Hiking Bigelow and Avery in Bigelow Preserve
Two more 4,000 footers in Maine! These peaks in Bigelow Preserve boast outstanding views of the surrounding mountains and Flagstaff Lake.
Hike Date: July 24, 2021
|0 mi||0 mi||Start at the parking near Stratton Brook Campsite|
|0.4 mi||0.4 mi||Stratton Brook Pond Rd 4×4 section to Fire Warden’s Trail|
|1.6 mi||2 mi||Fire Warden’s Trail to Horns Pond Trail|
|2.4 mi||4.4 mi||Horns Pond Trail to the Appalachian Trail (AT)|
|0.7 mi||5.1 mi||AT to Horns North Peak spur trail|
|0.2 mi||5.3 mi||North Peak spur trail to the summit of Horns North Peak|
|0.2 mi||5.5 mi||North Peak spur trail back to AT|
|0.1 mi||5.6 mi||AT to the summit of Horns South Peak|
|1.8 mi||7.4 mi||AT to summit of Bigelow Mountain West Peak|
|0.3 mi||7.7 mi||AT to Avery Col|
|0.4 mi||8.1 mi||AT to summit of Avery Peak|
|0.4 mi||8.5 mi||AT back to Avery Col|
|4.6 mi||13.1 mi||Fire Warden’s Trail back to Stratton Brook Pond Rd|
|0.4 mi||13.5 mi||Stratton Brook Pond Rd 4×4 section back to parking lot|
Note: Map mileage does not match stats because Gaia GPS tends to undercount it. Mileage stats were calculated using the Bigelow Preserve Trail Map and the Bigelow and Avery route description from 4000footers.com.
We chose to hike Bigelow and Avery as a day hike, but there are plenty of camping and backpacking options available in Bigelow Preserve if you’d prefer that. Check out this Bigelow Preserve map from Maine’s parks department where campsites are clearly labeled.
We parked at the end of Stratton Pond Rd, another dirt road to a Maine trailhead. Directions to Stratton Brook Campsite will take you up the road to the parking lot at the end. It’s well maintained so any car should make it with no problems. The hike starts off on a 4×4 road, actually Stratton Pond Rd continuing, which is clearly not meant for regular cars – there were super deep ruts and standing water in sections. At the end of this short easy dirt road walk, the Fire Warden’s Trail starts with a bridge over Stratton Brook. From there, it follows along Stratton Brook Pond which made for some nice morning views for us.
Once the Fire Warden’s Trail leaves the pond, it remains pretty gentle with only mild inclines and easy footing. There were 1 or 2 rocky sections, but they were very short. After a little more than a mile, we reached Horns Pond Trail and turned left to head up toward The Horns, of which the South Peak is on the New England 100 highest list. We’re not seriously working on that, but figured why not include this peak while we’re here. You could absolutely choose to continue up the Fire Warden’s Trail to go straight out and back to Bigelow and Avery – that was clearly the most popular route for other hikers that we met.
The Horns Pond Trail climbs up to the Appalachian Trail on the ridge by alternating between steady inclines and flat respites. It’s never really that steep and it was kind of nice to have some flat sections to catch your breath on the way up. Although it’s not the roughest terrain, it’s still a tough climb. We reached the AT and turned right which brought us very quickly to Horns Pond Shelter. This area looked really nice and felt like a small village in the mountains. There is a day-use shelter right along the trail and a clear map of the side trails leading to various camping areas, the pond, and even a loop trail by the pond. It would be a great place to stay on a backpacking trip.
Beyond Horns Pond, we continued on the AT north toward The Horns. This was a short yet steep climb up a few rock stair sections. Shortly before South Peak, there is a 0.2 mile side trail to North Peak. We had no expectations and ended up being pleasantly surprised by the expansive views and solitude on North Peak. It was well worth the side trip for us. We took our time on the summit to enjoy the ideal hiking weather and fuel up with some snacks early in our hiking day.
After North Peak, we got back on the AT and made the short climb to South Peak. The views here were pretty good also, looking across the valley toward Sugarloaf Mountain, but we both preferred North Peak. It had a much better area to sit and rest and views toward the lake, which is one of the best parts about hiking in Bigelow Preserve.
From South Peak, the AT traverses 1.8 miles to Mount Bigelow West Peak. It was a pretty mild descent followed by a good climb up to Bigelow. The last half mile or so of the climb was super fun because we popped out into scrubby trees and then above treeline on the spine of the mountain to reach the summit. Along the way, we got to enjoy the views and see The Horns behind us where we had just come from. It truly felt like hiking at its best and that filled us up after most of the climb had sapped our energy. Days with such beautiful weather on gorgeous mountains keep us coming back again and again!
We took another long pause on the Bigelow summit because the area was just too outstanding not to thoroughly enjoy. To the north, you get sweeping views of Flagstaff Lake, which is just below the mountain. To the south, you look across the valley toward Sugarloaf Mountain ski area. And to the east and west, you see the ridgeline that the AT traverses, The Horns behind us and Avery Peak ahead. With very light winds, temps in the 60’s, sun shining, and just a few fluffy white clouds on the horizon, the day provided the best hiking weather we could ever ask for. So we soaked it all in for as long as we pleased.
Once we finally left Bigelow, we continued on toward Avery Peak. It gave us quite a view before we descended into the col. The short steep descent brought us to the Avery Col camping area, which would make for another great backpacking option. Then, the trail climbed up over nonstop rock jumbles with really tough footing. It wasn’t the steepest, but it climbed plenty and the rocks made it near impossible to get sure footing. Our trekking poles were essential for balance here.
We emerged from the trees for a short scramble above treeline to the summit of Avery Peak. Just like Bigelow, Avery Peak offers sweeping views of the lake to the north and the mountains to the south. Just past the summit, there is a square foundation of what used to be a fire tower along with another open area for hikers to rest and hang out.
From Avery Peak, we retraced our steps back to the col, enjoying views back toward Bigelow on the way down. Then, we began descending the Fire Warden’s Trail. This trail is really steep toward the top! Pictures really don’t do it justice. We leaned into our poles as our knees took a beating and the trail thankfully didn’t stay that steep for too long. Once it mellowed out, we cruised down past the juncture with Horn Ponds Trail, which we ascended that morning, and all the way out to Stratton Brook Pond. The bridge over the brook was a sight for sore legs. Then it was just the short dirt road walk back to the parking lot. Two more 4,000 footers for a total of 64/67 for us. Next stop – Baxter State Park to hike North Brother and Katahdin to finish the NE67!
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