A Challenging Hike in Northern Baxter Might Be Maine’s Best-Kept Secret
A few years ago, I officially began my midlife crisis. While I sadly can't afford a Porsche or yacht, there are a few things I have been able to attach myself to.
For starters, I can't get enough of jam band music. Phish and the Dead are constantly playing on my phone, car, or turntable. However, my questionable music choices are not what's relevant to this article.
What I'm really here to write about coincides with my newfound love for hiking. It's really hiking mountains, to be specific. I would call it mountain climbing, but the last thing I would call myself is a mountain climber. I'm not exactly scaling Mount Everest here. But if it's in Maine or New Hampshire, then game on.
I have been lucky enough to climb some of the best trails in the region over the past few years, but nothing compares to one I conquered earlier this summer – a trail that might be the best-kept secret in Maine.
The name of this gem is the Traveler Loop, which is located in the best park in Maine, Baxter State Park. Here's a rough representation of the loop.
The Traveler Loop is 10 miles of pure, unadulterated hell. This trail will swallow you whole, then spit you out just for fun. There are terrain changes on every ascent and descent. The weather is unpredictable. Miles of the trail are above tree line, which can cause havoc on the equilibrium. Not to mention the wind gusts that seemingly come from nowhere. This is not a trail to take lightly.
Sounds awful right? Wrong. It's incredible. I mean, it's extraordinarily difficult, but worth every ounce of effort.
The Traveler Loop consists of three summits: Peak of the Ridges, The Traveler, and North Traveler Mountain. All three are above 3,100 feet. The trail also includes about seven false summits, though it feels more like 27.
Starting from the South Branch Campground in Northeastern Baxter, the trail is best done counterclockwise, so that is the direction we headed. Of course, we immediately missed an important turn, and added close to 45 more minutes to the hike. I guess this is a good time to tell you how the trail is not the best marked. Be sure to pay attention to the countless cairns along the way.
The first summit is Peak of the Ridges. It's the longest and steepest of the three climbs and features numerous terrain changes and false summits. However, the views along the way are some of the prettiest I have ever seen. After a grueling three miles, we reached the 3,200+ ft summit and savored the beauty.
The relaxation doesn't last long, because when we started the descent, we quickly realized we were about to do a junior version of the Knife's Edge. It's rocky, narrow, and steep, but a lot of fun.
The second ascent is shorter, but technically very difficult. It included numerous scrambles over very loose rock. It would be very easy to roll an ankle, or worse. Then it gets very slow and steep right before the summit. But the hard work pays off, because this summit of Traveler Mountain is out of this world, and the highest part of the Traveler Loop, sitting at 3,540 ft.
The next descent was the first solid chance for a recovery. The first section is very technical, but then gets into the trees and is much more reasonable. Then the final climb kicks off. This is probably the easiest of the three, but by this time, my legs were already jelly. It was a strain to reach the peak.
The summit of North Traveler Mountain sits at 3,154 ft and gives the climber great panoramic views of the park. It also starts you down one of the most wicked descents this side of the Mississippi River. This included trail parts that wrapped around significant ledges. It was just what I needed when my legs were already cooked.
Finally, after 10 intense miles and hours of pain, we reached the end of the loop. There are very few things that feel as euphoric as finishing a major hike. And let me tell you, every minute of this monster was worth it.
The views, terrain, and people met along the way made this one of the most epic experiences of my life. I can't recommend it enough. It's the gnarliest hike I have ever done. I would be shocked if there are any day hikes like this one in Maine. And that's why I truly believe the Traveler Loop is this state's best-kept secret.
Give it a try, but be ready for it. This hike is no joke. Some say it's even more difficult than climbing Katahdin. Go find out for yourself. Trust me, you won't be disappointed.