The most emblematic and colorful tree in the Northeast, the sugar maple torches the autumn woods. They appear throughout the region, but grow only at lower elevations and prefer enriched soils uncommon in an often acidic landscape. And only in the most special places do they dominate the forest to create prismatic cathedrals. Here are some of the best.
Camden Hills State Park, Camden, Maine: The lofty lumps of the Camden Hills stand as the highest coastal promontories on the Eastern seaboard south of Acadia National Park. Most people dash up 1,385-foot Megunticook Mountain for its cliff-top views of Penobscot Bay. Far fewer venture along the maple-cloaked Jack Williams Trail. Running below the mountain’s western flanks, the level path winds for more than a mile through sugar maple groves that fill the woods from canopy to ground level. Tag the summit as well by completing a loop via the Mount Megunticook, Ridge, and Jack Williams trails.
Bigelow State Preserve, Stratton, Maine: The alpine summits of the Bigelow Range crest above 4,000 feet, providing unfettered views north to the Boundary Mountains and Canadian border. Profuse sugar maples thrive on the mountain’s southern slopes, extending more than a thousand feet up the mountainside. Step inside the rainbow by following the Fire Warden’s Trail for 3.6 miles to Moose Falls Tentsite, a lightly-used campsite shaded by sugar maples. From here a staircase of stone climbs 1,500 feet in 1.4 miles, leaving maples behind to reach all-encompassing summit views from 4,145-foot West Peak.
Wild River Headwaters, White Mountain National Forest, New Hampshire: Dip east beyond Carter Notch and into the headwaters of the Wild River watershed, the third largest roadless area in New England. From AMC’s Carter Notch Hut, follow the seldom-traveled Wildcat River Trail to reach maple-radiant hardwood stands in less than a mile. Continue on the Wild River Trail to find remote Perkins Notch shelter, where the Wild River first emerges from swampy No-Ketchum Pond. This out-there spot is more than seven miles from the closest trailhead—and feels like it.
Gifford Woods State Park, Killington, Vermont: Vermont has the highest concentration of sugar maples of any state, though few sections of old-growth survived the 19th century. Early settlers cleared three-quarters of the state for agriculture, but left one exemplary stand along today’s Route 100 in the central Green Mountains. Seven acres of old-growth woods flourish here, including shaggy sugar monarchs and other ancient hardwoods. The grove is located across the highway from the park campground and can be reached via the AT, which runs through the park and provides excellent maple forays in both directions.
Mount Equinox, Manchester, Vermont: A belt of marble runs the length of Vermont, ancient coral reefs crushed by pressure against the western slopes of the Green Mountains. The rock produces a calcium-rich band of soil that provides ideal conditions for sugar maples, which thrive along the entire stretch. But to really peep yourself silly, head to 3,816-foot Mount Equinox. Looming over historic Manchester Center, the mountain’s sugar-coated flanks are easily accessible along a well-marked network of short trails just west of the town center. Survey the entire landscape from the summit, accessible by toll road or the Blue Summit Trail.
Wilcox Lake Wild Area, Adirondack Forest Reserve, New York: According to old-growth experts Robert Leverett and Bruce Kershner, the finest sugar maples in the Adirondacks are found in the 140,000-acre Wilcox Lake Wild Area. Located in the southeast corner of the Adirondack Reserve, this gently rolling land is highlighted by lush woods, trout-dappled streams, and more than 1,000 acres of old-growth forest. A superlative stand of sugar maples grows on the innocuous rise of Wilcox Mountain near Warrensburg, accessible via little-used woods roads and snowmobile trails.
Mount Greylock State Reservation, Adams, Massachusetts: A deep ravine scoops out the western face of 3,491-foot-high Mount Greylock, sheltering nearly 500 acres of old-growth forest. Known as the Hopper, it hosts a diversity of fabulously mature trees, including hemlock, red oak, white ash, and, of course, massive sugar maples. Some of the mightiest line the Hopper Trail, which descends 1,100 feet from Sperry Campground in 1.2 miles. Or access the trail from the west at the end of Hopper Road south of Williamstown, where a free walk-in camping area is available 0.3 mile from the trailhead.
Basecamp AMC: Call of the Loon
The cabins of Medawisla Wilderness Camps tuck against a placid lagoon on the western edge of three-mile-long Second Roach Pond, the only structures on the entire lake (pictured above). Wildlife is prolific in the surrounding woods and waters. An active bald eagle nest sits high in a tree above the northern shore, loons hatch on rocky islands, moose forage in the shallows, and brook trout teem in the depths. Gentle mountains ring the shoreline, and Katahdin rises in the distance on clear days.
Established in 1953, Medawisla (which means “loon” in the native dialect) is located 27 miles north of Greenville and 12 miles east of Moosehead Lake. Situated within the 100-Mile Wilderness region, it provides a quiet base for exploring the area’s mountains, trails, and forests. Foliage peaks in early October, when extensive stands of sugar maples and other young hardwoods set the landscape afire.
Acquired by AMC in August, the camp offers canoes for guest use during the summer and fall, and maintains miles of cross-country ski trails for winter exploration. Medawisla is AMC’s second sporting camp in its Maine Woods Initiative project area; Little Lyford Pond Camps is located 15 miles to the south.