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.
Directions

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. 

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Maine, Maine Trail Reviews, Pack the Aleve
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Wow! You made it all the way to the bottom. If you enjoyed this article, please check out my book, Open Season: True Stories of the Maine Warden Service on Amazon or at www.wardenstories.com. You can also follow Northeast Hikes on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter, as well as contribute to our sponsored Google+ Community.
One response 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.

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