February 23rd, 2021
3 Winter Hikes in Western Maine for Every Skill Level
In the heart of Sugarloaf country, these winter hikes will get you out into snow-covered forests and fields with views of white-washed peaks, crystal waters and even a frozen waterfall.
Hiking doesn’t have to come to a halt when snow hits the ground. Although winter hiking comes with its challenges and some extra gear, this season, with a little preparation, can be one of the most magical times to hit the trail.
While snowshoes aren’t necessary on these groomed trails, you’ll want to wear sturdy winter boots with good treads, and may want to carry hiking poles and cleats in case of ice. Dress in layers, and have an extra dry layer in your pack. Always be sure to check weather and trail conditions. When the sun goes down, temperatures can drop quickly, so make a plan to be off-trail before dusk.
1. Family Friendly:
Narrow Gauge Pathway
The Narrow Gauge Pathway is a nearly flat trail that meanders along the valley floor with the picturesque Carrabassett River. Built on an old narrow gauge railroad, the wide gravel path makes for easy walking, with plenty of opportunities for breaks to throw stones in the river and enjoy a picnic on benches along the way.
There are a few well-marked entry points along Route 27 in Carrabassett Valley, all affording a similar experience, with quick access to the trail and river where hikers can make an out-and-back walk of any length on the six-mile trail. The Airport Trailhead, behind the Sugarbowl bowling alley, is the southern-most access point. With a very slight incline on the way up, this means the same slight downhill on the return. After passing through a large field, the trail soon hits the river and travels beside its scenic tree-lined shore most of the way.
Poplar Stream Falls
Poplar Stream Falls is a 51-foot waterfall at the confluence of South Brook and Poplar Stream that looks different in every season. Catching it in the height of winter means much of the waterfall is frozen as if suspended in time.
To access the trailhead, park at the Carrabassett Valley town office parking lot, the first left off Carriage Road, since there is no parking at the trailhead. Then walk up Carriage Road and take your first right, going over a small bridge to the trailhead.
Surrounded by the quiet of the snow-covered forest, the pleasant gurgles of Poplar Stream may be all you hear for most of the walk, as the trail climbs gradually uphill with a few minor steep portions, until the rush of water gets louder. You’ll turn the bend and see the falls straight ahead, about two miles in.
Poplar Stream Falls can also be accessed by Maine Huts and Trails Poplar Hut Trail, which is also intermediate.
Stratton Brook Hut via Newton’s Revenge
Part of the 50-mile Maine Huts and Trails network, this trail begins at the Stratton Brook Hut Trailhead off Route 27 in Carrabassett Valley. After the trailhead kiosk, a short connector trail crosses a bridge and joins a small portion of the Narrow Gauge Pathway, which soon meets up on the left with Newton’s Revenge. Don’t let its flat start fool you— soon after a gentle climb, the trail lives up to its name for the final mile. If the climb doesn’t get your heart pumping, then the slope-side views of Sugarloaf Mountain will. At the top, the trail connects to the Stratton Brook Hut service road, which leads you to the hut and 360-views of both Sugarloaf and the Bigelow Range.
This trail is typically groomed, but check the Maine Huts and Trails website for current conditions and watch out for skiers. It’s about three miles from trailhead to hut, which during normal times offers lodging and meals, but is currently closed due to the COVID-19 virus.
If there is no snow or only a light dusting, take Oak Knoll Trail for a more challenging and slightly longer (almost four miles) ascent. As its name suggests, a path of rust brown oak leaves mingle with charming stepping stones to guide your way up its many switchbacks. This trail isn’t groomed and best to avoid in deep snow.
— Story & Photos: Catie Joyce-Bulay. Catie is a Winslow-based freelance writer who recently moved back to her home state. Find her writing on travel, beer and people pursuing their passion at catiejoycebulay.com or Twitter @catiejoycebulay.