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