Baxter State Park

2009 Visitors: 60,000.

Baxter State Park, Maine     Photo: Photograph by Jeremy Woodhouse/Getty

Main Drag: Acadia National Park, Maine
2009 Visitors: 2,227,698
A few years ago, while living as a misguided grad student in Boston, I stumbled across Thoreau's "Ktaadn," an essay about his unsuccessful 1846 bid to climb 5,267-foot Mount Katahdin, Maine's highest peak. The old wanderer wrote that this area, now part of 200,000-plus-acre Baxter State Park, was "primeval, untamed, and forever untameable Nature." It still is, and to climb the mountain, you have to be committed. The challenges include a 4,000-foot elevation gain, above-treeline exposure, and the serrated Knife Edge ridge. Start early and reach the summit by taking the Hamlin Ridge Trail from the Chimney Pond Campground. Halfway up, you'll be rewarded with dramatic views of the granite massif's southern peaks. After your climb, jump into the natural-rock waterslide in frigid Nesowadnehunk Stream—just past Foster Field campground—sweaty clothes and all. Thoreau would have done it, too. BEST CAMPSITE: The nine roomy lean-to's at Chimney Pond Campground each accommodate four people ($30; baxterstateparkauthority.com). BEST LODGE: 5 Lakes Lodge, in nearby Millinocket, a five-room log affair with views of Katahdin (doubles, $225; 5lakeslodge.com).

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