Height: 5,270 feet/1,606 meters
Best For: Transcendentalists, poets, rolling stones
The highest point in the state of Maine is also the northern terminus of the Appalachian Trail, so hikers won't have this mountain all to themselves. That's no reason to stay away, however. Lording over the center of the state's deep inland forests, Katahdin may be the most inspiring peak in all of eastern North America. Part of that aura comes from the great transcendentalist Henry David Thoreau, who famously scaled it in 1846 in order to come face-to-face with the raw soul of nature. He found that on top, writing later: "This was that Earth of which we have heard, made out of Chaos and Old Night." But it's also a present-day thrill to see grizzled AT thru-hikers coming to the end of their 2,200-mile quest here (as well as a few hardy souls just starting the trek from the north). And the view from the top has changed little since Thoreau's time.
The Hike: The most popular route to the summit follows the Hunt Trail—a 10.4-mile round-trip with a stiff 4,188 feet of elevation gain—on the first leg of the Appalachian Trail. The last two miles of the hike require scrambling on boulders above tree line, so be wary of afternoon thunderstorms.
At the Top: Thoreau wasn't the only literary soul to be inspired by these eastern wilds. Legend holds that there's a rock on the heights of Katahdin engraved with these lines from the 1912 Robert Service poem "Rhymes of a Rolling Stone":
Here's a hail to each flaming dawn