Take a Monumental Trip to Katahdin Woods & Waters, by Johanna S. Billings

Take a Monumental Trip to Katahdin Woods & Waters

If you want to get away from it all, consider a trip to the new Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument.

This location in Penobscot County, established by former President Barack Obama in August 2016, offers few of the amenities of modern life. You will find no large shopping centers and cell service will be spotty at best. On the other hand, it’s the perfect spot for the person whose ideal vacation is to spend the day in nature without seeing another person. Because of its remote location, there’s a good chance you will get to see wildlife during your visit.

Mt. Katahdin

Mt. Katahdin

Recently, the Katahdin monument was in danger of having its designation rescinded following the Trump administration’s scrutiny of 27 of the nation’s national monuments.  

However, the U.S. Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke said in late 2017 he would not recommend eliminating any of the 27 national monuments. 

Katahdin is part of a large region of conserved land offering hiking and other outdoor activities. You could easily spend an entire vacation exploring just the national monument and experience only a fraction of what the 87,563 acres have to offer. If you want to cover more ground, you can visit the adjacent Baxter State Park, land owned by the Nature Conservancy or the North Woods, all of which also offer a plethora of outdoor activities.

Katahdin’s main draw is the fact that it is still totally undeveloped. At this time, there is no park office or ranger station, and no restaurants, snack bars or even little stores on the property yet. Millinocket is the last town before you enter true wilderness. Be sure to pack your lunch, plenty of water and anything else you might need for a day. If you forget something, you’ll just have to do without or lose the better part of the day going back for it.

Admission to the monument is currently free. Access to Baxter State Park is free for Maine residents but non-residents will have to pay a $15 entrance fee per vehicle. Access to the North Woods is $10 per person per day for Maine residents and $15 per person per day for non-residents.

Whichever area you visit, home base will most likely be Millinocket, which offers lodging, including hotels and cabins, as well as restaurants. Perhaps the most famous of the eateries is the Appalachian Trail Cafe, a favorite stop among AT through- hikers. The AT includes approximately 30 miles through the national monument before it ends at the adjacent Baxter State Park. Trail hikers are allowed to sign the cafe ceiling tiles to celebrate their accomplishment and the restaurant offers some souvenirs. A couple of gift shops and information centers are located in town for more souvenirs and to help you plan your days.

From Millinocket, you will need about an hour to drive to the Katahdin Loop Road, a 14-mile unpaved loop that offers scenic lookouts and access to trails. Start by taking Route 11, a.k.a the Katahdin Woods & Waters Scenic Byway, until you reach a dirt logging road called Swift Brook Road. You will follow this for 12 miles before you actually reach the monument and the loop road. Be aware that logging trucks have the right of way on these roads, so go slow and always let them pass.

One of the nicest trails in the area of the Monument is Barnard Mountain, a 2.3-mile trail with spectacular views of Mount Katahdin, Katahdin Lake and beyond. The trailhead is located just off the Katahdin Loop Road before mile marker 12. From there, you must hike a mile or two down a logging trail in order to reach the actual Barnard Mountain trail. At the end of the hike, you will reach a picnic table perched on a rock and an overlook of the woods and waters in the distance. You may even see moose near the summit where they hang out in the summer.

For more information on how to plan your trip, visit nps.gov/kaww/planyourvisit/index.htm.    

For more information about the Barnard Mountain Trail visit: mainetrailfinder.com/trails/trail/barnard-mountain-trail


— Text & Photos: Johanna S. Billings. Johanna is a nationally award-winning writer and photographer based in Steuben. She enjoys going to remote areas for hiking vacations planned by her husband, Sean.

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