At 5,300 feet high Mount Katahdin is Maine’s tallest mountain. This steep peak is on many a hiker’s bucket list and makes for a challenging but rewarding hike.
Before beginning this hike, you should take the time to thoroughly research the trek and determine how long it will take.
So, how long does it take to hike to the top Katahdin? It takes an average of 8-12 hours to hike to the top of Katahdin. The time it takes depends on the trail you choose, your fitness level, and your experience as a hiker.
This article will explore all of the factors that can impact the time it takes to summit Mount Katadhin; read on, and you’ll be better prepared when you set off for your hike!
The Trails That go up to Mount Katahdin
Several trails lead to Mount Katahdin’s main summit, Baxter Peak.
If you’re planning on beginning your hike from a roadside trailhead, opt for the Abol Trail, which is a 3.4-mile hike from the Abol Campground up to the top of Katahdin. The trail will take you through alpine forests and large boulders you have to scramble over. On this trail, you’ll likely take 3-5 hours so reach the summit of Mount Katahdin.
If you’re camping, the Saddle Trail is a relatively easy route. It starts 0.8 miles from the Chimney Pond Campground and is then a 2.2-mile gradual climb to Baxter Peak. As you ascend past the tree line, you’re more exposed to the elements, which may slow you down. However, it should take around five hours to reach Baxter Peak on this route.
A more challenging trail that will increase your climb time is the Cathedral Trail. From the Chimney Pond Campground, Baxter Peak is 1.7 miles via the Cathedral trail. While it seems like a shorter distance, the steep ascent which will have you slowly struggling over loose stones and large boulders. The total hiking time to Baxter Peak on this trail is approximately 4-5 hours.
A trail almost as popular as the Saddle Trail is the Hunt Trail. It has several natural beauties along the way, including the Katahdin Stream Falls.
However, the Hunt Trail is long and winding – it’s 5.2 miles just to get up the mountain. An exposed path and slippery rocks will slow down your ascent. It will take a minimum of five hours for experienced hikers and can take up to seven hours for more cautious visitors.
Helon Taylor Trail
The Helon Taylor Trail will also take you a long time to hike. It begins at the Roaring Brook Campground and ends at one of Mount Katahdin’s sub-peaks – the Paloma Peak.
This hike will only take three hours. However, if you want to reach Baxter Peak, you’ll have to transition to the foreboding Knife Edge Trail – a mile long, five-foot-wide trail that bridges the distance between the two peaks. It’s a highly exposed and very narrow trail, so it’s essential to go slowly and carefully.
The hike to the Baxter Peak on Knife Edge will take you about two hours. So if you choose the Heron Taylor trail for your ascent, the minimum total time to reach the summit of Mount Katahdin will be between five to six hours.
Depending on the trail you choose, you can also reduce your ascent time by staying overnight at a campground close to your trailhead.
For instance, the Saddle Trail starts at the Roaring Brook Campground, while the Cathedral Trail begins at the Chimney Pond Campground. Camping overnight will cut down on the time you take to hike to the trailhead and also allow you an earlier start on the day you’re climbing Mount Katahdin.
How Can the Weather Affect Your Hiking Time?
Another factor that will affect how long it takes you to summit Katadhin is the season and the weather.
It’s best to embark on the hike between June to September. The days are longer, the temperatures are warmer, and there’s less of a chance of rain.
Ideal weather conditions might cut your hiking time in half. On the other hand, excessive rain, snow, heat, and wind can substantially increase your hiking time.
Even in the middle of summer, the weather on Katahdin can be unpredictable. A sunny day can quickly morph into a torrential downpour.
If it rains while you’re on your hike, trails and rocks will become slippery and harder to hold on to while you’re scrambling. The rain will also affect your visibility and weigh your clothes down; all of which can add hours to your hiking time.
As you pass the tree line, you’ll become more exposed to strong winds, some of which can be up to 40 miles per hour. These winds will almost certainly slow you down, especially when you’re hiking against the direction the wind is blowing in. High winds may add up to two hours to your hiking time.
In the wintertime, Katadhin is blanketed by snow and ice. If you’re an adventurous and experienced hiker and decide to tackle Katahdin in the winter, you may be hiking as snow – or even hail – falls.
Both will affect your visibility, which will inevitably slow down your hiking time. As ice makes the trails slippery, you should also proceed on the paths slower than you would in the dry season.
When it’s snowing, you’ll also likely be carrying more gear. Hiking in the snow is more comfortable with snowshoes, skis, and sleds. You’ll also need to take more food – something that will make your pack heavier and your ascent slower.
You should also keep in mind that there are fewer daylight hours in the winter. Unless you’re a truly experienced hiker, a portion of your descent may be in the dark.
While snow and hail storms will slow you down, too much heat while hiking may also have the same effect. Humidity levels on Mount Katahdin can reach up to 90%, which means that you’ll be sweating and using a lot of energy as you climb. As your energy diminishes, your speed will become slower.
Additionally, as you’ll be drinking more water in extreme heat, you may have to pause to refill water bottles, purify water, and also make bathroom breaks.
What can Improve Your Hiking Speed?
As well as planning to embark on your hike during the right time of year, there are several other factors which can help you improve your speed as you hike up Mount Katahdin.
Physical and Psychological Fitness
Your fitness level has a significant impact on your hiking speed. It helps if you’ve been training your body with regular workouts in the months leading up to your hike.
Weight and muscle training is just as important as cardio. Strengthening your muscles will help you ascend and descend steep paths better, as well as make it easier to carry heavy packs.
Cardio training should be endurance-focused. Instead of just hitting the treadmill at the gym, try looking for more challenging terrain to train on. Some Katahdin trails take you through fields of gravel and boulders, or through mud that quickly sinks beneath you. Strap on your hiking boots and go walking through muddy areas or go for a run on the beach to get your legs used to moving on different surfaces. This will ultimately help you become more fit to take on Katahdin and will make you a faster hiker.
Even if two people have similar levels of fitness, the more experienced hiker will be able to hike faster. Because a veteran hiker will be more confident on challenging trails, they can move along them more quickly.
Hiking up to Mount Katahdin’s summit is not just a physical endeavor, but also a psychological one – you will have to grapple with challenges like high altitudes to extremely narrow trails.
So, to prepare for your Katahdin hike, it’s a good idea to attempt some more accessible hikes first and build up to more difficult ones. Once you’re ready for Katadhin, you’ll take on the trails with confidence and additional speed.
Once you feel like you’re physically and psychologically fit for the hike, turn your attention to the practical preparations.
First, you should get a topographical map of the trail you’re taking and study it. Understand where the terrain gets difficult and where possible water sources are. Knowing your route thoroughly will save you time spent stopping on the trail, hunting for your map and trying to read it.
You shouldn’t waste time searching for food or gear when you’re on the trail. Bringing a hiking backpack with several compartments will help you organize your gear. I also recommend implementing a planned-out system of organization, so you don’t waste time pulling out half of your things when you’re looking for your lunch.
To help your hike go faster, other useful tips when it comes to packing are:
- Pack prepared meals: Make sure all the meals and snacks that you’re packing are ready to eat. So, if you’re carrying sandwiches or trail mix, prepare them the night before you hike. Portion each meal into separate resealable bags, so you don’t spend time measuring and serving portions. Also, you should choose your meals wisely. High protein and high carbohydrate foods will give you the energy you need to hike faster.
- Pack a small repair kit: Wear and tear during a hike is normal, but extremely annoying – imagine trying to hobble along a trail with a hole in your shoe! A repair kit will add a little extra weight to your bag but allow you to repair any tears quickly, thus saving you time on the hike.
- Pack a first aid kit: Blisters, insect stings, and minor wounds will be uncomfortable and slow down your hiking speed — pack a basic first aid kit to treat small injuries.
The hiking equipment you bring can also increase your speed. Here is some necessary gear you should bring on your summit attempt:
- Hiking shoes: On a Katahdin hike, you can’t get away with wearing your regular sneakers. Invest in proper hiking boots that will help you walk over rough terrain. Make sure to break them in before your hike, so you’re not hiking with painful blisters.
- Hiking poles: Hiking poles will give you better balance as you climb steep trails. It will also take the pressure off your knees and legs, which will help you move faster. Some hikers prefer to use just one hiking pole, so test what works best for you as you prepare for your hike.
- Sturdy gloves: Every Katahdin trail will involve some amount of scrambling. Wearing sturdy gloves with a good grip will help you move over rocks faster.
Your Hiking Style
It’s not just what you take on your hike, but how you hike that will improve your speed.
Remember to take the following tips into account:
- Keep your posture straight: Having a straight posture while hiking will ensure that you’re using all of the muscles in your back and allow you to move more quickly.
- Maintain a steady pace: Don’t go too fast as you start your hike. Keep your speed constant, and you’re less likely to burn out and take long breaks.
- Take short, regular breaks: While taking frequent breaks may sound counterproductive, it will allow your muscles to relax and recharge. Taking longer, less frequent breaks will make it harder for you to regain your momentum.
- Vary your walking style: Every half an hour, change the type of strides you’re taking – if you’re taking a longer stride, start making smaller steps and vice versa. This will give the different muscles you’re using the time to cool down.
What Can Slow down Your Hiking Speed?
Uncooperative weather and challenging trails aren’t the only two elements on the Mount Katahdin Trail which can slow you down.
Injuries and Illness
If you place too much pressure on your muscles and don’t stop for frequent breaks, you may end up with a muscle pull or injury, which will significantly slow you down. You may also get injured if you fall, so be sure that you’re kitted out with gear that gives you a good grip. Also, make sure that you move with caution when you’re on rough terrain.
Another way that Mount Katahdin hikers often get injured is by going off trail and trying to take shortcuts or ‘easier paths.’
Don’t leave the trail to take a shortcut around a pile of rocks or a muddy trench. You never know what kind of terrain the shortcut has, and you may end up injured off-trail. If you step off the trail, you may also get lost and waste a lot of time trying to find your way back.
As you ascend higher and higher, you may find that you have to slow down as the air gets thinner. Some hikers experience altitude sickness, which may cause nausea, headaches, dizziness, and a lack of coordination. To reduce the impact that the altitude has on you, carry altitude sickness medication and hydrate well before the hike; dehydration can worsen the symptoms.
While you do need to make sure that you’re appropriately equipped to tackle the hike, you should do yourself a favor and remove or replace any non-essentials. The heavier the weight of the pack you carry, the slower you’ll go.
So swap your DSLR camera with a lighter point-and-shoot and replace your hefty guide book with only the information you need. And while it’s crucial to stay warm and dry, be mindful of the weather and don’t pack more clothes than you need.
Finally, your hiking time may increase if you meet some wildlife along the way.
Baxter State Park is home to bears, moose, deer, and beavers, and they may decide to make an appearance on the trail. If that happens, remember that the animals have the right of way. Back away slowly and give them enough time to cross the path.
While it takes approximately 8-12 hours to climb and descend Mount Katahdin, there are a variety of factors which can impact how long the hike will take you.
While the plans of the wildlife, the weather, and the trails available are entirely out of your control, you can choose to take smoother trails during the summer months to reduce your hiking time.
You can also make sure you’re carrying the right gear and equipment, and that you’re hiking in the right style. Be sure not to venture off the trail or carry a heavier load, as you’ll slow down your hiking time.
Plan your hike timings well, and you’ll reach the top Mount Katahdin in the middle of the day, leaving yourself plenty of time to enjoy the stunning view, take some photos, and bask in the pride of your accomplishment.