The Bigelow Mountain Preserve was established in 1976. It includes the Bigelow Mountain Range and surrounding area, in all encompassing 33,000 acres. The Maine Bureau of Parks and Lands administer this park. Dogs and backpackers are welcome to the preserve. Camping is limited to designated areas, and stove only cooking is permitted, no fires are allowed in the camping areas. The Appalachian trail passes the ridge of the Bigelow range, so there are ample camping areas but there may be high hiker traffic at some times of the year. Keep in mind if traveling to this area, that it is remote, cellphone service may be limited at best and towns are small and without major services. So as always plan and prepare before setting out on your hike. Keep in mind also that the weather in this part of Maine can vary from the rest of the state; the mountain peaks are 3,000 feet above the valley so expect it to be about 10 -15 degrees cooler. Avery Peak and West Peak are exposed so keep an eye on the weather and especially look out for electrical storms. If you are up for a beautiful hike with your the Bigelows are the Maine mountains to visit. The view from the top of Avery and West Peak are rivaled only by those from Mount Katahdin.
The shortest and less strenuous trail to the high summits of the Bigelow Range is the Fire Warden’s Trail. It connects with the end of a small, rough dirt road called “Stratton Brook Road”, located on ME 27. The road is signed with a blue street sign but it can be easy to miss. It is approximately 3 miles northwest of the Sugarloaf Ski Resort entrance and 4.5 miles southeast of Stratton. If you arrive in Eustis Maine, you have gone too far, turn around. The road is dirt but it is well graded and passable by most cars 4 wheel drive is not necessary to reach the end of the road parking area approximately 2.5 miles down the road. The parking area is small, without a fee and without facilities. From the parking area the road continues but is not passable by vehicle it is well graded and an easy stroll down to Stratton Brook (bridge washed out). At high water times of year this crossing can be dangerous, so take caution for yourself and your dog. The AMC is currently rebuilding the bridge but as of September 2014 it has not been completed. Once across the brook the trail continues at an easy grade it then climbs over a steep ledge to a shelf. This grade is easy for another 1.5 miles and reaches the junction with the Horns Pond Trail at mile 1.6 from the parking area.
Once you reach mile 3.1 the grade become steep this increases after the Moose Falls Campsite at 3.6 miles. From here the trail gains about 1,700 feet over the next 1.5 miles, it is a very well maintained trail. For many stretches granite stairs easy the ascent they are made and maintained by trail crew. This part of the trail is challenging but also interesting because you get your first views of Sugarloaf Mountain and the peaks of the Bigelows rise to the west of you. The trail passes over several brooks at this stage so water is available. Each of the established camping areas also has reliable sources of water available for you and your dogs. At mile 4.6 the Fire Warden’s Trail reaches the Bigelow Col and the Appalachian Trail Junction. The Myron Avery Memorial tent sites here as well.
From the Col, go right or east on the AT to reach the summit of Avery Peak 4088. It is a quick ascent over .4 miles from the Col with some slight scrambling required. No aid was required by dogs, they managed very well on the terrain above tree line. The views from the top of Avery peak are fantastic. From the summit you look out over the vast and rugged wilderness of Maine and the man-made Flagstaff Lake (the fourth largest water body in Maine). The rock base remains of the old Fire Warden tower are still intact on the summit; the wooden part of the structure was dismantled years ago. While taking in the vistas and enjoying the summit, remember to keep your dog on the designated trail. At this elevation you are in the Alpine zone and the vegetation in this area is very sensitive and can take years to recover from trampling. Once you have enjoyed summit time, you can turn around descending the .4 miles back to the Col and continue straight for West Peak.
West Peak (4145) is .3 miles from the Col. It is another quick ascent without the need for aid. It is a beautiful summit as well, the highest of the Bigelow Range. It looks out to the west at the twin symmetrical peaks of the South Horn (3805) and North Horn (3792), and further to Cranberry Peak (3194). Avery Peak is viewed to the east as well as Little Bigelow (3025). Sugarloaf ski resort and Flagstaff Lake flank the south and north sides of the range respectively. On clear days expect fantastic views as far as one can see obstructed only by the subtle curve of the Earth. It is a memorable summit, quite attainable by almost any dog thanks to the maintenance of the approaching trails. At this point we descended the way we came, down the Fire Warden’s Trail. Going down this trail was much easier than going up. Use caution on the rock stairways, when wet they can be slippery. Other than that once the Moose Tent site is reached it is a pleasant stroll back to the parking area. This was a “T” shaped trail to the 2 4,000 footers in the preserve, in all about a 9.4 mile hike from the parking area. There are many beautiful hikes in the Bigelow Preserve and many campsites, it would be easy to spend a few days in the park enjoying many hikes with your dog.
From Parking Lot to Horn Pond Junction: 1.6 Miles 1 Hour 10 min
Moose Falls Campsite: 3.6 miles
Avery Peak Summit: 5 Miles
West Peak Summit 5 miles
If a longer hike is desired, the Appalachian Trail that runs along the Bigelow Ridge connects Avery Peak, West Peak and the Horns. This forms a loop hike of approximately 12.7 miles that can be completed in one long day or broken up in to several days of shorter hikes. Rather than descend West Peak (as described above) continue along the AT to the Horns where the Horn Pond Trail connects with the AT. Camping is available at Horn Pond. Descending the Horn Pond Trail 4.1 miles to the junction with the Fire Warden Trail.