Russell Pond and Northwest Basin Trail Loop

HARD 1 reviews
#38 of 44 trails in

Russell Pond and Northwest Basin Trail Loop is a 20.4 mile lightly trafficked loop trail located near Millinocket, Maine that features a lake and is only recommended for very experienced adventurers. The trail offers a number of activity options and is best used from May until October.

Distance: 20.4 miles Elevation Gain: 3,950 feet Route Type: Loop





nature trips

paddle sports







wild flowers






2 months ago

Very challenging but also rewarding hike. I went the opposite way and took Helon Taylor to Knife Edge to Saddle before taking Northwest Basin and Russell Pond because I wanted to summit Baxter Peak with fresher legs. I also took Russell Pond the whole way back to Roaring Brook instead of Wassataquoik for a portion. The trails offer a variety of settings from windblown rocky peaks to enchanted forrest-like moss covered rocks and downed trees to a picture perfect calm lake with a soaring mountain behind to babbling (and roaring at times) brooks with mini-waterfalls around every corner. Once the Northwest Basin Trail leaves the Hamilin Ridge Trail, you can see it is one that not too many traverse. Despite this, above the tree line the blazes and cairns are easy to spot. Near where the trail hits the first of two major descents the trail converges with a downhill stream. If it hadn't rained the day before, it would likely just be wet and slippery with leaves and moss. It is extremely slippery for about a half mile. When the trail starts to level off, you find yourself at Davis Pond. This is an excellent place to take a picture as you are looking straight up the side of a mountain - but don't stay in one spot too long as the bugs will come get you. The trail makes a sharp turn to the left and slightly uphill where you will travel on beams of wood off and on until you get to Lake Cowles. This was a tricky part as the trail seems to end, but really it was submerged. Perhaps it was because of the rain, but I would expect that normally, at a minimum you will have to do some rock hoping. However, you might want to prepare to trek through the water directly across the lake to get back on the trail. Shortly after the lake crossing, you start the second major descent, although this one is little easier because the water flow runs parallel instead of in sync with the trail for more of the descent. When the grade decreases again you'll travel go about a mile until your next water crossing. This is another tricky area where I had trouble locating the trail and/or blazes. If I remember correctly, I crossed the stream from one bank to another three times over maybe 30 yards. It required some rock hopping and I also ended up going in the water. After the water crossing, the trail runs somewhat parallel to the Wassataquoik Stream. The trail has many marshy and stream-like sections as well as several smaller stream crossings. Around a half mile out from Russell Pound and after you have passed the intersection with the North Peaks Trail, you will cross the entrance to a pond (more rock hoping or wading). Overall, this section of the trail is pretty easy going as long as you don't mind getting wet and the marsh. Russell Pond Trail is a pretty consistent undulating trail. There were numerous stream crossings with three of them being what I would consider major. Going south, the first two happen within a mile of each other. I assume the water level was higher than normal and swifter than normal due to the rain and may be traversed by rock hoping normally, but when I crossed, I got in the water, leaning into the current and choose my steps carefully. The water got down to 2.5 ft deep where it was easiest to cross and some sections were swift enough that a misstep would take you downstream in a hurry. Be prepared to get wet if you take this trail. Also, the water is very cold. I appreciated it, but it is worth mentioning that my feet were numb for a while after. Before getting to the end of of Russell Pond, there is an excellent place to take a picture of Katahdin, reflecting on Whidden Pond. The challenge/reward aspect of the trails (Northwest and Russell) is incredible, the beauty is spectacular, but that there several instances where it isn't very clear where the trail comes out on the other side of a water crossing and on some sections of the Northwest Basin trail where the blazes were a little hard to find, makes it a four star.