Baxter State Park is one of Maine's crown jewels, even more spectacular in some ways than Acadia National Park. This 200,000-plus-acre park in the remote north-central part of the state is unlike most state parks you may be accustomed to in New England -- don't look for fancy bathhouses or groomed picnic areas. When you enter Baxter State Park, you enter near-wilderness.
Former Maine governor and philanthropist Percival Baxter single-handedly created the park, using his inheritance and investment profits to buy the property and donate it to the state in 1930. Baxter stipulated that it remain "forever wild." Caretakers have done a good job fulfilling his wishes: You won't find paved roads, RVs, or hookups at the campgrounds. (Size restrictions keep all RVs out.) Even cellphones are banned. You will find rugged backcountry and remote lakes. You'll also find Mount Katahdin, a granite monolith that rises above the sparkling lakes and boreal forests around it.
To the north and west of Baxter State Park lie several million acres of forestland owned by timber companies and managed for timber production. These concerns also control public recreational access. If you drive on a logging road far enough, expect to run into a gate eventually; you'll be asked to pay a fee for day use or overnight camping on their lands.
Don't try to tour these woodlands by car. Industrial forestland is boring at best, downright depressing at its over-cut worst. A better strategy is to select one pond or river for camping or fishing, then spend a couple of days getting to know the small area around it. Like a Hollywood set, buffer strips of trees have been left along the pond shores, streams, and rivers in this region, so it can feel like you're getting away from it all as you paddle along.
Just remember that, anywhere outside Baxter State Park, in these woods the whine of chainsaws and the thump of logging rigs are never far away. On the other hand, deep-woods creatures such as moose, black bears, eagles, bobcats, lynx, and minks are hanging on here -- in some cases, even recovering thanks to longtime conservation efforts. Your park experience just might include a safe encounter with one.
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