Stand on Baxter Peak on Mount Katahdin on a midsummer weekend and you might think that none of the other mountains in the view have hiking trails up them, because it looks like every hiker in the vicinity is on the summit with you. Of course, that’s not true. There are 45 mountains within Baxter State Park’s boundaries, and most of them have trails to their peaks.
But Katahdin, located near the south entrance to the park, is a magnet for hikers. It’s no wonder. It’s the highest mountain in the state; all the trails to the top are challenging to its 5,267-foot summit, but the views are extraordinary. For some people it’s the only mountain they will ever climb and they do so only once.
However, it creates a huge amount of pressure on the mountain to have that many people tramping the trails. Roughly half of the 60,000 visitors to the park each year report that they intend to climb Katahdin. For the other visitors, they have the rest of the park relatively to themselves.
If your camping and hiking goals are to escape the crowds on the big mountain, there are four vehicle-accessible campgrounds in the park besides the three near the base of the mountain. Nesowadnehunk Field is one of those little-used camping facilities and it’s a really great destination. It’s primitive, like all the others, and pro-vides access to Nesowadnehunk Stream for brook trout fishing. There are trailheads close by to hiking trails, plus lean-tos, a four-person bunkhouse and tent sites for overnight camping.
According to Jean Hoekwater, park naturalist, “I would venture to say that Nesowadnehunk Field is rarely, if ever, filled to capacity. Even if the three group sites there are filled to capacity, many of the individual sites will be vacant.”
Located about 17 miles from the south entrance at Togue Pond gate, the campground is the most remote and farthest from either the north gate at Matagamon Lake or Togue Pond. It lies roughly in the middle of the park in a huge field created originally by a lumbering operation in the early years of timber harvesting, before the creation of the park. The field was used for livestock and growing produce for lumbermen working in the forest. Now all that remains from the operation is the field.
I stayed in the campground in a lean-to last weekend and discovered a unique spot of backcountry in the park. I made my reservation Tuesday of the same week and had my choice of a number of sites. I picked a lean-to over a tent site, but both types had vacancies. All the lean-tos are set around the edge of the field, providing a great chance to observe wildlife that favors an edge environment. When I first approached the site a varying hare, often called a snowshoe hare, scampered away into the thick brush on the edge of the field.
After arriving I found the short path to Little Nesowadnehunk Stream for some water to filter and set up camp for the night. Early the next morning I signed out on the hiking sheet posted at the bridge that crosses Nesowadnehunk Stream and set off to climb Doubletop Mountain, elevation, 3,488 feet. It had been a few years since my last hike up the mountain, but I remember the views from the top as outstanding.
About a mile into the hike through the forested lower slopes I ran into the first people I encountered that day. They were a brother and sister duo under 40 years of age. They were taking a break at Doubletop Brook when I caught up to them. I got their names, Erica and Jeremiah Bartlett, from southern Maine, and asked to join them. Together we set off on the remaining 2 miles to the summit.
As far as the brook the hike was gradual, but soon after it climbed steeper through rocks and over ledges toward the top. There are two peaks, North and South peaks, on the mountain, hence the name Doubletop. A quarter-mile-long granite ridge joins them. After the steep hike, the top rewarded us with a great view of Katahdin. We could look almost straight down the steep north face of Doubletop into Nesowadnehunk Valley to where the stream clearly was visible.
But, Katahdin and the valley aren’t the only views from the summit. You can see mountains from Traveler in the north end of the park to The Owl near Katahdin. North Brother, South Brother, Mount Coe, O-J-I Mountain are all present in the view as well. Kidney Pond, Daicey Pond, Chesuncook Lake are just a few of the water features we could identify.
A breathtaking panorama rewarded us three as we sat on top taking our lunch break. We were the only ones there, until a guy and his son from Indiana showed up. We chatted with them for a few minutes and I pointed out some of the landscape features before we turned from the top and headed down.
During the course of the half-day hike up the mountain, the Bartletts and I talked about what a great place the field is for camping and getting away from the crowds on Katahdin. They said something to the effect that they don’t always climb Katahdin. On this trip they were camping at Katahdin Stream. The Hunt Trail, which is the same as the Appalachian Trail, runs just past their lean-to where they stayed and leads to Baxter Peak. Instead they chose Doubletop because they hiking it, too.
We encountered only a few others on the mountain that day. There were a few more on their way up as we were descending, but other than them, that was all the people on the mountain. There may have been six or seven of us, total. On Katahdin, on the other side of the valley, there were probably 100 people. It’s good to get away from the crowds for a change. Staying at Nesowadnehunk Field and climbing Doubletop is just one way to do it.
More hikes in the area of Nesowadnehunk Field:
There are a few other hikes in the area of the field, besides Doubletop Mountain. A short few miles south on the Perimeter Road, is the trailhead to the Marston Trial, which leads to Mount Coe, South Brother and North Brother. It’s a 10-mile day hike with great views. Across from the field is the trailhead for the Wassataquoik Lake trail, a 10-mile valley hike, one way, to a backpacking destination in the interior of the park.