The Traveler Loop

Baxter State Park, like Acadia National Park, is a treasure of the state of Maine. I didn’t start spending any quality time in BSP until I was in my 30’s (I was obsessed with Acadia in my 20s) and have been making up for lost time any chance I get.

I had been hearing about the Travelers from my parents who spent lots of time in the park after I left for college and wanted to check it out.  The Travelers- Peak of the Ridges, 3,254′, The Traveler, 3,550′ and North Traveler, 3,152′, are the tallest volcanic mountains in New England and possibly on the east coast. This 11 mile loop features above treeline hiking and some of the best views in the park.  The north end of the park is quieter than the southern end and offers a nice glimpse of solitude and peace in Maine’s wilderness.

I saw a perfect hiking day coming up on a Saturday in late June and knew I had to go.  I left my house at 5am and started the drive north to the Matagamon Gate on the north end of the park.  From there you drive through the park towards South Branch Campground where the trailhead originates.  I was there a little after 7:30 am and hit the trailhead as folks were waking up at their campsites.

I was catching cobwebs the entire way along the Pogy Notch Trail which runs along Lower South Branch Pond.  It had been a dry spring with less runoff than normal so the trail was a little mudy in spots, but mostly dry and Howe Brook was low for this time of year.  I encountered a forest creature, my one and only of the day- more on that later.

After passing along the side of Upper South Branch Pond, I headed towards the Center Ridge Trail.  The Center Ridge Trail ascends steeply up the side of Center Ridge towards Peak of the Ridges, the first summit of the day.  I was amazed by the blues and greens of the views that came into sight as I climbed up past the false summits and rocking outcroppings.

Once at Peak of the Ridges you can take in exceptional views of the southern end of the park as you head across the Little Knife Edge to a gorgeous alpine meadow where I saw my first of many signs of moose as the butterflies hovered over their scat.  I knew that this trail was popular with bears and moose and because I was alone, put my Spotify on speaker and played tunes along the way. I normally do not listen to music on the trail, but when I don’t anticipate seeing other hikers and am alone in Maine’s wilderness, it’s worth it to make a little extra noise so I don’t have any awkward encounters with wildlife on the trail.

As I ascended out of the meadow, I climbed up a large talus field to the Traveler which had excellent views of northern Maine and the other Traveler peaks.  This is the part of the trail that was most challenging to me mentally and physically.  Temperatures were in the high 70’s and arid.  I hadn’t seen a soul all morning and was as far from the trailhead that I would be that day.  I saw ample moose scat, bobcat/Lynx’s scat, bear scat and a killer moose fly that stalked me until I was able to stun it with a swat.  I felt very small amidst nature and it was humbling and wonderful.

I quickly traversed the col between the Traveler and North Traveler so I could get back above treeline for some breezes and my descent.  North Traveler is open and unique and offers great views of the starfish shaped loop that you’ve just traversed.  This peak also featured some beautiful meadows where I was sure a moose and her calf were hiding around the next corner. But luckily any wildlife stayed hidden.

As I began my descent from North Traveler around 12:45pm, I finally saw my first person of the day and then a handful more.  I knew I was approaching the end of my hike and was already missing the solitude of the morning. The trip winds down above Lower South Branch and then reconnects with the Pogy Notch Trail.

Back at the trailhead by 2pm, I headed to the car to grab my sandals and a cold beer and took a quick dip in the pond to cool off while I watched campers canoeing and playing in the pond.  I had done the loop in a little over 6 hours and felt incredible and was already thinking about all of the people that I wanted to bring back to this special place.   This hike has earned a place on my list of best hikes in Maine and one of my new favorites.

Wishing you sun and blue skies!

Willow

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