The Maine International Appalachian Trail is part of the much larger International Appalachian Trail, a long-distance hiking trail extending from Mount Katahdin (the northern terminus of the Appalachian Trail) to Morocco. The trail was conceived in 1993 by former Commissioner for the Maine Department of Conservation Richard "Dick" Anderson, to follow the Appalachian range as it would have been arranged on the supercontinent Pangaea. (Map of the IAT in North America circa 2020, © Bill Duffy. https://iat-sia.org/the-trail/)
While there are gaps in some parts of the IAT, the Maine section is complete, leading 140-miles from a trailhead in the Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument to the US/Canada border crossing in Fort Fairfield, Maine. On May 6, 2022, my hiking buddy, Wayne and me set foot on the US/Canada border to hike the first half of the MIAT, southbound to Oakfield, Maine.
This is Maine?
For many, the word “Maine” conjures images of lush forests, a rockbound coast dotted with lighthouses, and, of course, lobster. Most folks have no idea that the northeastern part of the state boasts wide-open farmland reminiscent of the rolling farmland of the U.S. midwest. At almost 6,500 square miles, Aroostook County is larger than Connecticut and Rhode Island combined and produces potatoes, broccoli, canola, and grains on an equally massive scale. Hiking through what is known by locals as simply “The County” is an unforgettable experience.
Along the Border
The first 23 miles of the trail from Fort Fairfield south are literally on the US/Canada border. You must notify the Port of Entry Officer of your intention to hike on the trail and provide the dates you intend to utilize the path. The privilege of walking this amazing stretch of trail is certainly worth the few phone calls it takes to arrange passage.
Walking on Mars (Hill)
After departing the border, the Maine IAT follows a series of woodland and dirt roads to take you up and over Mars Hill. The notable mountain has been a ski area for decades and more recently also become a wind farm . We could track our progress across the range by the numbers on the wind turbine towers — an experience made even more surreal by the shadow of the turbine blades spinning across the landscape.
From the town of Mars Hill to the city of Houlton, the Maine IAT follows an ATV trail. It’s mostly a woodland stroll with a few farms sprinkled in along the way. Potato planting was fully underway on an enormous scale — another rarity to see from the trail.
Not long thereafter, we had a completely different type of encounter. Fortunately, I saw him before he saw me. The telephoto makes him look a lot closer than he was. I just stood still.
From Dirt to Asphalt
The city of Houlton introduced a third flavor of trail. It had been unseasonably warm (87 degrees, in fact) and we decided to take an afternoon and evening off at a trailside hotel. When we started the hike, it had been a more seasonable 50-degrees during the day and 28-degrees at night. With more warm, sunny days and nights ahead, we stashed our heavy winter clothing in stuff sacks near the trail to pick up upon our return through. Why carry the extra weight?
Last Night Out
It was the final push of a great trip and about as enjoyable a road walk as I could imagine. Hardly any traffic and beautiful country in all directions. We were even rewarded with a spectacular streamside camp for our last night on the trail. The Maine IAT had been a great choice for the 38th annual hike Wayne and I had done together. Before we even got off the trail at the halfway mark, we determined to come back to finish the Maine section through Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument in the fall. A trail can’t get a higher vote of confidence than that.
Maine IAT Resources
MaineIAT.org — Maps, trail description, updates, and more. The staff is very helpful and responsive.
Far Out Guides (formerly Guthook). — The number one navigational app. I found the app particularly useful and highly recommend it. The GPS came in handy when we needed to bushwhack our way around a very wide beaver bog. It also keeps a running tab on your progress.
Uber — We were able to use Uber once in Presque Isle. The second time we tried it, ten days later, there were no drivers available, so we hailed a cab.
Cyr Bus Line — We used the bus line to take us from Oakfield (the halfway point) back to Presque Isle, where we had stashed our car. The bus runs 365-days a year.
SureStay Hotel, Presque Isle Great place to stay and helpful staff. We stayed there the night before our hike and the night we got off the trail.
Shiretown Inn and Suites, Houlton. Another nice stop along the trail. The tavern downstairs (Downunder Sports Pub) makes delicious wings, too.
The Mars Hill IGA and Houlton Hannaford Supermarket are both adjacent to the trail.
Teresa’s Corner Cafe, Presque Isle
The Irish Setter Pub, Presque Isle
Al’s Diner, Mars Hill
Downunder Sports Pub, Houlton
All get our thumbs up.