Saddleback Mountain Hike via the Appalachian Trail (Route 4)

Anyone looking to get a taste of hiking the Appalachian Trail in Maine will find a full-course AT meal on the Route 4 ascent of Saddleback Mountain. Add a dash of fall in October, and the lush forest, side dishes such as Piazza Rock and Eddy Pond, above-treeline climbing, and open vistas of the Rangeley Lakes Region will satiate the heartiest of AT appetites. Just make sure you leave room for dessert: a mostly open ridge hike to The Horn.

Saddleback Appalachian Trail HeadHike Distance: 5.7 miles to Saddleback Mountain summit; 7.3 miles to The Horn
Time: 7-9 hours
Difficulty: Pack the Aleve
Elevation: Saddleback 4,116 feet; The Horn 4,041
Elevation Gain (approximate): 2,250 feet to Saddleback + 500 to The Horn
Recommended GearTrail Runners or Hiking BootsTrekking Poles


Note: you might also be interested in hiking Saddleback via the Berry Picker’s Trail.

Saddleback Mountain during peak foliage is one of those hikes where I simply couldn’t get out of the car fast enough. A quick nod to an AT hiker who was making breakfast out of the back of his vehicle in the parking lot, and I scrambled across Route 4 and set out on the Appalachian Trail under a canopy of fall leaves. The hike begins with a short descent to Sandy River, more of a small stream at this time of year, the pool of water under the bridge reflecting shades of purple.

Saddleback AT Sandy River
The footbridge crossing of Sandy River on the Appalachian Trail’s ascent of Saddleback Mountain.

The Appalachian Trail northbound climbs sharply from Sandy River for about a half mile before leveling out and crossing a dirt road. The next mile to the Piazza Rock Lean-To is mostly easy going, passing through a fir tunnel at one junction. The gnarly, vein-like roots that frequently criss-cross the trail are the only real threat to sure-footing.

Saddleback AT Boardwalk
Mid-October on the Appalachian Trail in Maine is prime for leaf-peeping.
Saddleback AT Fir Tunnel
The terrain may be easy going here, but the footing doesn’t play nice. Expect no less on the Maine AT.

The Piazza Rock Lean-To (caretaker and fee in the summer) is located at a stream crossing and includes tent platforms. Due to the campsite’s proximity to Route 4 and Rangeley, it gets less thru-hiker traffic than other sites, making it more of a haven for weekend warriors. Access Piazza Rock via a short side trail. This massive boulder with a flat top protrudes horizontally from the cliff and has interesting caves and rock climbs beneath.

Piazza Rock Saddleback AT
AHEM—it’s called Piazza Rock.

A mere 0.2 miles north of Piazza Rock is another side trail to a series of boulder caves. The Appalachian Trail then cuts through a hollow filled with old maple trees glowing with color in the sunlight. 

A short climb follows the hardwoods. The trail then skirts around Ethel Pond.

Saddleback AT Ethel Pond
Ethel Pond wouldn’t be my first choice for a drink, but let’s be serious, it’s not the worst place I’ve filtered water. Either way, it’s good for a gander.

A moderate climb follows Ethel Pond for the next mile, passing a small bog before circumventing Eddy Pond and crossing a subsequent woods road/ATV trail. There’s a small boat launch area that goes from the road to the pond, which makes for a good picnic spot. It also appears as though this area serves as a stealth camping spot for thru-hikers.

Saddleback AT softwoods
A fun stretch of forest between Ethel and Eddy ponds.
Saddleback AT Eddy Pond
Eddy Pond is a good place to take a load off if you’re in need of a snack break.

Eddy Pond also marks the spot where the casual hiking ends and the thigh-burning climbing begins.

Saddleback AT metal rungs
After Eddy Pond, it’s time to burn some calories on the ascent. Fear not, this rung-ladder climb isn’t nearly as steep as depicted in this photo.

The next 1.8 miles from Eddy Pond to the Saddleback Mountain summit is steep going, a full mile of it above treeline on exposed bedrock. The open hiking defines Saddleback as one of Maine’s premier mountains because it delivers prolonged vistas of the Rangeley Lakes Region such as this:

Saddleback AT treeline view
The treeline view of Rangeley Lake from Saddleback Mountain on the Appalachian Trail.

Of course, all of the exposed hiking around 4,000 feet also creates a dangerous environment in foul weather, so it’s key to prepare accordingly for both friendly and foe skies.

Saddleback AT exposed climb
Saddleback Mountain’s exposed bedrock climb on the Appalachian Trail.
Saddleback AT Skiway Junction
Shortly before the Saddleback summit, the hiking trail from the ski area comes in on the left.

The Saddleback summit, elevation 4,120 feet, features stunning 360-degree views. 

Saddleback AT Summit View Rangeley Lake
The view toward Rangeley Lake from the Saddleback summit.
Saddleback AT Summit View North
The northern summit view.
Saddleback AT Summit Rock Castle
The’s a rock fort on the Saddleback summit that’s a good place to get out of the wind to enjoy a snack.
Saddleback AT Horn
Ready for more hiking? The Horn is calling!

The 1.6-mile hike to The Horn descends into the col via a bedrock ledge that can be tricky in winter, re-enters the trees for a short distance, and is then in and out of the krummholz before a moderate but exposed climb to The Horn.

Saddleback AT Col Ledge
The ledges after the Saddleback summit.

On the way to The Horn, 0.7 miles south of the Saddleback summit, is the intersection with the Berry Picker’s Trail. Opened in September of 2016, and created by the Maine Appalachian Club and the Maine Appalachian Land Trust, the Berry Picker’s Trail takes the historic route that locals often used to pick blueberries and cranberries on Saddleback.  

Horn View Saddleback Jr
The northern view of Saddleback Jr. from The Horn. For thru-hikers, it’s another two miles to Junior.
Horn View Saddleback Mountain
The view of Saddleback Mountain and the Appalachian Trail from The Horn. The upper ski trails are viewable on the right.
Posted in
Maine, Maine Appalachian Trail, Maine Trail Reviews
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