Difficulty: Moderate-strenuous. The hike up South Turner Mountain is 2 miles from the trailhead at Roaring Brook Campground to the summit, and the second mile is very steep. The total elevation gain is just over 1,600 feet, according to the Baxter State Park Authority.
How to get there: Travel on I-95 to Exit 244. Turn west on Route 157 and travel through Medway, East Millinocket and Millinocket. Bear right at the three-way intersection after the second traffic light in downtown Millinocket. Bear left at the next “Y” intersection, staying on the main road. Drive approximately 14 miles to Togue Pond Gatehouse, the south entrance of Baxter State Park.
After registering at the gatehouse, veer right at the Y intersection and drive about 8 miles to Roaring Brook Campground, which is located at the very end of the gravel dead-end road. At the campground is very limited day parking, as well as parking for registered campers. To learn about reserving a day parking spot, visit www.baxterstateparkauthority.com or call 723-5140.
Register at the ranger’s cabin by writing your last name, the number of hikers in your group and your destination: “South Turner.” Then start the hike on Chimney Pond Trail.
Information: South Turner Mountain, rising 3,122 feet above sea level, is known as one of the most rewarding short climbs in Baxter State Park. It’s just a 2-mile hike to the summit, which offers a 360-degree view of the park, including one of the most stunning views of Katahdin, Maine’s tallest mountain.
The hike begins at Roaring Brook Campground on Chimney Pond Trail. Not far from the trailhead is the first trail intersection. Turn right onto Russell Pond Trail and cross a wide wooden bridge over Roaring Brook. Just after the bridge, you’ll pass the Nature Trail on your right. Continue on the Russell Pond Trail and you’ll soon reach a fork where you’ll veer right onto Sandy Stream Trail.
Sandy Stream Pond Trail is fairly flat at first, with some exposed tree roots and rocky sections. As the trail nears the banks of Sandy Stream Pond, it becomes a long stretch of bog bridging, which helps prevent erosion.
Three side trails branch off from the main trail to travel to the edge of the pond, which is known as an excellent place to spot a variety of wildlife, including moose feeding on vegetation. The first of these trails loops back to the main trail, and the second leads to a large granite boulder that is a great place for a group of people to sit and watch for wildlife or simply take in the stunning view of the pond and Katahdin rising beyond.
The hike to these scenic views at the pond is easy-moderate in difficulty and only about 0.4 mile from the trailhead. It’s a great option for children or people looking for an easier hike with the reward of a stunning view at the far end.
Beyond the side trails to the pond, about 0.7 mile into the hike, you will come to a trail intersection where you’ll veer right onto South Turner Mountain Trail. From there, it’s 1.3 mile to the summit and about 1 mile to the treeline, where point on the mountain where the forest is replaced with a rocky alpine landscape with low-lying vegetation.
South Turner Mountain Trail is very rocky and steep, and the climb is continuous. The ascent is made easier by several staircases constructed out of granite blocks. There’s also a tricky section of trail that travels over boulders that you have to navigate around and over. Watch your footing and be sure to stop and drink plenty of water on the way up the mountain.
Above treeline, the trail is exposed to the elements for the last 0.2 mile to the summit. This section of trail travels up a rock slide, a jumble of rocks, boulders and gravel. Be sure to follow the blue blazes painted on boulders to stay on the recommended route. While climbing up the rockslide, you can look up and be encouraged by the sight of the summit sign at the top.
Atop the mountain, you’ll be rewarded by a view of Katahdin, which lies to the southwest. This perspective of Katahdin shows Pamola Peak on the far left. Behind it, the Knife Edge leads to Baxter Peak. Continuing to the right, the mountain dips to the Tableland, then rises again to Hamlin Peak.
South Turner Mountain Trail is a dead end, so you must descend the mountain by retracing your steps. The total distance of the hike is about 4 miles.
Baxter State Park is more than 200,000 acres of wilderness and public forest located at the heart of Maine. The land was a gift to the state by former Maine Gov. Percival P. Baxter, and his wish was for the land to remain forever wild.
While most people who visit the park hike Katahdin, there are more than 40 other peaks and ridges in the park, and more than 215 miles of trails.
Before visiting the Baxter, take the time to learn the park’s regulations at www.baxterstateparkauthority.com. It’s important to know the rules ahead of time. For example, dogs are not permitted in the park, and all firewood must be purchased within the park. Also, camping is only permitted at designated campsites, which must be reserved. Specific questions can be directed to the Baxter State Park Authority at 723-5140.
Personal note: My family has a longstanding tradition of organizing group camping trips in Baxter State Park at least once a summer, and this summer, we scheduled a trip for the beginning of August, the weekend of the blue moon, at Bear Brook Campground.
Park rangers warned us that the forecast called for thunderstorms with hail around noon on Saturday, so we rose early in the morning to hike South Turner Mountain, which typically only takes about 3-4 hours. We didn’t want to be stuck on the mountain for the hairy weather.
So many people from our group campsite wanted to hike that day that we broke into two groups to stay under the park’s new limit of 12 people per hiking group. We then staggered starting times so we wouldn’t end up meeting on the trail.
I personally like the 12-person limit. Big groups, without meaning to, can be a bit of a nuisance on narrow hiking trails. They’re hard for other hikers to pass, and they tend to get loud. Even 10-12 people in a hiking group can become a problem if they aren’t conscious of their noise level and aware of other hikers.
At the trailhead, we talked with a ranger named Steve, who managed to come off as being extremely nice while giving us a lecture about being a quiet and courteous hiking group. He also talked to us about the importance of sticking together. He’d stayed up until 2 a.m. that morning dealing with a group that separated on Katahdin and were worried about two people they’d left behind on the mountain. Everything turned out alright, he said.
I hiked South Turner a few years ago, and on Saturday, the trail was just as steep and rocky as I remembered it. For a relatively short hike, it was certainly a good workout. By the time we reached the summit, we were covered with sweat.
At the summit, we were surrounded by blue skies and a few fluffy white clouds, which cast shadows on the green, mountainous landscape. Nearly all of Katahdin basked in the sun, save Baxter Peak, which was shrouded in a white cloud.
We ate brunch on the summit. For me, that was a cheese and salami sandwich and some sort of cranberry cookie that my mom sent along with me. (She couldn’t make the trip, unfortunately, or she would have been on the summit with us.)
To my disappointment, we didn’t see moose wading in Sandy Stream Pond, though we visited all three lookouts on the way to the mountain, and on the way back to the trailhead.
After the hike, we drove to Togue Pond to clean off in the water, which was warm yet refreshing. I sat on the sandy bottom of the pond, up to my neck in the crystal clear water, and watched as the dark clouds of a storm rolled over the park. Rain hit the far end of the lake, creating a haze, and in a matter of minutes, raindrops dimpled the water around us. As we rushed back to shore, the wind picked up and we had to hurry to scoop up our towels before they were carried into the forest.
The storm passed quickly, and we returned to the campground. After changing, a group of five of us returned to Sandy Stream Pond to look for moose again. They were nowhere to be seen, though a photographer at the shore told us that he’d seen a moose just an hour before.
Nevertheless, there was plenty of wildlife to watch. I photographed some beautiful cedar waxwings, birds that are shaped sort of like cardinals and are the color of orange and lemon sherbert. I also spotted a yellow-rumped warbler and two types of ducks: common mergansers and a female common goldeneye with a group of juveniles — their brown eyes yet to turn gold.
By the edge of the pond, a large garter snake basked in the sun; coiled on a rock, it didn’t seem to mind sharing the space with hikers. And just before leaving the pond to have dinner back at camp, an osprey flew overhead, searching the many pristine ponds of the park for fish.