Baxter State Park Solo Backpacking and Fishing Trip, September 2023

Brad Achorn

2023-10-01 - last updated 2023-10-02 (changelog)

I’ve been wanting to do a trip like this for a long time, as a way of getting away for a few days and to test myself - I’ve never done a trip like this on my own before.

The trip would involve three nights camping alone at two isolated sites in the deep woods of Baxter State Park, 9.6 miles of hiking to/from camp sites, 4.5 miles of hiking Horse Mountain just for the view, and as much paddling as I wanted to do to fish and explore two different ponds (I tracked it with GPS, I ended up paddling over 10 miles).

Once again the quality of my photos is crap because the regular lens on my phone is broken, so I have to use the wide angle lens for everything. But photos really aren’t the point of this kind of thing for me.

Hiking In

The first destination was Billfish pond. I’d be staying there Sunday and Monday nights.

I left the car at the trailhead across the road from Trout Brook Farm Campground at about 1:30pm on Sunday the 24th. The hike in was about 2.6 miles, and is a part of the Five Ponds Trail that Fiona and I hiked last year on our way out of the park. Last year we encountered lots of mud, and as expected after this rainy summer there was lots more. I’ve read that lots of people avoid this trail in the spring due to the mud, I wish I knew if in the spring it is typically any better or worse than it is now after this summer of crazy rain. Yes, this picture is of the trail, not a pond off to the side:

A very muddy trail

This trial is well marked but it is obviously not traveled as much as trails in say Camden Hills State Park, so even though there is not much elevation change it is still a difficult trail. This is a good thing if like me your goal is to get away for a while!

Tree across the trail

It’s hard to get good pictures of this, but one of the interesting things about this part of the trail is how dark it is early in the afternoon. This trail goes around Trout Brook Mountain and this section is to the north of it, so in the mid afternoon the sun goes behind the mountain and the woods get as dark as late evening, even though the sky is very bright. In this picture you can sort of see that the trail gets very dark in the distance even thought the treetops are still in the sun (it was more striking about 15 minutes after this picture was taken but none of those pictures came out very good):

Dark trail with bright sky

The campsite is a little ways away from the water, close enough to see but far enough away that it does just feel like a campsite in the woods not quite “on the water” like the others I’ve stayed at in Baxter State Park. I think the wood planks there are an old tent platform, but it’s rickety and uneven and not level so my tent went on the ground instead. The bucket was already there, not sure what it’s for:

The text site

Billfish Pond

Billfish pond is in a beautiful spot, with Horse Mountain, Trout Brook Mountain, and Billfish Mountain on three sides. The water in this lake is the clearest I have ever seen in Maine, you can see clearly 15 or 20 feet deep when the light is right. That plus all the mountains makes this almost feel like a Rocky Mountain lake I’ve seen in YouTube videos.

Near shore it gets deep very slowly, with sudden very steep drop offs everywhere. In this picture you can see how fast it drops off, it’s about 5 feet deep on the left side and drops off so deep you can’t see bottom on the right side of the picture, in a distance of less than 10 feet. It changes the color of the water in interesting ways, and because it is so clear you can see these color differences from hundreds of yards away.

Steep drop off underwater

The view from the water towards the camp site, that’s Billfish Mountain in the background:

Pond with mountain in background

Another picture of Billfish Mountain:

Mountain with sun

Here’s Horse Mountain from out on the lake:

Canoe on water with mountain in background

Later on when the wind had completely died, here’s looking back toward the camp site with Trout Brook Mountain in the background:

Calm lake with mountain in background

And here’s Billfish Mountain again on the lake when it’s calm in the evening:

Calm lake with mountain in background


As I mentioned this pond is surrounded by mountains, and this results in some crazy echoes! The loons, which are some of my favorite animals to listen to anyway, sounded amazing. It was hard to catch in a recording, and this does not do it justice but it does give you the idea:

Noises in the night

All around the tent site, shortly after dark, I’d hear chattering and chirping in the trees. Merlin, the birding app by the Cornell Ornithology Lab (who know what they’re doing), could not identify it as a bird. In my experience the app is usually pretty good. So I’m not sure what was making this noise. It wasn’t a disturbing noise or anything, but I am curious to figure out what it is!


About 1/10th of a mile or so from Billfish Pond on the hike in, I came around a corner on the trail and surprised something huge that went crashing through the bushes away from me. It couldn’t have been more that 100 feet away, but the woods were super thick and I couldn’t see it. I know that everything seems bigger when all you hear is something running through the woods, but even taking that into account it was huge. My first thought was bear, but after seeing all the signs later (lots of tracks and some scat), I am pretty sure it was a moose. Right after dark I even heard a moose bellow! It sounded like a combination of a cow moo and a growl. I only heard it once so didn’t get a chance to record it.

Moose track


The lake had all kinds of signs of beaver activity, though I never actually saw any beavers:

Beaver lodge 1

Beaver lodge 2

Beaver lodge 3

Here’s one of the paddles, I think those might beaver tooth marks in the handle!?

Paddle handle with tooth marks


The fishing on this lake is supposed to be great, but I didn’t have much luck. On the first evening I did catch a good sized brook trout, which I didn’t measure but must have been 14-15”. It was getting very late in the evening, almost dark, and I hadn’t set up camp yet so I decided not to keep it and didn’t think to get a picture. That would be the only fish I would catch on Billfish, even though I fished the whole lake multiple times over 2 days.

Other than catching one, I never saw any signs of large fish - no rises or anything. There were minnows 1-3” doing acrobatics to catch flies in the evenings, but only in very shallow water. I tried fishing around them, and in the deep water closest to them, but nothing. The fish I did catch was in the deep water on the side of the lake near camp, but not really that close to where the minnows were active. Though I did often let my lures sink as much as possible, I think that I probably should have been fishing even deeper than I was, maybe jigging with bait, but that is not the kind of fishing I am good at or enjoy.

Horse Mountain

I figured I wouldn’t want to fish all day Monday, so I planned a day hike up Horse Mountain to see the sights. Man were the views worth it!

This is looking East. One of the big mountains in the distance here is Mount Chase, not sure what all the surrounding ones are:

Mount Chase in the distance

Looking South, the closest peaks are part of Billfish Mountain, Bald Mountain is right behind them, and the two peaks behind that are The Traveler and North Traveler Mountain. If they weren’t there you’d be able to see Katahdin but it’s far enough away that it is completely hidden.

Billfish Mountain and the Traveler Mountains behind trees

Billfish Mountain and the Traveler Mountains

I brought my stove and lunch along with me. It doesn’t look like much but it wasn’t very warm up there so man was this a satisfying meal (rehydrated homemade baked beans and coffee)!

Baked beans rehydrating in a bag and coffee

Hiking to Middle Fowler Pond

I headed out to Middle Fowler Pond late Tuesday morning. The first half of the hike was continuing along the Five Ponds Trail, but instead of completing the loop I headed even further into the woods along the Lower Fowler and Middle Fowler Trails. Along the way I stopped for lunch on Long Pond, seeing some familiar sights from last year when Fiona and I camped there. This picture was taken at my lunch spot with a different side of Billfish Mountain in the background:

Long Pond with Billfish Mountain in the background

Long Pond and High Pond are very close together, separated by only 10-20 feet in some places, even though High Pond is about 10 feet higher elevation. This looks really cool in person, but is impossible to capture in pictures or videos, though of course I had to try again:

High Pond

Fortunately on this hike the only muddy spot was a short distance at the beginning of the Lower Fowler Pond Trail around the stream that flows between Long Pond and Lower Fowler Pond. In this muddy area there were all kinds of signs of moose!

Middle Fowler Pond

The hike to Middle Fowler Pond from Billfish Pond was the longest hike of the trip, and I was definitely feeling it when I started to hear the waterfall at the outlet of Middle Fowler Pond. There was something about the combination of being so tired, seeing the waterfall, realizing that this was about 100 yards from the camp site, and then seeing how beautiful Middle Fowler Pond was, that made the end of this hike one of the most amazing experiences of the whole trip. Unfortunately I just can’t describe it any better than that, but this experience alone would have made the whole trip worth it.


Waterfall from a different angle

The first view you get of Middle Fowler Pond from the trail, standing next to those waterfalls. That’s Bald Mountain in the background:

Middle Fowler Pond with bushes in the foreground and a mountain in the background

The view from the Middle Fowler North camp site, from left to right that’s Bald Mountain, The Traveler (barely visible), North Traveler Mountain, and Barrell Ridge:

Canoe on the shore of Middle Fowler Pond with mountains in the background

The view of Billfish Mountain on the left and Bald Mountain on the right from the middle of the lake:

Middle Fowler with Bald Mountain and Billfish Mountain in the background

Middle Fowler with Bald Mountain and Billfish Mountain in the background

Billfish Mountain again, this is the opposite side of what you see from Billfish Pond:

Mountain reflected in water


Finally, the first time I went out fishing on Middle Fowler, I caught some fish to cook for dinner! On the southeast end of the lake, I caught a fairly big Brook Trout! It was just starting to get dark (6:00pm or so), so I started to head back to camp, but after a few hundred yards I started to see rises all around me, so I threw my lure back in and caught another, slightly smaller but still worth keeping, brook trout! I decided to call it a night and as I paddled northwest back to camp I started to see rises all along the center of the lake.

The lake had several big boulders just sticking out of the water right out in the middle where it’s very deep, which was interesting. I bet there are fish hanging around these too!

Boulder sticking out of water

I’m not sure what made this different from Billfish, even though the water was not quite as clear here it was also very deep, but I’m sure if I stayed out fishing it would have been action-packed. I definitely want to revisit this lake.

Brook trout in canoe

I decided to try filleting the bigger fish, and pan-frying the smaller one. I had some leftover tortillas from lunch, so I made some fish tacos out of the one I filleted. Even though they were a little plain being just fish and tortilla (and butter and salt), they were delicious! The other fish I ate straight out of the pan, and didn’t have to cook the food I brought for dinner.

Please forgive the terrible lighting, it was totally dark by the time I was done cooking:

Fish tacos

Fish fried in a pan being removed from a fire

This was taken from the camp site on Middle Fowler that night, though I can’t remember what mountain is silhouetted in the background:

Moon, silhouette of a mountain, and moon reflected on water

Hiking Out

The hike back was backtracking along Middle and Lower Fowler trails, then completing the Five Ponds Trail Loop. It was relatively uneventful, though when I stopped for lunch I saw a bunch of trees that looked like this (some were still standing, some like this were fallen), are these bug tracks or bear claw marks? This wood was not rotten:

Claw marks on a log


There was lots of pretty foliage, but it was hard to get pictures with my broken phone camera. Here’s a few that came out OK.

Foliage 1

Foliage 2

Foliage 3


Another thing I experimented with was homemade food. Every meal I ate except two (and the snacks of dark chocolate peanut M&Ms) were homemade and dehydrated at home. The two that were not were one breakfast because I get tired of oatmeal and didn’t have any other breakfast ideas, and on the hike between camp sites I knew I wouldn’t want to bother cooking so I had ingredients for PB&J wraps. (Actually I use other nut butters because they come in convenient packaging, and honey because it’s shelf stable, but same idea as a PB&J). The two containers in the upper left are clarified butter to add to the oatmeal and for cooking fish (I actually brought two, not sure where the other one is in this picture), and salt also for cooking fish.

It doesn’t look like it but this is three days of meals plus snacks - dehydrating not only preserves the food, it also makes it take up a lot less space and weight!

Backpacking meals spread out

Most of the meals were leftovers that I’d thrown in the freezer to eat later, but never did, so I threw them in the dehydrator. I recorded the weight before and after dehydrating so I’d know how much water is needed to rehydrate, and added instant potato flakes or instant rice if it seemed to need bulking up. Then I had to calculate how much water the potato or rice needed also. I shot for about 90g of dehydrated food for lunch and 150g for supper, based on store-bought meals I’ve had before, and this seemed to work out well.

I added a little potato to the baked beans and chili, and both came out excellent. In the suppers I made from leftovers, I added instant rice instead of potato. One dinner I made from scratch for this was egg noodles, dehydrated ground turkey, dehydrated frozen vegetables that needed to be used up, and a powdered pesto mix. In these meals the turkey and rice both did not rehydrate well - they were edible but just tough enough to be unpleasant. I used the pour-boiling-water-in-the-bag-and-wait method to rehydrate all the meals, and I’m not sure if that just wasn’t enough heat for these, or maybe I miscalculated the water. Also the egg noodles have so much air between them it was impossible to get them all submerged in the water so some did not rehydrate, but at least I know what happened there. In the end both of these meals were perfectly edible but I would not make them again. The pesto mix tastes good though it only vaguely tastes like pesto.

All in all it took some more time to prepare, but was an enjoyable challenge. I think the next challenge is figuring out how to do this with less disposable plastic.