“Perhaps I most fully realized that this was primeval, untamed, and forever untamable Nature, or whatever else men call it, while coming down this part of the mountain.” — Henry David Thoreau.
Thoreau’s impression of the Maine North Woods, penned during one of his three trips to the region in the 1840s and 1850s, more than likely would have been different had he visited in winter today.
Though the woods still appear primeval in some spots, the hand of man is evident since Thoreau’s days. This winter, the first visitors will explore Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument by snowshoe, snowmobile, and skis. They’ll find an inviting landscape of thousands of acres of backcountry.
Lucas St. Clair, whose family donated 87,500 acres through its Elliotsville Plantation, Inc., nonprofit to the federal government in late August to create the monument, recalls: “Some of the more memorable experiences for me over the years have been going in the winter to really remote sections of the monument on skis. You just see so much stuff that you typically don’t see. Moose at really short range. You can see all the tracks so much more clearly.
“It’s really cool to be skiing along and see all these lynx tracks and drops of blood in the snow where a lynx had eaten a rabbit. You don’t see that stuff in any other season,” he adds.
Elliotsville Plantation, has cut roughly 20 kilometers of crosscountry ski trails near the northern tip of the monument, and 32 miles of snowmobile trails over the years. Those trails, with their connections to Baxter State Park and other snowmobile routes, offer nearly 100 miles of trail to explore.
“There’s several little (ski) loops that go down along the East Branch (of the Penobscot) and go into Messer and Little Messer ponds,” says St. Clair. “They go down to Haskel Rock and Haskel Pitch and then Grand Pitch. It’s super cool being by these giant waterfalls in the middle of the winter, when they’re all frozen over and there’s big globs of ice hanging on rocks.”
Thanks to two huts that Elliotsville Plantation maintains in the monument, you can also spend the night at Haskel Hut (which sleeps 10) and Big Spring Hut (which sleeps up to a dozen). Stacks of firewood keep the huts warm, with propane stoves for cooking.
Winter visitors can choose from a number of other lodging options:
- Mount Chase Lodge is just 16 miles from the monument, on Shin Pond, operated by the same family for past 40 years. They have private cabins, main lodge rooms, with fare such as pan-seared salmon with blueberry chutney and grilled marinated Portobello mushrooms.
- The New England Outdoor Center cabins can accommodate from six to 14 guests, and are just 8 miles from Millinocket. St. Clair says, “They have snowmobile rentals, ski rentals, and there’s skiing trails right there at the lodge, and you can easily access the monument for snowmobiling from the lodge.”
- The Matagamon Wilderness Lodge’s cabins can handle up to a dozen, and it’s right at the entrance of the monument’s cross-country ski trails.
“From a national park perspective, people think of Acadia National Park and the summer on the coast,” says St. Clair. “But the winter inland is really a pretty magical place.”