Reaching the summit of majestic Mount Katahdin, Maine’s highest peak,
is a great accomplishment, but many people would rather enjoy the wilderness closer to sea level, especially if they have small children in tow. Baxter State Park staff help families enjoy water and woods within the park through programs and cheap or free rental gear.
Baxter State Park is home to more than 200 miles of trails, and many of these footpaths are much easier than the steep routes up the ridges of Katahdin.
“Some of the favorite hikes tend to be the nature trails at Daicey Pond Campground, South Branch Pond Campground and Roaring Brook Campground,” Marcia Williamson, the park’s interpretive specialist, wrote in an email interview. “Also, the hike to Big and Little Niagara Falls along the Appalachian Trail out of Daicey Pond Campground is a great little hike for all ages. The terrain is gentle with opportunities to see views of Doubletop Mountain, the two waterfalls and an old Toll Dam from the logging era, not to mention the smell of mayflowers in the spring.”
Several easy hikes lead to remote ponds, some of which have canoes to be rented, along with life jackets and paddles, for $1 per hour.
For adventurous families looking for a mountain view, Williamson suggests Sentinel Mountain from Kidney Pond, a moderate hike that takes about 5 hours. Horse Mountain
“In addition, many trails heading out from Trout Brook Farm in the northern end of the park are very accessible for families with young children,” she said.
To make exploring nature in the park easier, park naturalist Jean Hoekwater created Naturalist Adventure Packs containing binoculars, books for identifying animals and plants, dipping nets and bug boxes for families to rent for free. The packs are available at the park visitor center, Matagamon Gate and all roadside ranger stations within the park, thanks to donations made by Friends of Baxter State Park, an independent citizen group that helps support the park.
For those interested in fishing, Maine residents under 16 years of age and nonresidents under 12 can fish without a license within the park. Make sure to ask the rangers which ponds and streams are fly fishing only or for spin casting rods. The use of live bait is prohibited in the park.
Some favorite swimming spots are at Abol Pond, Daicey Pond, South Branch Pond, Matagamon Landing and Ledge Falls, a natural water slide on the Nesowadnehunk Stream north of Kidney Pond Campground.
Hoekwater, the park’s naturalist for more than 20 years, was instrumental in putting together an array of park summer programs for groups enjoying the park.
There are programs Wednesday evenings for all ages that range from a talk with chief ranger Ben Woodard to a star magic program with a local amateur astronomer. And on Saturday mornings, children’s programs (usually for ages 4-12) are typically held at Daicey Pond Campground, Kidney Pond Campground or South Branch Pond Campground. These activities — ranging from pond explorations with dip nets to learning about trees through bark rubbing — are planned by Wilderness Educator Interns, who work with the information and education division of the park.
The 2012 schedule of these programs will be posted on the park website, baxterstateparkauthority.com, by the second week in June, and will be available at park headquarters in Millinocket, the visitor center, gatehouses and on bulletin boards at each campground. Registration is not required to attend programs.
“Children can also become a Baxter State Park Junior Ranger by completing the Junior Ranger booklet activities, learning about Governor Baxter’s gift of the park,” said Williamson. “Once they show a Ranger their completed booklet, they earn their badge and can then help us protect and preserve Baxter State Park and all the animals and plants that live in the park.”
Baxter State Park Director Jensen Bissell contributed to this article, along with Hoekwater and Williamson.