Difficulty: Moderate to strenuous. The hike is steep but fairly short, with the trail measuring 1.4 mile from the parking area to the summit of the mountain, meaning the out-and-back hike totals about 3 miles, counting the exploration of outlooks just north of the summit.
How to get there: From the intersection of Bridge Road (Route 16) and Route 201 in the town of Bingham, drive 15 miles north on Route 201, then turn right onto Main Road in Caratunk. Drive 0.8 miles, then veer right onto Pleasant Pond Road. Drive 3.2 miles, then turn left onto North Shore Road. Drive 1.3 (with the road turning to gravel after 0.3 mile), then turn right onto a narrow gravel drive, which leads to the trailhead parking area in 0.1 mile. Appalachian Trail signs mark the drive and the trailhead, which is at the far end of the grass parking area.
Information: In the northwest rural Maine towns of Caratunk and The Forks, the long ridge of Pleasant Pond Mountain rises to the east of Pleasant Pond, a deep body of water known for its crystal clear waters. As one of the many mountains traversed by the famous Appalachian Trail, this mountain is enjoyed by hundreds of long distance hikers every year. It also features a short but challenging day hike, thanks to a parking area at the foot of the mountain off North Shore Road.
Starting at that parking area and hiking north on the AT, it’s just 1.4 miles to the summit of Pleasant Pond Mountain at 2,447 feet above sea level. The summit is marked by a sign held up by a pile of rocks. And from outlooks before and after the mountain’s peak, hikers are rewarded with unobstructed views to the east and north, to the nearby cone of Mosquito Mountain and the long glittering body of Moxie Pond. And beyond, that the many peaks of the 100-Mile Wilderness and Moosehead Lake Region form a jagged, multi-layered horizon.
The stretch of the AT between the parking area off North Shore Road and the summit of Pleasant Pond Mountain is fairly steep and climbs consistently up the northwest slope of the mountain.
Starting at the parking area, the trail travels through a mixed forest including oak, maple, birch, white pine, hemlock and balsam fir trees. This section of the trail is fairly smooth, easy and flat. In fact, it even travels downhill a bit. At about 0.3 mile, you’ll come to a side trail on your right that leads to Pleasant Pond Lean-to and privy in about 0.1 mile. This side trail is marked sparingly with blue blazes, while the entire AT is marked with telltale white blazes.
Continuing north on the AT, the trail becomes increasingly rocky and rough, with impressive tangles of exposed tree roots that will make footing tricky in some areas. The trail also includes several long rock staircases, which must have taken trail builders quite a lot of time and effort to create.
Near the summit of the mountain, the trail emerges from the trees all of the sudden to travel over an exposed stretch of bedrock dotted with stunted evergreen trees and patches of lichen and moss. The trail then dips back down into the woods briefly before climbing up to the summit, where there is only a partial view. If you continue beyond the summit just about 0.1 mile, you’ll come across two more outlooks located along the trail. These outlook provide the best views on the mountain.
From these outlooks, the AT continues north, descending to Middle Mountain, then down a long ridge to Moxie Pond, which is about 5 miles from the summit of Pleasant Pond Mountain. Day hikers would turn around at the second outlook beyond (north on the AT) of the summit of Pleasant Pond Mountain and retrace their steps to the parking area off North Shore Road for an out-and-back hike measuring about 3 miles.
The entire AT measures about 2,190 miles, stretching from Springer Mountain in Georgia to Katahdin in Maine. This makes the AT the longest single unit of the National Park System. The trail is managed by the nonprofit Appalachian Trail Conservancy, which works with trail organizations in each state to maintain the trail. In Maine, the Maine Appalachian Trail Club maintains the vast majority of the AT, including the section up Pleasant Pond Mountain.
Trail users are asked by the ATC and MATC to practice Leave No Trace principles, respecting the landscape and other trail users and carrying out all trash. Dogs are permitted on this section of the AT, and this particular section of trail shouldn’t pose a problem for most fit dogs. However, as with all hiking trails, it’s important to keep control of your pets at all times and clean up after them.
For information and to purchase a detailed guide and maps for the AT in Maine, visit MATC.org.
Personal note: As a lifelong Maine resident and a hiking enthusiast, I’ve visited the Appalachian Trail quite a few times, almost always as a day hiker (though there was that one time I stayed overnight in the Bigelow Range). I hope that my exploration of the famous trail — a few miles at a time — might show people that you don’t have to be a long-distance hiker to enjoy the AT. There are a lot of beautiful sections of the trail that make for great day hikes.
The Maine section of the AT is about 282 miles long and includes a lot of mountains, some that I’ve hiked, and some that I haven’t — yet. I had the opportunity to hike the AT up Pleasant Pond Mountain on Oct. 7, after spending two hours with the AT ferryman, Greg Caruso, while he shuttled hikers across the Kennebec River by canoe. Caruso was kind enough to let me tag along so I could write a story for the BDN Outdoors about his interesting job.
By the time I made it to the trailhead for Pleasant Pond Mountain, it was 11:30 a.m. and the sun was shining bright, filtering through the colorful fall canopy of red and yellow leaves. Under a blue sky, the forest warmed to the low 70s as I made my way up the mountain solo, pausing to photograph particularly colorful leaves that had recently fallen onto the trail.
Early in the hike, I spied a small garter snake, which slithered out of my way, then froze beside the trail, blending into the dead leaves. Other wildlife I observed on the hike included a ruffed grouse (which many Mainers refer to as partridge), a hairy woodpecker, a red-breasted nuthatch and plenty of curious red squirrels.
When I emerged from the trees near the summit of the mountain and paused to take in the first view, I was surprised by the emotions that came to me — a mixture of awe and joy. The landscape was on fire with fall color, and as far as I could see seemed to be wilderness — mountains, hills, ponds and lakes, swallowing up any sign of civilization.
On the hike up the mountain, I’d run into only one other hiker, a woman who kindly shared her knowledge of the hike, instructing me to continue hiking past the summit sign for a couple minutes to find the best views. I followed her instruction, finding two great outlooks atop cliffs on the east edge of the mountain’s ridge. At both spots I lingered, enjoying the sun, the quiet and the vast landscape. Eventually, I turned around and made short work of the hike down. Then, on the way home, I stopped to buy a snack at Jimmy’s Shop ‘n Save in Bingham, where local businesses and some residents appeared to be in the thick of a friendly Halloween decoration contest. I don’t think I’ve ever seen so many fake skeletons, spiderwebs, gravestones and ghosts. And being a big Halloween fan, I was delighted.