Sugarloaf Mountain of Maine Hike via the Appalachian Trail

Sugarloaf Mountain of Maine Hike via the Appalachian Trail


Sugarloaf AT Trailhead
The Appalachian Trail blaze on the Caribou Valley Road, marking the trailhead for Sugarloaf Mountain.

Distance: 6.4 miles (round trip from Caribou Pond Road gate)
Time: 3.5-5.5 hours
Difficulty: Pack the Aleve
Sugarloaf Elevation: 4,237 feet
Elevation Gain: 2,229 feet

Best known for the ski resort, Sugarloaf is Maine’s second-highest mountain, making it a top bucket list hike for peak baggers. Don’t be fooled by the relatively short hiking distance, Sugarloaf via the Appalachian Trail is not for the faint of hiking. Of the 2,229 feet of elevation gain, 800 feet is earned in a butt-kicking, three-quarter-of-a-mile section traversing a rocky outcropping.

(Yes, you can hike Sugarloaf via the ski resort, but where’s the fun in that?)

It’s important to note that the condition of Caribou Pond Road (aka Caribou Valley Road) can significantly change from year to year. It was previously possible to drive this old logging road to the Appalachian Trail crossing, but at the time of this writing, there’s a gate and a parking area 0.4 miles short of the trail (see directions below for more). There’s also a bridge crossing a mile or so before here that is getting questionable to drive over, and could soon become unpassable without repair. In short, be prepared to add a few miles of dirt road hiking to this trek—but don’t fret, it’s worth it.

From the Caribou Pond Road crossing, the Appalachian Trail drops down to the South Branch of the Carrabassett River. Just before the river is a stealth campsite often frequented by thru-hikers. The river crossing is a sequence of large rock-hops with a plank currently available. In normal conditions, the river is easily negotiable, but exercise caution after periods of extreme rainfall or during the spring melt.

AT Carrabasset River Campsite
The stealth campsite along the South Branch of the Carrabassett River. Complete with chic thru-hiker amenities such as fallen tree seating.
Carrabasset River AT Crossing
The Appalachian Trail’s crossing on the South Branch of the Carrabassett River.

Once across the Carrabassett River, the real fun begins with the three-quarter-of-a-mile stretch gaining 800 feet. At first, it’s merely a steep and rocky climb of Sugarloaf’s northwest shoulder, but the rocks get bigger, turning into a full-on ledge outcropping. This section is immense fun, but also tricky on the descent, especially for thru hikers with full packs, so plan carefully around inclement weather.

AT Sugarloaf Boulders
The steep rock outcropping on the Appalachian Trail’s southbound ascent of Sugarloaf Mountain.

Once the AT crests the southwest shoulder, hikers are out of the woods on the difficult climbing. For a short stretch, you’ll also literally be out of the woods and exposed to the elements (this is where your mother reminds you to bring layers, including rain gear, but I’m not her, so I’ll just say: don’t be stupid). The views from here are grand, staring down into a 500-foot ravine, as well as across Caribou Valley to Crocker Mountain.

AT Sugarloaf View Crocker
The view across Caribou Valley from the northwest shoulder of Sugarloaf, eyeing the South and North Peaks of Crocker Mountain.
AT Sugarloaf Shoulder
The AT’s exposed section along the Sugarloaf shoulder.
AT Sugarloaf Shoulder Cliff
Looking into the 500-foot ravine from the Appalachian Trail.

The trail cuts back into the softwoods and is relatively easy for the next 1.4 miles with a gradual ascent to the intersection with the Sugarloaf and Spaulding Mountains Trail.

AT Sugarloaf Shoulder Bog
A water/mud crossing on the easy stretch.
AT Sugarloaf Sign
The AT intersection with the Sugarloaf and Spaulding Mountains Trail. It’s actually 0.52 miles to the top of Sugarloaf, but who’s counting?

For thru-hikers who are prone to skipping blue blaze trails, you’ll want to think twice about bypassing Sugarloaf on clear days. The views are worth the extra mile of sweat, and camping is available a short distance from here in either direction. The hike from this junction is a steady and moderate climb to the open summit upon a trail planted with rocks.

AT Sugarloaf Climb
The Sugarloaf and Spaulding Mountains trail looks like this the whole way from the AT intersection to the Sugarloaf summit.
Sugarloaf Mountain Maine Summit
The final ascent to the Sugarloaf summit, looking up at the cell tower. Note the open exposure. Winds can be extreme up here.
Sugarloaf Maine Summit View
From the Sugarloaf summit, the view over the top of the ski lift to Crocker Mountain.
Sugarloaf Maine Underclouds Burnt Hill
I hiked Sugarloaf on an overcast day, so the typically spectacular views were in hiding. That said, the under clouds put on a good show. Here Burnt Hill is peaking through.
Sugarloaf Maine Underclouds Spaulding Mountain
In the other direction, Spaulding mountain edged over the clouds. See more photos below.

Directions to Sugarloaf Hike via Caribou Pond Road

Caribou Pond Road (Caribou Valley Road) is the only dirt road on Maine Routes 16/27 between the Appalachian Trail Crossing (1.75 miles south on the right) and Sugarloaf Ski Resort (1 mile north on the left). From Routes 16/27, it’s 4.3 miles on the Caribou Pond Road to the AT trailhead for Sugarloaf on the left and Crocker Mountain on the right; however, there’s currently a closed gate and parking area at the 3.9-mile mark. Note: the condition of Caribou Pond Road is unreliable, and there’s potential in the future for needing to park well before the gate. Think of this as bonus hiking with wildflower potential:

Caribou Valley Road Daisy
Daisies and other wildflowers litter Caribou Pond Road.
Sugarloaf Underclouds Filtered
Playing with camera filters on the Sugarloaf under clouds.
Sugarloaf Maine Black and White
Black and white also looked cool.

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