For over 150 years, those lucky few with local know-how have been climbing the eastern side of Maine’s Saddleback Mountain to gather blueberries and mountain cranberries. Now, the rest of us can enjoy this hike, too, thanks to the Maine Appalachian Trail Land Trust’s creation of the Berry Picker’s Trail, opened in 2016. To hike the Berry Picker’s Trail is to step back in time and enjoy one of Maine’s magnificent 4k mountains before the toll of thousands of footsteps has eroded the tender soil into a deep-grooved trail filled with rocks and roots.
The Berry Picker’s Trail also fills a practical need for hikers. Prior to its creation, the options for summiting Saddleback were limited to the Appalachian Trail ascent from Route 4, an arduous 5.7-mile trek that could be too much for some hikers, or the 2-mile ascent up the Saddleback ski resort trails, which offers plenty of views but leaves an empty hole in the souls of forest lovers. Enter the Berry Picker’s Trail: 3.8 miles of moderate climbing to the summit with plenty of forest, open rock, and breathtaking views. More trail stats from the gated parking area (note: elevation gains are approximate measurements done on my phone):
- Approach trail hiking: 1.4 miles; elevation, 2,145 feet; elevation gain 350 feet; 30-45 minutes
- Appalachian Trail intersection in the col between The Horn and the Saddleback summit: 3.1 miles; elevation, 3,621 feet, elevation gain 1,854 total feet; 2-3 hours
- Once onto the AT, it’s 0.9 miles NoBo to The Horn (elevation 4,041 feet; approximate elevation gain another 500 feet), or 0.7 miles SoBo to the Saddleback summit (elevation 4,116 feet; approximate elevation gain another 600 feet).
So, a round trip hike including both the Horn and the Saddleback summit will run you (bear with me while I crunch the numbers, math was never my strong suit) 9.4 miles, feature approximately 2,962 feet of elevation gain, and take 6-8 hours.
Difficulty: Weekend Warriors
The link above will give you Google directions from your present location, but this one also deserves written instructions as finding the trailhead is half of the adventure. Start by traveling to Route 4 in Madrid, Maine. From the “center” of town, turn onto Reed’s Mill Road (on the right coming from Farmington, left from Rangeley); after that, you’ll cross a one-lane bridge over the Sandy River. Follow Reed’s Mill Road for three miles and cross another bridge. Immediately after the bridge, turn left onto a dirt road. The dirt road has a split to it at the beginning (one path is the drive for a house), so stay to the left.
The quality of the road probably changes from year to year depending on maintenance and weather conditions. I found it travellable, but a little worse for wear than other online descriptions lead me to believe. There were grooves, rocks, and at one point a completely exposed plastic culvert that we crossed our fingers and drove over. It appeared as though the road received more ATV traffic than anything. You’ll want to have an AWD vehicle with good ground clearance.
After 3.1 miles you’ll come to a triangular intersection with an island in the middle. Turn left here, and just around the corner you’ll see a gated ATV route on the right, which is where the walking begins—or, bringing a mountain bike for this portion would make the return trip more fun. Follow the gated ATV path for 0.9 miles with 255 feet of elevation gain to the Flyrod Crosby Trail, a work-in-progress trail that when completed will cover 45 miles from Strong to Oquossoc. Turn left onto the Flyrod Crosby Trail; ignore the mileage on the sign shown below—that’s for following the Flyrod Crosby Trail around the mountain to the Saddleback ski resort.