Winter Trip Review: Maine Huts and Trails

http://www.mainehuts.org/

The first week of March 2014 we were able to head up to northern Maine and spend a few days at the Maine Huts and Trails lodges, (MHT) a trip that I had been itching to try for a few years now.  We try to pack as much adventure as possible into our vacations, and this trip did not disappoint!

Planning the trip was tough, because there are so many options!   The huts are laid out in a linear fashion, with 4 huts approximately 10-12 miles apart.  There are gear/car shuttles available to make this a little easier.  In the end, we decided to do a 4 night trip between 2 huts, so we could take our time and also do a little hiking/snowshoeing.  We settled on starting at Poplar and skiing to the newest hut in the bunch, Stratton Brook, and then back to Poplar before leaving.
 

Arriving up the hill to Poplar Hut

We parked at the Gauge Road trailhead and hiked in – about an hour hike in snowshoes schlepping all of our gear. (there is no gear shuttle from that parking area.  keep this in mind when planning!)

To try to avoid putting everyone to sleep, here is a little “highlight reel” of our trip. Sorry it’s a little long…. (Spoiler alert… we loved it.  You should go.  For real.)

The Huts 

The setup of the huts are all similar – main hut with a lounging/living space, bathroom/showers, kitchen, and dining area.  There is no front desk… there aren’t even keys… kick back, relax, and make friends!  Bunk rooms are outside, you have to walk outside to get to and from your room and dinner, bathroom, etc.  The rooms are just that – bunk rooms.  This is not a luxury hotel.  Small pillow and fleece blanket;  very minimal.  I included lots of pictures below instead of trying to describe everything.  Enjoy! 

Poplar bunk room – a “double” bed and 2 bunk beds

 

 

Poplar’s loft-style living space.  Books, games, fun!

 

Poplar dining room from the loft above

 

Stratton Brook Hut Bunk rooms looking toward the main hut
Stratton Brook Living/Dining room.  Open, light, airy

 

 

Stratton Brook Hut

 

Relaxing after a day full of snow fun

 

 

 

 

 

Stratton Brook Dining Room

 

Snug as a bug!  It is COLD in the winter… pack accordingly

 

Woodstove in Poplar Dining room.   Kitchen is behind in the cutout windows

 

 

 

 
Stratton Brook Hut Exterior and views

Part of the stay at the huts includes some great education about the ways the huts work to be environmentally friendly and sustainable.  Every hut does an energy tour of all of their systems after dinner… when you go you should most definitely take advantage.  The huts use a combination of solar power, water-power, and backup gas powered generators to keep the electricity going.  Heating is supplemented with passive heat gained from the sun shining through large banks of windows and radiant heat in the floors;  Large wood burning boilers (called Tarms) heat water that is circulated through pipes beneath the floors of the main  huts and all bunk rooms to heat the rooms.  The toilets are all a fancy composting toilet system that uses only a few ounces of water per flush (as opposed to a few gallons in standard toilets). Super green, eco-friendly stuff!

The Food!

Dinner at all of the huts is served promptly at 6:00 PM, and is served family style. This is a great way to get to know the people staying in the huts with you.  We met lots of like-minded interesting people chatting over dinner.  All of your meals are included in the price of your room (family style breakfast and dinner, and a packed lunch for the trails).  The food at both huts was freaking delicious, and there was plenty of it – There was definitely no danger of going hungry!  Everything is homemade and soooooo good.  They can also accommodate just about any dietary restriction as well, with advance notice. (Have no fear paleo lacto-ovo-pesco-gluten free- atarians… there’s dinner for you too).  There was also a nice selection of local beers, for $5 each (I didn’t pay much attention to the wine choices… sorry 😉 ). 

the beer list.  Atlantic coal porter, please.
Delicious organic coffee.  Free for hut guests

 

Breakfast!

 

 

 

Beef Stew, cous cous, fresh baked bread, cauliflower

 

family style dining

 

home made carrot cake… yum!!

The Trails!

It IS Maine Huts and TRAILS, remember??  What did you think, it was all eat, drink, and cozy on up?  NO WAY!   There are miles of snowy trails to discover out there.  Bundle up and get moving! 

As I mentioned, the huts are all on a linear trail system.  We didn’t get a chance to explore much of the trail heading toward the Flagstaff and Grand Falls Huts on this trip (note… I said this trip.  We most certainly plan to be back for more exploring).

The ski to Stratton Brook was…. challenging.   (Helpful tip… look at the elevation profile of the trail before deciding your course.  Especially if you are not a particularly stellar xc skier.  You may or may not end up walking.  I may or may not have ended up walking up/down the hills…. and rolling…. and cursing like a sailor while trying not to slide back downhill.   Perhaps some real xc ski lessons are in my future?). 

The elevation profile from Poplar to Stratton Brook

The ski trails we were on were wide and well marked, easy to follow.  Snow conditions were pretty hard packed and crusty… it was extremely cold (single digits, -10 at night) and there hadn’t been much recent snowfall, so there were lots of icy and hard spots.  I felt the conditions were to be expected based on the weather, and the groomers did a great job with what they had.   This is not a traditional groomed cross country ski area.  This is a backcountry trail with the added bonus of some grooming.   Don’t expect perfection, this isn’t an Olympic arena.  Get out there and have some fun!  

Stratton Brook Hut is in close proximity to some snowmobiling and hiking trails so we were able to get out and do a great long snowshoe as well, nice change from the skis. (you can hike out to the Appalachian Trail and Bigelow range but it is a pretty long hike – recommended for experienced hikers only, especially in winter weather.  You must be very fit, prepared and experienced in winter mountain hiking to take that on In the summer Stratton Brook would be a fantastic launching point for some great hiking!).  There are a lot of other moderate hikes around all of the huts.  We also hiked around Poplar Falls.

 

Crommett Overlook, with a view to Sugarloaf

 

 

skiing along the Carrabassett River

 

 

 

 

 

hiking trails

The People

I would be extremely remiss if I did not pause to mention the people who made this trip what it was.  Thank you to the behind the scenes crew at Maine Huts and Trails.  Keep up your organization’s good work! I can’t wait to see this expand and grow.  

The hut keepers are all phenomenal.  They cooked, cleaned up, and kept everything running smoothly and kept us all cozy and comfortable.  They are extremely well versed in all aspects of the huts themselves, the surrounding area, and the organization.  Big kudos and thank you!!

The Verdict??

We freaking LOVED our trip, and can’t wait to go back!!! The combination of great food, great company, outdoor adventure in a sort of “rustic luxury” setting was right up our alley.  I am dying to try some warm weather pursuits up there, as well as Fat Bike the trails in the winter.  Now THAT would be an amaaaazing trip!!!

Taking a break overlooking Sugarloaf

Some tips for planning your trip….
1.    If you are going in the winter, it will be COLD.  We went during a particularly cold stretch.  Double digits below zero during the night.  Single digits during the day.  Pack accordingly.  Layers, people!  And a quality sleeping bag.  The bunk rooms do not get super warm.  

2.  You will likely be sharing bunk rooms with other people.  Dining is group, family-style.  There is only one living space.  You share the bathroom (composting toilets) and shower space (separate stalls, it’s not a locker room, but it’s not yours).  If you don’t like this idea, this may not be for you.

3.  Bring some lightweight slip on shoes to wear around the bunk and to and from the bathroom.  I wore fuzzy socks and a pair of sanuks.  Perfect!

4.  Gear:  We used Rossignol EVO OT Cross Country skis with partial metal edges.  I’d say the edge is a must in the more rugged, ungroomed terrain here.  We were very happy with them (even with my lack of skills I was able to navigate the hills fairly well, except for the very steep stuff).  Snowshoes –  Dion 121’s.  

5.  Overestimate how long it will take you to do everything, especially if you are carrying gear.  It’s cold, and it gets dark early.  Give yourself plenty of time, and always be prepared to spend the night in the woods.  You never know what could happen. 

Have more questions? Something I missed??  Want to share your experience?  Feel free to contact me!  Either leave a comment below, or email me at thenextfinishline@gmail.com

**The opinions above are entirely my own.  I did not receive any type of compensation from Maine Huts and Trails.  This trip was arranged and paid for by myself**

  

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