Just over a year old, the Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument is just starting to take shape. Its southern access road, the Katahdin Loop Road, has been improved for vehicle travel; a number of campsites are maintained regularly; and a couple of hiking trails have been cleared and blazed. The recreational opportunities in KWW are just starting to be developed. Nevertheless, mountain bikers have been traveling from near and far to explore the property’s vast network of old logging roads.
“Last time, I saw two moose,” Gabriel Crooker of Stillwater, who has been mountain biking in KWW at least five times so far, said. “There’s no one out there. The sights are amazing.”
A member of the Penobscot Region chapter of the New England Mountain Bike Association, Crooker is one of several cyclists from the group who has enjoyed riding in the new national monument. Last fall, Crooker joined a group of PR NEMBA members to bike KWW’s 16-mile Katahdin Loop Road. And this summer, he paired up with fellow cyclist Dave Barnett of Bangor to tackle a more rugged and remote route in the north end of KWW.
“We made our way on an overgrown old tote road that was filled with missing bridges over streams, which we had to wade across, trees, brush and moving clouds of biting insects,” Barnett said of the adventure. “Gabe ended up getting attacked by an angry partridge.”
Nevertheless, Barnett described the ride as “spectacular” and hopes to return to KWW this fall to explore some more.
Know before you go
Many of the old woods roads that thread through KWW have seen more moose and black bears in recent years than people. Some of the roads are rocky and overgrown, pocked with potholes and interrupted by brooks, while other roads are still smooth and fairly clear of vegetation. Cellphone reception is spotty, there aren’t many signs yet, and navigation can be tricky. But for cyclists looking for an adventure, for those who enjoy exploring old roads and stirring up wildlife, it may just be the perfect challenge.
“It’s a very rustic experience,” said Jean-Luc Theriault of Manchester, Maine, who in early September completed a weekend mountain biking trip in KWW and the neighboring Baxter State Park. “If you’re looking for that, it’s great. But I’m sute it’d be challenging for a lot of people. I ran into one group of bikers staying at a cabin in the north end, and it wasn’t quite what they were expecting. They were hoping for something a little more maintained and groomed.”
Jean-Luc Theriault, a cartographer who works as the stewardship director of the Kennebec Land Trust, mapped out a big loop on roads in KWW and Baxter State Park that are open to mountain bikes. He then biked the loop with his father, Carl Theriault of Fort Kent, carrying their camping gear on their bikes, or “bikepacking.”
“We really enjoyed the southern part of the national monument,” Jean-Luc Theriault said. “The [Katahdin] Loop Road and there’s a trail that loops off the west side, an old logging road. It was very nice and very scenic.”
While biking in the monument, there are a few rules to keep in mind. Chief among those is the rule that visitors only bike on “disturbed gravel surfaces,” Susan Adams, the recreation manager for Elliotsville Plantation Inc. and volunteer VIP Program coordinator for KWW, said. In other words, cyclists need to stay on the roads, whether they’re improved gravel roads such as the Katahdin Loop Road or old, overgrown tote roads that are closed to vehicle traffic. Off-road hiking trails are not open to bikers, Adams said. The surface of these trails aren’t durable enough to withstand bike traffic.
“If people are respectful of what’s road and what’s a trail, we’re all set,” Adams said. “There’s no single track [biking trails]. Though some of the roads are starting to feel like single track as they grow in.”
Another important regulation to keep in mind is, if you plan on camping like the Theriaults, you’ll need to acquire a Maine Forest Service campfire permit to enjoy a campfire at a KWW campsite, as well as an overnight parking permit to park overnight at trailheads. You acquire an overnight permit through Adams by emailing email@example.com or by stopping by the Millinocket Welcome Center at 200 Penobscot Avenue in Millinocket or the Lumberman’s Museum at 61 Shin Pond Road in Patten.
Where to bike
While many of the old woods roads that thread through KWW are unmarked and overgrown, there are a number of signed, mapped and maintained routes on these roads that have been established for hikers, skiers, horseback riders and mountain bikers, both in the north and south end of the property.
In the south end, suggested mountain biking routes include:
— Katahdin Loop Road: a 16-mile loop on a hilly improved gravel road that offers great views of Katahdin, includes a self-guided interpretive tour, and can be a bit dusty.
— Barnard Mountain: From the Barnard Mountain parking area on Katahdin Loop Road, bike 1.2 mile on a gravel logging road that is closed to vehicle traffic, past Katahdin Brook Lean-to, to the Barnard Mountain Trailhead. There you can leave your bike and hike 0.8 mile to a granite ledge near the top of the mountain that offers stunning views of Katahdin.
— Orin Falls: From the parking lot at the end of Orin Falls Road (off Katahdin Loop Road), bike 3 miles on an old woods road that closed to vehicle traffic and is fairly smooth and wide. Leave your bike behind and hike just a few hundred feet on a forested path to Orin Falls, a set of beautiful rapids and huge boulders on Wassataquoik Stream.
— Barnard Mountain-Orin Falls Loop: Starting from the Barnard Mountain parking area or the Orin Falls parking area, you visit both destinations, creating a loop by biking along the International Appalachian Trail on an old logging road, as well as a section of the Katahdin Loop Road and the entirety of Orin Falls Road. The loop is just over 14 miles long, not counting any hiking you might do to the falls or up Barnard Mountain.
In the north end, suggested mountian biking routes include:
— Old River Road: This smooth gravel route starts at the north entrance gate and follows the north entrance road toward Haskell Gate, then turns toward the East Branch on Oxbow Road, which leads to Old River Road. The route continues on Old River Road, north, following the banks of the river and circling back around to the main road near the north entrance for a loop ride that is about 4 miles long.
— Haskell Gate explorations: From Haskell Gate, you can bike south on the International Appalachian Trail, following an old woods road that starts out fairly smooth and becomes increasingly rough the deeper into the woods you get. From the gate, where there’s ample space for parking, it’s just over 1 mile to a side trail to Stair Falls, and just a bit beyond that is Haskell Hut. It’s 1.8 mile from the gate to Haskell Rock Pitch, a series of rapids on the East Branch of the Penobscot River; and it’s 2.2 mile to the first major intersection. At the intersection, you can turn left to bike to trails leading to Pond Pitch, Grand Pitch, Bowlin Falls and Bowlin Camps, which is about 3 miles from the intersection; or you can turn right at the intersection to bike to trails leading to Messer Pond, Big Spring Hut and the 2.4-mile Lookout Trail, a mountain trail that starts about 3 miles from the intersection and can be traveled by bike up to a few hundred feet from its bald summit, which offers breathtaking views of the region.
As the person in charge of organizing volunteers to work in KWW under the federal Volunteers in Parks (VIP) program, Adams is constantly talking with people about how they’d like to see the national monument develop to cater to different types of recreation. And right now is exactly the time to be talking about that. The National Park Service is actively seeking input from the public about future plans for KWW through public meetings and online.
“There have been all kinds of ideas and proposals, which will be considered in the ongoing planning process for the monument,” Adams said. “But there are no definite plans yet.”
When it comes to mountain biking, NEMBA chapters and other cycling groups located throughout Maine have sent in proposals about future biking opportunities in KWW.
“Some want carriage path quality trails, while other want single track,” Adams said. “There has been a small contingency proposing a through trail that would start in Matagamon and end in Carrabassett Valley.”
Adams also mentioned the possibility of developing the Seboeis parcel of the monument, located east of the main parcel, as a mountain biking destination. Currently the parcel is used mainly for snowmobiling.
“I would want to encourage longer distance trails, just mainly because in Maine we have a shortage I think,” Jean-Luc Theriault said. “There’s not a lot of long bikepacking type trail experiences [in Maine] … I’d love to see longer rides like that, and I think with the old logging roads that are present in the park, there’s a possibility that could happen if there’s enough people giving support.”
“I would like to keep it as rustic as possible but keep it groomed, keep the brush on the trails down,” Crooker said. “I can see why it needs to be developed more. But keep the pavement out of there.”
To offer your input about future development of the national monument, email KWW Superintendent Tim Hudson at firstname.lastname@example.org. And to stay updated about park planning and upcoming meetings, visit www.nps.gov/kaww and sign up for the KWW mailing list and e-newsletter.