Baxter State Park Summer Reservations opening day - New Group Camping Area

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Sep 3, 2003
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Gorham NH
I made my bi yearly visit up to Millinocket for the summer reservations opening day today. For those not familiar with this event, anyone who shows up in person on this one day every year can normally reserve any site in the park. A lot of folks want specific cabins or campsites that they use year after year usually on the same weeks and the way to guarantee that is show up for opening day. I drove over to Bangor Friday night and used a free hotel room then left early this morning and was at the headquarters around 5:00 AM. There were several tents plus several folks wrapped up in sleeping bags on lawn chairs. Unlike past years there is now an informal sign in list which means folks don't have to physically stand in line all night. I was number 33 on the list behind Deidre Fleming a popular outdoors journalist with the Portland Press Herald. I asked her if she was there for business or pleasure and she replied pleasure as she had gotten the "bug" four years previously.

Around 6 AM, the line formed up based on the sign up list. There were some folks who had camped a couple of nights more for tradition then for necessity although there are bragging rights to the first person in line. It was 6 degrees with bit of breeze so it was decidedly cool out. Jensen Bissel the park director opened the doors at 7 AM and the first reservations were processed around 8 AM. Before starting, Jensen talked a bit about changes at the park. The rates in the park have gone up for the first time in 6 years. The park has opened a new remote camping area this year on the perimeter road near the turn off for the Burnt Mountain trail. From a BSP faceboook post "The North Branch Camps are located off the Park Tote Road 1 mile east of Burnt Mtn. The camps are next to the North Branch of Trout Brook, but otherwise are just in the woods. The camps are about 6 miles from South Branch Pond campground and the trailhead for the Traveler Loop and several other northern Park trails. The camps are too far North for reasonable access to Katahdin trailheads". Its is an old logging camp last used by Maine DOT when they did maintenance on the park roads. There is a bunkhouse and a cook house that is available for reservation. He stated it is a fairly remote spot intended for groups. I did look at USGS map when I got home and there is spot labeled McCarty on the USGS with two buildings on the map. If McCarty is the spot, it is south of Burnt Mountain about a mile off the Tote Road. If this is the new site, it is about a remote as it gets in Baxter for a drive in site. I expect there are no neighbors close enough to offend if a group were to reserve both buildings. It is quite remote so probably not a great base of operations for folks who just want to climb Katahdin. The other change is a new bunkhouse at Nesowadnehunk

This was the first time I had ever been to a Saturday opening day. There were definitely fewer park staff present this year. The Friends of Baxter State Park used to be quite visible assisting but they weren't obvious this year. I did talk to a ranger regarding the trail up North Brother, it had been on the list for a total rerouting but the trail crew got diverted to the Abol trail work which is continuing this summer and starting a major effort on the Dudley trail as they are far higher use and more visible. The current plan for North Brother is 2018.

As in past years, it took awhile to process the initial rush. Stan from VFTT walked in around 9:30, he usually makes it up for opening day every year. His son Eric and his fiancé showed up a bit later. It was about 10 AM before I went in and got my 1st choice of reservations (Bear Brook 3 labor day weekend). As usual, the heavy activity was Daicey and Kidney Pond cabins. I don't know if they hit the 20% max but there were a few folks in line near me that ended up negotiating for Owls Nest at Daicey in August. Looking at the reservations book this evening, looks like the walk in sites like Chimney have plenty of openings when the rolling reservations start up.

They were up to giving out number 80 when I left. As usual the early birds tended to be older long term campers, not a lot of college age folks. Overall it was bit lower key than prior years, not sure if it was because it was Saturday but the level of energy by the staff was a bit lower than past years. Its a nice tradition and I expect the park doesn't mind some early season cash flow but the reality is the rolling reservation system appears to be working quite well. The popular sites still fill up quickly but for those willing to follow the rules, I haven't heard a lot of complaints.

The warm up didn't leave the Millinocket area unscathed. They have more snow on the ground and the snowbanks are higher but the town didn't seem to be bustling with snowmachines. The roads are in great shape and I made good time getting back to Gorham NH.
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I've never had an issue using the rolling reservation system. I much prefer making reservations online. Probably why The hoopla is dying down on reservation day. It works.
I agree entirely, if someone is willing to plan ahead and a bit flexible, the rolling reservation system works well. The only reason why someone would need to go to opening day is if they want a specific spot on a specific weekend. As an example I saw a couple of folks who wanted the Owls Nest cabin at Daicey Pond in mid to late august. If is one of the best cabins at Daicey (great view of the mountain reflecting in the pond). They both had a roughly two week window that overlapped. They talked with each other and negotiated so they ended up with a nice compromise. A lot of folks have to book vacation early in the year so opening day allows them to book a specific week at specific location.

Maine residents also get leg up in the process as 20% of the spots are kept open until two weeks before the date. The 20% spots are usually the less desirable spots in each campground but most folks go to Baxter to head out in the woods rather than stay in the campsite.
Because of the Saturday date we didn't go up this year. BillyGoat and I coach youth basketball, so Fridays and Saturdays are pretty full Nov>April. Last year we got Chimney Pond for two visits, Wassa Lake for the meteor shower in August, and our favorite lean-to on a favorite date. The rest of the visits were done with he rolling rez system.
I've never had an issue using the rolling reservation system. I much prefer making reservations online. Probably why The hoopla is dying down on reservation day. It works.
I agree that the rolling reservation system works fine for most people but those who have very specific or complex plans may do better showing up. By my own definition, anything I got was going to be "just what I wanted", thus my late arrival.

My purpose in attending in person is partly based on an enjoyment of the tradition, an opportunity to talk with staff and other regulars and snow shoeing or skiing the area over a long weekend. Conditions were horrible as everything seemed to be a sheet of ice, including the Golden Road which made for careful but exciting travel.

I was disappointed that so many businesses are closed for the winter and the main drag in Millinocket was like a ghost town. Abol Bridge store was open and a good pit stop for snow mobilers and others, SawMill was busy and River Riders another popular spot where we enjoyed dinner and one of the football games. A sad hush came over the place as news came in of a snowmobile fatality, apparently speed related, on the road to Baxter Park.

I'd encourage those who can make the trek add this tradition to their bucket list. Even if you just stick to the edges of the Park, it is a beautiful place in winter and Katahdin looms powerfully over everything.
wow - reservations for summer :) that's a nice thought. I'm heading over in 2 weeks to spend 3 nights and Chimney Pond.
Since I have never been to Baxter on winter trip, is there a similar "opening day" for winter campers?. I have heard that competition for cabins with stoves is far higher especially near the end of official winter so I would expect there would be demand for one.
I really have no idea. :) I either join someone who's already made the reservations or I just call a week before and ask what's available and then decide if I want to go.
Since I have never been to Baxter on winter trip, is there a similar "opening day" for winter campers?. I have heard that competition for cabins with stoves is far higher especially near the end of official winter so I would expect there would be demand for one.

I hiked with a woman from Canada yesterday who talked about this and it sounded like there was day at some point in November for this to book Winter sites. No idea on the particulars. She was doing Katahdin at some point this Winter.