The Appalachian Trail, one of the world’s most famous long-distance footpaths, marches 2,190 miles through 14 states from Georgia to the summit of Mount Katahdin in Maine. The trail’s 281 miles through Maine form the wildest, roughest, and most challenging section of the entire trail. This includes the AT’s toughest mile, a jumble of boulders in Mahoosuc Notch, and a 100-mile segment that crosses no paved roads. The AT in Maine also offers stunning scenery with soaring mountains, rushing rivers, leafy forests, and shining ponds.
While hiking the trail from end to end is a six-month commitment that few hikers attempt, it’s possible to experience Maine’s portion of the AT by doing day hikes that begin at easily accessed trailheads. Remember that hiking the AT is not a simple walk in the woods, so be prepared by bringing proper clothing, gear, and supplies.
If you’re tempted by the idea of doing the trail in sections, check out these six day hikes on the AT.
1. Old Speck Mountain: Grafton Notch
The summit of 4,170-foot Old Speck Mountain, towering above Grafton Notch, is reached by a spectacular 3.8-mile hike up the AT from a trailhead in the scenic Notch. This iconic AT hike ends at a summit tower that offers 360-degree views across the Mahoosuc Range and the distant White Mountains.
Grafton Notch, protected as a state park, is a glaciated valley sliced through the northern end of the rugged Mahoosuc Range near Maine’s western border. The Appalachian Trail traverses the range crest, dipping through an obstacle course of boulders in narrow Mahoosuc Notch, the toughest section of the entire trail. This hike follows the AT south up steep, wooded slopes to a high ridge which leads south to the rocky top of Old Speck at 4,170 feet.
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Descend back down the AT for a 7.6-mile round-trip hike. A shorter trek from the Notch follows the AT for a quarter mile and then climbs stone steps on the Eyebrow Trail to an impressive overlook. Rejoin the AT after 1.2 miles and drop down it for a 2.2-mile hike. Grafton Notch also offers plenty of scenic sights, including Screw Auger Falls, Moose Cave Gorge, and Mother Walker Falls.
2. Baldpate Mountain and Table Rock: Grafton Notch
After descending Old Speck Mountain to Grafton Notch and a trailhead, the Appalachian Trail crosses Route 26 and heads northeast for 3.8 miles to the skyscraping summit of 3,790-foot Baldpate Mountain’s East Peak. This AT section, nicknamed the “Stairway to Heaven” and the “Menacing Mile,” includes a mile-long stretch of steep calf-burning trail to West Peak’s summit, but the reward is an expansive view without a town or road anywhere in sight.
During the first two miles, you’ll cross a marsh on a boardwalk and then climb the white-blazed trail to Baldpate Lean-to, a sheltered campsite. Past the lean-to, the Menacing Mile scrambles over boulders and granite slabs with metal rungs to the top of West Peak. Turn around here for a 5.8-mile round-trip hike, or continue another mile to East Peak’s higher summit, and then return back to the trailhead for a 7.6-mile hike.
For a shorter 2.4-mile loop hike, take the 1.2-mile Table Rock Trail to get eagle-eye views of Grafton Notch below. Return by joining the AT and descending back to the Notch. Whatever route you take, wear sturdy boots and bring trekking poles.
3. Height of Land to Long Pond: Rangeley Lakes Region
This easy 6-mile round-trip hike on the AT begins near the famed Height of Land Overlook, one of Maine’s best highway viewpoints, and heads east over rounded Spruce Mountain to a sandy beach on the east side of Long Pond. To begin the hike, start at the Height of Land Overlook and walk 600 feet south along the shoulder of route 17 to the AT. Cross the highway and scramble across rocks marked with a white arrow and head into the woods. The trail threads through tall hardwood trees, with soft sunlight dappling ferns and mosses on the forest floor, and passes Moxie Pond after a mile and a half. Continue on the AT past Long Pond, a broad lake with summer cabins dotting its shoreline, to the beach. After a refreshing swim in Long Pond or nearby Sabbath Day Pond, retrace your steps back to Route 17. After the hike, enjoy the view from Height of Land with huge Mooselookmeguntic Lake spreading below this lofty perch.
4. Saddleback Mountain: Rangeley Lakes Region
The Appalachian Trail climbs 5.7 miles to the top of Saddleback Mountain, the 8th highest peak in Maine, in the High Peaks east of Rangeley. The easy-to-follow trail, beginning at the AT Piazza Rock Trailhead on Route 4, passes ponds and lush woods to scenic vistas across Rangeley Lake from the airy summit.
The out-and-back trek up Saddleback is the full deal with 2,250 feet of elevation gain and 11.4 miles of hiking round-trip. The first four miles offer easy walking through verdant woods and only one steep section. Past Eddy Pond, the trail becomes steep and follows Saddleback’s south ridge above treeline. This open trail yields dramatic views across western Maine before reaching the mountain’s 4,120-foot granite summit. Energetic hikers often continue another 1.6 miles to The Horn, Saddleback’s north twin.
A shorter day hike, perfect for families, begins and the AT Piazza Rock Trailhead and continues for two miles to Piazza Rock, an overhanging boulder with a flat top dotted with trees.
5. Bigelow Mountain Section: Flagstaff Lake Area
The 16.3-mile Bigelow Mountain segment of the Appalachian Trail is one of Maine’s great hikes, traversing the high crest of the range and passing over six major peaks, including 4,145-foot West Peak, the range high point. Hikers, beginning at either end of the Bigelows, can do shorter out-and-back hikes to placid ponds and rounded mountains or trek the entire range on a two-day backpacking trip.
The best day hike begins at the Stratton Pond Trailhead off Route 16/27 and climbs Bigelow’s south flank to the range crest. After 5.9 miles, the AT tops The Horns, a 3,805-foot peak with twin-summits. Turn around here and return to the trailhead for an 11.8-mile round-trip hike.
For a shorter hike, start at the East Flagstaff Trailhead on the east side of the Bigelows. Follow the AT west up Little Bigelow Mountain for 3.2 miles, passing reflecting pools and rocky ledges with views across Flagstaff Lake.
6. Little Wilson Falls Trail: Monson Region
The Little Wilson Falls Trail, beginning nine miles northeast of Monson, follows Little Wilson Stream for 1.2 miles to the Appalachian Trail and Little Wilson Falls, a favorite stop for Appalachian Trail thru-hikers. The 57-foot-high waterfall, the tallest on the AT in Maine, plunges into a deep pool in a scenic rock-walled gorge.
This section of the Appalachian Trail is part of the famed “100-Mile Wilderness,” the longest section of the entire trail that never crosses a highway or passes a town. Start at a trailhead west of Borestone Mountain Audubon Sanctuary and its old-growth forest. The easy, kid-friendly trail heads west beside Little Wilson Creek, cascading over small falls into deep pools, perfect for swimming and fly fishing, before reaching the Appalachian Trail and the big falls.
Places with names like the 100-Mile Wilderness is a reminder that the AT can dish up serious challenges for hikers. But, you don’t have to be a hardcore hiker and trek extremely long distances to access some of the best stretches of the trail. By taking day hikes you’ll not only reach some of the most beautiful parts of Maine but also some of the most inspiring spots along the entire 2,000-mile AT.
Written by Stewart Green for Matcha in partnership with Maine’s Lakes and Mountains Tourism Council. Images: 1. J. Stephen Conn, 4. Michael Stokes, 5. David Smith