Burnt Mountain Trail: Scorcher of a Summer Hike
Burnt Mountain is perhaps best known for being the base of Sugarloaf's seasonal cat-skiing operations; however, Burnt Mountain Trail is an excellent option for well-seasoned hikers this summer, offering stunning 360° views from the summit of the surrounding mountains including the Bigelow Range, Crocker and Crocker South, Mount Abraham, Spaulding, and, of course, our beloved Loaf. With the multitude of hiking hotspots in the area, this hike often is overlooked – but make no mistake, Burnt Mountain Trail is a challenging trek that promises the reward of spectacular panoramic views.
We got up and at 'em, turning onto the Access Road just before 6:30am, all the while scarfing down some sensational take-it-to-go breakfast sandwiches from the Kingfield Woodsman. The Burnt Mountain trailhead is located at the end of Bigelow Mountain Road, off Mountainside Road; look for corresponding blue signage indicating the start of Burnt Mountain Trail. You'll continue to follow the blue markings (some of which are painted, others in the form of bands tied around trees) from start to summit, so remember, when in doubt, seek a blue marker out.
Burnt Mountain Trail begins following an offshoot of the South Branch of the Carrabassett River with clean and clear spring water and the occasional stream crossing en route, winding through a forest of conifers and hardwoods. Horticulturists will love meandering down this scenic loop as it provides ample opportunities to observe lichen, mushrooms, trees (among them beautiful white birches), and wildflowers native to the Western Maine mountains. Those interested in tracking will find no shortage of prints left behind in the dried mud of the riverbed, from mice to moose!
After the first pitch, the path picks up, developing a steeper grade; prepare to be traveling on an incline over roots and rocks, some of which are smaller and loose. For this reason, hiking boots are best for this terrain – not running shoes or run-of-the-mill sneakers. Take careful, deliberate steps. You'll begin to see the trees thin out, becoming shorter as the elevation nears the alpine zone – a sure sign of nearing the summit.
When the trail breaks out of the tree line, the bald-topped summit will be within sight. Continue onwards, and be sure to turn around on a regular basis to see the ever-improving views. At this point, we had some trouble following the blue trail markings; instead, we began to follow the cairns and orange roping, which led us to the second half of the Burnt Mountain loop.
The path down proved to be quite challenging, so for those not seeking an immersive outdoor experience, I recommend returning via the original route; however, for those adventurers bold enough to forge on, prepare to be climbing down overgrown tree-skiing trails to the cat road, which features several rare, never-before-seen angles of Sugarloaf's King Pine Bowl.
Missing ski season? This hike offers a quick fix – alright, not quick: all in all, the Burnt Mountain Trail was seven miles roundtrip with points of considerable climbing. It took us until noon to complete the loop, after which we fueled up on Gifford's and sandwiches from D'Ellies, located on Main Street in Sugarloaf Village; it was a morning well-spent getting better acquainted with the lush, rich landscapes of the Western Maine mountains.
Afterwards, don't forget to tick check! And sunscreen. And trail snacks – trail snacks for sustenance are a must.