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Hiking the Maine AT: Caratunk to Pierce Pond

By Tom Richardson

The Appalachian Trail is one of America’s great natural resources and hiking challenges, but you don’t need to be an experienced trekker to enjoy the trail. There are many sections of the AT that can be covered on a day hike or overnight excursion.

Getting from Caratunk to Pierce Pond and back requires paddling across the Kennebec River.

One of these is the trail from the Caratunk Plantation AT parking area to lovely Pierce Pond, in Maine’s Kennebec Valley region. This hike isn’t very long—just over three miles—but it involves crossing the Kennebec River via a canoe ferry, which operates from 9:00 AM to 2:00 PM during the hiking season (keep this in mind if planning a day trip). The canoe landing is just about a quarter-mile from the parking area. A registered Maine guide will outfit you with a life preserver, load the canoe with your gear, and help paddle you across the river.

The hike to Pierce Pond takes you through moss-carpeted forest.

After arriving on the river’s west bank, follow the gently sloping trail along the course of Pierce Pond Stream, which features several beautiful waterfalls and swimming holes. The trail can be steep in places, but the overall elevation gain isn’t overly taxing for most hikers.

The trail follows the course of Pierce Pond Stream, which features several waterfalls.

At the southern end of Pierce Pond is a venerable sporting camp and a wood bridge that the camp owner allows hikers to use. Otherwise, you can ford the stream at a shallow crossing a bit further up the trail.

The Pierce Pond AT shelter overlooks scenic Pierce Pond.

Pierce Pond is home to arguably one of the most scenic shelters on the Appalachian Trail. It features a wide clearing and sweeping views of the pond, where you can cool off with a swim. Day hikers need to be aware that they must return to the Kennebec River by 2:00 p.m. if they want to catch the ferry back to their vehicle. However, many people choose to camp overnight at the pond and return the next day. Several tent “plattes,” or clearings, can be found near the AT shelter, as well as a composting toilet.

View of Pierce Pond from the AT shelter site.

Note that this trail (as well as all of the trails on the Maine AT) is managed by the Maine Appalachian Trail Club and its team of hard-working volunteers. Please support the MATC by making a donation, or better yet, signing up to help maintain and repair the trail! The MATC site features some incredible resources for planning a trip, including detailed maps showing the location of parking areas, shelters, elevations, and more.

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