Now that spring is here, many long for days with warm temps, plenty of sun—and no snow. However, for the winter die-hards out there, the waning snow pack and longer days are no cause for celebration. For these individuals, winter is as good as it gets. In the Northeastern US, you can can bet snow lovers are watching the forecast, praying for one last storm to extend the season just a little further…
During the month of March, and in under two weeks’ time, Maine was hit with back-to-back-to-back nor’easters (you read that right), leaving behind copious amounts of the white stuff. Finally. The conditions were so good, the Good To-Go team packed up and headed to the backcountry for a few days of skiing, fat biking and time spent with friends and family. We could think of no better place to do this, than Maine Huts & Trails.
Maine Huts & Trails is a true gem. Located in Western Maine, established in the 1970’s, this series of backcountry huts allows for multi-day backcountry trips from The Forks to Carrabassett Valley. To date, there are four backcountry eco-lodges connected by 80 miles of trail, open year-round, with plans for eight more huts in the future.
As a nonprofit, the organization has become a valuable community resource for Western Maine. Besides drawing thousands of environmentally conscious visitors to the area every year, Maine Huts & Trails benefits the local community in many ways.
In the spirit of promoting fellow Maine Brands, we reached out to our friends at Maine Bike Works for a couple of fat bikes. A small shop located in Saco, they specialize in bikepacking, camping and various pedal-powered excursions. Store manager, Jason Braley, outfitted us with a couple of adventure-ready steeds—even sizing the bikes for us and providing the necessary tools for a backcountry trip. After dialing in the tire pressures and having a few laughs, we were on our way.
The three hour drive to the Flagstaff Trailhead went by fast. Upon arrival we were greeted by Carolann Ouellette, Maine Huts & Trails Executive Director. Prior to taking the helm at MHT, Carolann had served as director of the Maine Office of Tourism. It was a great opportunity to work with someone who’s had such a positive impact on the state we call home. We loaded our heaviest gear onto the snowmobile shuttle then set off for Flagstaff Hut, our home for the next few days.
The groomed trails are well-marked and ideal for all abilities. Which was good, considering we had a few newbs with us! Before long we had reached the hut.
At first glance you may have a hard time calling the Flagstaff Hut a “hut”, as it is not what most envision when traveling into the backcountry. This is no shoddy bunkhouse. Each of the four huts in the Maine Huts network are completely off-the-grid, beautifully designed and appointed eco lodges, decked out with the latest technology. Flagstaff Hut, in particular, is equipped with solar power, composting toilets, a highly efficient wood boiler and a radiant floor heating system. Simply put, our minds were blown.
It didn’t take long for our group to settle in. On our doorstep was the Bigelow Mountain Range, a fully iced-over Flagstaff Lake, and over 80 miles of maintained trail. But first—a quick warm-up around the fire with Smoked Three Bean Chili topped with ground turkey, jack cheese and scallions. Maine Huts & Trails does provide three incredible meals per day during their "full-service" season, which we fully enjoyed. Still, what would a Good To-Go outing be without a little… Good To-Go?
A few us of decided to venture out that first night. As the mercury dropped, the trails firmed up nicely, allowing for a faster, smoother ride on the fat bikes. We couldn't pass up the opportunity.
The following morning we rose to perfect conditions: sunny, low 30’s, a few clouds in the sky. Some of the team broke away for an early morning ski mission on Flagstaff Lake.
Much of the afternoon was spent exploring the terrain, by way of skis, bikes and snowshoes. A nearby beaver pond provided a fun few-mile trek. Along the way, views of the Bigelows exceeded our expectations. Comprised of several of Maine’s tallest peaks, the Bigelow Range rises prominently and ruggedly above Flagstaff Lake.
Later in the day we journeyed out to the lake to enjoy one last meal prepared by Jennifer. Before we could set up our kitchen/hang out spot for the next hour or so, we had to deal with the deep snow pack. As one of us discovered, step off your skis, and you’d find yourself waist deep. As it turns out, the chicken dance (performed with snow shoes, of course) is a fast and efficient way to pack down a large area of snow. Who knew? A pulk sled doubled as a table to cook on. With our kitchen set, we fired up the Jetboil Genesis Basecamp system, and Jen got to work.
Upon returning to the hut we learned that yet another nor-easter was poised to bear down on us. The storm that was expected to track south of us had veered north. 18-30” and blizzard conditions were in the forecast. To avoid driving through what is essentially a winter hurricane, we decided to call it a night and head out first thing the next morning.
Whether you’re a first-timer who’s looking for an approachable backcountry experience, or an old pro looking for something a bit different, we highly recommend you consider Maine Huts & Trails. Aside from the expansive and well-maintained network of trails, the fully off-the-grid backcountry huts, or the home cooked meals, it’s the staff at Maine Huts & Trails that will truly make the experience memorable. We’d like to thank everyone who helped make this trip possible. We will definitely be back!
The Good To-Go team
Photos by: Brian Threlkeld | Story by: Justin Hagen