Welcome to Paria's “Hike of the Week”. This series highlights some of the best hikes from around North America. Our goal is to inspire you to get out there and see them for yourself!
This week we're exploring the infamous 100 Mile Wilderness along Maine's Appalachian Trail.
Featured Photo: Monument Cliff on Third Mountain (Photo by John Hayes)
Why This Hike?
This well-known section of the AT is near the northern terminus of the trail. It is arguably one of the most rugged and arduous sections. Its remoteness can be both daunting and appealing. But, the beautiful landscape and challenges are well worth the effort.
- Distance: 100 miles, point-to-point
- Total elevation gain: 21,000 feet
- Max elevation: 3,600 feet
- Time: 6-9 days, for most hikers; Our itinerary covers an 8-day trip.
- Best time to go: Late June to July; You'll miss the spring rainy/mud season and the majority of the tourists.
- Barring a drought, expect to find plenty of water sources along the route. Streams, creeks, mountaintop lakes, ponds, and even waterfalls await!
- If you're up for it, continue to Mt. Katadhin after re-supplying. (The northern terminus of the Appalachian Trail.)
- Be sure to break at Potaywadjo Ridge. There are tons of blueberries!
- There are also tons of backcountry fishing spots.
- Beautiful fall foliage, if you don't mind the increase in fellow hikers.
- Other highlights include: Little Wilson Falls, Barren Ledges views, White Cap Mountain, distant views of Mt. Katadhin, plenty of mountain ascents, and, of course, serene pine forests. (Maine's nickname is The Pine Tree State.)
- A hostel is located about two-thirds of the way through. You can stop off for a dry, warm place to sleep one night. A non-trail meal or two might be nice too!
- Some locals and businesses offer food drop services along the wilderness' logging roads. It's an extra expense, but will save on pack weight.
Before you pack your bags, keep the following in mind:
- Don't take this trail lightly. You will need to prepare physically ahead of time and be in good trail shape. At least ten days of food is recommended.
- Cell phone service is better than it used to be, but don't depend on it. You'll still need to wait a while to bail out or be rescued. Consider taking a more reliable satellite texting/call/emergency device.
- Expect lots of bugs! Black flies, deer flies, and mosquitoes can be a nuisance. This is especially true near water sources.
- There are lots of tree roots and rocks along the trail.
How Do I Get There?
Bangor International is the closest major airport. From here, follow Godfrey Boulevard before making several jogs to ME-15 N. Turn left and keep following ME-15 N for 55.7 miles. A large parking area will be on your right.
The following map outlines our recommended route.
- Day 1 - ME-15 Monson Trailhead to Wilson Valley Lean-To (10.4 miles)
- Day 2 - Wilson Valley Lean-To to West Chairback Pond (14 miles)
- Day 3 - West Chairback Pond to Carl A.Newhall Lean-To (11.8 miles)
- Day 4 - Carl A.Newhall Lean-To to East Branch Lean-To (10.8 miles)
- Day 5 - East Branch Lean-To to Antlers Campsite (16 miles)
- Day 6 - Antlers Campsite to Nahmakanta Lake (11 miles)
- Day 7 - Nahmakanta Lake to Rainbow Stream Lean-To (10.7 miles)
- Day 8 - Rainbow Stream Lean-To to Abol Bridge (15 miles)
Day one greets you with gradual hills. This is fortunate since your pack will be at its heaviest. You will come across several steep descents, like the one past Lily Pond. You'll cross several logging roads, which may take away from your isolated feeling. Many ponds and streams dot the way, most of which you can rock hop across. Big Wilson Stream is the exception. Prepare to get wet. Little Wilson Falls is the highlight of the day, tumbling 60ft down worn rocks. Shortly past some railroad tracks, you'll find the junction to the Wilson Valley Lean-to.
Be ready for soreness at the end of day two! Lots of steep, rocky, and even boulder-strewn climbs await you. A roller-coaster of mountains lies ahead of you in the Barren-Chairback Range. This also means you'll get some great views of the surrounding mountains and ponds. The ones from Barren Ledges and Monument Cliff are particularly spectacular. Make sure you fill up on water at Long Pond Stream before trekking on. Water sources are a bit scarce for about 5 miles. You'll also pass through Fourth Mountain Bog. This is home to two species of carnivorous plants. Enjoy soaking your feet or fishing in West Chairback Pond for the evening.
Your first challenge is the steep ascent up Columbus Mountain. But, it has a decent lookout. Find even better views a bit further on top of Chairback Mountain. Enjoy some mild sections between here and Gulf Hagas, including an old-growth forest of white pines. Fill up on water at the west branch of the Pleasant River before gradually ascending to the Gulf Hagas Trail. This side trip is well worth it if you have the time. Multiple cascades tumble down the narrow gorge. On the other side, find Gulf Hagas Brook and follow the spur to your campsite.
Dense forest and occasional peeks of upcoming mountains begin your fourth day. Gradually ascend White Cap Mountain. You'll have more great views of where you've been and where you're going. Most of today's hike offers easy hiking in comparison without many precipitous areas. You'll find more and more boulders as you approach your campsite for the night.
Several soggy areas dot your route today before heading over Big Boardman Mountain. A spring, good for filling up on water, is found past Mountain View Pond. More nice vistas are available atop White Cap Mountain. Stop off at Sand Beach for a snack. Enjoy one of the easiest stretches of the entire 100 Mile Wilderness today as well. Expect more streamside hiking, though views are mostly hidden. Keep your eyes open for more blueberry and huckleberry patches. When Lower Jo-Mary Lake appears through the trees, your campsite is near. Enjoy a refreshing dip in the lake once camp is set up.
Once you round the lake, take the side trip at Potaywadjo Ridge, if you can. It's a steep climb in a short distance. But, the views are fantastic and yummy blueberries are abundant! Lots of boulders are waiting past this area. Potaywadjo Spring is another fill-up spot. You can just make out Katadhin from Pemadumcook Lake. The trail passes through very wet, boggy land afterward. Watch your footing in the heavily-rooted area near Nahmakanta Stream. You're close to your campsite after passing Woodrat Springs. There is even a small boat launch near the campsites at Nahmakanta Lake.
Come across more swimming holes and traverse the last major mountain on your next to last day. Start by hiking back and forth between the lakeshore and forest. More lake views await as you climb higher along rocky ledges. Lots of rocks and boulders mark the path. Precarious rock stairs lead to better views of Katadhin and Nahmakanta Lake. Crescent Pond makes a tempting spot to take a swim. Pollywog Gorge viewpoint is another short distraction for the day. Once you reach the rapids of Rainbow Stream, you know you're close to your campsite.
Rainbow Ledges, Pass the Rainbow Deadwaters before reaching the edges of Rainbow Lake. The trail is muddy and boggy along here. You can make a short detour to Rainbow Spring if you need to fill up on water for the rest of your journey. Take the short Rainbow Mountain Trail as a detour for more photo ops of Katadhin and the lake. More snagging roots and boulders wait to slow you down along the lakeshore. Rise the rocky land to Rainbow Ledges and enjoy a few last handfuls of huckleberries and blueberries and views of Katadhin. Rocky, boulder-strewn, and root-choked trail guides you before reaching Golden Road and Abol Bridge.
What Will I Need?
Average highs range in the 70s for June and July and lows average in the low to mid-50s. A lightweight backpacking tent will serve you well. You'll save quite a bit on pack weight. Plus, it'll keep you dry on those rainy nights.
Our Bryce 1P and 2P tents offer a single, large front entry, which is ideal for a single person, sometimes two.
For sleeping, a versatile down quilt is the way to go. It will keep you plenty warm on cool nights, but you can also stick your feet out on the humid ones! They're also very lightweight. Don't forget your ultralight sleeping pad too!
With lots of water crossings and rain, your feet WILL get wet. Be sure to wear some quick-drying shoes. Bring some extra socks that wick well too.
Speaking of water crossings, bring your trekking poles! They'll come in handy on the rocky inclines too.
Don't forget the bug repellent. Treat your clothes ahead of time as well. Head over to our article on keeping insect pests away for more tips.
It's a good idea to bring a bear bag or canister. Not so much for the bears, but to keep mice out of your food at night. This is especially true if you are staying at a shelter. Cans are available to place your food in at shelters. But, it's still recommended to hang your stuff in a tree nearby. Rodents love AT shelters!
For a comprehensive gear list, check out our Ultimate Backpacker's Packing List. Use the free, printable list so you don't forget anything!
Do I Need a Permit?
No permits are required in the 100 Mile Wilderness.
Even if you're not planning on staying at a hostel, be sure to still click on the lodging links below. They offer a wealth of information and also provide shuttle services and food drops.
For a scenic, secluded challenge, you can't beat the 100 Mile Wilderness. Have you tackled this remote section of Maine? We'd love to hear about your experience in the comments below!
If you're looking for more hike ideas, read our "Best Backpacking Trips in the Eastern U.S." roundup post. Also, the following Hike of the Week articles cover other segments of the Appalachian Trail.
Finally, check out our comprehensive list of backpacking articles that cover just about everything there is to know about backpacking.