1-minute hike: Bigelow Mountain near Stratton

Difficulty: Very strenuous. The summit of Bigelow Mountain is just over 4,000 feet in elevation, making it one of the tallest peaks in Maine. Hiking to the summit is about 4.5 miles, one way, but hikers often travel along the ridge to lesser peaks, making for a loop hike of 12 to 14 miles, depending on the trails taken.

Stratton Brook Pond

Stratton Brook Pond

How to get there: The most common trailhead used to hike Bigelow Mountain is the trailhead for the Fire Warden’s Trail, which is located at the end of Stratton Brook Pond Road in Wyman Township. To get there, start at the intersection of routes 27, 142 and 16 at the center of Kingfield and drive north on Route 16-27 about 18.4 miles, then turn right onto Stratton Brook Road. The trailhead is located at the end of Stratton Brook Road, but the last 0.5 miles is too rocky for most vehicles. A parking lot is located at the start of the rocky section of road, and that’s where most people park.

bigelow0714-2Other trailheads used to access the Bigelow Mountain Range: where the AT crosses Route 27 in Wyman Township; where the AT crosses Stratton Brook Road in Wyman Township; where the AT crosses Bog Brook Road in Dead River Township; and where the AT crosses Long Falls Dam Road in Carrying Place Township.

Information: The Bigelow Mountain Range is one of the most distinctive landmarks of western Maine. Located at the southern end of Flagstaff Lake, the 12-mile long mountain range includes several peaks. The highest is Bigelow Mountain’s West Peak at 4,145 feet above sea level; then there’s Avery Peak (4,088), South Horn (3,831), North Horn (3,820), Cranberry Peak (3,213) and Little Bigelow (3,040 feet).

Avery Peak

Avery Peak

Bigelow and Little Bigelow mountains were named after Maj. Timothy Bigelow, who climbed the mountain range in 1775 “for the purpose of observation” during the Invasion of Canada, according to the 1860 book “Reminiscences of the Military Life and Sufferings of Col. Timothy Bigelow” by Charles Hersey.

The entire mountain range is located in the Bigelow Preserve, 36,000 acres of public land that is open to low-impact recreation, such as hiking, mountain biking, cross-country skiing, hunting and fishing. This preserve was created due to a grassroots effort in the 1970s.

A view from the trail to Avery Peak.

A view from the trail to Avery Peak.

In the 1960s, ski area developers started planning the “Aspen of the East,” a multimillion-dollar ski resort to be built on the north slope of Bigelow Mountain. This development would include a condominium village, complete with an airport.

In response, a number of Maine residents formed Friends of Bigelow, a group that led the Bigelow Preserve Campaign in 1976 to protect the mountain range by creating a preserve. The group collected more than 50,000 signatures to place a referendum on the ballot. The referendum passed by a slim margin of 51 percent to 49 percent.

Cranberries on Avery Peak.

Cranberries on Avery Peak.

Thus is the history of the Bigelow Preserve, which is administered by the Maine Bureau of Parks and Public Lands. However, because the Appalachian Trail runs through the preserve and across the Bigelow Mountain Range, many of the trails and campsites in the preserve are maintained by the Maine Appalachian Trail Club, volunteers that maintain and manage 267 miles of the A.T. in Maine.

Hiking in this particular mountain range can take anywhere from one to three days, depending on your hiking speed, the trails you take and how many peaks you want to visit. Several backcountry tent sites, lean-tos and water sources along the trails makes camping easy.

My tent platform at Avery Memorial Campsite.

My tent platform at Avery Memorial Campsite.

Trail access and camping is free. Dogs are permitted. Remember to carry out of the preserve what you carry in, and leave no trace. Fires permitted only at designated fire pits, which are located at select tent sites.

The Appalachian Trail travels along the ridge of Bigelow and Little Bigelow Mountains and is connected to Horns Pond Trail and the Fire Warden’s Trail, which travel up the south face of Bigelow Mountain. In the preserve, six backcountry campsites are located along these trails. And during the summer, MATC posts a caretaker at Horns Pond, where tent sites and lean-tos are available to hikers first come, first serve.

The intersection of Fire Warden's Trail and Horns Pond Trail.

The intersection of Fire Warden’s Trail and Horns Pond Trail.

Many hikers explore the mountain range in two days, camping at one of the tent sites in the range. Often people will start at Stratton Brook Trailhead and hike 1.7 up the Fire Warden’s Trail to its intersection with Horns Pond Trail. From there, hikers decide whether to continue on the Fire Warden’s Trail 2.3 mile to Avery Peak or take the Horns Pond Trail 2.6 mile to Horns Pond, then another 0.6 mile to South Horn. Atop the mountain, a 2.4-mile stretch of the A.T. connects North Horn to Avery Peak, traveling along the ridge and visiting West Peak along the way. Therefore, you can hike a loop to return to the Fire Warden’s Trail-Horns Trail intersection and descend via Fire Warden’s Trail.

Along this particular hike, you can plan to stay at Moose Falls Campsite, which is 2.7 miles up the Fire Warden’s Trail from the trailhead; Avery Memorial Campsite, which is in Bigelow Col, 0.4 mile south of Avery Peak and 0.3 north of West Peak on the A.T.; or Horns Pond Lean-tos, which is 0.6 mile south of South Horn on the A.T.

Avery Memorial Campsite, Bigelow Col.

Avery Memorial Campsite, Bigelow Col.

For information about Bigelow Preserve, call the Bureau of Parks and Public Lands at 778-8231 or search for it at www.maine.gov. For information on the A.T. in Maine, visit matc.org or email info@matc.org.

Personal note: For me, Bigelow Mountain will always be the place where I first spent the night in a tent alone. While I’d camped many times prior to my Bigelow hike on July 22, I had always had a companion (campanion?) bundled up in a sleeping bag beside me, be it my mom, sister, boyfriend or friend.

A steep part of Fire Warden's Trail.

A steep part of Fire Warden’s Trail.

I had heard that the Fire Warden’s Trail was very steep and unforgiving, but now that I’ve hiked it, I disagree. The trail began flat, then climbed gradually. It was only after Moose Falls Campsite, 3 miles up the trail, that it became increasingly steep, with section after section of stone steps. What I most remember about the trail is the abundance of toads I saw hopping across it.

Sweaty and tired, I pitched my tent at the Avery Memorial Campsite on one of the many wooden tent platforms tucked in the forest. I’ve written a separate blog post about my solo camping experience (to read it, click here), but I will say that it couldn’t have been a more beautiful night for it. From Avery Peak, I watched the sun turn blood red as it set over the western Maine mountains.

Sunset from Avery Peak.

Sunset from Avery Peak.

The A.T. along Bigelow ridge.

The A.T. along Bigelow ridge.

I rose at 6:30 the next morning, packed up and headed south on the A.T., reaching a windy West Peak in 0.3 mile. What would have been a spectacular view was obscured by fog, so I lingered only long enough to snap a few photos. I then carefully picked my way along the rocky ridge, buffeted by gusts of wind, down to the shelter of alpine forest. While hiking along the ridge, I came across four hikers headed in the opposite direction. They had spent the night at Horns Pond Lean-tos. I also spooked a partridge.

In about 2 miles, I climbed up to South Horn. Again, the fog (or was it clouds?) cloaked any views. But by the time I reached North Horn via side trail, the sun had broken through the clouds and I could see Horns Pond below, surrounded by forested hills.

Horns Pond

Horns Pond

After a steep descent to Horns Pond, I explored the large campsite, which includes a number of lean-tos and tent sites, as well as a privy and spring for hikers to collect water. Horns Pond, covered in lily pads and yellow blossoms, sparkled in the morning sun light. I sat for a while by its shore to rest before continuing on the A.T. to Horns Pond Trail, which led me back down the mountain to Fire Warden’s Trail. The hike, not counting the extra trip to Avery Peak to watch the sunset, was about 12.5 miles.

My route:

My route drawn on a MATC map.

My route drawn on a MATC map.

Extra pics:

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Aislinn Sarnacki

About Aislinn Sarnacki

Aislinn is a Bangor Daily News reporter for the Outdoors pages, focusing on outdoor recreation and Maine wildlife. Visit her main blog at actoutwithaislinn.bangordailynews.com.