Baxter State Park is the crown jewel of Maine and the whole vibe there is very different than the other state parks. It's not even part of the Maine State Parks system. It's a place where the land comes first and people come second. Going into Baxter feels like a privilege, and I can't help but feel like I'm visiting a place that only tolerates my presence. That sounds negative, but it's not, really. Maybe we should feel more privileged to exist in all the beautiful places we enjoy.
I had been to Baxter to climb Mt. Katahdin but, I'll confess, I hadn't given it much thought as a family destination until more recently. Seeking a very remote vacation during COVID, we headed up to BSP, focusing almost entirely on the remote north side of the park. What a treat!
The park is strict about what they allow, so good prior research is important. Some trailheads require advance reservations. Most backcountry campsites have a max capacity of 4 people, although the campgrounds can accept larger families. There's a 4-month rolling campsite reservation system you should be aware of. The southern campsites fill up quickly with Katahdin hikers. If the big mountain isn't on your agenda, you might enjoy going towards the northern end of park to Nesowadnehunk Field or South Branch Pond campground. Just keep in mind the park is huge and it takes about 2 hours to drive from the southern entrance to the northern entrance.
There are many excellent resources out there to learn details about where to camp, where to hike, and what to do. I'll keep it brief and just mention a few things that stood out to us.
1 - Nesowadnehunk Field. This is great campground option for families. It has huge sites with plenty of room to spread out. The campsites are spread throughout a large field, but there are plenty of huge trees around that shade and cool the place. Most of the campsites are located across a small stream that cars aren't allowed to cross. The campground provides trolley carts for you to bring your gear on a short walk in to your site. The photo on the GearME landing page was taken from the bridge over that stream.
2 - Ledge Falls. It's a long series of shallow pools connected by cold water flowing over extremely smooth rock. It's so smooth you actually have to be careful and pay attention to your walking. Slipping is common and the rock doesn't bend. You can easily spend hours (and hours) sliding down the slides and playing in the pools. There are little slides perfect for toddlers and long rapid slides for the older ones. The water is cold, though, so I enjoyed sunbathing and watching instead.
3 - South Branch Falls trail - Near the South Branch campground, there's a 1 mile trail that leads to a small waterfall. You can swim in the series of pools at its base. It's beautiful there, and cold, but my family loved it.
4 - Cribworks - Okay, this one isn't in Baxter at all, but since it's nearby (near the Big Eddy campground) and it was part of our trip, I figured I'd include it. There's a rocky outcropping that overlooks the Cribworks rapid on the Penobscot River. It's a class V rapid, and it's seriously impressive whitewater. The rafting companies bring their rafts through Cribworks and it's quite a spectacle. You can sit up on the ledge and cheer them on as they bounce and dive through the rapid. Rafting it is inherently dangerous, and boats can and do flip. Every time we saw a boat flip, the people just floated on down and got picked up by other rafts. Just be aware, there's a chance of serious problems developing.
Now that our eyes are open to the potential of Baxter with kids, we'll be returning for many more adventures. We've only explored a small fraction of what the park has to offer.
There's a significant amount of research you could, and should, do before heading to BSP. Here's a couple great resources to get you started: