Difficulty: Strenuous. The hike is 3.4 miles, out and back, and is steep and rocky much of the way.
How to get there: Take Interstate 95 Exit 264 and drive north on Route 11 through the towns of Stacyville and Patten. After about 16 miles, turn left onto Mountain Road in the town of Hersey. Drive about 2 miles on this gravel road and park in a small clearing, across the road from a picnic table, where you’ll find a sign that directs you to continue straight on the road to hike the mountain. Continuing on Mountain Road on foot, the trail up the mountain soon branches off to your right, marked with a sign reading “Mt. Trail” tucked into the trees, a red arrow spray-painted on a small rock, and orange and pink flagging tape marking the trail. Be sure to follow the flagging tape.
Information: Rising 2,440 feet above sea level, Mount Chase features a steep 1.7-mile trail that leads to the mountain’s bald summit, where hikers are rewarded with spectacular open views of the region. The trail is marked with orange flagging tape and a few old signs that can be difficult to read, so it may be wise to carry a GPS device if hiking this mountain for the first time.
Starting at a small clearing near the end of Mountain Road, the trail begins by following the road, then heads into the forest on your right and starts to climb the mountain. The climb starts out fairly gradual but quickly becomes steep and rocky. At 0.8 mile, you’ll come to a trail intersection with old carved wooden signs that are nearly impossible to read. Continue straight ahead (west) to keep climbing. (Do not take the trail to your right.)
As you climb, you’ll be walking through a mostly hardwood forest. And the trail, which starts out wide, narrows into more of a traditional hiking trail. If in doubt of which direction to go, simply follow the flagging tape, which is tied to trees all the way to the summit.
A little over a mile into the hike, the trail travels through a grassy area where you’ll find a wooden sign that states that Mt. Chase summit is in 0.5 mile, and indeed it is. Soon after the sign, you’ll come to an old fire warden’s cabin, which is still standing but has seen better days. The cabin lacks doors and windows, and the flooring is starting to give way. Explore with caution.
Soon after the cabin, the trail becomes steep and rocky. The final 0.5 mile of the hike is almost a steady climb, with just a few short flat stretches where you can catch your breath. At about 1.5 mile, you’ll come to an intersection where you can veer left to hike a short side trail to an outcrop called Eagle’s Point, or you can veer right to complete the last leg of the hike to the summit.
The final 0.2 mile climb is steep and rocky. The trees transition from hardwood to softwood, then the trail emerges onto a rocky ridge covered with stunted spruce trees. You’ll find no sign at the summit, but you will find a communications building, and just east of that is a metal U.S. Geological Survey marker stamped into the bedrock inside the foundations of an old fire tower. According to Forest Fire Lookout Association Maine Chapter, the first fire tower on Mount Chase was constructed in 1909, and it was made out of wood. In 1917, that tower was replaced by a steel tower that was 16 feet tall. This tower was relocated to the Patten Lumber Museum in 2001.
From the summit, looking west down the mountain’s granite ridge, you’ll see a wall of mountains that include the nearby Sugarloaf Mountain (not to be confused with the Sugarloaf Mountain that is home to a ski resort in western Maine), and farther off, the mountains of Baxter State Park, including Katahdin. The bodies of water you can see to the west are Lower Shin Pond and Upper Shin Pond. In all other directions the land is fairly flat, with Pleasant Lake to the north and a few small mountains to the southeast in Island Falls and Oakfield.
For more information about hiking Mount Chase, visit the website of the nearby Shin Pond Village at http://shinpond.com, where I initially found directions to the hike, or call 207-528-2900.
Personal note: The handwritten signs propped up against a picnic table at the trailhead made me grin. This would be an adventure, I told myself. Sometimes the nicest trails are hidden down old dirt roads and marked with such unofficial-looking signs. I would not be worried. I had a GPS device and my phone had reception, and I knew from a local resident that the trail to the top of Mount Chase was clear. A marathoner, he ran up the trail on a regular basis. (And about half a mile into the hike, as I huffed and puffed, I’d think of that feat — of actually running up the mountain — with awe.)
Sunny with a cool bite of fall in the air, it was the perfect weekend to spend outdoors. Aspen leaves were turning from green to bright yellow, and red was bleeding into the foliage of sugar maples. That evening, my husband and I would stay in a beautiful little log cabin in Mars Hill — about an hour and a half away, nestled between hills and wind turbines on the Canadian border. We’d hike another northern Maine trail the following day.
The hike up Mount Chase started out on a wide, rocky trail that appeared to be an old road that is likely also used by snowmobiles and even ambitious ATVers. The trail remained wide as it traveled through a forest that was neither new nor mature. About a mile into the hike, we commented on how steady a climb it was. I imagine it’s the same route the fire warden used to take up the mountain. Fire warden trails are usually fairly direct, without many switchbacks to lessen the slope.
I have to admit that I had no idea there was an old fire warden’s cabin on the mountain. There isn’t a lot of information about this hike online. So when we arrived at the old, rundown building, I was delighted. Very few fire warden cabins are still standing in Maine. Often they’re torn down on state land because they can be a hazard to visitors. And indeed, this particular cabin looks like it might collapse at any moment. Being a bit of a risk taker, I stepped through the doorless entrance of the cabin to take a few photos of the cabin’s old stove and cupboards, table and chair. The walls were covered with the etched names of visitors, which is typical of such cabins, but nevertheless a bit creepy.
We were trying to make good time up the mountain because we’d arrived at the trailhead around 3 p.m. and I’d read that the hike would take 1.5 hours. With sundown just after 6 p.m., that was cutting it close. As we hiked the final leg of the trail to the summit, I started to slow down and my dog, Oreo, trotted back back to check on me several times. But we made it to the summit in just over an hour, with plenty of sunlight left for our descent.
In fact, by the time we hiked back down to the trailhead, it was dusk, the perfect time for spotting a moose. As we drove away from the mountain on Mountain Road, we passed a wetland, and standing at the edge of the water was a big bull moose. Standing quite a distance from the road, the moose wasn’t at all disturbed when I stepped out of the truck to take a few photos.