Recent articles featuring Maine Huts & Trails:
By: HEATHER HANSMAN
4) THE MAINE HUTS
Best For: Families
The three Maine huts have been open to hikers and cross-country skiers for the past four years. Maine Huts and Trails, the non-profit that oversees the huts, has been working with the local NORBA chapter to makes the trails that connect them bikeable. Once you get to the huts, there’s hiking, swimming, and fishing to keep youngsters, and you, entertained.
Currently, the best riding for families is on the southern side of the trail network. Start at Tufulio’s, near the base of Sugarloaf Mountain, and link up the Poplar Stream Hut and the Flagstaff Lake Hut for a three-day, two-hut ride. The entire trip is less than ten miles, and the riding is relatively mellow—some of it is on dirt service roads—so it’s ideal for less-skilled and younger bikers. There are also alternative routes, so kids who are less comfortable on technical trails can still come.
A fourth hut, the Stratton Brook, is in the works. It’s slated to be constructed on an existing section of bike trail in the Carrabassett Valley, so if things go according to plan you’ll have more riding, and staying, options by the end of the summer.
When to go: September and October, when the leaves are prime and the black flies are not.
Cost: $79/adult, $42/child on weekdays; $99/adult, $54/child on Friday-Sunday; mainehuts.org
By Aislinn Sarnacki, BDN Staff
Frost heaves rattled my bones as I drove farther into the western Maine wilderness. Any sign of residential neighborhoods far behind me, I glanced to my left at white-capped mountains peaking over jagged evergreen tops.
“You’ll be in the middle on nowhere, so it’s pretty hard to miss the sign,” Barbara Nickerson, finance manager of Maine Huts & Trails, had said earlier that morning. With her index finger, she had traced the snowshoe route to Flagstaff Hut on a map flattened on the counter of the organization’s Kingfield office.
Some 22 miles down Long Falls Dam Road, just past Roundtop Mountain, I spied the Maine Huts & Trails sign and turned left onto a gravel road that lead to a slushy and surprisingly crowded parking lot. Apparently, a lot of people had the desire to be in the middle of nowhere on that sunny March Monday.
“Last year, we had the best year ever, and this year, our numbers are higher,” Nickerson had told me. “The word has gotten out.”
Indeed, it has. Just last month, the New York Times ran a story by Eric Hansen, who — however unprepared for a Maine backcountry experience — traveled north to write about the relatively new hut-to-hut network.
Currently, the nonprofit Maine Huts & Trails offers 45 miles of groomed cross-country ski, snowshoe and hiking trails stretching from outside Sugarloaf ski resort to the small community of West Forks.
What’s unique about the network is that many of the trails have been built for the entry-level skier or hiker, making a backcountry experience accessible to a wide range of people, including families with small children.
Three “huts” break up the long stretch of wilderness.
Larry Warren, a founder of Western Mountains Foundation and visionary of the Huts & Trails system, worked on the project for more than 20 years before the inauguration of the first hut, Poplar Stream Falls Hut, in 2008. Flagstaff Lake Hut (11.3 miles to the north) opened in 2009, and Grand Falls Hut (another 11.5 miles by trail northwest) opened in 2010.
“We took a break in 2011, but now we’re gearing up for phase two to begin shortly,” Nickerson said. “It’s very exciting.”
The nonprofit’s vision is to create a 180-mile trail corridor with as many as 12 huts along the way.
As I buckled on snowshoes beside the kiosk and privy at the Long Falls Dam Road Trailhead, another vehicle bumbled into the parking lot.
Doug Malloy, 65, of Athens, an avid skier who has explored the entire network, hopped out and began waxing his skis against the car. That day, he brought along his 31-year-old daughter, Kaitlin, and her boyfriend, Andrea Sorgato, 30, both of Boston.
“Touring centers are kind of nice, but here you feel like you’re actually going somewhere,” Malloy said. “It’s just so varied. You can ski along the river to waterfalls, on a flat lake, through hills — and you get to these huts, but they’re not huts, they’re grand lodges.”
Eager to set my eyes on Flagstaff Lake Hut, I tucked the trailmap into my pack along with other necessary gear and started the 1.8-mile trek. After a few hundred yards, I left the Maine Hut Trail for the Shore Trail, a narrower snowshoe route that hugs the shore of Flagstaff Lake, a shallow, 20,000-acre lake with an intriguing history.
Flagstaff Lake was smaller until the Long Falls Dam impounded the Dead River in 1950, enlarging the lake and submerging parts of several abandoned townships. Building ruins can still be seen below the surface.
Though the temperature was in the 50s, the lake was covered with ice, but snow had melted off the sunny bank, leaving it bare and soft, rendering the snowshoes unnecessary. But in the shaded woods, snow deepened and the wide shoes prevented me from post-holing.
As I gazed at the Bigelow Range lording over the lake, a chickadee nearly slapped my face as it darted across the sunbathed trail. Birdsong mingled with the chatter of red squirrels, welcoming spring, a season that will usher in hikers rather than skiers.
Though the Maine Huts & Trails network is busier in the winter, the lodges and trails are open year-round.
About a half mile in, I passed by a middle-age couple from Bowdoinham who had just spent a night at Flagstaff Lake Hut for the first time. They raved about the food and friendly staff and urged me to go on their “green” energy tour when I arrived.
A mixed forest gave way to birches, and a massive log lodge emerged. Abandoning my snowshoes and poles, I stepped through the front door, under a mantel of driftwood from the lake.
Hut Master Ellen McDevitt exited the kitchen, leaving that evening’s squash soup in the hands of crew member Jenny Baxter. The two women made up half of the hut’s young crew — all in their 20s.
“We have a menu rotation, but we change it depending on what will appeal to the guests that night,” McDevitt said. “Like last night we had 19 kids, so we weren’t going to make beef stew.”
Instead, they cooked chicken pot pie and chocolate peanut butter pie in honor of “Pie Week.”
During the two full-service seasons, winter and summer, the huts offer much more than shelter from snowstorms and black flies. In addition to a home-cooked dinner (with wine or beer for a little extra), guests enjoy a gear shuttle, shower, toilets, a heated bunkhouse, hearty breakfast and trail lunch.
For the spring and fall self-service seasons — April 1 to mid-June and November 1 to mid-December — the hut crew departs and one caretaker remains to keep the lodge running. At a lower cost, guests can stay at the lodges but are not catered to in any way.
“February was our busiest month ever,” McDevitt said as she leaned against the big stone fireplace in the dining room. “Given the conditions, this winter was phenomenal … we’ve had a couple people come stay in January and then return in February and March, and we think ‘Yes, we’re doing something right.’”
Stunning photographs of the surrounding terrain by John Orcutt, the architect for all three huts, line the walls of the dining room. Everywhere you look in the main lodge, evidence of donations made by individuals and organizations can be seen — from the names engraved on chairs to the L.L. Bean boot mosaic on the entryway floor.
Remotely located, these lodges operate off the grid. Solar panels (with backup propane generators) and a high-tech system provide electricity, and a super-efficient wood gasification boiler supplies the radiant floor heating.
McDevitt led me past a small library, where two women from Massachusetts were reading and relaxing after a day of skiing, to a drying room, where guests leave their snow-covered gear. At the end of the main hall, lit by sunlight pulled down through solar tubes, we entered a pristine bathroom with composting toilets and token-operated showers.
“We don’t have limitless energy,” my guide said, waving her hand over the “3-Minute Shower Wall of Fame.”
As I scanned the hefty guest book by the back porch, McDevitt said, “The percentage of non-Mainers is rapidly increasing. People from Connecticut and Massachusetts are here regularly. We’ve seen people from all over — more from New York and Quebec.”
Because the trail to Flagstaff Lake Hut is short and easy, the crew meets guests of all ages and skill levels.
“But this is still a backcountry experience,” McDevitt said, “and people need to be prepared for something to go wrong.”
A list of what to pack on a hut-to-hut trip and other information can be found atwww.mainehuts.org.
In the summer, biking into Poplar Steam Falls Hut has become popular, and at Flagstaff Lake Hut, canoes and kayaks are available for Maine Huts & Trails members.
Base membership is $35.
“Membership is very important to us,” McDevitt said. “We’re at a point where we still need donations to continue to operate and expand.”
The network is constantly growing. New this year is a yurt between Poplar Hut and Flagstaff Hut and a 14-mile section of trail from the Forks to Grand Falls Hut. This new trail runs along the banks of the Dead River and is recommended for intermediate to advanced skiers only.
The organization is also partnering with boat and rafting guides to offer tours of Flagstaff Lake and Dead River.
The trails are accessible and free to the public year-round. For day trippers, lunch is available for purchase and is served at the huts from 11:30 a.m to 1:30 p.m. Friday-Sunday, and on some school vacations and holidays. At Flagstaff, the lunch deal is generally $6 for soup, bread, a drink and a famous Flagstaff cookie — a delicious treat that I ate as I snowshoed back to the parking lot.
For information about Maine Huts & Trails, visit www.mainehuts.org, call 265-2400 or 877-634-8824 or visit their administrative office at 375 N. Main St. in Kingfield.
Published: February 17, 2012
A LITTLE over a year ago, Maine Huts & Trails opened its newest backcountry eco-lodge in the mountains of western Vacationland. Each of the lodges, now numbering three, has hot showers and private guesthouses and serves breakfasts and dinners prepared with locally sourced organic ingredients. Ditto the brown bag lunches. Connecting them is a rolling, 45-mile trail that begins outside Sugarloaf ski resort, two hours north of Portland, and ends in the tiny community of West Forks. Once a week, the trails are groomed to perfection, and the lodges’ caretakers will shuttle your belongings forward, leaving you free to cross-country ski or snowshoe through the fairy tale woods unencumbered.
Gleaned mostly from the home page of mainehuts.org, this all sounded fantastic to my wife, Hrund, and me. We were eager for a few days of skiing through pristine forests, even more so because we knew how rare great hut-to-hut backcountry skiing is in North America. The Appalachian Mountain Club’s lodge-to-lodge skiing might be comparable, though its trails are not as finely groomed, while hut systems in the West like the 10th Mountain Huts between Vail and Aspen, can require slogs over high ridges and bunking with legions of sweaty, beer-guzzling dudes. Weekends are also likely to be booked months in advance. So far, that is not the case with Maine Huts & Trails, which is still a work in progress.
The goal of the nonprofit organization is to build the longest luxury ski trail in America: a 180-mile-long, lodge-to-lodge system from the Mahoosuc Mountains, near the southern town of Bethel, to Moosehead Lake, not far fromBaxter State Park in the north. After decades of wrangling, the trail rights are now secure. Fund-raising for nine additional eco-lodges is continuing, with the aim of building one every other year. For most skiers, March is the ideal time to go. “It has the best snow and longer, sunny days,” said Linda, at reservations. In the dead of winter, she explained, the icy, fast trails suit avid cross-country skiers, but the temperatures can be frigid, often dipping into the single digits.
Neither Hrund, who is from Iceland, nor I, who went to college in Maine, is afraid of the cold. So, without thinking twice, we chose the dead-of-winter option and booked rooms for a long weekend in January of last year.
WE arrived at the Sugarloaf Outdoor Center in Carrabassett Valley, Me., at 6 p.m. on a Friday. Hrund, a newbie cross-country skier, rented “classic” skis, the skinny boards with scalloped bases that allow a person to slide forward with a natural walking stride. I bought some wax for my own bright red skis. The manager informed us that we had missed the 6 p.m. dinner at the first hut, but no biggie.
We devoured an excellent pizza at Tufulio’s restaurant nearby, and then drove less than a mile to the Gauge Road Trailhead. Our flashlight revealed a sign that informed us it was 2.5 miles to the first hut, Poplar Stream Falls.
“Fourteen degrees Fahrenheit,” I said, chagrined by the lower-than-expected number on the car’s dashboard thermometer.
It was nearly 9 o’clock when we shouldered our bags and shuffled into the dark forest, following a wide corduroy lane with two deep-cut grooves near one edge. Illuminated by a sprinkling of stars, the groomed trail was impossible to lose sight of — nice to know, because we forgot the welcome packet’s topographic maps.
After only a few hundred yards, the trail turned steeply upward, climbing 200 feet in the first half mile, then immediately downhill before gradually climbing again. Tree trunks creaked as they rubbed against each other. The wind through the balsam firs sounded like a passing plane. The moon rose.
At nearly 11, we crested a rise in a clearing and saw the vague outline of the darkened Poplar Stream Falls Hut. We stepped through the door and tiptoed around until one of the hutkeepers, Paul, a young man in his 20s with short-cropped blond hair, stumbled forth.
“Were you expecting us?” I asked.
“We started to wonder,” he said.
He gave us an abbreviated tour of the bathroom area and dining room and pointed us to our room, one of seven in the three modern, shingled buildings a short walk from the main lodge. “There’s four of us caretakers here,” he said. “If you need anything, don’t hesitate to ask.”
Ten minutes later, of course we did.
“I think I forgot something kind of essential,” I told him.
Our private room, heated to 65 degrees, had a high ceiling, pine-paneled walls, two bunks and a bed with two double mattresses side by side. It was a great setup — if, unlike me, you remembered to bring sleeping bags.
But Paul seemed to find nothing wrong with two people wandering into the woods at night without bedding, and the next morning, after sleeping under a pile of fleece blankets that Paul had rustled up, we returned to the main lodge.
We entered through a mudroom, and then stepped onto slate tiles that are warmed by radiant floor heating. To the left, stairs led to a loft with leather sofas and shelves full of thrillers, natural history guides and board games. To the right was the dining room, with a vaulted ceiling, handmade cherry tables and chairs and a potbellied stove. Nature photos decorated the walls.
Though the bedrooms lack their own showers and toilets, the bathroom area toward the back of the main lodge felt almost Japanese. The showers, in tidy stalls with full-length wood doors, deliver six minutes of hot water for each guest each night (via a token-operated timer). Likewise the six bathrooms. Press the digital flush button on top of the hyper-efficient composting toilets and miniature jets spritz the bowl with three ounces of biodegradable soap. Nearby, a heated drying room ensures that your clothes feel toasty when you’re ready to depart.
At 11 a.m., fueled by wild-blueberry pancakes, we began the 11.5-mile glide to our next destination, Flagstaff Lake Hut. We neglected to arrange the bag shuttle ahead of time, as advised, but one of the caretakers promised to transport our belongings. He also sold us some replacement maps.
As we slid north, a bright, heartening sun belied the temperature: a frigid 6 degrees. We stopped for hot tea, and, later, for our brown bag lunch: sandwiches of hummus and vegetables, chocolate chip cookies, an apple and a granola bar.
Hrund made great time on the flat, meandering trail, and I happily followed. We chatted with the few people we passed — equally slow couples coming from the opposite direction — and the lone speedster who had started at the trailhead that morning. Later, we saw no one, and listened for the calls of chickadees and nuthatches. We passed saplings clotted with snow, dwarf cedars and exfoliating birches. Brittle pines teetered in the breeze.
A long hill afforded the first views of the Bigelow Mountains, jagged 4,000-foot peaks that had dodged the glaciers of the last Ice Age, and then we plunged back into the forest. We made ever-faster S-turns until crashing in a comical mess a half mile later, our arms, legs, skis and poles as tangled as a brush pile.
For two hours, we cruised along the flat, east bank of shimmering Flagstaff Lake and pushed the final mile or so across a hillock, arriving at Flagstaff Lake Hut, perched on a peninsula, just after dusk. The 11.5-mile journey had taken six hours. A fresh-baked loaf of bread cooling on the kitchen counter was a welcome sight indeed.
The one-story main lodge has clean interiors, many windows and, as at the Poplar hut, an impressive green system. Heat and electricity come predominantly from a NASA-worthy solar array and a high-tech wood boiler. Driftwood from the lake adorns the entrance and the mantel above the wood stove. The simple guesthouses accommodate roughly 40 people.
Most of the two dozen folks lounging around lived nearby and had skied in only a few miles. They treated the lodge as a base camp from which to explore the area around the lake, and then returned home in time for work on Monday.
“We love it,” said two young doctors.
After an organic chicken parm dinner with wine in the dining room, which overlooked the lake, we were about to invite the doctors to a game of backgammon when our reverie was interrupted.
A family of four burst in from the darkness and stumbled into the foyer, snowshoes clattering. They were bundled head to toe in what appeared to be flimsy nylon running wear. The 5-year-old son shrieked, “My feet are too cold!”
The frightened dad ripped off his hat and ski goggles and asked urgently: “Is there a fire here?”
I checked the thermometer by the front door: 3 degrees.
Having lived in central Maine, I knew that the mercury often hits zero or less. On camping trips, friends and I slept in our boots so they wouldn’t freeze shut. That these lodges allow a person to enjoy the Maine winter without that Arctic-man heehaw is a treat. But as the family illustrated, it’s probably a good idea not to be cavalier. After warming his feet by the fire, the boy turned out not to have frostbite, but his example made me think that everyone should always pack to survive a night out.
The next morning the temperature was near zero as we departed for the newest lodge, Grand Falls Hut, nearly 13 miles away. Skiing beside the lake was glorious. I flew down the icy track of snow while Hrund swished rhythmically behind.
After the trail crossed Long Falls Dam Road, we met the Dead River, which flowed north, unlike many American rivers. Fog rose off its surface, and a rough hem of ice fringed the banks.
We were entering the wildest part of the trail. With moose getting ready to throw their antlers, we followed the orange scrapes they had left behind on spindly trees. We didn’t see any of the animals, but we did spot a bald eagle, a woodpecker pounding a tree, and paw prints that might have been made by a coyote, or even a wolf.
More animal sightings would have done little for our morale. With few landmarks in the open, flat shrub land, even our maps couldn’t tell us exactly where we were. All I knew was that snowdrifts had covered the wide groomed lane and, for a few hours now, I had shuffled along behind Hrund, cursing my no-traction skis.
“We’ll take a snack break when we cross the two bridges,” Hrund said.
When we did, our bare fingers quickly turned into Popsicles. The temperature had dropped to minus 4 degrees, we would later learn. Our vacation had transformed into a proper adventure.
AFTER crossing the high span of the Dead River bridge near dusk, we got lost at a snowmobile-trail junction. When we reached Grand Falls Hut at 5:30, we were exhausted and grumpy.
But as we stepped inside, a blast of warm air, a steaming golden pie, and Sky and Mary Anne, the two young hutkeepers, greeted us.
“Welcome,” they said. “It’s just you tonight.”
Architecturally, Grand Falls is much like the other two lodges, but it accommodates about two-thirds as many people in a smaller main lodge and compact rooms (up to 32 people). A breezeway connects the row of rooms to the main lodge, which has a dining room and a leather sofa in front of a wood stove. The one drawback: the heating system for the rooms, which connects via satellite to a distant control center computer, kept our room too chilly (but has since been fixed, I’m assured). Perhaps the most stellar feature is that Grand Falls sits atop a hill. From the west-facing porch, you can see reclining Basin Mountain, the cliffy ridge of Little Bigelow, the snow-dusted bald spots of Avery Peak and purple West Peak sprawled across the horizon.
Within five minutes of our arrival we agreed to Sky’s proposal to dig out the snow-buried fire pit and light a bonfire. We shared a family-style casserole and blueberry pie, then retired to the fire.
I wasn’t surprised to find that Sky and Mary Anne were delightful. All the hutkeepers are in their 20s or early 30s and dyed-in-the-wool New Englanders. They are strapping, intelligent and eager, fond of low impact camping and nose rings. In the summer, they work at other huts or rebuild trails or study for the GMATs.
As we stood with Sky and Mary Anne around the eruption of flames, the cold and the day’s ordeal was a distant memory. We traded stories until late, and then curled up in our small room.
The next morning, however, there was a problem to solve: how to get back to the car.
Last fall, Maine Huts & Trails extended the trail 14 miles from Grand Falls Hut to West Forks. The organization also began offering van rides between the West Forks and Gauge Road trailheads, making a one-way trip possible. But that was months after we arrived. Our “plan” was to ski the whole 25 miles back to our car in a day.
Thankfully, when I expressed concern that our plan appeared completely unrealistic, Sky said he could shuttle our bags back to Long Falls Dam Road, near Flagstaff Lake Hut, just 12 miles away, and arrange for a vehicle to meet us and take us back to our car.
“What time would you like to be picked up?” he asked.
“How about 3 o’clock,” I said.
We arrived on time. And so did the driver, and our bags, of course.
IF YOU GO
Maine Huts and Trails, (877) 634-8824; mainehuts.org. A three-night, four-day package, including lodging, meals, showers, and gear shuttles, costs $327 per adult for nonmembers. A van shuttle between trailheads costs $25 for nonmembers.
Appalachian Mountain Club Maine Wilderness Lodges, (603) 466-2727;outdoors.org/mainelodges. The three A.M.C. lodges are remote, about 40 miles northeast of the Maine Huts & Trails lodges, and their 80 miles of trails aren’t tracked for cross-country skiing. But the accommodations entice. Guests stay in individual log cabins, some with en suite bathrooms, and can take advantage of a wood-fired sauna in the lodge that opened last winter, Gorman Chairback. A three-night, four-day stay in private cabins, including meals, showers, saunas and gear shuttles, costs $331 to $475 per adult nonmember. A shuttle between trailheads is $65 a person via Maine Outfitters, (866)223-1380; maineoutfitter.com.
Banadad Ski Trail, (800) 322-8327; boundarycountry.com. Three homey yurts dot 19 miles of trails at the edge of the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness. Inside the canvas platform tents, there are rugs, futons and bunk beds that sleep up to nine people, a woodstove and a propane cookstove. The family owners deliver your belongings and light a fire for your arrival. The catered option includes dinners of beef Bourguignon and a Mongolian-style fondue. A two-night, three-day package, with exclusive use of the yurts, starts at $315 per person for two or three people, or $340 per person with catering. Car shuttle is included.
10th Mountain Division Huts Association, (970) 925-5775; huts.org. The 30 huts scattered near tree line around Vail and Aspen require specialized backcountry ski equipment, the carting of your own food up ungroomed trails, and the sharing of rooms. The payoff: unobstructed views of 14,000-foot-tall peaks and the opportunity to downhill ski in the wild. Beds cost $25 to $40 per night; huts cost from $258 to $340 per night; 2012 is fully booked. There’s a yearly lottery in late winter to book.
Rendezvous Huts, (800) 422-3048; rendezvoushuts.com. These five huts inWashington’s Cascade Mountains are part of one of the longest, best-maintained Nordic trail systems in the country, 120 miles of white corduroy. Inside a typical one-room hut is a simple kitchen with a propane cookstove, a bench that turns into a bed, and two double-wide bunks below a loft with sleeping pads. The spartan huts generally sleep up to eight people. Huts start at $150 a night. Food and equipment shuttle costs $85, each trip.
ERIC HANSEN is a contributing editor at Outside magazine.
You’ve been pining for real winter adventure. To be way out in the wilderness beauty on snow-covered terrain, sleeping in log-heated cabins far from civilization.
But the yearning for such adventure falls far short of getting you into the pages of a Nathaniel Philbrick struggle for survival book. Isn’t there something in between? True winter outdoor adventure for everyman to experience?
As it turns out, yes. Just beyond the edge of civilization – or at least past the exurbs where cellphones go dead – in a part of New England still considered the most pristine and untouched, is an outfit called Maine Huts & Trails.
Located in Carrabassett Valley, where the Sugarloaf ski resort is, Maine Huts & Trails aims to design trips through the most remote and vast region of New England, and yet provide creature comforts at the level that will attract families with kids who might even coax along a grandparent and maybe even the family pooch.
The ultimate goal of this nonprofit outdoor destination is to build 12 huts in this pristine setting strung along about 180 miles of trail, from near the New Hampshire border to the Baxter State Park region, where Mt. Katahdin soars nearly to the summit height of Mt. Washington.
In about four years of operation, Maine Huts & Trails has built three “huts,’’ with a fourth to come within the next two summers. The trail is now about 45 miles, and open for cross-country skiing or snowshoeing in winter, hiking and biking in summer. But no portion of the trail is shared with snowmobiles in the winter or such things as motorcycles in the summer.
“There’s no timetable to complete the project,’’ said MH&T spokesman Conrad Klefos, citing the vicissitudes of fund-raising in a roller-coaster economy. “We started building the huts in ’08. We put up three in three years. We’ll get our fourth built either this summer or next.’’
The trails are far from meanderings through the fern.
“The trail we just opened is not insignificant,’’ said Klefos. “It’s 12.2 miles going from Grand Falls Hut to The Forks. We had to construct seven bridges because of the six major tributaries that go into the Dead River. So that’s quite a bit of engineering and a lot of hard work and [it’s] expensive.’’
A typical bridge over a stream is made of hemlock reinforced with steel I-beams. In winter the snow on the bridges is track-set along with the trails, and in summer they are used by hikers and mountain bikers. The snowmobile track-setter is the only motorized vehicle ever allowed on the trails.
About halfway along the trail, said Klefos, MH&T constructed a yurt, a shelter for use in warm-ups and lunch stops. The entire system accommodates users from hard-core trekkers to more casual skiers and snowshoers out to break up the cabin fever with some winter beauty.
Tim Goltz, a physician from Damariscotta, Maine, has hiked as far afield as the New Zealand’s South Island. Three years ago, shortly after MH&T opened, Goltz, his wife, and three daughters tried the system and have been going back each year for several trips, in winter and summer.
“My daughters are 13, 11, and 8 and we’ve found this just a great way of getting outdoors with them,’’ said Goltz. “They love the atmosphere of the huts and the food, and of course the scenery is really great. And what they really like is how they get undivided attention from mom and dad.’’
For the past three years, the Goltzes have been spending New Years at MH&T. The moments of family intimacy are unequaled, he said.
“I remember this waterfall near Poplar Stream Hut, that is just gorgeous in the wintertime,’’ Goltz said. “We’d go there every day just to look at the way the ice had frozen differently overnight. It’s wonderful there. And when the skiing’s good, the kids love to be in those hills.
“The other thing we like is that the people we meet there tend to be like-minded. They’re people who don’t mind being away from electronics. They like to get exercise in the outdoors – and we’ve actually made many friendships with people we meet there.’’
Many members who ski the trails often through the winter say they like the remote wilderness, but also, compared with high altitude trekking on Mt. Washington, find it fits most average people. The word often heard is “doable.’’
The Goltzes are not alone in finding humor in the word “huts’’ in the company’s name. “It should be Maine Lodges,’’ he said. “They’re cushy places to stay. My daughters like them so much they’re already talking about working on them as staff members.’’
Two of the existing huts are on waterfront – one lake and one river – to offer swimming when it’s warm. The huts offer clean natural wood and furniture, soaring windows, warm comfortable beds, hot showers, and home-cooked meals – complete with beer and wine. Trekkers moving from hut to hut can plan a multi-day excursion.
Penny Schnell lives in Connecticut but has a vacation home in Kingfield, Maine. At 60 years old, she said, skiing the MH&T system never gets old.
“I could just do this every weekend it’s so wonderful,’’ said Schnell, who makes a 13-mile trek with friends or her husband. “We go out to the Grand Falls Hut from the trailhead near Flagstaff Lake Hut.
“You’re up in the wilderness, but not really up high in the mountains. You see the Bigelow Range as you ski. I wouldn’t say it’s totally flat skiing. There are some hills, and one or two steep ones. I have no problem with taking my skis off and walking if I think a downhill is too steep. But there are few of those.
“But I’ve seen herds of moose and snowshoe rabbits. The wildlife is wonderful. This is just a very doable, beautiful experience.
“And then you get to a hut and take a hot shower, have a glass of wine, and eat some really good food. Then you just hang around and talk with people you meet. It’s just a great experience.’’
Maine Huts & Trails is open to members and non-members. Membership is $30 individually or $65 for a family. For members, lodging is $84 per night, $49 for kids.
Non-members pay weekend overnight rates of $99 and $54. There are no trail fees.
For more information, contact MH&T at 877-634-8824 or go to: www.mainehuts.org.
Move over, Colorado: Maine has now become one of the nation’s premier destinations for hut-to-hut cross-country skiing, thanks to two new backcountry systems: Maine Huts & Trails in the state’s western mountains and the Appalachian Mountain Club huts, about 40 miles (as the crow flies) farther northeast, outside Greenville, in Moosehead Lake country. As I discovered, these are not your father’s backcountry huts.
Maine Huts & Trails has opened three out of a proposed dozen lodgings that it plans to build along a 180-mile corridor from Bethel northeast to Greenville. I jumped at the chance to go hut-to-hut skiing in the Northeast, an experience that I’ve enjoyed only in Colorado and Europe. Hut skiing combines two seemingly incompatible experiences: being far out in the wild, yet taking advantage of easy travel and the comforts of a warm bed and a good meal by a fire.
Not far from the Sugarloaf ski resort, I stepped into my skis on the trail to Flagstaff Lake Hut. I was surprised: The trail was a carpet of corduroy snow. This may be backcountry, but banish the idea of heavy packs and breaking trail. Some fast gliding down the groomed track was all it took to reach the so-called “hut.” As I rounded a final bend and was admiring views of Flagstaff Lake, I was startled by the long cedar-shingled structure, rising up out of the woods before me. I stepped through the door to an interior crafted from Maine pine and slate, stuffed leather chairs around a woodstove, and solar- and hydro-powered lights and plumbing. Semiprivate and bunkroom lodging is available for 42 people. “If this is a hut,” I declared to my wife, “we live in a cave.” The college-age hutkeepers were preparing pesto pasta, chicken, sautéed asparagus, and fresh salad, all laid out on long cherry-wood dining tables. The evening was capped off by Maine blueberry pie.
The white canvas of Flagstaff Lake shone through the windows the following morning. We glided out onto the lake to admire the frosted ridgeline of Bigelow Mountain, standing watch over a large undeveloped area. Then we headed out on our 11-mile ski to Poplar Falls Hut. Once again, I traveled fast and light along the groomed trail, carrying little more than I would on a daytrip at a cross-country ski center. When we arrived four hours later at our next backcountry chateau, we were ready for the comforts that awaited us. Following another delicious dinner and fresh pie for dessert, we retired to the upstairs library to read, chat, and play board games.
Maine’s other hut-to-hut ski system is more rustic and takes more effort to reach, but it, too, spoiled me with how easy it made traveling through the woods. In the last decade, the Appalachian Mountain Club has bought 66,500 acres of land in the Hundred-Mile Wilderness and acquired three sporting lodges: Medawisla, Little Lyford, and Gorman Chairback.
From Medawisla Lodge, we set out on a three-day, 24-mile hut-to-hut ski. Snowmobiles shuttled our gear down the groomed track, letting us carry only day packs as we skied alongside rivers and ponds and took in views of Katahdin to the northeast. My favorite stop was the century-old West Branch Pond Camps, which appeared out of the greenery at the end of a pleasant nine-mile ski from Medawisla. We stayed in log cabins and ate in the kitchen, where fourth-generation owner Eric Stirling cooked on a woodstove. A bearded, congenial man, he gave voice to what I was feeling as I relaxed from the day’s ski: “My hope,” he told me while sipping red wine from a juice glass, “is that skiers take away from here a sense of something that’s been unchanged through the generations.”
Please Note: This article was accurate at the time of publication. When planning a trip, please confirm details by directly contacting any company or establishment you intend to visit.