A backpacker on the AT on White Cap Mountain heads north for Katahdin.

Hiking Opportunities Abound in Maine’s 100-Mile Wilderness

A hiker enjoys the views of Katahdin from the Rainbow Loop Trail, Debsconeag Lakes Wilderness Area.

The 100-Mile Wilderness is the name given to the next-to-last section of the Appalachian Trail on its 2,192-mile route from Springer Mountain, Georgia, to Mount Katahdin in Maine. A vast, 750,000-acre expanse of forests and mountains, lakes and ponds, and rivers and streams, this iconic region ranges roughly from the town of Monson to the West Branch of the Penobscot River.

While not formally a wilderness area by any legal definition, the 100-Mile Wilderness is nonetheless very primitive and wild.

Hikers on Monument Cliff on Third Mountain enjoy views of the high summits of the White Cap summits.

Stephen Clark, editor of the Appalachian Trail Guide to Maine from 1964 to 1982, coined the name to alert AT thru-hikers to the fact that no resupply points existed along this remote and rugged 100-mile stretch of trail, still largely the case today.

Conservation lands abound in the 100-Mile Wilderness thanks to the dedicated work of many public and private organizations, and there are recreational opportunities aplenty. For hikers and backpackers, there are many miles of foot trails to explore. Here are a few fun ways for foot travelers to enjoy the best of Maine’s incredible 100-Mile Wilderness.

The summit of Borestone Mountain rewards hikers
with far-reaching views north into
the 100-Mile Wilderness.

Borestone Mountain Audubon Sanctuary

Revel in 360-degree views from this craggy 1,981-foot peak in the namesake 1,693-acre wildlife preserve. Hike the Base Trail to the lovely Sunset Pond tucked into the upper mountain’s base. Then scamper up the Summit Trail to the top, taking advantage of helpful iron rungs and a handrail along the way. It’s 3.5 miles round-trip.

Morning sun at Antler’s Campsite on the AT.

AMC Maine Woods Initiative Conservation and Recreation Area

The Appalachian Mountain Club has protected 100,000 acres in the 100-Mile Wilderness and built an extensive trail network. Climb Third Mountain (2,082 feet) via the Gorman Loop Trail, Third Mountain Trail, and the AT for a good look around at the club’s remarkable preservation efforts. About a seven-mile loop.

Gulf Hagas

Popularly known as the Grand Canyon of Maine, this deep, narrow slate canyon on the West Branch of the Pleasant River drops an impressive 400 feet over four miles. The National Park Service owns this nearly 2,000-acre scenic jewel, while the Maine Appalachian Trail Club maintains an eight-mile loop trail system. Hike it all, or opt for a briefer segment.

Nahmakanta Public Land

Remote ponds and scenic ridges dominate this 43,000-acre property, the largest in Maine’s public lands system. A quarter of the land is designated as an ecological reserve, and within that, there’s the roadless Debsconeag Backcountry. Ramble around the 13-mile figure-eight loop trail at will to discover the wonders of this special place.

Enjoying a view of Clifford Pond in the Debsconeag Lakes Wilderness Area.


Debsconeag Lakes Wilderness Area

Home to undisturbed stands of mature trees and the highest concentration of remote ponds in New England, the entire 46,271 acres of this amazing place is an ecological reserve. The Rainbow Loop visits several ponds while offering panoramic views ranging from majestic Katahdin south across the 100-Mile Wilderness. Hike the six-mile circuit.

Appalachian Trail

Sunrise over Wadleigh Pond.

Hikers have countless ways to savor time on the AT, from the ponds and ridges north of Monson and the Barren-Chairback Range summits to the peaks of the White Cap Range and the lakes, rivers, and ponds to its north. Grab a map and guidebook, develop a plan, and go. Ambitious hikers could, of course, spend 7-to-10 days hiking the entire 100-mile section.

Access to many 100-Mile Wilderness trailheads is through the KI Jo-Mary Forest, a consortium of landowners that manages gates, roads, campsites, and related facilities. There are fees for day use and camping. Please consult their website for info on rules and regulations.

Story & Photos by Carey Kish of Mount Desert Island. Carey is an avid hiker and beer drinker and author of the new book, “Beer Hiking New England.

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