Photo Excursion to Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument

Autumn is a special time in the forests of northern Maine. The trees explode with color as if to celebrate the end of the season. Woodland critters are hard at work preparing themselves either to head south or to ride out the coming winter. The people are busy, too, getting in those last rides or hikes before switching over to snowmobiles, skis, or snowshoes.

The fleeting beauty of fall can be captured by a lens. Maine Audubon wanted to share the fall scenery of Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument, and to do so we brought three young photographers to the Monument at the end of September and let them loose to see what they could find. The results, unsurprisingly, were spectacular.

John Putrino (Man by the Sea), Madeline Rheaume (Wicked Good Photos and Design), and Aislinn Sarnacki (Maine Nature Hikes), joined Maine Audubon in the Monument in the final days of September and the first days of October 2022, and traveled to all corners of the park. Their cameras captured everything the place has to offer: winding trails; river rapids; misty mountaintops; birds, squirrels, and other wildlife; and the vibrant night skies.

Other Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument Resources here: Birding Hotspot Map | FAQs for the Katahdin Woods and Waters Access Act

Here are some visual highlights of the trip:

Night Sky in Katahdin Woods and Waters by John Putrino
Night Sky in Katahdin Woods and Waters by John Putrino

The group went out for some spur-of-the-moment night sky photography in the Monument’s Sebeois Unit, east of the river, on our first night together. We wondered whether we’d be able to see the Milky Way, but when we got out of the car we felt like we were in the Milky Way. The photographers had a field day, er, night, using long exposures and supplemental lights to create unforgettable images like this one by John Putrino.

Nick at Haskell Deadwater 2 - Madeline Rheaume
Haskell Deadwater by Madeline Rheaume

Everyone woke before dawn on Saturday to get in place for the soft morning light. Nick and Madeline hiked in from the North Gate and watched daylight break upon the East Branch of the Penobscot River. The trail along the river alternates between loud, raging rapids and more languid sections. Madeline caught Nick admiring the morning fog rising off of the Haskell Deadwater.

Eastern Chipmunk by Nick Lund
Eastern Chipmunk by Nick Lund

Eastern Chipmunks and Red Squirrels were the most active critters seen throughout the park. The group could hardly take a step without a chipmunk running underfoot, its cheeks stuffed with food as it prepares for the coming winter. This one paused just long enough for Nick to snap its portrait.

Eastern Garter Snake by Aislinn Sarnacki
Eastern Garter Snake by Aislinn Sarnacki

Of course, where there are squirrels there are squirrel predators. Aislinn Sarnacki came upon this stern-looking Eastern Garter Snake on the prowl along the Lookout Trail.

Lookout Trail by Aislinn Sarnacki
Top of the Lookout Trail by Aislinn Sarnacki

Always prepared, Aislinn brought her gravel bike, allowing her to cover a lot of ground in the Monument. On Saturday morning she rode and hiked to the top of the Lookout Trail, giving her unbroken views of both Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument and Baxter State Park next door.

Little Messer Trail by Madeline Rheaume
Little Messer Trail by Madeline Rheaume

The Monument’s many mountain views and river panoramas are tough to resist, but the most calming scenery is found beneath the forest canopy. The widely-spaced trees and soft light along the trail to Little Messer caught Madeline’s eye during the short hike.

IAT toward Barnard Mountain by John Putrino
IAT toward Barnard Mountain by John Putrino

The International Appalachian Trail (IAT) forks off of the Loop Road and winds north through the Monument on its way to, if you can believe it, Canada, Greenland, Iceland, Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Scotland, Northern Ireland, Ireland, Isle of Man, Wales, England, Norway, Spain, Portugal, and Morocco. John Putrino captured the start of that long road at one of the Monument’s most popular hiking sections, on the way to Barnard Mountain.

Madeline at Haskell Rock Pitch by Nick Lund
Madeline at Haskell Rock Pitch by Nick Lund

Maine Audubon’s Nick Lund does not consider himself to be a photographer, but he enjoyed watching the pros in action. Here, Madeline balanced on the edge of a tiny rock as she shot upriver from Haskell Rock Pitch.

The crew under the Milky Way at Katahdin Woods and Waters
The crew under the Milky Way at Katahdin Woods and Waters NM

This Milky Way group portrait is a single image, not manipulated in post, using a long exposure and a handheld light. All we had to do was stay as still as possible — not small feat through all the smiles and laugher. Just one of many great memories from a weekend spent shooting one of Maine’s most beautiful places.