Wednesday, October 16, 2019

Booker T. Washington National Monument (Blog Hike #776)

Trails: Plantation and Jack-O-Lantern Branch Trails
Hike Location: Booker T. Washington National Monument
Geographic Location: northeast of Rocky Mount, VA (37.11982, -79.73205)
Length: 2.1 miles
Difficulty: 2/10 (Easy)
Last Hiked: August 2019
Overview: A double loop around the tobacco plantation on which Booker T. Washington was born.
Monument Information:
Photo Highlight:

Directions to the trailhead: From Rocky Mount, take SR 122 north/east 15 miles to the monument entrance on the right.  Park in either of the small paved parking lots near the Visitor Center.

The hike: Perhaps no life exemplifies the challenges faced and determination exhibited by African-Americans in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s than the life of Booker T. Washington.  Born a slave on a tobacco plantation in about 1856 (slaves had no calendars to mark birthdays), Washington later wrote that the first time he realized he was a slave was when he was “awakened by my mother…kneeling over me…praying…that some day she and her children might be free.”  That freedom came when he was about 9 years old, but by the late 1800’s new oppression had risen in the form of disenfranchisement and Jim Crow laws.
            In the face of that oppression, Booker T. Washington became the dominant leader in the African-American community by championing education and entrepreneurship.  On point, Washington founded both the National Negro Business League and the Tuskegee Institute.  Through these institutions, Washington established a political and social coalition of middle-class blacks, church leaders, and white philanthropists that he led until his death in 1915.
            Today the grounds on which Booker T. Washington was born are preserved as Booker T. Washington National Monument, which was established in 1956 as the first national monument named after a person.  The Visitor Center features an informative and inspiring video about Washington’s life, and two trails form end-to-end loops around the grounds.  This hike uses both of the monument’s trails to form a grand tour of all the monument has to offer.
Start of trail behind Visitor Center
            Walk out the back door of the Visitor Center and follow the asphalt trail that heads first east and then south through a sunny mowed-grass area toward the reconstructed plantation.  Where the asphalt ends and the trail splits to form the Plantation Loop, choose the option on the right to pass beside the reconstructed slave cabin where Washington lived.  Next you pass the reconstructed smokehouse before descending steeply and entering the woods.
Reconstructed slave cabin

Reconstructed tobacco barn
            After a brief stint in the woods, you reach the reconstructed tobacco barn and a trail intersection.  The other arm of the Plantation Trail goes left, and we will go that way eventually.  To also hike the Jack-O-Lantern Branch Trail, angle right and begin heading downstream on a wide two-track dirt trail with Jack-O-Lantern Branch on your left.
Jack-O-Lantern Branch
            Tiny Jack-O-Lantern Branch is rockier and livelier than you might expect for a stream in this part of Virginia, and it even features a couple of small cascades.  The riparian forest is a dense mixture of oak, red cedar, sycamore, and black walnut.  Some numbered signs indicate the existence of an interpretive brochure, but the Visitor Center did not have one when I inquired.
            At 0.5 miles, the Jack-O-Lantern Branch Trail splits to form its loop.  To follow the numbered signs in increasing order, I continued straight here and used the right trail as my return route, thus hiking the loop clockwise.  A gradual descent ensues with Jack-O-Lantern Branch keeping you constant company.
Hiking along Jack-O-Lantern Branch
            Just shy of 1 mile, the trail curves right and climbs slightly to reach the short-cut trail, which exits right.  Angle left and descend again to stay on the outer-most loop.  Soon Gills Creek comes in sight on your left; Gills Creek is much larger than Jack-O-Lantern Branch.
            At 1.1 miles, the trail curves right and begins a moderate climb away from Gills Creek.  The difference between maximum and minimum elevations on this hike is only about 120 feet, but you gain most of that elevation in only 0.2 miles on this climb.  Where the short-cut trail rejoins from the right, look to the right for an old cemetery.
Entering the meadow
Horses outside of horse barn
            A service road exits left as the trail enters a sunny, grassy meadow, the only real meadow area on this hike.  After reentering the woods, a short but steep descent closes the loop.  Turn left to return to the reconstructed barn, then angle right to hike the other arm of the Plantation Trail.  The eastern arm of the Plantation Trail features a tobacco field, a corn crib, a horse barn with live horses, a chicken house with live chickens, and hog pens with live hogs.  Where the Plantation Trail’s loop closes, turn right to head back to the Visitor Center and complete the hike.

Sunday, October 6, 2019

George Washington National Forest: Crabtree Falls (Blog Hike #775)

Trail: Crabtree Falls Trail
Hike Location: George Washington National Forest, Crabtree Falls Recreation Area
Geographic Location: northwest of Lovingston, VA (37.85104, -79.07993)
Length: 3.4 miles
Difficulty: 9/10 (Difficult)
Last Hiked: August 2019
Overview: An out-and-back, occasionally steep and occasionally rocky, along cascading Crabtree Falls.
Photo Highlight:

Directions to the trailhead: From the intersection of US 29 and SR 56, take SR 56 west 16.8 miles to the signed national forest entrance for Crabtree Falls on the left.  Alternatively, reach this point by taking SR 56 east 6.4 miles from the Blue Ridge Parkway.  Pay the small entrance fee and park in either the upper or lower parking lots.

The hike: The Appalachian Mountains have many waterfalls named Crabtree Falls, but none of them match the size and scale of the Crabtree Falls in Nelson County, Virginia.  This Crabtree Falls drops 1200 feet over 5 major cascades, and it tumbles down the south side of the deep and steep ravine that contains the South Fork of the Tye River.  Taken together as a single water feature, the 5 cascades form the tallest waterfall in Virginia and maybe the tallest waterfall in the entire eastern United States depending on how you group other sequences of cascades on a common watercourse.
            Crabtree Falls is the centerpiece of George Washington National Forest’s Crabtree Falls Recreation Area, and the national forest’s Crabtree Falls Trail follows Crabtree Creek for 2.7 miles.  The lower-most 1.7 of those miles climb beside Crabtree Falls, offering fantastic views of all 5 cascades.  Doing those 1.7 miles as an out-and-back forms the 3.4 mile hike described here.  Note that Crabtree Falls is located fairly high in its watershed, so you need to come after a good rain to see the falls in their full glory.  I have been here twice, once in April 2003 and again in August 2019, and I had a nice hike and visit each time.
Trailhead: Crabtree Falls Trail
            The Crabtree Falls Trail starts at the rear of the upper parking area.  A sign for the Crabtree Falls Trail, a large information kiosk, and some benches mark the trailhead.  The first 500 feet are paved with asphalt, and the trail is wide enough and the grade gradual enough to allow wheelchairs and strollers access to the lowest cascade.  A small pioneer cemetery protected by a wooden fence is passed on the left less than 200 feet from the trailhead.
Small pioneer cemetery
            At 0.1 miles, the asphalt ends where you reach Crabtree Falls’ lower-most cascade.  This bottom cascade drops about 30 feet down a bare rock outcrop that features a lot of algae.  Several people have fallen to their deaths by climbing on the waterfall and slipping on the algae, so be sure to stay behind erected barriers.  A dense forest consisting of oak, tulip poplar, and a few pine trees makes for a cool, dark, and damp setting.
Crabtree Falls, lower-most cascade
            The dirt trail now begins the long series of switchbacks that climb alongside Crabtree Falls.  The east end of each switchback brings you back to the falls, and a new cascade seems to be seen with every switchback.  The second cascade features more boulders than the first, and some constructions such as steep wooden and stone steps aid the climb in several places.  Wooden mileposts appear at 0.1 mile intervals, and they simultaneously push you on by telling you how far you have come and warn you about how far you still have to go.  Pace yourself and feel free to turn around if your stamina wanes: the old motto “climbing up is optional but climbing down is mandatory” applies on this hike.
Climbing the switchbacks
            Continuing to climb the switchbacks, the third time you get back to the waterfall brings you to a bench that provides your first north-facing view across the Tye River ravine.  Crabtree Falls is a tall sheer cascade here.  The trail climbs beside the waterfall for a few hundred feet as it passes a small rocky cave.  Adventurous hikers can climb through the cave and re-emerge on the trail a few feet higher.
Peering through the cave
            More switchbacks lift you further up the hillside, and as you approach the rim of the ravine the understory becomes denser with ferns and stinging nettle.  On my visit some monarch butterflies were fluttering around some yellow violets that were in bloom, and I watched a blue-trailed skink dart beside the trail.  I also paused while a timber rattlesnake crossed my path, and I looked carefully to make sure it had no cousins nearby before I proceeded.
Crabtree Falls, upper-most cascade
             At 1.4 miles, you reach the base of the upper-most cascade.  Another drop over bare rock, this cascade may be the tallest of the five cascades that comprise Crabtree Falls, and it is definitely the brightest: the large bare rock outcrop allows plenty of sunlight to strike the water.  A sign tells you that this is the last waterfall view, and some people turn around here.  However, climbing for another 0.3 miles not only leads to the top of the falls but also to a fantastic view.
View at top of falls
A final long switchback lifts you to the top of Crabtree Falls, where you reach a trail intersection.  The Crabtree Falls Trail turns right to continue a more gradual but less developed climb along the west bank of Crabtree Creek, but you want to turn left and cross Crabtree Creek on a wooden footbridge to quickly arrive at the top-of-the-waterfall view.  A bench and overlook provide a fantastic northwest-facing view up the heavily forested Tye River ravine toward the crest of the Blue Ridge Mountains.  After taking in the view, you can extend your hike by continuing up the less developed portion of the Crabtree Falls Trail, but eventually you will have to retrace your steps back down to the parking lot to complete the hike.

Thursday, October 3, 2019

Morristown National Historical Park: Blue Trail (Blog Hike #774)

Trail: Blue Trail
Hike Location: Morristown National Historical Park
Geographic Location: southwest of Morristown, NJ (40.77231, -74.52797)
Length: 2.7 miles
Difficulty: 4/10 (Easy/Moderate)
Last Hiked: August 2019
Overview: A loop hike through a Revolutionary War campground with a distant view of Manhattan.
Photo Highlight:

Directions to the trailhead: In northern New Jersey, take I-287 to Harter Road (exit 33).  Exit and go west on Harter Rd.  Drive Harter Rd. west 0.9 miles to US 202 and turn left on US 202.  Drive US 202 south 2.2 miles to Tempe Wick Road and turn right on Tempe Wick Rd.  (Note: if you are coming from the south, you can also reach Tempe Wick Rd. by taking the Maple Avenue exit from I-287 and driving US 202 north 1.8 miles.)  Drive Tempe Wick Rd. west 1.4 miles to the signed park entrance on the right.  Turn right to enter the park, then drive the park’s Tour Road to the New York Brigade parking area, where this hike begins.

The hike: The date was December 1779 when Patriot General George Washington led his struggling Continental Army into Jockey Hollow near Morristown, New Jersey.  In that era armies rarely fought during the winter due to difficulty of movement and scarcity of supplies.  Washington chose Jockey Hollow as his winter campsite that year because it was close enough to British positions in New York City to keep an eye on the enemy but far enough away to discourage a direct confrontation.
In a matter of weeks thousands of acres of trees in Jockey Hollow were felled, and more than 1000 log huts rose in their place.  Each hut housed 12 soldiers, and each hut had to be built to precise specifications.  Any hut failing to meet the specifications was torn down and had to be rebuilt.
            The winter that ensued was one of the harshest and coldest on record; at least 20 snowstorms fell on Morristown.  After more than three years of war, the Continental Congress could not fund the army, and even necessities such as food and clothing were in short supply.  Washington later wrote that the help his army received from local people at Morristown “saved the army from dissolution, or starving.”  In May 1780 word came that France would help the Patriots, and in June the Jockey Hollow camp was dispersed when Washington’s army went off to fight for another summer.  While the American Revolution was not won at Morristown, the salient fact is that it was not lost there either.
            In 1933, Jockey Hollow was preserved as part of Morristown National Historical Park, which was America’s first national historical park.  The Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) worked here during the 1930’s to build many of the trails and structures we use today.  The Wick House located near the Visitor Center preserves the farm of Henry Wick, one of the hollow’s few permanent residents during the Revolutionary War era, and the park offers a loop road that passes many of the hollow’s historic sites.
The Wick House
            For hikers, the park offers an extensive system of color-coded trails, and several good dayhikes present themselves.  The 6.5 mile White Trail forms a grand loop around the hollow, while the 2.25 mile Yellow Trail stays close to the loop road and focuses on the hollow’s historic sites.  This blog entry describes the Blue Trail, which forms a 2.7 mile loop around the northeast corner of Jockey Hollow and passes a scenic east-facing overlook.  Be warned that bugs are fairly bad here during the warmer months, so be sure to wear bug spray in season.
Trailhead for Blue Trail
            The trailhead for the Blue Trail is located behind the restroom building at the New York Brigade parking area.  Marked with rectangular blue paint blazes, the trail descends gradually first through sunny young forest and then through more mature forest with some large oak and tulip poplar trees.  At 0.3 miles, the White Trail joins from the right just before you reach Cat Swamp Pond.  A bench beside the pond makes a nice place to sit and do some wildlife viewing provided the bugs are not too bad.
Cat Swamp Pond
            The White and Blue Trails run conjointly for a few hundred feet until the White Trail exits left.  The Blue Trail continues on an eastward course as it climbs the north side of Mount Kemble, which rises to your right.  The difference between maximum and minimum elevations on this hike is only about 200 vertical feet, so none of the climbs on this hike are too strenuous.  Ignore trails that exit right or left to stay on the outer loop of the Blue Trail.
Hiking through mature forest
            At 0.8 miles, you reach the top of the hill and intersect a gravel road, where the blue blazes tell you to turn right.  Private property comes close on the left as the wide trail heads south following the contour line of Mount Kemble.  Near 1 mile into the hike, you reach a stone and mortar monument to Stark’s Brigade encampment site, a reminder of the soldiers who spent the winter of 1779-1780 here.
Stark's Brigade encampment site
Across from the monument sits the east-facing overlook that marks the scenic highlight of this hike.  Forested ridges make up the majority of the view, but on a clear day you can see Manhattan some 30 miles to the east.  When I came here on a hot and hazy afternoon in early August, I could just barely make out Manhattan’s skyscrapers although they are not discernible in the photo below.  Noisy US 202 below you provides another reminder of your proximity to New York City.  A bench here makes a nice place to sit, rest, and enjoy the view.
East-facing overlook
Past the overlook, the wide dirt trail continues to follow Mount Kemble’s contour line as it circles the south side of the mountain.  As the trail curves right, ignore a side trail that exits left as you begin to descend.  At 1.6 miles, the Blue Trail’s Inner Loop enters from the right as the Outer Loop descends a pair of mild switchbacks to begin following the Old Camp Road.  An interpretive sign tells you that this road was built by the Continental Army to connect two other roads.  Imagine being a soldier slogging through knee-deep snow while walking on this road.
Hiking the old road
The Old Camp Road crosses the outflow of Cat Swamp Pond on a wide wooden footbridge that marks the lowest elevation of this hike.  The White Trail crosses your route before you begin a gradual climb.  At 2.35 miles, the Old Camp Road ends at a gated intersection with the paved park loop road.  To continue the Blue Trail, walk around the vehicle gate, cross the paved road, reenter the forest on the other side of the road, and then turn right where the Orange Trail exits left.
The last 0.3 miles are a gradual to moderate climb with the park loop road close on the right, and this section is by far the least scenic part of the hike.  Soon the restroom building for the New York Brigade parking area comes into view across the road, thus signaling the end of the hike.  Be sure to check out the film and exhibits in the Visitor Center and the adjacent Wick House before you leave if you have not already done so.

Thursday, September 26, 2019

Chatfield Hollow State Park: Red/Orange Loop (Blog Hike #773)

Trails: Red, Purple, Blue, Orange, and Boardwalk Trails
Hike Location: Chatfield Hollow State Park
Geographic Location: west of Killingworth, CT (41.36946, -72.58882)
Length: 4 miles
Difficulty: 9/10 (Difficult)
Last Hiked: August 2019
Overview: A loop hike, mostly moderate but with occasional rock scrambling, exploring Chatfield Hollow.
Photo Highlight:

Directions to the trailhead: From the SR 80/SR 81 rotary in Killingworth, drive SR 80 west 1.2 miles to the park entrance on the right.  Turn right to enter the park, and follow the main park road 0.3 miles to the swimming area parking, where this hike begins.  Note that this park charges a $15 entrance fee for non-Connecticut residents on weekends but no entrance fee on weekdays; time your visit accordingly.

The hike: Tucked in one of the many steep-sided gorges that run north-south across south-central Connecticut, Chatfield Hollow State Park protects 412 acres in and along its namesake hollow.  Development of the park began in 1934 when the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) dammed Chatfield Hollow Brook to create 7 acre Schreeder Pond and planted some pine trees around the pond.  The land was designated as a state park in 1949, and Schreeder Pond still serves as the park’s swimming and fishing areas today.  Indeed, Chatfield Hollow State Park has been designated a trout park due to the high quality of its fishing opportunities.
            The park, hollow, and brook get their names from the descendants of three Chatfield brothers who built a gristmill on this brook during Colonial times.  Before the Chatfields arrived, American Indians lived here, and artifacts they left behind have been found in some shallow rocky caves located near the park entrance.  This hike does not take you to the Indian caves, but they can be accessed via the 0.25 mile Chimney Trail that could be added on to this hike.
            The park retains a rustic character, as it offers only the aforementioned swimming area, some picnic tables, and a small nature center for amenities.  For hikers, the park offers 9 trails totaling over 6 miles.  Many routes through the park’s trail system are possible, but the route described here forms a grand tour of the park that explores both the tranquil, flat streamside areas and the rocky, steep hollow rim areas.
Red Trail exiting swimming area
            From the swimming area, pick up the Red Trail as it heads east and immediately begins climbing a long series of wooden steps.  Trails at Chatfield Hollow are marked with color-coded rectangular paint blazes, and some of these trails see sufficiently little traffic that the blazes come in handy to help you find your way.  The hollow’s rim is only about 200 vertical feet above the brook, but all trails in and out of the hollow are quite steep, as you quickly learn on this initial climb.
            At 0.25 miles, you reach the hollow’s rim as a spur trail exits right to the White Trail, which in turn leads to adjacent Cockaponset State Forest.  Stay with the Red Trail as it curves left to head north along the hollow’s rim.  The rim area features a lot of boulders, and the shallow rocky soil supports only some stunted pine trees and a thick understory of shrubs and grass.
Climbing toward the hollow's rim
            The Red Trail undulates gently as it heads north with the deep and steep hollow to your left.  Near 0.5 miles, the trail treads atop a sheer rock cliff that would give nice views into the hollow during the leafless months.  All of the rock ledges at Chatfield Hollow are made of a gray metamorphic rock called Monson gneiss, and the rock’s odd color gives the area a distinctive look.
Top of a sheer rock ledge
            The going on the hollow rim is fairly easy, but when the trail dips under the cliff line the treadway becomes rough and boulder-strewn.  You may need to use your hands to keep your balance while clambering over the boulders.  Just shy of 1 mile, Chatfield Hollow Brook comes into view as the Purple Trail enters from the left.  Soon you reach a red covered bridge that spans the brook.  Do not cross the bridge now, but instead remain on the Red Trail as it stays on the east bank of the brook.
Covered bridge
            At 1.3 miles, the Red Trail ends at a small pond created by a stone dam with a waterwheel.  Some sunny picnic tables make nice places to sit, but a parking lot across the pond ensures you will not be alone here.  After enjoying this area’s tranquility, walk around the pond to reach the parking lot.
Pond at end of Red Trail
            My plan for continuing this hike was to pick up the Orange Trail at the west side of this parking lot, but I could not find the Orange Trail.  In hindsight, I looked for the Orange Trail in the wrong spot: I should have looked in a small cul de sac just north of the parking lot.  As an improvised route, I turned left on the park road that serves the parking lot and walked down the road to the covered bridge you passed earlier.  I then crossed the covered bridge and hiked the Purple Trail, the blazes of which are a very light shade of purple.  The Purple Trail offers a flat but somewhat rocky course along Chatfield Hollow Brook.  Some nice beech trees live along the brook, and this improvised route turned out to be quite pleasant.
Hiking along Chatfield Hollow Brook
            At 1.75 miles, the Purple Trail comes out at a picnic area beside the brook and the park road.  Wanting to get back on my intended course, I crossed the brook via the park road’s bridge and picked up the signed West Crest Trail, which is marked with blue rectangular paint blazes.  True to its name, the West Crest Trail climbs out of the west side of Chatfield Hollow.  The climb is gradual at first, but the grade becomes steep and rocky before you reach the hollow’s rim.
            Ignore an unmarked trail that exits left before reaching a junction with the Orange Trail at 2.1 miles.  Turn left to begin heading south on the Orange Trail.  This part of the Orange Trail offers a comparatively flat and easy trek, and some old stone walls indicate this land has been farmed in the past.  Where the Orange Trail splits, you could go either way because the two options come back together further south, but the left option is about half as long as the right option.  I chose the shorter option, but you should choose whichever one pleases you.
Hiking the Orange Trail
            3 miles into the hike, traffic on SR 80 comes within earshot on the right as a tall, stark, nearly vertical gneiss rock outcrop can be seen ahead.  Now comes the hardest part of the hike: the trail circles around to the back of the outcrop and climbs its bare rock ledges.  Whereas you may have needed to use your hands to navigate the boulders earlier on this hike, you will definitely need to use your hands to climb and descend these ledges.  I met some rock climbers/rappellers here who were enjoying this cliff for their sport, and their climbing route was much longer and sheerer than mine.  Some nice views to the west might emerge here in the leafless months.
            The trail traces the cliff line before curving right and descending the back (east) side of the rock outcrop.  This descent is steep and rocky but more manageable than the way you came up.  At 3.5 miles, you reach the south end of the Orange Trail when you intersect the park exit road.  Cross the road to begin the Paul F. Wilderman Boardwalk, which is named for its designer.
Paul F. Wilderman Boardwalk
            Made of real wood, the boardwalk carries you over a shallow wetland formed by a broad section of Chatfield Hollow Brook.  Interpretive signs describe the wetland’s rich flora and fauna, but the greenery is sufficiently dense to make wildlife viewing difficult.  The east end of the boardwalk comes out at a gravel parking lot near the park entrance road.  Turn left and walk the park road back to the swimming area to complete the hike.  Alternatively, if you have more time and energy you could turn right to reach the start of the Chimney Trail and explore the Indian caves.

Saturday, September 21, 2019

Baxter State Park: Appalachian Trail to Big Niagara Falls (Blog Hike #772)

Trail: Appalachian Trail
Hike Location: Baxter State Park
Geographic Location: northwest of Millinocket, ME (44.32004, -68.25303)
Length: 2.6 miles
Difficulty: 4/10 (Moderate)
Last Hiked: August 2019
Overview: An out-and-back to Big Niagara Falls with a view of Mount Katahdin.
Park Information:
Photo Highlight:

Directions to the trailhead: From Millinocket, drive Baxter Park Road 17.1 miles to the park’s Togue Pond Entrance Gate, where you will need to pay your entrance fee ($15 for non-Maine residents on my visit) and tell the park rangers what part of the park you wish to visit.  The road surface turns to gravel at the entrance gate.  Follow the narrow and winding Park Tote Road 10 miles to the signed turnoff for Daicey Pond.  Turn left and drive the narrower Daicey Pond driveway to the Daicey Pond day use parking area on the right.  Park here.

The hike: The words Katahdin and Baxter are legendary in hiking circles.  As the northern terminus of the Appalachian Trail (AT), northbound AT through-hikers spend months making their way over mountain after mountain to reach the final mountain, Mount Katahdin.  Katahdin is also the highest point in Maine, and its huge multi-peaked steep-sided pinnacle dominates the landscape for miles around.  On point, the 5269 foot mountain stands 4288 feet above its highest adjacent valley.
            Katahdin remains the icon it is today partly due to the foresight of Percival Baxter, the Governor of Maine from 1921-1925 for whom this park is named.  Baxter set aside 30,000 acres of land for this park, and each parcel of land he donated came with a deed of trust that gave instructions for how to care for the land and an endowment.  Thus, although Baxter is a state park, it is operated and funded separately from the rest of Maine’s state park system.
            Baxter’s instructions were to keep the land wild and untouched by man, and those instructions are carried out in the park we visit today.  The vast 209,644 acre park features no amenities except trails, picnic shelters, and tent campgrounds, and all roads in the park are narrow, curvy, gravel roads.  Thus, although the road distance from the park entrance gate to this trailhead is only 10 miles, it will take about 45 minutes to drive that distance.  Plan your visit accordingly.
            Options for hikers at Baxter State Park are almost unlimited.  Of course Mount Katahdin’s summit is the dream destination, but all trails that lead to the summit are very long and strenuous with several thousand feet of elevation gain.  For people who cannot make such a trek, the park has numerous locations that offer postcard views of Mount Katahdin.  One of the most famous of these views can be had at Daicey Pond (pronounced like DAY-see), and this hike combines this postcard view with a short journey along the AT to a pair of high-volume waterfalls.
Mt. Katahdin across Daicey Pond
Katahdin's Baxter Peak across Daicey Pond
            Because Mount Katahdin is the center of everybody’s attention in this area, you may as well start by getting your postcard view.  From the day use parking area, continue walking down the campground entrance road and climb slightly to reach Daicey Pond Campground.  The pond is located right behind the campground’s well-volumed library (yes, this campground has an actual building full of ink-and-paper books), and Mount Katahdin looms large across the pond.  Mount Katahdin actually has several peaks, and this view features the southwest Abol face of Baxter Peak, the mountain’s highest point.  The moment I saw Mount Katahdin across Daicey Pond was the highlight of my summer 2019 Maine hiking trip, which included visits to both of Maine’s top-tier hiking destinations: Baxter State Park and Acadia National Park.  I hope you enjoy this view as much as I did.
Information kiosk at AT trailhead
            After savoring the view, walk back down to the day use parking area, and then turn left to begin heading southbound on the AT.  An information kiosk and vault toilet stand here, and a sign gives distances to Big and Little Niagara Falls among other more distant destinations.  After tracing the south edge of a sunny meadow, the trail curves left to pass through a wetland area.  A series of rocks and wooden planks keep your feet mostly dry, but the careful stepping you need to do here makes this section the hardest part of the hike.
Major trail intersection
            At 0.3 miles, you reach a major signed trail intersection.  The option going straight is the Daicey Pond Nature Trail, which leads back to Daicey Pond.  Turn right to continue southbound on the AT, following the AT’s famous white rectangular paint blazes.  A gradual descent through pine and birch trees ensues, and the smooth dirt treadway makes for easy going.  At 0.75 miles, you pass an interesting pine tree with roots stretched down over a boulder.
Tree growing over boulder
            Just shy of 1 mile, you reach the signed spur trail to Little Niagara Falls.  Turn right and hike the short rocky spur to the falls.  While calling either of the waterfalls on this hike Niagara requires quite a bit of embellishment, Little Niagara Falls is more of a rocky cascade than a fall.  Nevertheless, Nesowadehunk Stream provides a lot of water to cascade, and a large streamside boulder makes the perfect spot to catch the aquatic action.
Little Niagara Falls
            Return to the AT and turn right to continue southbound.  The trail descends moderately over a somewhat rocky course to reach the signed spur trail to Big Niagara Falls.  Turn right for the steep, rocky, and rooty descent to the side of Big Niagara Falls.  Though only about 20 feet high, Big Niagara Falls is more of a true waterfall than Little Niagara Falls, and the surrounding rocks make for a stark setting.
Big Niagara Falls
            The AT continues downstream along Nesowadehunk Stream for several more miles, but there are no more waterfalls nearby.  Thus, most hikers turn around here and retrace their steps to the Daicey Pond parking area.  Other nice dayhikes at Baxter State Park include a 4-mile hike along the AT to Katahdin Falls, another nice waterfall with Katahdin-fed waters, and a 6.5 mile hike to Katahdin Lake, which features a view of Mount Katahdin from the side opposite of Daicey Pond.

Tuesday, September 17, 2019

Acadia National Park: Jordan Pond Loop (Blog Hike #771)

Trail: Jordan Pond Loop Trail
Hike Location: Acadia National Park
Geographic Location: south of Bar Harbor, ME (44.32004, -68.25303)
Length: 3.5 miles
Difficulty: 4/10 (Moderate)
Last Hiked: July 2019
Overview: A nearly flat circumnavigation of Jordan Pond with great views of the surrounding mountains.
Photo Highlight:

Directions to the trailhead: This trailhead is most easily accessed using the Island Explorer shuttle bus.  From the Hulls Cove Visitor Center, ride the Jordan Pond route to the Jordan Pond House shuttle stop, which is the trailhead for this hike.

The hike: For my introduction to Acadia National Park, see my hike at the park’s Beech Mountain.  The Jordan Pond Loop Trail described here is my favorite short hike in Acadia National Park.  The hike features scenic views across Jordan Pond to the rocky mountains that surround it, and the pondside route passes through a variety of environments including some meadows, a wetland with a long boardwalk, some shady dry forest, and even a rugged sunny boulder field.  Indeed, this hike provides a sample of all the great sights Acadia’s interior ponds have to offer.
Trailhead near Jordan Pond House
            From the Jordan Pond House shuttle stop, walk to the left (west) of Jordan Pond House, and then angle right to head for Jordan Pond.  A gradual descent through a sunny meadow brings you to the south corner of Jordan Pond.  The view across the pond to the bare rock mountains called the Bubbles may be the best view on this hike, so make sure you do not miss it.
The Bubbles across Jordan Pond
            Upon reaching the pond’s shore, turn left to begin a clockwise journey around the Jordan Pond Loop Trail.  Next you pass a small concrete dam called Water Company Dam.  Owned by the Seal Harbor Water Company, Water Company Dam dates to 1920, and it combined with glacial debris constrain the water in Jordan Pond.  The Jordan Pond Loop Trail briefly joins a carriage road to cross Jordan Pond’s main outlet stream on the carriage road bridge.  After crossing the bridge, turn right to leave the wide two-track carriage road and return to the single-track Jordan Pond Loop Trail.
Hiking the boardwalk
            The trail heads north along the heavily forested west bank of Jordan Pond.  Soon you reach the start of a long two-plank boardwalk that carries you over an extensive seasonal wetland along the pond’s west bank.  This boardwalk was in the process of being reconstructed on my visit, and the new sections had some nice wide passing areas where you could step to the side and let oncoming hikers pass.  These passing zones come in handy due to the narrowness of the boardwalk and the high traffic volume this trail receives.
Clambering through a boulder field
            Just past 1 mile, you finish the boardwalk and begin a rocky section that forms the hardest part of the loop.  Although the elevation change on this loop is minimal, you will probably need to use your hands to clamber over the boulders on this section of trail.  As you approach the end of the rocky section, nice views emerge down the length of Jordan Pond with massive Pemetic Mountain across the pond to the left.
Pemetic Mountain across Jordan Pond
            At 1.5 miles, the trail to Penobscot and Sargent Mountains exits left.  Stay right to cross one of Jordan Pond’s main feeder streams on an interesting wooden bridge.  When I passed through here, a common loon was nesting in the wetlands along this stream, and I saw several frogs poking their eyes above the water.
Bridge at north end of Jordan Pond
            Where the trail to the Bubbles exits left, stay right to round the north end of Jordan Pond.  Now heading south along the pond’s east shore, views of rocky Penobscot Mountain to the west appear across the pond.  Most of the trail on this side of the pond is paved with gravel, and these areas are wide and smooth enough for a stroller to cross.  However, a few small streams are crossed on rough stepping stones.
Rocky Penobscot Mountain
            3 miles into the hike, you reach a trail intersection where the trail to The Triad and Pemetic Mountain exits left.  Turn right to cross an inlet of Jordan Pond on a stone dam-like structure.  Where the trail splits after crossing the inlet, you can go either way:  the left route provides a slightly shorter route back to the trailhead, but the right route stays along the shore of Jordan Pond.  Both routes return to the Jordan Pond House, where the park shuttle bus and perhaps a nice lunch or dinner in the House’s restaurant await you after your hike.

Saturday, September 14, 2019

Acadia National Park: North Ridge Trail to Cadillac Mountain (Blog Hike #770)

Trails: North Ridge and Cadillac Mountain Loop Trails
Hike Location: Acadia National Park
Geographic Location: south of Bar Harbor, ME (44.37949, -68.23227)
Length: 5.1 miles
Difficulty: 10/10 (Difficult)
Last Hiked: July 2019
Overview: A rocky, occasionally steep out-and-back with short loop to the summit of Cadillac Mountain.
Photo Highlight:

Directions to the trailhead: This trailhead is most easily accessed using the Island Explorer shuttle bus.  From the Hulls Cove Visitor Center, ride either the Jordan Pond route or the Loop Road route to the North Ridge shuttle stop, which is the trailhead for this hike.

The hike: For my introduction to Acadia National Park, see my hike at the park’s Beech Mountain.  With an elevation of 1530 feet, Cadillac Mountain is the highest and perhaps most popular point in Acadia National Park.  The mountain’s popularity is partly due to its accessibility: the 3.5 mile Cadillac Mountain Summit Road allows visitors to drive to the summit’s fantastic views.  Also, due to Cadillac Mountain’s elevation and its location on the east coast, for most of the year the first rays of sunlight to strike the United States hit the top of Cadillac Mountain.  Thus, hiking or driving up the mountain in the dark and timing your summit arrival to coincide with daybreak has become a traditional activity for Acadia visitors.
            Geographically speaking, Cadillac Mountain consists of an oblong lump of granite that runs from north to south.  Thus, of the multiple hiking trails that lead to the mountain’s summit, the harder trails ascend the mountain’s steep east and west sides while the easier ones ascend the more gradual north and south sides.  Although the vast majority of visitors drive to the summit, hiking to the summit provides the opportunity to earn your views and allows you to get up close and personal with the mountain’s rocky environment.
Two classic hiking routes make their way to the summit: the 2.2 mile North Ridge Trail and the 3.5 mile South Ridge Trail.  Because the summit road also ascends the north side of the mountain, many experts view the South Ridge Trail as the preferred route of ascent for hikers.  Nevertheless, the North Ridge Trail described here has several advantages: it is more than a mile shorter each way, it has 400 fewer feet of elevation gain, and its trailhead is served directly by the park’s shuttle busses.  Also, the nearby summit road can serve as a bailout option if the trail proves too steep and rocky.  Truth be told, I hiked up the mountain on the North Ridge Trail and hiked back down along the summit road.
Trailhead at North Ridge shuttle stop
From the North Ridge shuttle stop, the single track dirt trail heads into the forest on an eastward course.  After several hundred feet of gradual climbing, you reach the shoulder of the Park Loop Road where the Kebo Brook Trail exits left.  Angle right to cross the road and reach the official beginning of the North Ridge Trail.
The grade intensifies as the trail alternates between exposed rock outcrops and shady pine forest.  Blue rectangular paint blazes mark the trail, as do some interesting rock cairns.  Each cairn consists of three rocks, one long flat rock placed atop two shorter rocks that act as support pillars.  Take care not to knock over the cairns, and also refrain from building new cairns that might confuse hikers who come after you.
Climbing the north ridge
At 0.5 miles, the grade eases but the rockiness continues as you top a small knob some maps call Great Pond Hill.  1 mile into the hike, the summit road comes close on the right for the first time as you get your first clear eastward view toward the Atlantic Ocean.  Next the grade intensifies again, and perhaps the hardest part of the climb ensues.  This part of the trail becomes a creek after a heavy rain, and the terrain is both steep and rocky.
Climbing on rocky trail
Just shy of 1.5 miles, you leave the shady pine forest for good and break out onto the open rock ledges.  You will need to use your hands to get up some of these ledges, and the sunny bare granite was scorching hot on the late morning in late July that I hiked here.  The top of the first ledge offers an expansive view to the east.  The summit road comes close on the right again, and a small parking area near this spot ensures that plenty of drivers from the summit road also come here.
More jagged ledges will need to be scrambled over, and some slickrock granite will need to be clambered up as the North Ridge Trail continues to climb.  At 2.3 miles, the trail comes out at the summit area near where the summit road enters the summit parking lot.  To tour the summit area, angle left and walk through the parking lot to reach the start of the paved Cadillac Mountain Loop Trail.  Head southeast from the parking lot to begin a counterclockwise trip around the summit loop trail.
View at Cadillac Mountain summit
Throughout the loop unimpeded views can be had to the east and southeast.  The views were fantastic on my 2019 visit, but on my 2004 visit the summit was covered by clouds.  The trail descends slightly from the summit to a point that offers a great view down Cadillac Mountain’s south ridge.  As you continue around the loop, Dorr and Champlain Mountains rise below you and to the east, and Bar Harbor comes into view to the northeast.
Looking down Cadillac Mountain's south ridge

View over Bar Harbor
At 2.7 miles, you finish the Cadillac Mountain Loop Trail and return to the summit parking area.  Now all that remains is to get back down.  The shuttle busses do not run to the Cadillac Mountain summit, and the shortest route to a shuttle stop is to retrace your steps back down the North Ridge Trail.  For a longer and harder route, you could descend one of the other trails such as the South Ridge Trail.  If you have had enough of scrambling over rocky ledges, you could walk back down the summit road, but this option will mean constant dodging of cars.  Whichever way you go down, the views going down are just as good as they were coming up.