XC Skiing: A Fun Way to Get Active
February 23rd, 2021
According to conventional wisdom, the best hiking season runs from May through the end of October. It’s warmer, visually spectacular, and attracts the most amount of in-state and out-of-state visitors, so it’s got to be better, right?
From this hiker’s perspective, not quite.
I have reached the point where I don’t even hike anymore in spring or summer. Fall is an exception (how could one not love autumn hikes, with crisp conditions, bedazzling foliage, and no humidity?) Instead, I have completely fallen in love with winter hiking, for a number of reasons.
Picture going out on a trail walk in the winter the day after a fresh coating of snow to see the way the sun illuminates the snow on the tree branches in such a way that it practically glows. That’s what winter hiking will offer you as you ascend a mountain.
Now, envision rolling your ankle from all the rocks, crevices and divots in the trails. Hiking in the winter is actually easier for this reason, as the snow fills in all the gaps and makes finding purchase easier on your feet, particularly with sturdy winter boots or snowshoes.
Perhaps the best reason to hike in the winter is that there’s something so serene and peaceful about it. It’s quieter, less crowded. While everyone heads to the ski mountains on the weekends, often you’ll have the trails to yourself. True, many a hiker still ventures to the mountains in the winter, but it simply does not compare to the scale of people during the typical hiking season from spring to fall. With a solo hike through the hushed woods, you’re guaranteed tranquility and solitude.
But, hiking in the winter can actually provide a bit of thrill as well, especially when you’re traversing an ice-capped ridgeline or racing against the very limited daylight hours. This is why greater caution must be taken while hiking in this season.
The beauty of winter hiking is that you find yourself walking through a transformed landscape. I truly love hiking on a snowy path and feeling as though I’m immersed in a bonafide winter wonderland, with fresh snow all around me. Or seeing the breath of my hiking companions illuminated by the sun as we make our way to the summit. Reaching the summit and marveling at all the snow-capped trees and surrounding mountains – it’s always something to behold.
And if none that entices you, maybe this will: no bugs!
So gear up with all your best winter outdoor wear, slap on a pair of microspikes, and go hit those snowy trails!
Story by Garrick Hoffman. Garrick is a freelance writer, photographer and actor based in Auburn. Visit his website at GarrickHoffman.com, and follow him on Instagram at @garrickhoffmanphotography, and on Facebook at @ Garrick Hoffman Photography.
Thanks to its perfect location at the gateway to the best alpine skiing, snowboarding, and Nordic skiing in Maine, it’s not surprising the University of Maine at Farmington (UMF) boasts several successful intercollegiate Snow Sports programs: Alpine Skiing (Giant Slalom and Slalom), Freeskiing (Rail, Slopestyle, Skiercross), Nordic Skiing, and Snowboarding (Rail, Slopestyle, Snowboardcross). During the summer and fall months, UMF Snow Sports team members were putting in their dry-land training and are now out on the snow across the Northeast doing what they love.
Over the past several years, the University of Maine at Farmington varsity Snowsports programs have quietly become a national powerhouse. The teams are based at both Sugarloaf and at Farmington’s Titcomb Mountain.
For his efforts, Andrew Willihan, UMF Director of Snowsports and head men’s and women’s Alpine coach, was named the 2022 U.S. Collegiate Ski and Snowboard Association (USCSA) National Coach of the Year. He also received the Eastern Region Coach of the Year award in 2018.
Willihan, a 2006 UMF graduate, completed his sixth season at the helm of the men’s and women’s Alpine teams. He oversees all UMF ski and snowsports programs: Men’s and Women’s Alpine, Nordic, and Snowboard / Freeski. His efforts in recent years to improve the caliber of UMF’s training and competition opportunities at Sugarloaf has positioned UMF’s teams for great achievements – now and into the future.
Last season, Farmington sent four competitors to the USCSA National Championships at Lake Placid, New York. Ryan Brueninghaus, Samuel Scheff and Carson Theriault, combined to finish sixth in the men’s Freeski team combined — UMF’s best showing in men’s Freeski at the USCSA national championships. And Women’s Nordic skier Mullein Francis finished 27th among individual competitors at the Nationals.
On the Alpine slopes, four UMF skiers Simon Spear, Abbey Landry, Zach Berliner and Jacob Roy took All-Reynolds Division honors, with Berliner finishing seventh in the Giant Slalom at the USCSA Eastern Championships at Sugarloaf.
With 1,600 students, UMF is a small college, but it has long been a powerhouse in the collegiate ski and snowboard scene, providing its student-athletes the opportunity to compete on a local, regional, and national level. For ski and snowboard minded students who want to compete at a collegiate level, the University of Maine at Farmington provides a nationally recognized college education at a competitive price, while training and racing at the best resorts in the Northeast.
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The 2023 U.S. Collegiate Ski & Snowboard National Championships will be held March 6-11 at Mammoth Mountain, California. (https://www.uscsa.org/2023nationals.html)
For many folks, being outdoors is more of a lifestyle than simply a hobby. There is something sacred about embracing the elements, despite the season. Fortunately, in Maine, there’s always something to do outside. As the summer dew starts to solidify to fall frosts, people need to start thinking about the best ways to keep warm during winter. Staying active is one of the best ways to do that, especially via cross-country (XC) skiing, which is an excellent cardiovascular exercise.
Also referred to as “Nordic skiing,” cross-country skiing offers Mainers and visitors an opportunity for a more casual experience than downhill skiing, depending on where they live in the state. Downhill skiing, or “Alpine skiing,” can entail long drives and lodging expenses, making it more of an excursion than an afternoon activity. And not everyone lives next to a ski mountain; however, the chances are higher that a XC trail system is much closer. As agriculture yields to a wintery wonderland, several Maine farms welcome people on their properties to enjoy the fields, trails, and even a warm beverage or a meal.
Smiling Hill Farm in Westbrook, well known for its quality milk, offers XC skiers of all levels 25 kilometers of trails. According to their website, the system consists of “steep drops at ‘Holstein Hill,’ gently rolling fields, and old winding logging roads.”
Opened in 1720, Smiling Hill farm began welcoming XC skiers in the 1990s, and when conditions are favorable, the skiing is lovely. After a snowfall of four inches or more, the farm grooms its trails into two tracks to allow for optimal classical XC skiing, when one’s skis move back and forth driving forward from the hips. There is also “skate skiing” when the skiers move their feet as if ice-skating or rollerblading, utilizing the ungroomed portion of the trail. They offer equipment rentals and have partnered with Winter Kids to allow parents to use the app to get discounts for their kiddos. Their Ice Cream Barn is open year-round from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. and their lunch café is open 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. serving up sandwiches and hot chocolate. Just what you need to top off a good day of skiing.
Pineland Farms in New Gloucester offers an extensive trail system with equipment rentals and private ski lessons for varying levels. Their superb café and market serve as a great place to warm up, dry off, eat, and then stock up on fresh meat, cheese, and produce.
Maine Outdoor Wellness Center in Turner is a non-profit organization partnered with Nezinscot Farm that offers XC skiing on an extensive trail network across 300 acres. They offer a few basic rental options and operate on a donation basis, but check the website for more details. The non-profit honors Roy Varney, the family’s son, who died in a farming accident in 2019. Varney was a two-time state champion in XC skiing at Leavitt High School.
At one time XC skiing was much more prolific than today, partly due to warmer temperatures. Preston Noon, Operations Manager from the New England Nordic Skiing Association, (NENSA) said, “XC Skiing is difficult for farmers to sustain over multiple years of light snow. Even Pineland, with some of the best trails around, still has trouble with snow. Portland Nordic, a volunteer skiing organization, is working on getting snowmaking at their location at Riverside.” According to Noon, there once were more than 200 Nordic ski centers in New England. Today, it’s almost 10 percent of that.
Smiling Hill Farm also has had a similar experience. “As a kid, I remember having boatloads of snow!” said Hilary Knight, Smiling Hill’s Barnyard Manager. “Now, we get rain. We had many recent winters where we didn’t open for more than a few days at a time. Mother Nature is not always on our side, unfortunately.”
These challenges make it all the more important to get out and hit the trails after a heavy snowfall. XC skiing is such a great way to keep yourself active and witness the pristine beauty of winter.
Story by J.G. Breerwood, teacher of English and Creative Writing at Lewiston High School. His first novel, Sinking Dixie, was published in 2020. He welcomed his daughter Elsie to the family in June.
“The learning curve for ice climbing is easier than rock climbing because you can put your crampons and ice axes almost anywhere,” says Tierney, who has been guiding and teaching ice climbing since the 1980s. He has even taken clients to western China to tackle first ascents of difficult ice climbs and mountain peaks. Tierney is one of 80 fully-certified international mountain guides working in the US (IFMGA) and the only one residing in Maine.
If you are interested in learning to ice climb, instruction is essential. Hiring a professional guide is the surest and fastest way of learning to ice climb safely. Tierney’s school, Acadia Mountain Guides Climbing School, offers daily instruction in Acadia National Park, Camden Hills, and the Sugarloaf and Sunday River regions as well as over the border in the White Mountains. The school is fully accredited by the AMGA to provide rock, ice, mountaineering or backcountry skiing instruction or guiding. Start swinging those ice tools today!
Ice Climbing Courses Winter 2022-2023
KATAHDIN 2-DAY WINTER ASCENTS – $400
MT WASHINGTON ASCENT – $280
Half- or Full-Day of Ice Climbing in Grafton Notch State Park, White Mountain National Forest, and other areas throughout Maine: Call for availability (207) 866-7562.
You can get that New England feeling of ice climbing in Acadia and Camden without the drive to Mt. Washington Valley.
(207) 866-7562 | ACADIAMOUNTAINGUIDES.COM
The centerpiece of winter sports in Bethel is Sunday River, with eight mountain peaks connected by 135+ trails and glades that are accessed by 15 lifts. It’s a family-friendly place, where kids love the slope-side entertainment and snow tubing at South Ridge and teens appreciate the six terrain parks. Cross-country skiers find trails and equipment right in town at Bethel Nordic Ski Center, at the start of 30km of classic and skate tracks, through forests and across fields with views of the Mahoosuc Mountains. Miles of snowshoe and fat bike trails and a skating rink make Bethel Village a one-stop winter recreation center. Plenty of scenic trails are available, too, for those who prefer to explore the woods and fields on a snowmobile.
For rooms, dining and an après-ski scene in one place, The Sudbury Inn is a family-friendly inn with a French bistro and lively Suds Pub, featuring more than 29 beers on tap. The free Mountain Explorer shuttle takes skiers right to Sunday River and home again, so you can leave your car right at the inn.
There’s plenty of winter fun to be discovered in Bethel. To learn more, stop by the Bethel Area Chamber of Commerce at Station Place in the center of town, or call (207) 824-2282.
If you spend the colder months wistfully glancing at your camping gear and dreaming of nights close to nature, you’ve been missing out on a winter adventure that encapsulates all the best elements of camping without the fear of frostbite. Explore a plethora of yurts available to rent all across Maine.
Made from a circular-shaped wooden latticework, covered in canvas and typically featuring a woodstove and chimney, the traditional yurt originated from Central Asia, where nomadic groups from Mongolia, Siberia, and Turkey created the structure – then covered it in animal hides – as a hardy yet moveable dwelling to traverse the steppes. The modern iteration can be found tucked away in nature all over Maine, providing an elevated kind of camping experience thanks to its roomy interior and heating capabilities. Many rentals across the state also enjoy proximity to the ocean or a trail network, offering the opportunity for winter walks, snowshoeing, and cross-country skiing before you settle into your digs for the night.
Even with a stove and a bed, you’re still just a sheet of canvas away from nature. Many yurt rentals will require you to light and maintain your own woodstove. Therefore, it’s essential that at least one member of your party has a working familiarity with wood-burning stoves. Once the stove is burning efficiently, you should stay cozy inside the structure. Nonetheless, it’s smart to bring your headlamps, camping gear, potable water, and your warmest clothing – even if it’s just so you can step outside and marvel at the brilliance of the night sky in winter.
$250-$265 per night
Perched on a granite outcrop overlooking the winter forest, Birdsong Yurt is a four-season yurt that melds the appeal of the great outdoors with some seriously luxurious amenities. Located in Woodstock and surrounded by mountains, including the far-off lights from Mount Abrams ski slopes, Birdsong is a romantic getaway for any sporty couple in search of winter adventure. The interior is a study in modern-rustic chic, complete with sliding barn doors, sage green kitchen cabinets, and mid-century furniture. “Guests staying at Birdsong yurt in the winter can expect a quiet and cozy stay,” said owner Shari Kilton. “We have a full kitchen and bathroom – so there’s no running out in the cold to an outhouse!” With a pellet stove, a king-sized bed, a television, and WiFi access, Birdsong ensures there’s no sense of “roughing it” for a night. But, that’s not all. Step outside and take your pick whether to admire the panoramic views from the raised deck, fire pit, or – most decadently – the hot tub. After a long day on the slopes of Mount Abram or Sunday River, there’s no sweeter place to return.
Maine Forest Yurts
$150 per night
A family of winter enthusiasts can find all the activities and accommodations they could imagine on the banks of Runaround Pond in Durham. Maine Forest Yurts operates a year-round campground with four large yurts and more than 100 acres of wilderness just waiting for exploration. Pack your cross-country skis and snowshoes and hit the trails or glide across the pond on skates. No matter how you spend your time, the comforts of either Fisher Ridge, Hemlock Ridge, Hideaway, or Zen Den yurts will welcome and warm you after a long day in the crisp winter air. Each yurt comes fully furnished with a kitchen, composting toilet, and woodstove amenities. The simple and spacious interior is laid with pine flooring and furnished with bunk beds, a futon, and a dining table. The setup is dog-friendly, so the entire family can vacation together.
Sugar Ridge Yurt
Hidden Valley, Jefferson
From $96 per night
Tucked away on a ridge in the forested preserve on the banks of Little Dyer Pond, Sugar Ridge Yurt is one of a handful of rustic cabin and tent sites managed by the Hidden Valley Nature Center. A thousand-acre parcel of contiguous forest, Hidden Valley is an important site of environmental education and recreation in Midcoast Maine, hosting student research, sustainable forestry, and avid trail runners. An overnight stay at Sugar Ridge offers a rare chance to immerse yourself in the beauty of this landscape. The yurt is accessed by a half-mile walk or ski along groomed trails through woodland and along waterways. The yurt setup contains four bunk beds, making it the perfect affordable winter escape for a group of friends in search of a quiet night in nature. Just make sure you come prepared: the woodstove is the only heat source and amenities are limited to an outhouse. Those willing to tough it out will be rewarded with a night sky that is free from light pollution and a perfect winter morning waking up among evergreens and the snow.
Frost Mountain Yurts Brownfield
$125 to $140 per night
Frost Mountain owner Scott Moulton describes a stay in his six all-season yurts as “camping at its finest,” allowing you to enjoy the outdoor experience without “lugging in any of the equipment.” Located on 57 acres of wooded hills just south of Fryeburg and a short drive from Mount Washington Valley, Frost Mountain has six pet-friendly yurts tucked away among the trees. Each includes three bunk beds and two pull-out couches, making them well-suited to larger groups. The yurts are well stocked with a woodstove, gas stove and grill, and kitchen utensils should you feel like rustling up a feast, although you’ll need to be comfortable without running water and electricity (gas lamps provided). Once you’re settled, you won’t need your car to access winter activities. Frost Mountain includes a private network of XC ski and snowshoe trails, as well as “great sledding in the field through the apple trees,” according to Moulton. “We’re also directly connected to the international snowmobile trail network that is open to skiers and trekkers for longer loops.” Only one mile down the road you’ll discover the trailhead for Peary Mountain and a panoramic view of Mount Washington and the Presidential Range.
Acadia Yurts & Wellness Center
From $181 to $221 per night
Experience Mount Desert Island from a different perspective. Acadia Yurts combines earthy accommodations with the luxury of a wellness center, featuring onsite massages, a yoga room, an infrared sauna, and even a flotation room! Opt for ultimate comfort with Acadia’s exclusive 30-foot yurt, resplendent with colorful furnishings and generous amenities, including both an enclosed and a lofted bedroom, full kitchen, and bathroom – and perhaps most luxurious, a dishwasher. Alternatively, there are four 24-foot yurt rentals that certainly won’t make you feel like you’re slumming it. Each has room for four people, as well as a full bathroom and kitchenette. Located in the heart of Seal Cove, you’re just minutes from the coast and all of the vistas and natural glory that MDI has to offer.
Story by Saisie Moore. Saisie is a freelance writer and editor living in Portland, Maine.
Maximize your sightseeing in Portland and save money with one of Portland Discovery’s exceptional combo tours! Simply choose a cruise and combine it with a trolley tour for a fabulous land and sea adventure! Take the tours in any way that fits your schedule, just be sure that when you choose your times that the boat tour and city tour times don’t overlap. For example, many people will choose the 10:00 a.m. Portland City and Lighthouse Tour then enjoy lunch and shopping in the Old Port before boarding an afternoon cruise. To see the best of Portland, visit Portlanddiscovery.com or call 207-774-0808.
Portland Paddle offers guided sea kayaking trips and paddleboard rentals at the East End Beach on the Portland waterfront. It’s amazing how rugged and wild the coastline gets just a short paddle away from the bustling Portland harbor.
The great variety of islands in Casco Bay offer endless possibilities for exploration. Look out for seals, lighthouses, wave-battered cliffs, seabirds, hidden beaches, wooden schooners, and 19th-century granite forts. Portland Paddle’s guided trips and lessons are led by licensed Maine Guides who are passionate about sharing their love of sea kayaking and their knowledge of the history and ecology of the Maine coast. Multi-day trips, advanced paddling lessons, and rentals are also offered at Portland Paddle.
The Great Lost Bear has been a Portland institution since opening in 1979. The Bear is located about two miles from Portland’s touristy Old Port but well worth the journey across town to the mysterious Woodfords Corner. The Great Lost Bear features an enormous, eclectic family-friendly menu with something for everyone, all served in an entertaining atmosphere. They have added more taps as new breweries open throughout the Northeast. Now, with the craft beer revolution in full throttle, GLB offers an amazing selection of hard-to-find beers with most of them brewed in Maine. Come taste some of the freshest local beer around at the GLB!
Portland Schooner Company has been making memories for Casco Bay visitors since 2002. Owned and operated by husband and wife team, Scott Reischmann and Michelle Thresher, they offer an authentic, Old World sailing experience from May through October aboard Portland’s only historic windjammers. Whether you’re looking to experience the Portland waterfront from a unique perspective or just hoping to step back to a simpler time for a couple hours, Portland Schooner Company offers an experience you don’t want to miss.
The adventure begins aboard one of their classic wooden schooners, Wendameen or Bagheera. Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, both schooners were designed by famed naval architect, John G. Alden, in the early 1900s and built by some of the best craftsmen in the world at the shipyards of East Boothbay, Maine. Two-hour sails depart from the Maine State Pier in Portland’s Old Port and are offered four times daily, presenting visitors with a perfect vantage point for viewing Portland’s unforgettable sights and sounds – from lighthouses and seabirds to seals and the rocky coastline. The friendly, professional crew is not only there to provide you with a safe trip … they’re happy to share a bit of Casco Bay history and trivia. You’re invited to join in any way you’d like: hoisting the sails alongside a deckhand, taking a turn at the ship’s wheel, or just relaxing and enjoying the ocean breeze and salt air. And you’re welcome to bring food and drink, including beer and wine, aboard. Though not required, reservations are strongly encouraged.
If you’ve got more time to spend on Casco Bay, Portland Schooner Company also offers charters for family or corporate functions, lunchtime lobster bakes on scenic Cow Island, and overnight excursions where you can spend an evening nestled in a quiet island anchorage.
Kon Asian Bistro has a unique modern look and features 10 hibachi tables with amazing entertainment as your meals are prepared right in front of you. They also have a private party room available.
Over the last several years there has been an enormous surge in the recreational use of the Maine outdoors, from the rocky coast to the big woods to the mountain peaks. More people of all ages, interests, and abilities than ever before have discovered the health and fitness benefits of time well spent exercising and having fun in the woods and on the waters of our beautiful Pine Tree State.
But there are downsides to this recreation boom, like overcrowded beaches, jammed parking lots, unauthorized campfires, trashed campsites, and a marked increase in trail erosion. There’s more garbage and litter, unwanted noise, improper disposal of human and pet waste, and an alarming rise in emergency calls and rescues.
These unfortunate problems are negatively impacting our natural resources, degrading the experience for visitors and residents alike, and causing considerable distress among land managers, property owners, and tourism officials, becoming a wholly unsustainable situation.
“After COVID-19 hit and the pandemic continued to spread, we saw an enormous rise in the number of people out there, reports of property damage, the many complaints and concerns,” said Steve Lyons, the director of Maine’s Office of Tourism. “About 95 percent of Maine’s forest land is privately owned and about half of that is open to the public through the generosity of the landowners. When the Maine Warden Service reported a substantial increase in landowner requests for “Access By Permission Only” signs, it was a clear indication of concern over user numbers and behavior.
That’s when outdoor and tourism leaders around the state rallied together and approached the MOT to develop a message to help ameliorate the problems. The result was the Look Out for ME campaign, the goal of which is “to ensure that visitors and residents alike venture out safely and responsibly with a great respect for the land we all love and cherish.” Per MOT’s website, the initiative is a blueprint for “how we can all do our part to conserve the state’s natural resources, season after season, and for generations to come.”
The Look Out for ME message is pretty straightforward:
Check out your intended destination in advance and know the rules and regulations. Travel only on designated trails and roads. Visit places outside of peak hours and always have a Plan B to avoid disappointment. Don’t transport firewood and clean and dry your boots and boats to reduce the spread of invasive species. Be careful with fire, use only designated sites, and don’t harm green trees.
But wait, there’s more.
Don’t litter, pack out your garbage and that of others less thoughtful. Bag and dispose of your dog’s waste similarly. Practice proper hygiene: know how and where to dig a cat hole for poop and take the used toilet paper and wipes out with you in a plastic bag. Be personally prepared by carrying the “Ten Essentials” (a handful of emergency items that should always be in your pack). Choose an activity that fits your experience and fitness level and let someone responsible at home know your plans.
Prepare For Getting Lost or Injured
There are a lot of people in the Maine woods these days trying a host of recreational activities for the first time and they are often approaching these pursuits unprepared and getting into trouble. This poses an undue risk for the enthusiasts themselves, impacts the environment, and creates extra headaches for land managers and public safety officials.
“Maine is a big, beautiful place,” said Andy Cutko, the Director of the Maine Bureau of Parks and Lands. “But it’s also remote and wild, so it’s far too easy to get into trouble if you aren’t properly prepared, and help can be a long way off in terms of both hours and miles.”
Based on trends in campground reservations to date, Cutko expects that 2022 will be another record year in the Maine outdoors and he’s hoping that the Look Out for ME effort will be a big help in getting the message out to visitors, preferably well in advance of when they get here.
“We want people to enjoy the outdoors safely and responsibly, and to leave the state better than when they arrived,” said Lyons.
That’s a good thing for Maine, Mainers, and visitors alike, now and for future generations. Look Out for ME is another important step in striving to achieve a healthy and sustainable balance of tourism, natural resources, economic development, and residential quality of life. Let’s all do our part.
To learn more about Look Out for ME, find great resources for planning a safe, responsible, and enjoyable outdoor adventure, and discover ways you can help spread the word, visit the Maine Office of Tourism at visitmaine.com/look-out-for-me.
Story and Photos by Carey Kish of Mt. Desert Island, ME. Cary is freelance writer, avid hiker and beer drinker, and the author of the new book, Beer Hiking New England (available later this year).
Maine’s Rangeley Lakes Region includes more than the 10-square-mile lake itself, extending to five other large lakes and hundreds of smaller lakes and ponds. Add rivers and streams, two mountains – Saddleback and The Horn — just east of the lake, and mile after mile of forests and what do you get? A paradise for those who love the great outdoors and all the activities it invites. Fishing, swimming, kayaking, canoeing, hiking, climbing, camping, cycling, wildlife watching, or just lazing beside the lake – whatever your summer bliss, you’ll find it here.
Hikers and climbers have their choice of woodland trails or several mountains. Bald Mountain Hiking Trail, between Rangeley and Mooselookmeguntic lakes, climbs to an altitude of 2,443 feet for 360-degree views over both lakes.
AJ Cycles (207-864-2850) on Maine Street in downtown Rangeley rents and sells fat bikes. They are a full-service bike shop, if your bike needs a tune-up or repairs. Take a rental from AJ’s to the extensive network of trails at the Rangeley Lakes Trail Center.
Golfers will appreciate the scenic Mingo Springs Golf Course, a favorite of both beginners and scratch players. Although the course is relatively short, it’s challenging, and birders love it for the variety of species that nest alongside the course.
All the lakes and ponds surrounded by forest make a prime wildlife habitat, and moose-watching and photography is one of the region’s most popular activities.
With lakes on every side, it’s hard not to spend some time enjoying water sports. Lakeside Park, on Main Street in Rangeley, has a free sandy beach with lifeguards, picnic tables and changing rooms, while Rangeley Lake State Park, on the lake’s south shore, has a beach with lifeguards; it charges a small day-use fee.
To explore the lakes and ponds and enjoy the wildlife that make their homes on the shore, rent a canoe or kayak at Ecopelagicon Kayak Rentals on Pond Street in Rangeley. Single and double kayaks, canoes, and standup paddleboards can be rented by the hour, day, or week. Ecopelagicon also offers tours and lessons in all three sports.
You can find equipment and clothing for all your water sports and other outdoor activities at Rangeley Region Sports Shop in Rangeley or at Rivers Edge Sports Shop in Oquossoc.
The area has plenty more lodging options. The Rangeley Inn and Tavern, located in the center of Rangeley, and has renovated accommodations in the historic inn or at the Haley Pond Lodge on the waterfront. All rooms feature a private bathroom, satellite TV, WiFi, and a coffee maker. Choose from rooms with one king bed or two queen beds, or suites with one or two bedrooms. Some rooms offer a mini-fridge and microwave. Sit down to a relaxed breakfast in the elegant historic dining room or warm up by the fire in the rustic tavern.
Take a stroll down Main Street to a number of local shops, galleries, and eateries. If you’re packing for an excursion, Rangeley’s shops feature a variety of items to suit your needs.
Caryn Dreyfuss can help you find your own little spot of heaven in the Rangeley region, whether it’s a cozy cabin in the woods or a family-sized lakeside retreat.
A trail winds through the woods, around clusters of swaying ferns and lichen-covered boulders. Golden mushrooms dot the mossy forest floor. And a brown bird with a speckled chest sings an ethereal tune.
The Maine wilderness is full of diverse beauty. Every delicate wildflower and fluttering butterfly has a name and story. If you’re trying to learn more about nature, it can sometimes be overwhelming. Where do you even start?
How About a Game?
Outdoor scavenger hunts can help you become better acquainted with nature while honing your observation skills. They’re also a great activity for children, keeping them active and engaged while spending time outside.
How to Create an Outdoor Scavenger Hunt
Outdoor scavenger hunts can be designed for any age group or skill level. While some involve hiding objects, such as an Easter egg hunt, others are simply about finding items that already exist in nature, such as plants, rocks, and seashells. You don’t even need to know the names of plants and animals to create one. For example, design a hunt in which you search for the colors of the rainbow in nature. Or look for different shapes, textures, or aromas. You can even create an outdoor scavenger hunt using different household items, according to Hazel Stark, co-founder of the Maine Outdoor School.
“Bring out a Q-tip or toothbrush, then try to find something in nature that matches the shape or reminds you of the item,” said Stark.
During the hunt, one person can verbally announce items for everyone to find – one at a time – or participants can carry a visual reference such as a list or grid of items on a sheet of paper.
“It can be like scavenger hunt bingo where you try to find all the things on the sheet or five in a row,” said Stark. “That tends to work best for kids who need a little more motivation. It’s a bit of an incentive because they want to win.”
Creating a scavenger hunt sheet can be a fun art project and an opportunity for learning vocabulary words. Children who haven’t yet learned to read can represent items with photos or pictures. And don’t forget to leave some room on the sheet to write notes or draw pictures of what you find in nature.
Ideal Scavenger Hunt Locations
Any outdoor space, whether it’s a vast tract of forestland or a tiny, fenced-in backyard, can serve as a wonderful place for an outdoor scavenger hunt.
Having a scavenger hunt in your backyard or at a local park can help you develop a greater sense of place right at home. The game might lead you to notice a bird’s nest under your porch or a patch of wildflowers in your yard that you never noticed before.
“It’s a cool way to get people to start to notice details and distinctions in nature, which is the first step to realizing that there’s a lot of diversity out there,” said Stark. “If you have any interest in foraging or hunting or anything like that, you have to develop skills in observation.”
A scavenger hunt played away from home can be especially exciting because it may introduce you to new habitats and species. And because it’s such a low-impact game, it can be played in just about any public outdoor destination. In fact, a scavenger hunt is a great way to keep children happy while walking on hiking trails, though the family-friendly activity may slow your pace.
If visiting a public property to conduct your scavenger hunt, be sure to follow posted rules or guidelines. Many property owners ask that you remain on established trails at all times. So, while you’re searching for something in nature that’s “squishy” or “star-shaped,” be sure not to wander off the beaten path.
Scavenger Hunt Rules
When playing a game, it’s easy to get caught up in the task at hand. But it’s important to keep a few rules in mind – and communicate those rules with everyone who is participating in the scavenger hunt.
Chiefly, try to leave the wilderness as you found it. Or, if you find some trash to pick up, make that part of the rules that you leave the wilderness even better than you found it.
“When out in nature, we’re not picking anything or ripping leaves off plants,” said Jessica Decke, camp director of Tanglewood 4-H Camp and Learning Centers in Lincolnville. “We’re handling things with care and being mindful about where we put our feet down so we don’t trample anything.”
At Tanglewood, campers often participate in scavenger hunts and other activities that strengthen observation skills. As a part of those exercises, children are taught Leave No Trace principles so they can reduce their impact on the environment.
Among those principles is the directive to respect wildlife as well as other people who are enjoying the same outdoor location as you. You can do this by keeping your voice down and giving everyone plenty of space.
During the hunt, you can record your discoveries by taking photos, sketching pictures, writing down notes, or simply checking off items on your sheet. And at the end of the game, everyone can come together and share what they’ve found.
Aislinn Sarnacki is a registered Maine guide and the author of three hiking guidebooks, Family-Friendly Hikes in Maine, Maine Hikes Off the Beaten Path, and Dog-Friendly Hikes in Maine. Follow her writing, photography, and guiding services at www.mainenaturehikes.com.
Coastal Kittery is home to numerous factory outlet shopping malls, Kittery Naval Shipyard, and an extensive Maine Tourism Information Center. Visit local Chamber of Commerce offices for more information about various towns and events throughout the region.
The quartet of beach towns —Kennebunkport, Wells, Ogunquit, and York — couldn’t offer more variety if they tried. Wells and York are all about families kicking back. Kennebunkport and Ogunquit are known as more high-end enclaves, although their beautiful beaches are open to all and each offers a wide range of lodging and dining choices.
For a traditional shore dinner go to Mabel’s Lobster Claw (mabelslobster.com). If you’re lucky, the signature Lobster Milanese – grilled shrimp and lobster – will be on the day’s menu. On Route 1, taste craft beers at Sebago Brewing (sebagobrewing.com).
Get a different view of Cape Porpoise or the Kennebunk River on a guided tour with Coastal Maine Kayak and Bike (coastalmainekayak.com) in Kennebunkport or join them for paddleboard lessons or tours. They welcome all skill levels and offer bike and scooter rentals, too.
The 220 grassy sites at Sea-Vu Campground (sea-vucampground.com) include shaded tent sites as well as RV sites with full hook-ups, TV and WiFi. Everyone loves the setting overlooking the ocean and families appreciate the large pool and mini-golf course, as well as the trolley stop at the front gate for car-free beach access.
Experience a different coastal environment at the Rachel Carson National Wildlife Refuge on Route 9. A mile-long interpretive trail winds through a coastal forest and along tidal marshes where sightings of heron, egrets, and sea birds are common (www.fws.gov/refuge/rachel_carson). Just across a tidal creek, the Wells Reserve at Laudholm has seven miles of walking trails (www.wellsreserve.org).
The Maine Diner on Route 1 in Wells is no secret. For more than 30 years it’s been serving fried clams, chowder, blueberry pie, and all the other Maine coast favorites (www.MaineDiner.com). Get more suggestions of things to do at the Wells Chamber of Commerce visitor center or check (www.wellschamber.com).
Not all of the fun is within the sight of the sea. Head inland to Sanford to find Mountain View Golf Range, a family-friendly center with mini-golf, a driving range and batting cages (mountainviewgolfrange.com).
York is a family favorite, not only for its beaches (descriptively named Long and Short Sands), but for Maine’s most iconic lighthouse, Nubble Light at Cape Neddick. Add The Golden Rod,
www.thegoldenrod.com, famed over a century for its saltwater taffy and New England’s only zoo/amusement park at York’s Wild Kingdom, www.yorkswildkingdom.com, and you have a winner.
You can’t camp closer to the beach than at Libby’s Oceanside Camping, www.libbysoceancamping.com in York Harbor, overlooking the mile-and-a-half Long Sands. Owned by the third generation of the family that founded it in 1923, Libby’s offers full hook-ups, TV, and free WiFi, but best of all are the ocean views from nearly every site and direct beach access.
— Story by Bobbie Randolph
Bobbie writes about her favorite Maine experiences, from camping and kayaking to skiing and dogsledding.
It’s no secret that being out in nature calms us, but many of us spend hours indoors, staring at screens, away from natural light. While there is much focus on the physical consequences of this lifestyle—heart health, obesity, and muscle strain—not enough emphasis is put on its effects on our mental health.
Studies have shown that too much screen time and lack of natural light can lead to depression, cause anxiety, and deplete both empathy and altruism. Just 30 minutes of exposure to nature—a quiet walk in a park, sitting in a garden, or looking at a panoramic view—can significantly reduce levels of the stress hormone cortisol.
Stress, depression, and anxiety are risk factors for serious mental health issues. But spending time reconnecting with nature can soothe stress and get you back to feeling your best.
Stunning coastlines, lush forests, crystal lakes, and cascading waterfalls offer countless opportunities to connect with nature and soothe the soul. Here are six.
1. Mount Katahdin, Baxter State Park
Maine’s highest mountain peak, Mount Katahdin, is more than 5,000 feet tall and as breathtaking from the ground as it is from the summit. The elevation and weather can make it a challenging hike, but even being in its presence is enough to rejuvenate the soul and free the mind.
The magical Vaughn Woods, located in Hallowell, is often nicknamed ‘Hobbitland’ because it resembles the incredible descriptions of J.R.R. Tolkien’s Shire hobbit homeland. This beautiful nature reserve has many trails lined with red oaks, white pines, beech trees, and hemlocks. Each season offers a different activity, but it’s ideal for summer picnics. The fresh air will go a long way to clear a busy mind.
3. Camden Hills State Park, Camden
Just a short drive up the coast from Camden, this nature-lover’s paradise is gorgeous in any season. Hike the trails and marvel at the breathtaking views of Camden Harbor and Penobscot Bay. Follow in the footsteps of renowned poet Edna St. Vincent Millay who penned “Renascence,” after her own visit here. What will the trails inspire you to create?
Located in Evan’s Notch, Rattlesnake Pool is a granite bowl that has been patiently flensed from the solid rock over millennia by the running waters, pebbles, and stones. The water is crystal clear and icy cold. The mosses lining the base have given it the nickname of the Emerald Pool. Although the water is frigid year-round, that hasn’t stopped it from becoming a popular swimming hole; an icy dip can do wonders for the mind. Nearby waterfalls add a beautiful soundtrack to complete the ultimate sensory experience.
5. The Bar Island Trail, Bar Island
Explore this 2.1-mile out-and-back trail near Bar Harbor, Maine. While only accessible during low tide, the Bar Island Trail is worth the trip. Its rock pools teem with small sea life and its sand bar makes the terrain soft and easy on the feet. There is nothing like feeling beach sand between your toes as cool water surrounds them.
6. Smalls Falls, West Central Franklin
Located on the Sandy River, Smalls Falls—one more than 100 waterfalls in Maine—is easily accessible, allowing a whole day of indulging in nature’s beauty. There are multiple falls, but the main one features a 54-foot drop. The sound of the cascading water, the feel of the spray, and the view of the natural beauty make this a sensory smorgasbord.
Maine offers an array of locations to get back to nature and soothe your tired soul. Taking time for self-care and mindfulness will go along to make your life’s journey less treacherous.
— Story & Photos: Stephen Bitsoli.
The rugged beauty of Maine’s landscape offers a generous and diverse array of climbing opportunities, from coastal crags to granite slabs. Don’t let the gear, jargon, or even heights intimidate you. With the right guidance and preparation, outdoor rock climbing can be an accessible and exhilarating experience for family members of every skill level. In return, you’ll discover a sport that offers a hugely rewarding physical and mental workout that also happens to bring you face-to-face with the wild beauty of Maine without disrupting its wildlife or natural ecosystem.
Whether you’re a total beginner or a seasoned indoor climbing enthusiast, the rock gym is the first step in your climbing journey. EVO Rock Gym and Fitness Center, located on Warren Avenue in Portland, opened in 2015 as an evolution of the former Maine Rock Gym organization. Its knowledgeable staff can introduce you to the gear and how to keep safe. First-timers will have to complete an introductory course and pass a belay test to learn how to safely secure a climbing harness and keep a partner safe on a top rope. With the right experience under your belt (or harness), you can sign up for EVO’s Gym-to-Crag courses, specifically designed to transition indoor climbers to outdoor settings. From top-rope anchors to rappelling, students can gain confidence in essential skills.
According to EVO, “Climbing outside is an amazing, expanding experience and is highly recommended for all climbers. Gym-to-Crag sessions focus on moving from the gym to the outdoor realm.”
Equinox Guiding Service unites a collection of passionate local guides with a wealth of experience to lead climbers of all abilities on adventures in Camden, “where the mountains meet the sea,” and in areas of Acadia National Park. The full- and half-day excursions are pitched at all levels, including beginner’s classes, guided tours for visiting climbers, and even ice climbing in the winter. Camden Hills State Park offers a friendly introduction to the sport just a couple of miles from downtown, making it a unique and accessible day trip activity. In addition, young enthusiasts can take advantage of the summer climbing program to immerse themselves in the sport and local climbing community. “This year we’re offering a summer camp for kids,” says Equinox Guide Noah Kleiner. “Running five afternoons a week through July, it’s a great opportunity for kids to experience climbing first-hand.”
Further Downeast, Acadia Mountain Guides Climbing School is the one-stop destination for all aspects of climbing, from learning the ropes to avalanche education and wilderness medicine. Founded in 1993, the school is run by Jon Tierney, Maine’s only fully-credentialed rock climbing, alpine, and ski mountaineering guide. The school runs two offices in Bar Harbor and Orono, but its fully trained guides travel around Acadia and across the state to lead climbing and wilderness excursions throughout the year. First-timers are welcome and well-catered to by Tierney’s team of skilled staff. “Anybody can climb!” he says. “It’s our job to find the terrain where everyone can be successful, where a whole family can have a good time. We work hard to find those spots that offer a great experience for everyone.” Classes might begin from the base of the cliff or with a rappel, all essential skills students will practice with their guides in advance. With the support of your guide and their instruction, even the wariest beginner can thrive on the rocks. “There’s risk in climbing, but there’s risk in everything,” says Tierney. “People generally fear things they don’t understand – but a little education dispels that.”
If you’re in Acadia this summer, AMGCS offers half-day adventures on the island’s coastal cliffs, where every climbing hold offers a postcard-perfect view. Full-day classes can be booked at sites across the state, in locations such as Bethel, Greenville, and The Forks. You don’t even have to venture too far off the beaten path with climbing opportunities in North Conway, Camden, and Clifton.
“Most people don’t realize there’s great climbing only 20 minutes outside of Bangor,” says Tierney. The guides ensure each participant is outfitted out with the right gear before getting started, including a hard helmet, a fitted harness, and climbing shoes.
Your instructor will familiarize you with the ropes and belay devices that will keep you safe. “We take a holistic approach to climbing,” says Tierney. “It’s about more than just getting up the rocks. We teach students how belay and rappelling work so they can take the skills home with them.” Your day will be spent up close and personal with the rugged splendor of nature and Maine’s breathtaking scenery – each new hold rewarding you with a higher vantage. Even better, climbing is a low-impact sport that can be enjoyed in relative harmony with nature.
The world of outdoor climbing is a dizzying one, filled with technical terms and gear used by passionate people who travel the world for the sport. But it’s also a welcoming and supportive community where families can start at the bottom as beginners and bond on the journey to the top.
Story by Saisie Moore. Saisie is a freelance writer and editor based in Portland, Maine.
It’s no secret that Maine provides ample opportunities for both tourists and locals to explore and embrace its resources. The state’s craft beer industry has exploded into near worldwide acclaim over the last decade. The foodie movement has transformed the restaurant and social scene, especially in places like Portland. And, of course, we have the beautiful natural environment to make any city-slicker pause in awe. Another particular natural environment has been trending lately for both tourists and locals alike, and it is not the mountains or the rocky coast. Instead, it’s a space that makes great beer and food possible to fuel such an industry—farms.
Farms are such a huge part of what makes Maine unique. More and more folks seem to want more than just a lobster roll and a lighthouse. On the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association’s (MOFGA) website, Jo Anne Bander wrote in 2008, “For tourists and Maine urbanites alike, agritourism is a way to get back to the land, learn how food is grown, and support local farms.” In the last five to 10 years, agritourism in Maine has really begun to blossom.
Farmers can participate in agritourism in a variety of ways such as having a pick-your-own field, hosting farming workshops, renting an Airbnb, or offering kid-friendly options such as petting zoos or wagon rides.
“I encourage farmers to consider some piece of agritourism,” said MOFGA’s Organic Marketing and Business Specialist Nicolas Lindolm. “It’s another way for a farmer to make money that’s not always dependent on the weather or a good crop yield. Agritourism requires a definite desire to be with people, which is a huge aspect.”
Lindolm has been an organic wild blueberry farmer (Blue Hill Berry Co.) for 25 years and recently took part in the first Wild Blueberry Weekend this August, along with 19 other farms. “Nearly 50 people came to the event to pick their own berries,” said Lindolm. “It was really great because we’re the only state in the nation that has a wild blueberry industry. We’ve never had a tourist-based farm event for wild blueberries before.”
The Department of Agriculture and the Wild Blueberry Commission of Maine hosted the events in places such as Portland, Wiscasset, and Penobscot, and several restaurants, breweries, and wineries showcased food and beverages made from wild blueberries.
Brodis Blueberries from Hope, Maine, also took part in the Wild Blueberry Weekend and had guest speakers and book readings. They also share a space with Blue Barren Distillery, which makes a blueberry brandy called the Eau de Vie.
Wolfe’s Neck in Freeport embraces several aspects of agritourism year-round. People can go camping on the oceanfront in their award-winning campground, which is also located near the farm operations. They also offer several educational opportunities for both adults and children, including a summer camp for ages five to 15. For a small fee, families can take their kids on a wagon ride around the grounds to see the animal barns and the milk plant.
“Our mission is to connect people with food and farming for a healthier planet,” said Andrew Lombardi, the Events and Public Programs Manager. “We believe that giving people a chance to connect with their food creates a more engaged consumer when it comes to buying farm produce and meat.”
So, long term, will this trending agritourism eventually hatch a new generation of farmers? Lindolm is optimistic.
“Agritourism adds to the robust effort that is going on in the state,” he said. “It has a good future if we can maintain the natural and human resources.” He also noted that there has been a heightened interest in farming curriculum programs from elementary school to the college level. “There are so many things that schools can learn from farming such as the economic influence, public health, and environmental factors like climate change,” he said.
Lombardi claims that he is already seeing such a renewed interest in farming with kids. “Wolfe’s Neck is truly a part of our local community,” he noted. “Kids grow up petting sheep and picking up chickens, and then they turn into our future farm camp counselors.”
Our breweries also support local farms. Maine Beer Company partners with Wolfe’s Neck for events and includes the farm in their altruistic efforts.
Clearly, Maine’s farms go way beyond cultivating crops. If you are interested in seeing what our local farms have to offer, the Maine Department of Agriculture, Conservation, and Forestry has compiled a Maine agritourism map. For more information, visit Maine Agritourism.
John Breerwood has been magazine writing for more than ten years and enjoying the outdoors since childhood. He currently resides in Topsham, Maine. He teaches English at Lewiston High School, and just recently published his first novel, Sinking Dixie, last year.
Backcountry skiing has surged in popularity over the last few years. The pandemic likely had something to do with firing up this trend, as well as general crowding and the increasing expense of alpine skiing resorts. Whatever drives people into the backcountry, more skiers are sampling the thrill of skiing raw, ungroomed terrain.
When most think of backcountry skiing, they think of New Hampshire’s Mount Washington, especially Tuckerman Ravine. This is undoubtedly the epicenter of ski touring in New England. There are many other storied ski tours and descents throughout the White Mountains, but that doesn’t mean it’s the only place for solid backcountry skiing. Maine holds its own when it comes to earning your turns.
Skiing Along the Coast
Sargent Mountain, the second-highest peak within Acadia National Park, behind the immensely popular Cadillac Mountain, will reward you with a nice solid ski tour, as well as views of the surrounding Atlantic. There are a couple of routes to the top, ranging from about a three-mile more direct route to a longer, but gentler, six-mile tour. You can begin this tour from the Parkman Mountain parking lot, just north of Upper Hadlock Pond.
Watch the snow conditions, as there are no recorded snow reports for backcountry skiing. There’s no snowmaking in the backcountry, so right after a storm is when you’re likely to find the best snow. And it can be even harder on a mountain like Sargent perched right along the coast. From the top of the mountain, you’ll find several snowfields (when there has been sufficient snowfall) dropping off the northeast side of the mountain. Make your way down to the carriage trails through the snowfields and the trees.
Check with local outfitters such as Acadia Mountain Guides to learn more about the possibility of guided trips up and around Sargent Mountain. They’re not on the regular menu, but they might be able to make some arrangements. Acadia Mountain Guides also provide avalanche-training courses. Avalanches may not be something you think of in New England, but if you’re going to be out in the backcountry during winter, it’s best to be prepared. Also, check with Cadillac Mountain Sports for good local intel and any gear you might need.
The Great Mountain
And of course, the mighty Katahdin looms as a distant and formidable backcountry skiing destination. For newbies, this might not be your first choice for a backcountry tour as getting that deep into Baxter during winter is already a marathon. And you will likely be carrying your own sled filled with food, water, and camping gear. Though, if adventure and earning your turns appeals to you, put Katahdin on your list as a worthy goal.
You can get to most of the skiable chutes on Katahdin from the Roaring Brook and Chimney Pond campgrounds. Plan on spending at least the night before and the night after at one of those spots. From Roaring Brook, you can get to the formidable Cathedral Trail. Be ready for this exceptionally steep ascent and descent. From Chimney Pond, you could try the Saddle Trail. This one is less steep than the daunting Cathedral Trail, but takes you on a longer excursion.
Ski the Sidecountry
Sidecountry is the new backcountry. That’s a relatively new term for ski area backcountry skiing, where the access is a bit easier and less remote. For several years now, Sugarloaf has offered skiing on Burnt Mountain and Brackett Basin. These areas include more than 650 acres of raw, ungroomed terrain, and an excellent introduction to backcountry skiing. You’ll still have to take all the necessary precautions, but the trip will require less logistical effort. You will still be treated to fresh snow (on a perfect day), big backcountry bumps, glades, steeps, and streambeds.
You could also get there by booking a cat trip with Burnt Mountain Cat Skiing. These cats take you out 1.5 miles to the top of Burnt Mountain. Then you’ll have about 100 acres of terrain to explore. It’s not true backcountry skiing, but will certainly give you a taste. Be mindful of the ski area boundaries and don’t start any excursion out to Burnt Mountain or Brackett Basin alone or late in the day. Both Sugarloaf and Sunday River also have uphill skiing policies, so you can earn your turns even when the lifts are running. Contact the mountains for the latest routes and rates.
Backcountry skiing encompasses everything about hiking, everything about skiing, and everything about being out in the woods and mountains in the winter. You need to be prepared in terms of skiing ability, physical conditioning, and having the right gear.
There are many “Essential Gear” lists out there, but the list compiled by HikeSafe certainly covers the basics: map, compass, warm clothing, extra food and water, flashlight or headlamp, matches, or other fire starter, whistle, weatherproof layers, and a pocket knife.
For other resources, check with Mahoosuc Mountain Sports, Maine Sport, or Cadillac Mountain Sports for more details on gear. And do yourself a favor and check out David Goodman’s definitive guide Best Backcountry Skiing in the Northeast.
Lafe Low is a veteran writer, editor, and webcast moderator. He has spent more than 30 years in technology and business journalism. He is also the founding editor of Explore New England magazine and former editor of Outdoor Adventure. He is the author of Best Tent Camping: New England, Best Hikes on the Appalachian Trail: New England, and 60 Hikes within 60 Miles of Boston, 2nd ed.
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