Difficulty: Easy to moderate, depending on how much of the trail you choose to hike. Hiking to the trail’s highlight natural feature, Blueberry Ledges, from the trailhead on the Golden Road, is a 2.1-mile hike, making for an out-and-back hike of 4.2 miles. This section of the trail is fairly wide with a gradual incline. However, the trail continues past the ledges for 3 miles, ending at Park Tote Road just south of Katahdin Stream Campground. This section of the trail climbs a steep hill and is narrower and more challenging.
How to get there: Take Interstate 95 Exit 244, then turn northwest on Route 157. Drive just over 11 miles, passing through Medway and East Millinocket to reach downtown Millinocket. Where Route 157 intersects with Katahdin Avenue, right right on Katahdin Avenue, following signs directing to Baxter State Park. Drive 0.2 mile, then veer left onto Bates Street, continuing toward Baxter State Park. Drive 8.4 miles, then turn left onto a short gravel road that leads to the Golden Road, where you’ll turn right to continue north. Drive 9.9 miles on the gravel Golden Road, being careful to stay out of the way of logging trucks and moose. Turn left to park in the large parking area just before Abol Bridge.
Information: Blueberry Ledges Trail is a popular day hike and snowshoe route in Baxter State Park, easily accessible from the famous Golden Road, which is open to vehicle traffic year round. Spurring off the Appalachian Trail not far from Abol Bridge, the wide Blueberry Ledges Trail travels gradually uphill through beautiful forest of young white birch and poplar trees to Blueberry Ledges, an open stream valley that features smooth granite ledges. At the ledges, a side trail leads to the left to where Katahdin Stream tumbles over the rock, forming little waterfalls.
During blueberry season — typically August — you can find an abundance of blueberries along this trail and at the ledges, according to the Katahdin Chamber of Commerce. And there’s a nice view of the mountains to the southwest from this open area year round.
To access Blueberry Ledges Trail, start at the parking area off the Golden Road just south of Abol Bridge. Cross the Golden Road and follow the white blazes, hiking northbound on the Appalachian Trail on a gravel road that serves as a snowmobile trail in the winter. You will soon reach a green Baxter State Park trail sign directing you to the left onto a wide trail.
In about 0.1 mile, you’ll walk past a parking lot on your left which can be used in the summer. Just past that, you’ll come to a trail juncture where you’ll take the left trail, remaining on the Appalachian Trail, to continue to Blueberry Ledges. You’ll soon pass between boulders blocking the trail to vehicles, then cross a footbridge over a narrow part of Abol Stream near a beaver dam. You’ll then pass through the boundary of Baxter State Park, where you’ll find a sign and a picnic table.
Soon after, you’ll reach a large kiosk that includes a trail register for all trail users, a trail register for Appalachian Trail thru-hikers, and posters of information about the park.
After signing into the trail register, take the trail to your right, leaving the Appalachian Trail to hike toward Blueberry Ledges and Abol Pond on a blue-blazed trail. In about 0.2 mile, you’ll reach another trail juncture, where you’ll veer left onto Blueberry Ledges Trail. From this point, it’s a 1.2 mile hike to Blueberry Ledges.
This area experienced a major forest fire in the summer of 1977, according to information provided by the Katahdin Chamber of Commerce. That is why the trail corridor is so wide. These corridors were used as fire breaks in an attempt to stop the spread of the fire. You’ll notice evidence of this fire, such as burned trees, along the trail.
Most people simply hike up to the ledges, which are just over 800 feet above sea level, but you can continue past these, climbing on the trail through a beautiful forest to over 1,200 feet above sea level, where the land levels off. The trail then travels gradually downhill to the Park Loop Road not far from Katahdin Stream Campground, ending about 3 miles from the ledges.
This trail is a part of the vast trail system of Baxter State Park, more than 200,000 acres of wilderness conserved by former Maine Gov. Percival Baxter. This park includes more than 200 miles of hiking trails that explore numerous mountains and travel to pristine bodies of water, where fishing and paddling are enjoyed.
Visitors to Baxter State Park are asked to follow certain rules so that the park can be managed in accordance to Baxter’s wishes and kept forever wild and a place for passive outdoor recreation and backcountry experiences. Dogs are not permitted in the park, nor are bicycles or ATVs. To learn more about these park rules before visiting, visit baxterstateparkauthority.com or call 723-5140.
Personal note: A snowmobile zipped past me as I stood by the green Baxter State Park trail sign. Stripping off my mittens, I crouched down and tightly fastened my bright red snowshoes to my boots. Snow spit down from gray clouds, and the temperature hovered in the low 30s as the unseen sun crested and began to descend.
I’d been on Blueberry Ledges Trail once before. In the early summer a few years ago, I walked the trail — and bushwhacked a great deal nearby it — with Maine botanist Glen Mittelhauser, who at the time was collecting data for “Plants of Baxter State Park,” the first complete flora of the park. The book was published earlier this year, and I was happy to be able to attend the launch party in Orono.
In the winter, the trail and Blueberry Ledges looked completely different. Deer and snowshoe hare tracks criss-crossed the wide trail, and snow covered the granite Blueberry Ledges, masking some of the beauty of the landscape. And unfortunately, the low clouds on Dec. 23 covered Katahdin, which dominates the view from Abol Bridge and where the trail crosses Abol Stream.
The stands of paper birch, however, were just as beautiful, the trees’ white, twisting trunks lined up on both sides of the trail. And wide open space of Blueberry Ledges was still an interesting sight, with the skeletons of dead trees poking out of the snow, evidence of the forest fire that marred the landscape decades ago.
The trail was already packed down with snowshoes, and intersecting Abol Stream Trail was lined with cross-country ski tracks. So even though I was the only hiker to sign the registration book that day, I didn’t feel that I was in a terribly remote place. Nevertheless, I had a trail map, handheld GPS device and SPOT satellite tracker with me, as well as my cell phone, which unsurprisingly had no reception.
I hiked to just above the ledges, where I found a giant white pine and sat for a while in the snow, leaning against the tree’s massive trunk. I then backtracked for a hike of just over 4 miles, according to my GPS device.
For people looking to enjoy Baxter State Park in the winter, I highly suggest this fairly easy snowshoe, as well as the intersecting trail that travels along the edge of Abol Stream and forms a loop that visits Abol Pond. Then there’s the Appalachian Trail and Foss and Knowlton Pond Trail, all sprouting from this one trailhead on the Golden Road, and all great trails to explore year round.