Terrain By State: Maine

Katahdin MaineMost of the Appalachian Trail in Maine is not recommended for novice hikers; Maine's 281 miles are generally considered the most difficult of all fourteen states. Even the strongest hikers may average only one mile an hour in some parts. Other parts require grabbing onto tree roots and limbs to climb or descend, and are especially slippery and hazardous in wet weather.

Lakes, streams, and bogs abound. While that makes moose and loons common sights, it also makes for muddy treadway and many fords of mountain streams. Some of these fords—notably the Kennebec River—can be difficult and potentially life-threatening when water is high. When streams run high in the spring or after heavy rains, often the only options are waiting for them to subside or back-tracking and finding a road to follow—if one exists!

The 281 miles in Maine can be roughly divided into three segments:

The eastern section, sometimes called "the Hundred Miles" between Katahdin and Monson, comprises disconnected mountains, lakes, ponds, streams, and forest. While the eastern section has a flatter profile than other parts of Maine, it has special challenges. The mountains are relatively low, but  present some very rugged climbs. Stream crossings here can be tricky—even life-threatening—in high water. Resupply is scarce in this isolated but heavily used area.

The central section, between Monson and the Bigelow Preserve, features a short, rugged stretch followed by some of the least strenuous hiking in Maine and a crossing of the widest unbridged river along the Trail, the Kennebec. A free canoe service ferries A.T. users across the Kennebec River and is the Trail's official and historic route; fording the river is extremely dangerous, because the water level can rise rapidly and without warning.

The western section is an area of extremely steep, 4,000-foot mountains, arguably the toughest part of the entire A.T. It includes the notorious mile-long boulder scramble of Mahoosuc Notch.

Organized groups can reduce their chances of arriving at already-crowded sites by contacting the local trail clubs about group voluntary registration programs.

Difficulty Ratings for A.T. Sections

Because the A.T. spans a great variety of terrain, ranging from relatively flat and easy, to extremely difficult, the following scale was created as a general guide:

1 = Flat and smooth
2 = Flat terrain but uneven treadway, or slight elevation change
3 = Moderate elevation change, but well graded trail, or flat trail with very rough treadway
4 = Strenuous climbs, but of moderate duration, or short but steep climbs 
5 = Lengthy graded climbs, alternating with easier sections
6 = Extended climbs that may last hours or shorter climbs with difficult footing
7 = Includes rock scrambling that is relatively easy and of short duration 
8 = Includes rock scrambling that is somewhat challenging
9 = Rock scrambling that is difficult and extended
10 = Use of hands required for extended periods of climbing, footing precarious, and leaping may be required — not recommended for those with fear of heights and not in good physical condition. Shorter hikers may be at a disadvantage

at a Glance
A.T. mileage 281.4 miles
Difficulty rating 3-10
Elevation 490—5,267 feet
Guidebook Appalachian Trail Guide to Maine
When to go July and August. September is peak foliage but late September can be wintry, especially at higher elevations. In May and sometimes June snow still lingers; in June black flies torment hikers and waterlogged trails are muddy and easily damaged.
Trail clubs Maine Appalachian Trail Club
Katahdin to Grafton Notch

Appalachian Mountain Club
Grafton Notch to Kinsman Notch, N.H.