Finish Well at Baxter State Park

Photo by Bryan 'Binjali' McCullough

Photo by Bryan “Binjali” McCullough

It’s nearly impossible to put into words the significance that Katahdin takes on for northbound thru-hikers as they trek towards Maine. While Appalachian Trail (A.T.) hikers have been seeking the peak for almost 90 years, the mountain has been a sacred place for Mainers and the indigenous people of the state for much, much longer. When A.T. hikers cross Abol Bridge heading north, they are entering a world that stretches through time and meaning well beyond the narrow footpath.

Why does Baxter State Park have different rules compared to other places along the A.T.?

One motto of Baxter State Park (BSP) is “wilderness first, recreation second.” BSP is the culmination of former Maine governor Percival P. Baxter’s life work to preserve a wilderness area for the people of Maine. The park is self-funded primarily through the endowment Baxter gifted to the state with the condition that the park be “kept forever wild.” The Baxter State Park Authority is charged with maintaining the park according to Baxter’s original vision and the staff members at BSP work hard to ensure the park’s treasured and now-rare wilderness character remains for future generations of Mainers.

Katahdin View from Abol Bridge. Photo by Chris "Overdrive" Hood

Katahdin View from Abol Bridge. Photo by Chris “Overdrive” Hood

Long before Percival Baxter and continuing to this day, Katahdin — or “The Greatest Mountain” in the Penobscot language — has represented birth and spiritual enlightenment for the Penobscot people. Not just the summit, but the entire mountain is sacred land.

What does this mean for A.T. hikers?

A.T. hikers should always show respect and practice Leave No Trace wherever they are on the Trail. However, the special significance of Katahdin and BSP means that this area should receive particular care. Follow these guidelines to finish well at the end of your northbound hike:

Register for “The Birches” Campsite at the BSP entry kiosk just beyond Abol Bridge.

This campsite in BSP is available on a first-come, first-served basis for northbound A.T. hikers who have continuously hiked at least 100 miles without leaving the Trail corridor. The sign-up kiosk is located on the A.T. approximately 0.7 miles north of Abol Bridge.

  • Southbound hikers and northbound hikers who leave the Trail corridor in the 100 Mile Wilderness should contact BSP to make a campground or day-use reservation to complete their hike.

Register your hike and pick up your free A.T. hiker permit at Katahdin Stream Campground Ranger Station before you summit.

Bonus: the ranger station has daypacks so you don’t have to lug your entire pack up the mountain.

Katahdin Stream Countdown Ranger Station. Photo by Jordan Bowman

Photo by Jordan Bowman

Summit in small groups.

To preserve a sense of wilderness for you and other hikers and to protect the fragile alpine environment on the mountain, BSP limits hiking groups to 12 people. The smaller the group, the less impact there is.

Photo by Pamela "Chilly" Parker

Photo by Pamela “Chilly” Parker

Celebrate quietly.

Let the sounds of the mountain prevail and respect other visitors who came to Katahdin to have a wilderness experience.

Save alcohol for later.

Public consumption of alcohol is not allowed in the Park. Instead, you can celebrate over drinks in Millinocket later.

Be respectful of BSP staff.

Park staff love Katahdin and its surrounding lands, and they work hard to ensure the Park is protected so hikers like you can enjoy it in the future.

Be respectful of other hikers.

Everyone deserves to enjoy the summit, whether they are out for one day or six months. Take a few photos with the summit sign and then move off to the side to quietly celebrate — you’ll have plenty of time to tell Trail stories once you’re back in “the real world.”

Derick "Mr Fabulous" Lugo. Photo by Elizabeth Wisecarver

Derick “Mr. Fabulous” Lugo. Photo by Elizabeth Wisecarver

Whether at the beginning of a southbound thru-hike, the end of a months-long northbound A.T. journey, or somewhere in between, reaching the Katahdin summit sign at the end of the A.T. is an indelible moment that deserves celebration — just as the mountain itself, other hikers, and the staff at BSP deserve respect and to enjoy Katahdin as it has always been: truly wild. By celebrating quietly and considerately, you can honor both your accomplishment and the sacred land you have worked so hard to reach.

For more information:

Finish Well at Baxter State Park