12 Best Sights in The North Woods, Maine

Baxter State Park

Fodor's choice

A gift from Governor Percival Baxter, this is the jewel in the crown of northern Maine: a 210,000-acre wilderness area that surrounds Mt. Katahdin, Maine's highest mountain and the terminus of the Appalachian Trail. Every year, the 5,267-foot Katahdin draws thousands of hikers to make the daylong summit, rewarding them with stunning views of forests, mountains, and lakes. There are three parking-lot trailheads for Katahdin. If you're not an expert hiker, skip the hair-raising Knife Edge Trail.

Reserve a day-use parking space at the trailheads June 1–October 15.

The crowds climbing Katahdin can be formidable on clear summer days and fall weekends, so if it's solitude you crave, head for one of the many other park mountains accessible from the extensive trail network, including 11 peaks exceeding an elevation of 3,000 feet. The Brothers and Doubletop Mountain are challenging daylong hikes; the Owl takes about six hours; and South Turner can be climbed in a morning—its summit has a great view across the valley. A trek around Daicey Pond, or from the pond to Big and Little Niagara Falls, are good options for families with young kids. Another option if you only have a couple of hours is renting a canoe at Daicey or Togue Pond (bring cash for this honor system); many of the park's ponds, including some of the most remote ones, have rental canoes. Roads are unpaved, narrow, winding, and not plowed in winter; there are no pay phones, gas stations, or stores; and cell phone service is unreliable. Dogs are not allowed. Camping is primitive and reservations are required; there are 10 campgrounds plus backcountry sites.

The park has a visitor center at its southern entrance, but you can get information and make parking and camping reservations at park headquarters in Millinocket (64 Balsam Drive).

Moosehead Cultural Heritage Center and Moosehead Lake Aviation Museum

Fodor's choice

At East Cove in downtown Greenville, a former church houses two of five Moosehead Historical Society museums. The center exhibits Native American artifacts and items from the Moosehead Lake region dating from 9,000 BC. Displays about Native American residents spotlight Henry Perley, a guide and author who gained fame as a performer in Wild West shows and movies. Changing exhibits explore local history and culture. The adjoining aviation museum reveals the impact of aviation—from early bush pilots to Greenville's annual International Seaplane Fly-In the weekend after Labor Day—in this remote region. One room focuses on the Air Force B-52 crash here in 1963 that killed seven of nine crew members (you can get information on hiking to the debris-littered crash site, now a memorial). Outside, sculptures honor Henry David Thoreau and his Penobscot guides, Chief Joseph Attean and Joseph Polis, who departed with him from Greenville for Maine's wilds.

Moosehead Historical Society Museums

Fodor's choice

Anchoring the society’s campus in Greenville Junction is the Eveleth-Crafts-Sheridan Historical House, a large 1890s home that’s changed little since the last resident of a prominent Greenville family lived here. Each year there’s a new changing exhibit within the period rooms. The original kitchen, state of the art back in the day, is a highlight of the guided tours; cooks will also savor the museum’s collection of old utensils and kitchen items in a basement gallery. You can even check out the attic. In the home’s carriage house the Moosehead Lumbermen's Museum has exhibits about the region's logging history. A highlight here is a 30-foot bateau used on log drives until the 1960s. Upstairs next to the society's office, a display about hotels on Mt. Kineo, where wealthy Americans flocked to vacation in the rusticator era, is a visitor favorite. In the barn, the Moosehead Outdoor Heritage Museum's covers subjects like Maine Warden Service flight rescues and wildlife—there are bobcat, moose, and caribou mounts. Outside is a sunken garden.

444 Pritham Ave., Maine, 04442, USA
sights Details
Rate Includes: $7.50 (includes guided tours of all three museums), Closed mid-Oct.–late June and Sat.–Tues. late June–mid-Oct. (Lumbermen’s Museum open year-round Tues.-Fri., $3 off-season)

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Allagash Wilderness Waterway

A spectacular 92-mile corridor of lakes, ponds, streams, and rivers, the waterway park cuts through vast commercial forests, beginning near the northwestern corner of Baxter State Park and running north to the town of Allagash, 10 miles from the Canadian border. From May to mid-October, the Allagash is prime canoeing and camping country. The Maine Bureau of Parks and Lands has campsites along the waterway, most not accessible by vehicle. The complete 92-mile course, part of the 740-mile Northern Forest Canoe Trail, which runs from New York to Maine, requires 7–10 days to canoe. Novices may want to hire a guide, as there are many areas with strong rapids. A good outfitter can help plan your route and provide equipment and transportation.

Debsconeag Lakes Wilderness Area

Bordering the south side of the Golden Road below Baxter State Park, the Nature Conservancy's 46,271-acre Debsconeag Lakes Wilderness Area is renowned for its rare ice cave, old forests, abundant pristine ponds, and views of Mt. Katahdin—they are mesmerizing along a challenging 5-mile circuit hike that includes the Rainbow Loop Trail. The access road for the Ice Cave Trail (2 miles round-trip) and Hurd Pond is 17 miles northwest of Millinocket, just west of the Golden Road's Abol Bridge. The kiosk at this entrance has information about the preserve, including a large map. Nearby the Appalachian Trail exits the conservancy land, crossing the bridge en route to Baxter. Hugging the curving, scenic West Branch of the Penobscot River and revealing Katahdin, the first few miles of the 5-mile dirt access road deserve a drive even if you aren't stopping to recreate. Before hiking, paddling, fishing, or camping in the remote preserve (no fees or reservations required), visit the conservancy's website for directions, maps, and other information.

Golden Road

Near Baxter State Park, a roughly 20-mile no-fee stretch of this private east–west logging road—named for the huge sum a paper company paid to build it, according to one story—offers access to Maine’s wilderness without venturing too far in. Though paved, it’s rutty and bumpy; yield (keep right!) to logging trucks. From Millinocket follow signs for Baxter State Park from Route 157; eight miles from the railroad overpass at the edge of town there’s a crossover from Millinocket Lake Road to the Golden Road. This is where the drive begins. North Woods Trading Post is here, across from  Ambajejus Lake on the Millinocket Lake Road side of the crossover. Stop not just for gas, coffee, a bite, or to shop but to pick up the free handout highlighting stops along the drive, with mileage—you’ll need it, since ponds for moose spotting aren't signed and hiking spots that are can be easy to miss. At the end of the drive, drive or walk across Ripogenus Dam, just off the Golden Road between Ripogenus lake and gorge. Below the dam is the best spot (marked on the handout) for watching white-water rafters.

Take photos of Baxter's Mt. Katahdin from the footbridge alongside Abol Bridge: this view is famous.

Gulf Hagas

Called the “Grand Canyon of the East” and part of the Appalachian Trail Corridor, this National Natural Landmark has chasms, cliffs, four major waterfalls, pools, exotic flora, and intriguing rock formations. The West Branch of the Pleasant River flows through the 3-mile, slate-walled gorge east of Greenville in a remote, privately owned commercial forest, KI Jo-Mary, which allows access via gravel logging roads (always yield to trucks). A fee (cash or check only) is charged from late spring to late fall at forest checkpoints, where you can get trail maps and hiking information.

From either parking area you can hike to one of the showcase falls and mostly avoid the difficult rim trail. A good choice for families with young children: start at Head of Gulf parking area for a 3½-mile round-trip hike to Stair Falls on the gorge's western end. From the Gulf Hagas parking area, it's a 3-mile round-trip hike to spectacular Screw Auger Falls on the gulf's eastern end. Gulf hikers who start from this parking area must ford the Pleasant River—usually easily done in summer, but dangerous in high water—and pass through the Hermitage, a stand of old pines and hemlock. A loop route that follows the rim and the less difficult Pleasant River Tote Trail is an 8- to 9-mile trek; there are shorter loops as well. Slippery rocks and rugged terrain make for challenging progress along the rim trail.

Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument

Two rivers flow and streams and ponds abound at this 87,500-acre North Woods preserve, created east of Baxter State Park in 2016 and home to moose, bald eagles, salmon, and bobcats. There's no visitor center, but you can get information from late May to mid-October at the staffed welcome center in Patten at the Patten Lumbermen's Museum (61 Shin Pond Road). Access and park roads are gravel; sanitary facilities are limited; and there is no water, food, fuel, or reliable cell service. In the monument's southern portion, 17-mile Katahdin Loop Road has scenic views of Baxter's Mt. Katahdin and trailheads to short hikes and Barnard Mountain, a 4-mile round-trip that links with the International Appalachian Trail. There are mountain biking options as bike-designated routes link with the loop road (biking is allowed on park roads). In the northern section, visitors hike, mountain bike, cross-country ski (some groomed trails), and snowshoe along and near the waterfall-dotted East Branch of the Penobscot River. Folks paddle and fish on the river and other monument waters.

Lily Bay State Park

Nine miles northeast of Greenville on Moosehead Lake, this 925-acre park has good lakefront swimming, a 2-mile walking trail with water views, two boat-launching ramps, a playground, and two campgrounds with a total of 90 sites. In winter, the entrance road is plowed to access the groomed cross-country ski trails and the lake for ice fishing and snowmobiling.

Mount Kineo

Accessible primarily by steamship, Kineo House was a thriving upscale summer resort that sits below its namesake's 700-foot cliff on an islandlike, 1,200-acre peninsula jutting into Moosehead Lake. The last of three successive hotels with this name was built in 1884 and became America's largest inland waterfront hotel. It was torn down in 1938, but Kineo remains an outstanding day trip. Trails to the summit of the spectacular landmark, now part of Mount Kineo State Park, lead to a fire tower that rewards with a 360-degree sweep of Maine's largest lake and rugged mountains. Hikers scramble on the challenging Indian Trail, but it also has amazing views. All hikes begin on the Carriage Trail, a flat, shore-hugging remnant of the halcyon hotel days. You can play a round on the 9-hole Mount Kineo Golf Course, one of New England's oldest. There is no road access, but you can take a 15-minute boat trip to Mount Kineo from Rockwood on the golf course's seasonal shuttle (fee). Historic summer "cottages" line the greens near the small clubhouse, which has a snack bar and welcomes hikers.

Patten Lumbermen's Museum

Two reproduction 1800s logging camps are among the 10 buildings filled with exhibits depicting the history of logging in Maine. They include sawmill and towboat models, dioramas of logging scenes, horse-drawn sleds, and a steam-powered log hauler. Exhibits also highlight local artists and history as well as logging-related topics. The museum is a welcome center for nearby Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument.

61 Shin Pond Rd., Maine, 04765, USA
sights Details
Rate Includes: $12, Closed mid-Oct.–mid-May; Mon.–Thurs. late May–June; and Mon. (except holidays) July–early Oct.

Penobscot River Trails

A New York philanthropist was so taken with the Mt. Katahdin region he spurred creation of 16 miles of free public recreation trails along the East Branch of the Penobscot River, conveniently off Route 11. Opened in 2019, the "crusher dust" paths are akin to the famed carriage trails at coastal Maine's Acadia National Park. The trails are used for mountain biking and walking and, after the snow flies, groomed for cross-country skiing. Folks also snowshoe and fat-tire bike here in winter. You can chill after a workout or eat your lunch in the woodsy chic visitor center. Come winter, wood stoves heat up two warming huts—one offers an outstanding view of Mt. Katahdin—along the trails. Courtesy (donation requested) bikes, snowshoes, and cross-country skis are available, as are strollers. Paddlers head to the hand-carry boat launch.