Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Hiking Mars Hill Maine: America's First Sunrise and the International Appalachian Trail

After hiking Mt Chase, just east of Mt Katahdin, I headed out to see the sunrise on Mars Hill Maine. Given is location and elevation in the far northeastern part of Maine, it is the first place in America to see the sunrise. Its the last summit on the International Appalachian Trail before crossing over into New Brunswick. Whether you're on the IAT or just out for a day hike in Aroostook County, this is a sight worth seeing.
Early morning fog on the summit of Mars Hill, Maine
Previous: Hiking Mt Chase, Maine. 

After hiking Mt Chase in the fog and dark, I was ready for some better views and I got them on Mars Hill! Mars Hill is a picturesque mountain in Aroostook County Maine, just shy of the New Brunswick border. Its somewhat of a strange sight to see a relatively prominent mountain rising out of the rolling hills of Northern Maine. Aroostook County and the St John River valley sharply contrast the rest of Maine; instead of thick pine forests and rugged coastlines, this area is composed of rolling potato fields and farms. In fact, it looks like something more from the Midwest than Maine. The St John River Valley of New Brunswick and Maine is very fertile and hence, "Famous Potatoes" could be a moniker for Aroostook as well as Idaho. 

But on this particular day, I was here for the mountain, not the potatoes!

International Appalachian Trail on Mars Hill, Maine
Mars Hill could be argued as the "most northeasterly mountain" in the mainland America and this is significant because it sees the first rays of the sunrise during the summer months. I've previously written about Maine's West Quoddy Head being the first sunrise in America which is also true. However, it actually depends on the time of year. Cadillac Mountain, West Quoddy Head and Mars Hill all see the first sunrise at some point in the year. Geeks like me can read this article for more information. But on the day of June 24th, 2013 at the summit of Mars Hill Maine... damn it, I was the first to see the sunrise and nobody can argue this!

*Whew* Moving on...

America's first glorious sunrise on Mars Hill, Maine
(I was there)
The International Appalachian Trail crosses this summit and there is a nice little lean to at the top. Today I just climbed in from the Mars Hill Ski Area trails which was steep but not long. There is an actual trail that climbs it too but I couldn't find it when I was there. It was perfectly fine to park my car at the empty ski resort parking long and saunter on up.

While it was foggy and cloudy to start the day, I managed to catch a glorious sunrise indeed. Slowly, the rays pierced through the clouds and I could see all of splendor of the St John River Valley. It was so dramatic that it was almost funny. Clouds, low lying fog, sleepy farms and angle ray sunlight... it was like a child's painting of a sunrise. 

Sunrise over the potato farms of Aroostook county
Here's a map of the trail and location-

View Hiking Mars Hill, Maine in a larger map

As you can see, its not too far to the top although its steep. The summit does have panoramic views of both New Brunswick and Maine. So even if you're not up for seeing the sunrise, its a great hike regardless.

After coming down from Mars Hill, I turned north and headed up through the centers of commerce in Aroostook County: Presque Isle and Caribou. They were quaint and lovely towns and I wished I had more time to stay and poke around. "The County" is well regarded in Maine as being full of friendly, unpretentious people and this was evident as I walked around downtown Presque Isle. Cafe Sorpreso was one place I stopped at and it was every bit as classy as any restaurant you could find in Portland or Boston, great coffee too! 
Driving through Aroostook County
As with so many of my trips, they always end up being a way to make a list of things I want to come back to see. It seems like the longer the trip is, the larger the list is when I get back. I didn't get to see as much of the County as I would have liked- I wanted to spend more time in Presque Isle/Caribou and eat all the potato dishes they have, wanted to hike in Aroostook State Park, wanted to see Madawaska and and most of all, I wanted to see the Allagash River. On a more quirky note, I wanted to see Estcourt Station which is the most northern town in all of New England. In time, I am sure that this trip will happen!

For now, I was happy to see that sunrise over Mars Hill and the County. It would have been worth the drive if that was the only thing I saw on this trip.

Next: Hiking Mt Carleton, NB: Highest Point in the Maritimes 

Read. Plan. Get Out There!


  1. Hello Maine
    copywrite© By: Lavina Burgess

    Hello Maine,so beautiful and grand
    With animals of all kind,that roamed so free
    For everyone to see
    I looked out my window,and smiled with glee
    And out yonder,by the big old tree
    Was a deer and her fawn
    Both drinking from the pond

    Hello Maine,with hills and glistening lakes
    It just makes my heart break
    Remembering the times,of the many fish we ate
    Cooling off,as we jumped in the lake
    The hills high,and long
    I could just go on and on

    Hello Maine,as the snow is falling
    And the air so clean
    The hills,and their tree tops
    With clean,white snow,thats up to my knees
    I move to the right
    And I make Angel's so white

    My brother's and sister's,I'm sure will agree
    Would all climb those tree's
    If they would't get stung,by those darn old bee's

    Hello Maine,what a beautiful sight
    I close my eyes,and I do see
    This wilderness State,where...
    I would love to be

    Hello Maine,with your northern lights
    A galaxy of milky ways,with so many stars
    So brilliant,and glamorous,and so far away
    The face of the moon,looking down at me
    While making a wish
    and hoping it would come true

    Hello Maine,so beautiful and grand
    I'm writing this poem
    Because I was thinking of you

  2. I loved Maine, I was born in Fort Fairfield, lived in Stuben, Easton & Mars Hill. There were wonderful rolling hills, I mean huge hills. During winter, we would slide down them hills with our sleds. I especially loved this one huge bob-sled, we could get three and sometimes four on it, man did that sled go fast. The only thing... the hills were so long, we had to go back up the hill, and that made us real tired. But, that did not stop us, we went up the hill, up and down, up and down, many times. And, if we didn't have sleds, we would use what ever we could find to get down to slide on. We even used huge card board boxes, they were lots of fun. One time, we took an old hood of a car, and slid down with that. We piled everyone on, and away we all went...down the hill. And believe me, that was some ride. Of course... we only went down a couple of times, that car hood was heavy.
    Barbara (my sister)and I loved skiing,I remember getting moms canning wax out and waxing our skis. That would make us go even faster. We would make huge ski jumps and go flying down the hills.
    We never were mountain skiers...but the hills were just as fun! ;-) The hardest thing was trying to get back up the huge hills. Trying it without ski poles, its hard to do. The only way to get up the hill was to crisscross our skis. Many times, our skis would cross to far over, and we went down (laughing our asses off)! If the snow was soft it was much better to go up with our skis on, but... when the snow was a little crispy, we would take our skis off, then climb the hill. One time our skis broke, so we thought we would make a sled out of them. We waxed the bottom of it real good, and boy did that make it go fast. Sometimes we would be so cold and wet, we would have ice balls on our scarves and mittens. And... if there were snot coming down our noses, there would be ice on that too.
    We sure had lots of fun, and that will forever stay with me! ;-) There were times it would be getting dark before we even thought of going home. At least mom didn't have to tell us to go out, we did it because we loved the out doors; when its cold, hot, rainy, or snow, nothing kept us from not going outside. So... the winters were cold, but we found lots of thrills and chills through it all! ;-)

  3. HI i want to know can we bikes on this trail?

    1. I don't think bikes are permitted on the International Appalachian Trail. I would give Big Rock Mountain Ski Resort a call, they might allow bikes on the trails in the summer which would still get you to the summit.

  4. I live in a little town called Portage, which is in The County. It's about an hour and fifteen minutes west of Mars Hill. There are no Potato fields in portage though, just miles and miles of trees. So many miles in fact, you would have to travel west for many hours and cross the boarder to reach civilization . Its a different part of the state for sure, as there are still lakes and mountains that have not been touched by man since the Native Americans lived here. Its one of the last places in America where you can take a hike through the woods and say to yourself " I'm probably the first person to ever step foot here." If you ever get the chance to come here I would greatly recommend it.

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  6. Hi, I was just wondering how long the hike to the top of Mars Hill (where we would see the sunrise) is. Is it safe for little kids(4&8yrs) to hike? Is it an easy trail or difficult? About how long does it take to hike the trail? Thank you.