The Katahdin Abol Trail Hike in Baxter State Park

Trying to find an “easy” way to hike Mt. Katahdin is like panning for gold in a swimming pool. The Abol Trail, the most direct route to Katahdin’s Baxter Peak from a roadside trailhead, is often presumed the “best bet” by novice hikers. That’s a losing bet. Consider this: the Abol Trail gains 3,982 feet in elevation over the shortest route. Better stretch those neck muscles, because there’s going to be a lot of looking up. Straight. Up.

Katahdin Summit SignDistance to summit: 3.4 miles on the Abol Trail + 1 mile on the Hunt Trail
Time: 3-5 hours to summit; 7-10 hours round trip
Difficulty: Pack the Aleve
Recommended Gearhiking boots or trail runners; trekking poles will be helpful in the lower portion of the trail, but stow them at the boulders; rugged hiking shorts/pants as there’s likely to be a lot of butt sliding and scraping against the rocks.

Novice hikers don’t need to be afraid of hiking the Abol Trail. You just have to be smart about it. If Katahdin is the first big mountain you’ve climbed all summer—that’s a problem. It doesn’t matter if you run, go to the gym, do cross-fit, or walk tightropes while balancing tea cups: mountain climbing is different. Hike several 4K+ mountains leading up to Katahdin to get your legs into trail shape, as well as to see how your knees and other joints respond. Are you pain-free on the descent? Or do you need something like KT Tape for extra support?

As always, watch the weather and plan for anything. Pack layers of clothing and rain gear. Layer up on sunscreen. Bring 80-100 ounces of water and lots of high-energy snacks. A flashlight, preferably a headlamp (I usually pack two), and extra batteries are essential. Stick together as a hiking group but establish a plan if you do get separated—cell service is usually unavailable in the park.

As with all Katahdin trails, you will need to plan months ahead to reserve a camp site or day parking pass. Don’t drive to the gate without these and expect to get in. Katahdin is like an exclusive night club—you’ve got to be on the list. Visit the Baxter State Park website to make camping reservations or to get a day parking pass (not needed if you’re camping in the park).

Okay, I’m done being your mother, let’s get to the trail.

The Abol Trail Hike

The Abol Trail begins in the Baxter State Park Abol Campground between lean-tos 11 and 12. Be sure to sign the hiker registry at the ranger cabin as you start and end; if you don’t know why this is necessary, Google Donn Fendler.  

Katahdin Abol Trail Beginning
The Abol Trail begins on a generous path in a mixed forest. So far, so good, right?
Katahdin Abol Trail Woods
The trail soon narrows but maintains its gradual climbing for about a mile.

At 1.4 miles into the hike, as the trail starts to get more rocky and pick up the climbing pace, you’ll reach the bottom of the Abol slide. The old trail went straight up the rock slide from here, but this version was closed in 2014 due to landslides and continued instability on the trail. To solve the problem, a new version of the Abol Trail created by the Maine Conservation Corps and opened in 2016, avoids the lower portion of the rock slide by switchbacking up the mountain. This new route is longer than the original hike—3.4 miles compared to 2.6—but it has also made the lower portion of the trail significantly easier by avoiding a mile of rock scrambling. (Don’t worry rock lovers, there’s still plenty of scrambling on the upper portion).

Katahdin Abol Trail Switchbacks
Shown in the image above is a stretch of the new Abol Trail. The MCC has done an exceptional job cutting out the new trail, packing it in, and installing water bars and rock staircases.
Katahdin Abol Trail Enter Boulders
As the Abol Trail breaks treeline, the rocks start to get bigger.
Katahdin Abol Trail Sunrise
As the rocks get bigger, so do the views.
Katahdin Abol Trail Boulders
The new section of the Abol Trail reconnects with the old trail above the slide. From here, it’s a steep climb up the boulders.
Katahdin Abol Trail More Boulders
If you think that I accidentally reposted the same image twice, it’s not a mistake. The boulders are long-lasting.
Katahdin Abol Trail Cairn
Just when you think the boulders will never end, you reach the precipice and are released upon the Katahdin tableland.
Katahdin Abol Trail Tableland
The majesty of Katahdin is in full view on the table land. Just remember to breathe as you take in the crown of Katahdin’s summit and the mesmerizing scenery in all directions. The tableland crest is also the point of no return, fully exposed to the elements and at the mercy of Pamola, the deity of Katahdin, there is nowhere to seek shelter. If Mother Nature is threatening the worse, it’s best to turn back here; a large percentage of deaths on Katahdin have been the results of lightning strikes or other weather-related incidents.
Katahdin Tableland
More tableland scenery.
Thoreau Spring Sign
Please stay between the markers as the Abol Trail crosses the tableland to avoid harming the fragile alpine plant life. The trail soon reaches the historic Thoreau Spring and connects with the Hunt Trail for the last mile hike to the summit.
Hunt Katahdin Ascent
That last mile to the summit has some elevation gain, but, considering what it took to get to this point, the final stretch is easy in comparison.
Katahdin Hamlin Ridge
From the Katahdin summit, this is the view of Hamlin Ridge.
Katahdin Saddle Trail
The Katahdin Saddle Trail as seen leading away from the summit, which circles down to Chimney Pond but also connects with the Cathedral Trail and trails leading to Hamlin Peak.
Katahdin Basin
Looking down upon Chimney Pond (the closest pond) and the North Basin.
Katahdin South Peak
And then there’s the view of the South Peak, reached by going halfway across the Knife Edge.
Katahdin Knife Edge Up Close
It’s sections like this that give the Knife Edge its name.
Katahdin Knife Edge
A full look at the Knife Edge leading from the South Peak to Pamola Peak.

After ascending the mountain via the Abol Trail, you may want to descend via the Hunt Trail, also the Appalachian Trail. The Hunt Trail isn’t quite as steep as Abol in the boulder area, but it is longer and steeper/rockier in the early sections, so it’s more challenging overall. On the other hand, Katahdin Stream Falls makes a compelling argument for going this way. To complete an Abol-Hunt loop hike, a two-mile walk on the Baxter State Park Tote Road between the two trailheads is necessary. 

You might also be wondering: If Abol isn’t the easiest way to hike Katahdin, what is? That distinction likely rests with the Saddle Trail; however, be careful with the definition of “easy,” as you might just find yourself on the poor man’s end of panning for gold in a swimming pool. 

Posted in
Maine, Maine Trail Reviews, Pack the Aleve
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  4. Hike Katahdin Via the Cathedral Trail in Baxter State Park, Maine
  5. Hike the Katahdin Knife Edge Trail in Baxter State Park, Maine
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10 responses to The Katahdin Abol Trail Hike in Baxter State Park
  1. Carolyn Rogers says:

    Reminded how much I respect this wonderful area, because over Labor Day weekend, my G’son and a friend were in Greenville, and decided to climb Katahdin. Long ago memories of my years at GS trip Camp Natarswi in Millinocket came flooding back. As a relatively unathletic kid, I loved/hated some trails there–specifically Knife Edge, Cathedral , etc., but forever grateful to patient skilled counselors who got us safely through those unforgettable adventures. “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times”. . .and I’m grateful to have had it all. Didn’t expect to be experiencing it again while worrying about the G’son’s safety!
    Loved your funny and real comments. Thank you for such bringing back the memories, and the laughs.
    P. S. I know about Donn Fendler’s book.

  2. laura newman says:

    This was a great article. I felt more prepared after reading it. It took us 8.5hours to complete but are 2 days into recovery!
    I didn’t hear much about midgies before going but that took some of the enjoyment out of the trail. However they kept me moving!
    We drove almost 2000 miles to hike Abol and almost missed our chance – I tried multiple times to get a parking pass online- I called and was finally able to get one – a day later than planned but so worth it bc the day was amazing!

  3. Jim Harkness says:

    In the summer of 1975 my friend David and I drove from South Carolina up through Maine and on a lark decided to climb Katahdin, having zero clue what we were letting ourselves in for. With no reservation we got a lean-to easily (1975, as I mentioned). The next morning, wearing light running shoes and carrying a couple of canteens of water and maybe a baggie of trail mix, we headed raucously up Abol toward the summit.

    About eleven hours later my buddy and I stumbled back to the campsite as exhausted as we had been in our lives. Our hair was wet and filthy, our hands and knees were raw as hamburger, and our heads were pounding from dehydration and glucose depletion. The soles of my shoes were literally shredded, both our feet were bloody with too many burst blisters to count, and we had stopped speaking to each about a quarter of the way down from the summit. After lying around the lean-to near-comatose for an hour, we finally crawled over to Roaring Brook and rinsed the dust and sweat away sitting as long as we could stand it in the icy cataract. Then we dragged ourselves back to base, where we cooked and consumed an eight-pack of Nathan’s vile hot dogs and sucked down a pint of Jack Daniels neat, no ice.

    A year later we went back, prepared, fit, made the round trip in eight hours or so, and swore to each other that we would do it every again ten years until we hit seventy.

    Never did, though. Talked about it many times, before and after we both retired, Shied away from the gut check, though. I still liked the JD, myself, while David developed a preference for vodka tonic, which finally got him three years ago when he was about seven months shy of seventy. I thought about suggesting that his ashes be spread atop Katahdin, but his wife and kids would have vetoed it for sure. Besides, who the hell would have carried them up there?

  4. Carolyn Rogers says:

    Loved your remarks about Katahdin. You don’t know ’til you find out!
    I have mentioned here my own experiences there on this site before, so won’t repeat except to say “it was the best of times, it was the worst of times”, and crawling over Knife Edge on hands and knees–crying–is unforgettable.

  5. Jim Albert says:

    I have summited Katahdin 15 times, all trails in different variations, but Abol the most times. This is by far the best write up with the appropriately placed pictures. Great recommendations on the training on other mountains as this is not like others and there are NO easy routes. Having experienced every type of weather on this greatest of mountains, even blizzard conditions the day before the summer soltice on the tableland, the payoff is nothing short of spectacular! Nice job! Baxter Peak see you July 2020!

  6. Jeff Dearman says:

    One thing, could they consider adding hand holds on the section of the Knife edge by the big drop with the very narrow path where you have to lean up against the rock face? That is a very dangerous section , some hand holds would be good here. – either that or cut a trail up and over?

    • I facetiously suggested that the Knife Edge was too rough, maybe they would fill in some cracks with concrete! I don’t believe any man-made accomodations will ever be put on the trail. On what I call the “Skywalk”, you can lean into the rock at about 30 degrees, and there are plenty of good holds if you’re patient. You also can pass on the other side of the knoll, avoiding the cliff entirely. Feel free to watch my 3 KE videos on Youtube vtboomer channel. The one thing I would definitely recommend is not walking the cliff in any slippery conditions or high wind.

  7. Marcia Price says:

    All this info has been very helpful. Going for a second attempt 2 weeks from today. Been practicing as much as schedule allows.Hoping my body is ready…

  8. Loretta L Lavoie says:

    Although I have hiked 62 of the 67 New England 4000 footers, I have not hiked Katahdin. Since I am elderly with multiple health issues, I know I will never hike the remaining five. However, I have enjoyed reading about this mountain and the many adventures and misadventures that go with it have certainly been interesting. Now I am concerned about my grandson hiking Katahdin with a couple of friends, one who has hiked it previously. They are planning the hike for next month and I know I will be anxiously waiting to hear they have returned safe and sound. As Ed Viesturs has said “Getting to the top is optional, getting to the bottom is mandatory.” I have always felt that is sound advice, no matter which mountain one is hiking!.

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