Waterfalls and Ghost Trains- Explore the Millinocket Region

Welcoming Fall

Hello again from another random hotel room out here in the heartland.  Unfortunately for me I haven’t won the lottery or been offered a boatload of cash to explore and write about our great state, but a guy can hope.

I hope you all enjoyed your summer, I know Kj and I did.  We started out with a week spent hiking in the wilds of our state’s crown jewel, Baxter State Park.  I’d like to give you the details of our time in Baxter, and I will.  But that will have to wait ’til the spring issue.  We then spent a week in Scarborough enjoying the sun and fun of southern Maine.  Our next adventure was a week on MDI and in Acadia National Park.  My oldest, Alex and his fiancée Savannah, came along for the ride, climb and other exploits.  We returned once again to Scarborough to spend my final week of summer freedom enjoying our happy place.  I sincerely hope you all had as great a time as we did, exploring the greatest state in the country.

Where it all Began

In this issue, I am going to tell about you our first timid foray into the wild.  I say timid because neither Kj or myself had ever done any hiking or ventured off into the wild.  This was a new one for the both of us.

It all started in September of 2016.  I was somewhere out here delivering chemicals to some random chemical plant when Kj called me.  He had spotted an article online about The Ghost Trains of Maine and was interested in seeing them.  Kj is a smart kid, when I say smart I mean REALLY smart!  Good thing he doesn’t take after me.  However, like me, he has a love of history and anything old.  When he told me about the Ghost Trains I was immediately interested.  I did a little research and found an article posted on the Untamed Mainer Facebook page and decided my next weekend off would be spent venturing into the woods with Kj.

Preparation is Key

Now let me give you all a little glance into my deranged mind before we go any further.  I don’t think I suffer from OCD, BUT, I am compulsive about preparation.  Sometimes to the point where most times I am over prepared and go completely overboard about things.  Since I have been looking for something for Kj and me to do that we could both enjoy I jumped at the prospect of hiking.  Since I don’t like hunting or fishing and, brace yourselves, I’m not a fan of winter at all, this seemed to be just the ticket.  I mean, how hard could it really be?  It seems simple enough when you think about it, you’re just walking, right?

Two days before we headed north I found myself in the sporting goods section of the Walmart in Auburn.  I felt that I needed a backpack for our little trip into the woods.  Since we would be on the Golden Road (sort of) I had decided that after checking out the Ghost Trains we would go over to Millinocket and find a trail in Baxter State Park to check out on Sunday.  I hadn’t been to Baxter since I was in my mid 20’s so I figured what the heck, make a weekend out of it.

After looking at the sparse selection I grabbed a 60L pack (total and complete overkill!) a 2-person first aid kit, hiking boots for me, a compass, water purification tablets, water bottles, a Maine Gazetteer and half a dozen other things that I DID NOT NEED!  In other words, I was completely over prepared for 2 short and enjoyable hikes in the northern woods.

The Ghost Trains

We headed north on a beautiful mid-October morning, stopped for breakfast in Newport and continued north to Greenville. We got to Kokadjo when it dawned on me, “Mr. Prepared”, that it was Moose season.  We turned around and scooted back to Greenville in order to pick-up a couple of blaze orange vests and then headed into the wild.  After stopping at the Telos Checkpoint and actually finding the trailhead we struck off for the trains.

If you need directions to the trailhead refer to our summer edition of this magazine as Angela did a great article on the trains.  That’s kind of why I am not going to go into a whole lot of detail about this short, easy and rewarding hike.  We did find them and from that point on Kj and I have been hooked on hiking.  We spent almost 3 hours climbing all over the trains and just enjoying the peace and tranquility of the northern woods.  The trains are a wonderful piece of history and the hike-  short, beautiful and bug-free in the fall.  The shores of Eagle and Chamberlain lake are stunning in their fall foliage glory and I highly recommend the adventure!

Little and Big Niagara Falls

After coming out of the woods In the Allagash we followed the Golden Road down into the town of Millinocket.  Millinocket is a town rich in history, in the early 20th century Great Northern Paper was the largest paper mill in the world and produced an astonishing 300 tons of newsprint a day.  That was enough newsprint for every newspaper in the United States at the time.

We stayed at the Katahdin Inn & Suites.  It’s a comfortable, no frills hotel with an indoor pool and hot tub.  It’s convenient to downtown and the owners are friendly and helpful.  Kj and I have stayed there many times, including a week this past summer as we hiked in Baxter.  It’s about 20 miles from the hotel to the Togue Pond gate at the south entrance of the park.

Baxter State Park and the Appalachian Trail

We headed into Baxter on another beautiful morning.  Not having a whole lot of knowledge about hiking in the park I asked one of the always helpful and knowledgeable Park Rangers at the gate to suggest an easy, rewarding hike.  After answering a few questions about my level of ability (none) and my knowledge of the park (virtually none) I was told to head for Little and Big Niagara.  From the gate, you will bear to the left and head towards Katahdin Stream Campground.  It is about 10 miles along the Tote Road to the Daicey Pond road on the left.  Turn down this road and after a mile, you will come to the parking area for the falls.

Park your car and be sure to sign in on the hiker registry as you enter the trail.  There are a couple of outhouses for use if need be.  As you head in you will quickly realize that you are actually on the Appalachian Trail.  Like all trails in Baxter, the trail has clear blazes to follow.  Since you are on the AT, the blazes are white instead of the customary blue you see throughout the park.  You may encounter a thru or section hiker as they head for either the end of their hike, Katahdin, or are just starting and heading for Abol Bridge and the 100-mile wilderness.  Hikers are a friendly and social bunch so be sure to say hi and ask how their day is going.

Hiking to Little and Big Niagra Falls

The trail starts out by crossing several bog bridges that can be slick if it has been raining.  This is probably the roughest part of this 2.5-mile round-trip hike.  About .8 miles from the trailhead you will come to a sign for the Toll Dam.  It’s a little rocky scramble out to where the dam was.  I say was, because it’s no longer there, but the view back up the Nesowadnehunk Stream is well worth effort.

After taking in the view from the former Toll Dam head back to the trail and continue south to the next sign marking Little Niagara.  The views from here are also stunning.  You can scramble along the rocky ledges to reach the falls, take pictures and listen to the roar of the stream.

Next, I suggest heading back to the AT heading a little further south to the spur for Big Niagara.  This is the prime spot of this hike.  The views from the top ledges are phenomenal and the roar of the falls is also astounding.  The ledges create a wonderful spot to stop and have lunch, a snack, or just to enjoy the fall sun and the tranquility of the place.  Don’t be surprised if you encounter a few others viewing the falls.  As I said before this is a relatively easy hike with big rewards.  The colors are astounding as you can see from my photos and you won’t be disappointed, I promise!

Explore Millinocket

Just like in my last article (see our summer edition) when I suggested a few places in Freeport to eat, I want to give you a few suggestions for places to check out in Millinocket.  As I previously mentioned, Kj and I spent a week in Baxter and in Millinocket this past June and we truly loved it.  The town is in a bit of a revival phase now, but the ghosts of the town’s former glory remain.  The gates and main offices of the former Great Northern Paper remain and a few of the buildings still linger behind the fence.  The pulp and log trucks still roll off the Golden Road and through town.  Now, the air no longer smells of sulfur and the skies are clear of the smoke once produced by the massive mills in East Millinocket and Millinocket.

I’m not quite sure what it is about Millinocket, but there is something about that town that I just love.  Part of it is the history, part of it is the remoteness of the place and part of it seems to be the people and their genuine easy nature.  I delivered many loads of chemicals to both mills when they were in operation over the years, but I was never there long enough to really see the place.  Now that I have, I hope to go back and stay many, many times.

Where to Eat in Millinocket

There are many great restaurants and shops in Millinocket.  I highly encourage anyone who ventures to the park to stop in town and check them out.  Here are just a few that Kj and I checked out.

Angelos Pizza Grill was the first place Kj and I checked out.  We have gone here a few times, once on our first failed attempt to summit Katahdin with Alex in tow and again this past summer.  Kj is a bit of a pizza freak so no matter where we go, we always must try the local pizza joint.  The Millinocket House of Pizza is also very good and if you are staying at the Katahdin Inn & Suites it is right across the parking lot. Be advised though, the House of Pizza is closed on Mondays, so if you are looking for pizza hit Angelos on Monday and the House of Pizza on another night of the week.

The Sawmill Bar & Grill was a real find!  You will pass this establishment on your way to Baxter State Park.  I HIGHLY recommend you stop in for a beer, burger or some ribs because they are all fantastic.  This is a family run place like pretty much everything in Millinocket and the atmosphere like the food is worth the stop.  Kj and I ate here twice this past June and it was exceptional.

The Appalachian Trail Café is a great spot for breakfast and lunch.  They are open from 5 am-2pm every day and they are just the perfect place to grab breakfast before you head to the park for the day.  The pancakes are massive, eggs are great, and it is truly a hiker’s mecca.  They have a massive sundae simply named The Hiker Sundae that looks awesome! I couldn’t eat one, but I’m willing to bet anyone who has just hiked the 2200-mile AT can scarf the treat down after enjoying a Black Bean Burger with potato salad or a burger and fries.  Be advised though, they close shop at 2 pm.

Other Great Shops in Millinocket

It was a delightful evening walking down Main Street exploring the shops.  We enjoyed The Woods and Waters Shop and Moose Drop In by 2 Broke Moms.  After eating Gifford’s ice cream at the Katahdin Ice Cream Shop we truly fell in love with the place.  I really hope that with the Woods and Waters National Monument along with Baxter State Park the town of Millinocket will flourish once again.  It is a magical area steeped in history and nature.  I could see myself living in this part of the state someday.  Now I just need the income to be able to do it.

I hope you have enjoyed this little look into our first foray into the woods.  We have put on many hard miles since these first two little hikes.  They were a great start and if you are just looking for a weekend adventure this fall to enjoy the lack of bugs, tourists and humidity then feel free to follow in our footsteps on this one.  You won’t be sorry.  Once again, if you see a tall skinny kid making fun of his middle-aged Dad feel free to say “Hi” we hope to see you out on the trail.

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