Maine’s Katahdin Woods & Waters National Monument is one of the most recent additions to the National Park System. President Obama designated the monument by executive order on August 24, 2016. But the story begins long before that. As early as 2001, Burt’s Bees’ cofounder, Roxanne Quimby, began purchasing logging land with the intention of creating a national park. Despite years of planning leading up to the 2016 designation, the monument still faces backlash today.
I won’t dive into the complex politics of the monument, which lies just east of Baxter State Park in north central Maine, but to give you a sense:
- Many people in Sherman, the town nearest the monument entrance, still have “National Park NO!” signs in their front yards
- The logging company that manages timberland adjacent to the monument, Prentiss & Carlisle, mark their roads and bridges with large yellow signs :”This bridge owner says ‘National Park NO!’
- More recently, Maine’s governor attempted to block the installation of road signs directing visitors to the new area managed by the National Park Service until a few weeks ago
Yet, in Sherman alone, rental and, guide services are springing up, the gas station is expanding, people are coming and spending money in places that have been experiencing steady economic and demographic losses in recent decades. Maybe the monument isn’t such a bad thing?
More on this another time. Now, to the Barnard Mountain Trail Review!
Barnard Mountain Trail
From Sherman, Maine, follow Route 11 south (a slight left at a near 4-way) for 5 miles. As Route 11/Grindstone Rd. takes a sharp left, continue straight onto the gravel Swift Brook Rd. This is where you'll want a detailed road map to continue into the monument, which is another 17 miles on logging roads with many offshoots and a 15 mph speed limit. (During my visit, the dirt roads were in good condition.) If you cross the gorgeous East Branch of the Penobscot River on the Whetstone Bridge, you know you're getting close.
Basic map: Katahdin Woods and Waters Recreation
Starting at the parking lot off Mile 11.8 of the Katahdin Woods & Waters Loop Road, the trail follows a former logging road now converted to International Appalachian Trail. The trail is wide and dips down to a bridge and lean-to at Katahdin Brook, and back up a hill. After 2.5 miles, the Barnard Mountain Trail spurs off the logging road and continues another 0.8 miles uphill to the summit.
The climbs are moderate and steady, but not especially steep.
3.3 miles (one-way)
No entry fee
View, lean-to, brook crossing
|Distance||3.3 miles (one-way)||Entry Fee||No entry fee|
|Hike Type||Moderate climb||Dog Friendly?||Yes|
|Special Challenges||None||Features||View, lean-to, brook crossing|
Includes: Scenic Scale, for pure beauty; Wilderness Factor, channeling Stegner or Zahniser, government designated Wilderness Areas receive an automatic 10; Moose-O-Meter, how likely you are to find moose, or other wildlife; and some wildcards. All ratings from 1 to 10. A “perfect” score is 30.
- Near peak fall foliage: +2
- Not many features of interest along the trail: -2
- Prize-winning views of Mount Katahdin, Katahdin Lake, and points west from the summit: +5
Scenic Scale: 5
- Not a designated wilderness, but remote (miles from the nearest town): +4
- Surrounded by miles of dirt logging roads: -2
- The Barnard Mountain Trail is becoming more of a destination with the emergence of the monument, the International Appalachian Trail, and the lack of other hiking trails currently in Katahdin Woods and Waters: -1
- No cell phone coverage: +2
- The monument protects over 85,000 acres adjacent to wilderness of Baxter State Park and near Debsconeag Lakes Wilderness Area: +1
- A fraction of the people who visit Baxter State Park: +3
Wilderness Factor: 8
After three years, I finally saw a moose in Maine. The moose was not on the trail, but near the official entrance of Katahdin Woods and Waters, just past the Sandy Bank Stream camping area.
I was driving out of the monument after my hike, when suddenly a massive phantom appeared in the middle of the road only 100 feet in front of me. I stopped my car, lost my breath, and we stared at each other. Coming to my senses (as a photographer), I grabbed my camera and slowly opened my door ready to peek out. But before I could, the 7-foot tall bull moose vanished into the forest.
- Moose potential in Maine’s north woods—high: +8
- An interesting assemblage of migrating songbirds along the old logging road, including kinglets, warblers, and a scarlet tanager:+1
Trail Boulder Bonus
An extra point for the trail crew that build the Barnard Mountain Trail! The trail goes between two giant granite erratics that look like a cracked egg: +1
This hike is a great introduction to Katahdin Woods & Waters National Monument. However, next time I visit the protected area near Baxter, I’ll definitely go for more than a day and hike along Wassataquoik Stream or bring my canoe to see its full beauty!
Katahdin Woods and Waters is full of interesting beasts and incredible vistas, so it’s no surprise that it receives a high score from our judges. If you’re looking for a real north woods adventure, Barnard Mountain Trail should be near the top of your list.
Stay tuned for more trail reviews and pictures from your humble photographer. In the meantime, please sign up for the email list, connect on Facebook or Instagram, and discover more Maine wildlife and landscapes in my gallery.
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