike and I made our way into the park for the first time, we were lucky that it was a weekday and the park wasn’t too busy. The park closes its day-use trailheads and sites once they reach capacity — something we found out the hard way on day 2, which was a Saturday. We had arrived between 11 a.m. and noon and found the spot where we wanted to go to was full. Luckily, the further into the park you go, the better chance you have of finding day parking and a place to explore. I highly recommend getting to the park early for anything you want to do, especially in the busy season.
Another lack of foresight on my part: There’s no cell service in the park! Duh, should’ve seen that one coming. I had hoped the park Welcome Center would have maps and trail info, and while they did, the maps weren’t very detailed and there wasn’t a ton of information provided. Do your research beforehand on sites you’d like to see and download some maps off of apps like AllTrails or Gaia GPS. (Gaia maps were WAY more helpful than the maps provided by the park.)
Since Mike couldn’t do any strenuous hikes, we made it our mission to seek out the best waterfalls in the park — and we found some pretty good ones. Our favorite may have been Niagara Falls (didn’t know there was one in Maine too!). Mike is an avid photographer and prefers old film cameras, so he had fun taking some long exposures and lots of pictures. Finding the waterfalls themselves required precious cell service time outside the park, so if that’s on your Must-See list, gather your info ahead of time.
The Niagara Falls of Maine.
Mike’s film cameras got lots of love on this trip.
3. Camp inside the park
Mike and I found a campground just outside the park in Milinocket called Wilderness Edge. While I actually really liked the campground, the next time we visit I think we’d prefer to be inside the park. There are SO many camping options in the park and they’re all very remote — I bet the stars at night are fantastic from inside Baxter. If you’re looking for the full wilderness experience, you should book a site in the park.
Note: The upside of staying outside the park was that we were closer to town and therefore in range of that sweet, sweet cell service.
We had a great site at Wilderness Edge Campground. It was quiet and private!
We learned that you could “rent” canoes from the campgrounds in the park for just a dollar and essentially paddle your way across the park. So cool! We didn’t get a chance to try this but definitely want to on our next visit.
Northern Maine is the ultimate lake/pond region, lots of opportunities to explore by boat.
4. Food options are limited but there are some hidden gems
Mike and I like to eat out, especially in new places. I’ll just say it up front: Northern Maine doesn’t have too many restaurant option. The cuisine consists of primarily mozzarella sticks and pizza. No complaints here, for sure, but if you’re looking for the really good food options, read on.
Our favorite discovery was the Knife’s Edge Brewery. It was off the beaten path — like, deep in the woods. You’ll be on a gravel road for WAY longer than you think is possible to get to this brewery, but don’t turn back! It’s out in the middle of nowhere but boy, is it a spot. The brewery is a beautiful building, a cozy gathering place with an epic view of Katahdin out the windows. They’re known for their wood-fired pizza and it was so good we went back to eat there twice on our trip. A must after a long day of hiking — or waterfall hunting, in our case!
Our second runner-up was the Appalachian Trail Café. A delightful breakfast spot, the food options are pretty good and include some amazing-looking baked goods that we didn’t end up indulging in but definitely eyed. What Mike and I enjoyed the most were their tater tots and sausage gravy.
I know what you’re thinking, sausage gravy, really? YES. Such salty goodness, especially when paired with tots. I could’ve eaten 2 or 3 cups of tots and sausage gravy alone. (Oh wait, I did. Don’t judge!)
Who are we kidding with the salad, the real star of breakfast was the sausage gravy.
For the rest of our meals, we did a mix of pre-cooked items and things picked up at the local Hannaford. We made a frittata and blueberry lemon muffins before leaving for quick and easy breakfasts; the frittata could be heated up over the grill and the muffins were best enjoyed fried in too much butter.
These buttery, crispy blueberry muffins were a close second to the sausage gravy.
5. There’s something for everyone. Find your adventure!
As I mentioned previously, Mike was nursing a back injury that put a dent in our gravel biking plans, so the trip looked a lot different than our usual adventures. Normally, we like to be crushing miles on our bikes and were forced to slow wayyy down on this trip.
After arriving on a Wednesday night and setting up camp, the next day was dedicated to relaxation. We enjoyed some reading at the campsite and meandering around town. After some busy work schedules, it was nice to unplug from work and just relax.
The park itself has plenty of beautiful spots to set up a chair or blanket and enjoy the scenery. Everywhere we visited was pretty quiet and offered a peaceful vibe. On our last day in the park, we discovered a swimming hole with meandering waterfalls that was the perfect spot to hang out for a couple hours.
This spot was the perfect hang-out spot, we spent a couple hours here swimming and enjoying the scenery.
I love how accessible the park is—there were options for almost every ability. The short hikes to the waterfalls we visited were flat and enjoyable, not too strenuous and resulted in some beautiful waterfall views. There really is a ton to do and I think we really only did 2% of it. We’re looking forward to getting back to actually explore by bike. The roads in the park are all gravel, narrow roads that you can bike on. I think it’d be such an epic adventure to do most of the park roads, which are about 120 miles in length. It seems like an awesome opportunity for a low-pressure bikepacking trip. We’re also excited at the prospect of cross country or backcountry skiing in the park. We had some friends ski Katahdin last year and we’re big into cross country skiing. Baxter seems like an epic winter playground.
So many cool spots in Baxter!
While there are MANY things I would have done differently on this trip, you can’t always predict the future and have to be prepared to roll with the punches. Mike and I had a wonderful time in Maine and it really set us up to go back to enjoy the area even more.
The NEMO GO FAR (Get Outside For Adventure & Research) Program gears employees up and sends them out to spend time in interesting places in NEMO gear. We believe great design starts with real adventures and are committed to making sure all NEMO employees get to experience it.
Sam works in NEMO’s Marketing department, managing relationships with NEMO ambassadors and partners, executing consumer and media-facing events and coordinating other Marketing/PR needs. This is Sam’s fifth GO FAR trip. When not traveling, Sam enjoys time on her gravel bike, trail running and making way too much homemade hummus.