Katahdin Woods and Water National Monument
This was one of my all time favorite park visits for a variety of reasons. First off, we explored this park just a year after it was proclaimed a national monument by President Obama. While this fact does have it’s downfalls due to the limited infrastructure in place for visitors, local anti-park political drama (and road signs), and no online reviews of what to do and where to go, I actually found all of those elements to be what I loved about the monument the most. It felt like we were new explorers in an uncharted area (which obviously is not true, but it had that sense about it). With no preconceived notions of what to expect, we were able to be open minded and just take on what the day the brought to us.
The second reason this park was so special is that the visitor center is located in my fathers hometown of Millinocket, ME. We got to drive through this little mill town and take a short trip down memory lane. We did not get up to visit this part of the state much when I was a kid, so it was nice to see the area again. While the visitor center was not much more than a converted store front on the main street, that housed a ranger or two and a couple of folding tables and a handful printed maps, it was quaint in its appearance.
While most of our park visits have a guest list of 3, my parents joined us this time around which made it such a amazing experience. My parents are who introduced me to me to National Parks when I was a kid and having them share this with their grandson was a memory I hope we always have.
We chose to drive the Katahdin Loop Road through the park. We stopped at a few of the turnouts to capture scenic views and take in our surroundings but stopped for a longer adventure about half way around loop. We parked the car and hiked from the Katahdin Brook Lean-to to the peak of Barnard Mountain. Here we were able get lovely views of Mount Katahdin and Katahdin Lake. The hike was about 4.5 miles round trip and was partially a gravel logging road before the path turns into switchbacks under the cover of the forest trees. We saw only one other family on a hike in during this trek and they happened to be staying at the lean-to for a few nights, where as we opted for campground just outside of town.
This hike took a few hours and just as everyone was getting tired and wishing we had made it back to the car (due to a little 4 year old whose legs had given up and insisted on being carried), we spotted moose along the edge of the logging road. It was incredible to see these large animals up ahead of us and gave us that boost we need to make it back to our starting point.
It was amazing that we were able to spend an entire day in the wilderness of Maine and only come across less than half a dozen other people and a handful of cars. There was just something so special about the whole experience and it was so heartwarming that my favorite people in the world came to share it with me.