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.
Distance 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 Gear: hiking 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.
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).
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.