Some hikes are end-driven. You toil to a mountain top or waterfall. Other hikes are process-driven. It's the hiking that's captivating. I prefer the latter. I was thinking about this as I rehiked one of my new favorites in Baxter State Park. The hike from Kidney Pond to Windy Pitch Pond is all about the process. You hike through some of Baxter's most scenic country--or at least have great views of it.
The hike starts at Kidney Pond; you follow the Sentinel Connector Trail along the pond's south shore with great views of Katahdin.
After 1.3 miles, you turn away from Kidney Pond onto Lily Pad Pond. This trail leads a half mile to Beaver Brook. From here you have to paddle. (You get the key, PFDs, and paddles from the ranger at Kidney Pond. There's a small rental fee.)
Beaver Brook flows slowly through a large meadow of low bushes and alders. You can see Katahdin in the distance. This is a great place to see moose. A ten minute paddle brings you you to Lily Pad Pond.
Lily Pad Pond offers fine views of the mountains from Moose in the west the Katahdin in the northeast. The rounded hump of The Sentinel rises just to the west. You paddle across the pond to its east end. Near where the outlet stream disappears into an alder thicket on its short tumble to Nesowadnehunk Stream, you beach the canoe next to a large boulder.
The blue blazed Windy Pitch Pond Trail leads into the woods over a piney knoll. As you hike the sound of Niagara Falls gets louder and louder. A short, unmarked side trail leads to Little Niagara Falls.
Three tenths of a mile past the base of Little Niagara Falls, a side trail leads through mossy boulders to the top of Big Niagara Falls. Several unmarked trails give access to the top and base of the falls. Take time to explore the falls and the boulders in the woods. Look for blueberries in late summer.
The view of both falls from this hike are better than the views from the AT on the other side of Nesowadnehunk Stream.
From Big Niagara Falls, the trail drifts west away from the stream through a very mossy spruce forest. In spring look for wildflowers tucked in among the boulders and roots.
The trail ends on the north shore of Windy Pitch Pond. It's a small, nondescript body of water surrounded by dense forest. On the south shore a low cliff presides. The point of the hike isn't getting to this pond; it's the journey.
Out and back--hiking and paddling--it's just over six miles.