Huts & Trails: Putting a Little Comfort into Roughing It
Several fishermen cast their flies into western Maine’s misnamed Dead River which – along with a 16-mile-long stretch of exciting white-water rafting – is known for outstanding catches of trout and salmon.Outdoor adventurers pedal mountain bikes over trails that traverse dense pine and white birch forests passing hikers who, like me, prefer to experience nature at a slower pace.
Not far away, people paddle kayaks and canoes past a group of bathers basking in the sun on a remote sandy beach.
Welcome to a typical summer day with Maine Huts & Trails. In the words of its mission statement, that non-profit organization “provides inviting backcountry experiences among Maine’s Western Mountains, inspiring reverence for the Northern Forest, modeling environmental stewardship and strengthening the local economy.”
Residents of, and visitors to, Western Maine are fortunate to have access to such a world-class operation. Maine Huts & Trails has opened 80 miles of pathways that connect four “huts.” They’re the first of what eventually will be as many as a dozen structures connected by a 180-mile trail corridor, spaced at comfortable distances from each other for summer hikers and bikers and winter cross-country skiers and snowshoers.
The fall foliage season provides a special treat for those seeking to immerse themselves in, rather than just viewing from far away, Mother Nature’s annual spectacular Technicolor extravaganza.
Anyone who visits one of these “huts” soon realizes that the word hardly describes those structures. “Lodges” would be a much better fit. Each site consists of a main building that contains a kitchen, dining room, and shower and lavatory facilities. Separate bunk houses offer a combination of semi-private (two beds plus a loft bed) and group sleeping quarters for up to 12 people.
For day visitors out for a stroll on weekends, the reward that awaits them at their destination is a tasty made-from-scratch lunch at budget-stretching prices. After my most recent hike to the Poplar Stream Falls hut with my wife and a friend, we chose from a full menu of sandwiches, several entrees, freshly baked bread and beverages.
For overnight visitors, a full dinner and hot breakfast are included in the price. Typical evening entrees might include braised beef, burritos and a vegan selection, accompanied by soup and sides, and followed by dessert treats. Breakfast may range from French toast with bacon to blueberry pancakes and sausage.
An inviting feature of SUMMER 2019 Shop Stay Dine Play Maine 19 the trails for hikers is that in many places they’re wide enough for two people to walk side-byside. In winter, groomers pack the snow to ease the way for Nordic skiers and snowshoers.
In places the trails run alongside, and occasionally cross bridges over, narrow rivers and narrower streams. Here a path rims a lake shoreline that provides access to canoe and kayak excursions. There, hikers pass a lovely waterfall which creates a pool deep enough for a refreshing — some would say ice cold – dip. Side paths and loops lead to even more remote woodlands, and stone steps built into steep hillsides provide welcome relief for leg muscles.
Given the secluded areas where the trails and huts are located, animal spotting is a favorite pastime. Flagstaff Lake has been home to as many as six nesting pairs of eagles and more than two dozen pairs of nesting loons. Another 36 species of birds have been identified in the vicinity of the Poplar Stream Falls hut. Among four-legged critters that have been seen around the huts and along trails are moose, deer and fox.
If this description leads you to think that the huts and trails experience is all about outdoor exercise of one kind or another, think again. A series of cultural, historic and nature-based workshops is offered, geared to various groups and interests. Some programs are free for overnight guests, while a small fee is charged for others.
Adding to knowledge about the outdoors is a value-added attraction of the Maine Huts & Trails experience. But to me, an even greater appeal is the setting of the huts themselves, and the walks, bike rides, skiing and snowshoeing through the wilderness between them.
Comments in the hut guest books indicate that I’m far from alone in that sentiment. For example, one visitor to the Poplar Stream Falls hut wrote: “It was a great pleasure to enjoy a wonderful feast in such a beautiful setting after a magnificent hike through the woods.”
Another overnight guest admitted that she showed up with an I-pod because she anticipated that there would be little to entertain her at the hut. After settling into the solitude and unspoiled nature around her, she added that she never took the device out of her knapsack.
If you’re interested in sharing that experience, summer rates for an overnight stay, two home-cooked meals and use of the hut facilities begin at $99 per adult and $49.50 for children 15 and younger.
For more information or to make reservations, call (207) 265-2400 or log onto mainehuts.org.
Written By: Victor Block
Victor is an experienced travel journalist who has traveled throughout the United States, and to nearly 80 countries around the world, and written about what he has seen, done and learned. He's a guidebook author and his articles have appeared in newspapers around the country and on websites across the Internet, and have earned him numerous writing awards. He loves to explore new destinations and cultures and uncover off-the-beaten-path attractions.