Bald Mountain is a popular name. In Maine alone, there are 17 peaks that go by it, according to the U.S. Geological Survey. And that number doesn’t include names such as Bald Bluff Mountain, Bald Pate Mountain, Boundary Bald Mountain, Bald Rock Mountain and Moxie Bald Mountain.
It’s a descriptive name, if a tad overused. Mountains are considered “bald” when they don’t have any trees on the top, a feature often sought by hikers because it means open views.
For this particular column, I’m talking specifically about the Bald Mountain in the western Maine town of Oquossoc. Nestled in the idyllic Rangeley Lakes Region, it’s an especially popular hike. And here’s the thing: It’s not even bald. Not really.
Still, hikers can enjoy wide-open, 360-degree views from the lookout tower at the summit. Standing 30 feet tall, the steel-and-wood tower features a zig-zagging staircase that leads up to a square platform. As far as Maine mountain lookout towers go, it’s among the sturdiest and safest I’ve seen.
On a recent winter hike of the mountain, while standing atop the tower, I looked out over the tops of spruce trees to a dense forest interrupted by the sprawling white shapes of Rangeley and Mooselookmeguntic lakes. And through a blue haze marched dozens of surrounding peaks, including Saddleback and Mount Washington.
I had hiked Bald Mountain just once before, in June 2012 while attending the annual moose lottery drawing and celebration, which was being held in Rangeley that year. At the time, I didn’t know much about the region. So I picked up a bunch of visitor pamphlets and plucked Bald Mountain from a long list of outdoor destinations.
There are two ways to hike up the mountain, with two separate trailheads.
The shortest hike starts at a parking lot on Bald Mountain Road. The trail is just 1.3 miles to the summit. Beginning in a fern-filled forest of sugar maple and birch trees, it climbs gradually then becomes steeper as it navigates the mountain’s northwest slope. As you near the top, the forest transitions into chiefly evergreen trees such as balsam fir, white pine and red spruce.
The second way up the mountain begins at a parking lot on Carry Road (Route 4) near Haines Landing. That trail travels gradually uphill through a mixed forest that’s wet in some places and includes bog bridges.
In about 1 mile, the trail intersects with the main trail about 0.2 miles from the Bald Mountain Road parking lot. There you’ll turn left to continue up to the summit. So doing some quick math, from that trailhead, the hike is about 2 miles to the top.
This mountain can become incredibly busy in the summer and fall, especially on the weekends and during peak fall foliage season. To avoid crowds and improve your chances at finding parking, I suggest visiting on weekdays and during the off season.
When I recently hiked the mountain on a sunny weekday in March, I didn’t come across any other hikers. However, the snow on the trail was well-packed by snowshoes, which tells me that plenty of people do enjoy the trails in the winter.
Bald Mountain has an interesting history. Back in 1959, a small ski area was built on the mountain in short order. It included a lodge, 400-car parking lot and 800-foot rope tow, according to a comprehensive writeup on newenglandskihistory.com. At the same time, the ski area at the nearby and much larger Saddleback Mountain was being built.
While Saddleback certainly overshadowed Bald Mountain, the small ski area expanded throughout the 1960s to include a T-Bar, new trails, ski jumps and an ice rink. Nevertheless, it closed down in the late 1960s.
Fast forward to 1993. Rangeley Lakes Heritage Trust purchased the mountain in a 1,293-acre parcel, then later sold it to the state of Maine to be conserved in perpetuity. The property is now called Bald Mountain Public Land. The lookout tower was constructed by the state in 1999.
While digging for more information about Bald Mountain, I came across a four-page online document about the ecological, geological and cultural elements of the hike. Created by the Natural Heritage Hikes program, the document is basically a self-guided tour.
For example, it explains that sugar maple forests are typically found at the bottom of steep slopes because that’s where nutrients have traveled downhill and accumulated. The guide also suggests looking for an understory plant called jack-in-the-pulpit in that area (near the beginning of the hike), as well as a beautiful spring wildflower called lady’s-slipper near the summit of the mountain.
Natural Heritage Hikes is a project of the Maine Natural Areas Program in partnership with the Maine Trail Finder website. It focuses on Maine’s most popular trails, so it makes sense that Bald Mountain in Oquossoc made the list.
Of all the Bald mountains in Maine, it’s certainly among the most famous — and for good reason. The view from the tower at the top really can’t be beat.