Deep in Maine’s frozen forest, Katahdin stands sentinel over a quiet park. In the winter, Baxter State Park sees far fewer visitors than in other seasons. Yet the beauty of the place remains, enjoyed by those who travel by snowshoe, ski and snowmobile.
Visiting Baxter State Park in the winter takes extra planning. The main road that leads into the park is unplowed and therefore closed to vehicles. Plus the cold, wet conditions of winter in Maine add more risk to any outdoor adventure. But the sight of Katahdin and surrounding mountains cloaked in snow makes the planning worth the effort.
To learn more about planning a winter adventure in the park, we reached out to Baxter State Park Naturalist Marc Edwards, who answered the following questions with the assistance of Baxter State Park Law Enforcement Ranger Rob Tice.
How accessible is Baxter State Park during the winter? What are the major access points and winter parking areas?
Baxter State Park is very accessible in the winter, though through different points of access. The most popular for non-motorized recreation access is from Abol Bridge. There is a plowed parking lot on the left side of the Golden Road just before you reach the Abol Bridge store at mile marker 18 when coming from Millinocket. Cross the Golden Road and you will see a large Baxter State Park winter use sign with a map and information.
For snowmobile access there is a Maine Department of Transportation rest and parking area 8 miles before Togue Pond Gate (the south entrance of Baxter State Park). This is as far as the state road is plowed, and access to the park is by snowmobile or non-motorized means from this point on.
At the north end, there is a plowed parking lot approximately 1 mile before the Matagamon Gate, which is as far as the state road is plowed, and access to the park is by snowmobile or non-motorized means from this point on.
What winter activities are permitted in the park during the winter?
Snowmobile travel on the Tote Road between Togue Pond Gate and Matagamon Gate is permitted. This 42-mile trip on an ungroomed road has no gas available. A 20 mph speed restriction applies.
Bicycle use is permitted on the Abol Stream Trail from Dec. 1 to April 1, and on the Tote and Roaring Brook roads year-round. Cross-country ski touring and snowshoeing (excellent day-use activities) are permitted throughout the park during the winter. Back-country skiing and snowboarding, ice climbing and general winter mountaineering are all permitted and typically require overnight camping.
Please note: The Tote Road is a shared route with motorized and non-motorized use. Please use caution. Non-motorized users should have a plan on which side of the trail their party will move to allow a snowmobile to pass. This will avoid confusion and a possible collision.
Do you need special permission to do certain winter activities in the park?
Reservations are required for camping, and registration is required seven days in advance for day-use travel above treeline. All winter users are required to sign in and out at their point of entry into the park. Sign-in sheets (or logbooks) are located at trailhead kiosks.
Who responds to emergencies?
Our professional ranger team responds to emergencies, and volunteer search and rescue teams from around the state may be called as needed. Oftentimes throughout the winter months there may be volunteer search and rescue teams in the park for on-mountain training, in which case they may respond to an emergency.
Are any areas of the park off limits during the winter?
Camping is permitted by reservation and in designated spots. Snowmobiles are limited to the Tote Road, and Bicycles are limited to the Tote Road and Abol Stream Trail.
What would be a good snowshoe trek for someone visiting Baxter for the first time during the winter?
The Blueberry Ledges Trail from Abol Bridge is a very nice route and is fairly well traveled and packed down.
What would be a good cross-country ski route for someone visiting Baxter for the first time during the winter?
Foss & Knowlton Trail — it’s uphill going out and a nice downhill ski coming back. The Abol Stream Trail — nice and flat, great wildlife sighting opportunities (or at least tracks telling the story of predator and prey), and an opportunity to have a snack at Abol Beach before heading back. Both of these are accessed from Abol Bridge.
Do people often go winter camping in Baxter State Park? And what’s the least remote winter camping spot?
Winter camping in Baxter is a popular activity. The least remote winter camping spot would be Abol Campground or the Togue Pond Bunkhouse.
Before visiting the park during the winter, are there any checklists or safety materials that you suggest visitors study?
Visit the park’s website for a checklist and other useful information for winter visitors.
Is there anything else about winter in Baxter State Park that you think people should know before visiting?
There are no plowed roads into the park.
It is recommended that visitors should plan on a two-day hike into Chimney Pond from Abol Bridge. It is an arduous undertaking in one day.
Contact the park at 207-723-5140, 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday, for up-to-date information. You can also check the park’s Facebook page for up-to-date information. And check the recreational forecast on the park’s website.