For a small mountain, Quaggy Jo in Aroostook State Park, just south of Presque Isle, rewards hikers with outstanding views of the landscape that are unique to The County. But it’s not just views that make the mountain a fun hike. The terrain is perfect for a family hike, beginning hiker or, for that matter, if you’re just out for a moderate-size climb.
The mountain’s name, according to “Mountains of Maine” by Steve Pinkham, is a “misspelled form of quaquajo, an Indian word for ‘boundary mountain.’” According to the book, the Maliseets and Micmacs fought over hunting, trapping and fishing turf. Once the Micmacs were defeated on the mountain, it was used as the boundary between the tribes’ hunting grounds.
At only a little over 1,110 feet, Quaggy Jo rises over the rolling, surrounding farmlands, and it’s easy to imagine, as you approach it by road, one tribe hunting on one side of the hill with the other on the opposite side.
I hiked the mountain a couple of weeks ago and was surprised by just how rewarding the moderate hike turned out to be. The trail starts off behind campsite 19. After depositing my $1.50 admission fee in the iron receptacle at the gate, I parked at the Echo Lake parking lot. The western shore of the small lake, a pond really, is part of the park.
The trail led me up through the campground, empty on a warm early November day. I found the trail head thanks to a great directional sign system which clearly shows you where you are. It showed the mountain in excellent detail. There are two peaks, South and North Peak, and the three-mile trail goes from either direction to make a circuit hike back to the parking lot.
The sign recommends that you hike the steep South Peak first, as descending it is difficult for some hikers. So that’s what I did. It starts off gradually as you leave the campground and gets increasingly steep as the trail winds through the hardwoods on the lower slopes. After about a half-mile of gradually steeper hiking, the trail came to a huge, and much steeper, solid rock outcrop.
The ledge ran for about 80 feet, and when I wasn’t facing it and climbing with my hands, the trail then wound around the edge. The views off the back of the outcrop were opening up by then, so I could look across at the farming landscape of The County.
The trail leveled off above the ledge and climbed the last quarter-mile or so gradually to the summit, where there’s a communications tower. Off the slope past the tower, a side trail leads to a viewing platform that looks north to North Peak, a mile away. In the distance, 10 miles away by sight, the cone-shape summit of Haystack Mountain rose above the forest. I sat for a while in the early November sunshine and had a snack of some crackers and cheese.
After the snack, I headed down the trail to North Peak. South and North Peak are connected by a low mile-long ridge, so the trail descended for a short distance before leveling off through an outstanding grove of white birch. Then it turned up again gradually, at an intersection with an old road that leads to the top.
About three-quarters of a mile across the ridge the trail levels off to where a new log lean-to has been constructed. The lean-to looks to sleep about four. Its open front looks out over Echo Lake to the east and the farm fields in the distance, all the way to western New Brunswick.
After a short break at the lean-to, I headed toward the summit, now a short hike away. Once at the top, a log bench provided a spot to sit and take in the views again, looking north, toward Arnold Brook Pond and the western side of the city of Presque Isle and the runway for the airport.
All that was left to hike now was a short descent of three-quarters of a mile back to the truck. It was steep at first, but no rock ledge to descend, like on the South Peak. Soon, I was back at the parking lot and the truck. After a hike, there’s always something to reflect on, it seems. The same is true for Quaggy Jo. It’s just a beautiful mountain in a beautiful place. Sometimes it doesn’t take much more reflection than that to be rewarding.
Finding Quaggy Jo Mountain
Aroostook State Park is located only 3 miles south of the city of Presque Isle, located in the DeLorme Atlas on Map 65, grid E1. The park holds local events all through the winter and has 15 miles of groomed ski and snowshoe trails on and around the mountain.