1-minute hike: Mount OJI in Baxter State Park

Difficulty: Strenuous. The 2.9-mile Mount OJI Trail is challenging for a few reasons. At the base of the mountain, the trail can be difficult to follow in places where the blue blazes marking the trail have faded. Muddy and flooded sections of trail require some strategizing — hopping from rock to rock — or you’ll be hiking the mountain with soggy boots. As the trail climbs a rockslide on the south side of the mountain, it becomes steep and in some places requires technical hiking (using both hands and feet). The trip to the summit and back is 5.8 miles, but you can make it a 6.8-mile hike by continuing past the summit to visit Old Jay Eye Rock.

How to get there: Travel on I-95 to Exit 244. Turn west on Route 157 and travel to Millinocket. Bear right at the three-way intersection after the second traffic light in downtown Millinocket. Bear left at the next “Y” intersection, staying on the main road. About 8 miles from Millinocket, pass Northwoods Trading Post on the right. Continue another 8 miles on the paved road to Togue Pond Gatehouse. After registering with the gatehouse, take Park Tote Road (left at the fork after the gatehouse). Drive 11.8 miles on Park Tote Road to the entrance to Kidney Spur Road (which leads to Kidney Pond Campground) on the left. The trailhead to Mount OJI Trail and a small grass parking area is almost directly across the road. Park in the grass parking area. If you reach Foster Field Campground, which will be on your right, you’ve driven a few hundred feet too far.  

Information: Mount OJI rises approximately 3,410 feet above sea level in Baxter State Park and provides breathtaking views of nearby mountains, especially Doubletop Mountain (to the west), Barren Mountain (to the southeast) and Mount Coe (to the northeast).

Mount OJI got its name from three rockslides on its southwestern slope that at one points formed the shape of the three letters, according to the 10th edition of the “AMC Maine Mountain Guide” edited by Carey Kish. But after a major storm in 1932, the slides began to change, and the letter shapes became distorted. Then in 1954, a fourth slide came down, according to the AMC guide.

Mount OJI Trail starts at the Park Tote Road by Foster Fields Campground and travels east toward the mountain. Right away, you will pass through a cedar swamp on bog bridges and enter a deciduous forest. Stretches of the trail are saturated and muddy. Closer to the trailhead, these wet areas are easily navigated by using zigzagging bog bridges. But farther down the trail, these bridges disappear and hikers must test their skills at rock hopping. During the spring and early summer, your shoes will likely get muddy and wet.

The trail is marked with blue blazes in most areas. But on June 21, 2013, the blazes on the trees were very faded, and in some places disappeared altogether. A few confusing spots caused me to stop and search for the trail. For example, the trail follows an old streambed for a distance and then veers left. I continued on the streambed, then had to double back after realizing that I hadn’t seen a hint of a blue blaze for a while.

The trail climbs to drier land and travels through a beautiful mature beech forest before reaching the outwash of the rockslide you will be climbing. The outwash looks like a miniature gorge, and the trail travels right through the center. Here the trail begins to climb and soon reaches the exposed slide, which offers rewarding views of a section of the park that is relatively flat and riddled with ponds, including Daicey Pond, Kidney Pond, Grassy Pond and Elbow Pond.

The slide is challenging and extremely slippery if wet from rainfall. Blue blazes on rocks and cairns mark what trail crews consider the safest route, but sometimes it is best to study the slide, which is everchanging, and decide which route will work best for you. Beware of loose rocks and do not hike directly behind someone. If you knock a rock loose, shout a warning to people below.

Exact trail length is a bit tricky with this mountain because the trailhead sign and the summit sign do not agree. The trailhead sign states that the summit is at 2.7 miles and Old Jay Eye Rock is at 3 miles. But the summit sign states that the summit is at 2.9 miles and Old Jay Eye Rock is at 3.4 miles. On top of that, several guidebooks disagree by 0.1 mile here and there.

I will go with the summit sign mileage.

At 2.7 miles, instead of reaching the summit, you will reach the junction with the OJI Link Trail.  (If you turn right here, you will reach Mount Coe Trail at a point 0.5 mile from the summit of Mount Coe.) Turn left and hike 0.2 mile along Mount OJI’s ridge to the summit at 2.9 miles.

The summit is wooded and marked with a sign. It provides only glimpses of the surrounding terrain from gaps in the stunted evergreens, but just before reaching the summit are several open areas along the ridge that provide stunning 360-degree views of the region.

If you continue past the summit another 0.5 mile, you will reach Old Jay Eye Rock, a rock formation on the north end of OJI’s ridge. The going is a bit rough along this section of the trail, especially in parts that travel through stands of hardy evergreens, which have encroached on the trail. The low-lying plants in this area easily leave scratches on exposed skin, so my advice is to wear pants or tall socks. The narrow trail leads right to the top of Old Jay Eye Rock.

Another way to climb to the summit of Mount OJI is by hiking up the Marston Trail, which begins at a parking area off the Park Tote Road north of the Slide Dam Day Use Area, which is about 14.7 miles from Togue Pond Gatehouse. Though the trail used to start at the Slide Dam Day Use Area, Marston Trail now has its own smaller parking lot farther up the road. About 1.5 miles down the Marston Trail, turn right to reach the bottom of the Mount Coe slide. At about 2.7 miles, turn right onto OJI Link Trail and hike 0.5 mile to Mount OJI Trail and another 0.2 mile to the summit of OJI.

Personal note: I’ll always remember Mount OJI as my first solo hike in Baxter State Park. It’s strange. I’ve hiked so many Maine mountains on my own, but I always seem to be with at least one hiking companion when I enter the south gate of BSP. Perhaps that’s why I felt so excited to start the Mount OJI Trail on the buggy morning of June 21.

By 7 a.m., I was walking over bog bridges, sipping orange juice and eating a fruit bar. Delicate white lady slippers and violets blooming along the trail almost made me forget about the blackflies and the giant mosquitoes floating in rays of sunlight filtering through the canopy.

After almost losing my way at the base of the mountain, I began the steady climb up and was huffing and puffing by the time I reached the slide, which was my favorite part of the hike. Though the slide was steep and difficult to navigate at times, it was open to the wind and therefore free of bugs. It also gave me an excuse to slow down as I looked for the best way up the rocks.

I suggest Mount OJI Trail to anyone looking for a multi-pronged challenge. If you want a clean, wide trail that’s easy to follow, this mountain isn’t for you. Mount OJI is a wonderful adventure, but one that will likely leave a few small marks, courtesy of the thick alpine forest.

Aislinn Sarnacki

About Aislinn Sarnacki

Professionally, Aislinn is a Bangor Daily News reporter for the "Outdoor" and "Living" pages. She's a wilderness romper and fashion-forward bookworm.