Fall Getaways: Maine Huts & Trails
Comfort camping in Western Maine.
Dazzling views are at every turn along the Maine Huts & Trails system with comfortable bunkhouses awaiting hikers at the end of each day.
Dazzling. It’s a glittering word, a word for show business and sequined dresses and staring into the spotlight. To be dazzled is to be temporarily blinded, literally or metaphorically. And in the literal sense, it’s not often ascribed to phenomena of the non-mirrored, noncombustible variety. There was, however, no other word for what I experienced when I turned the corner of that trail in western Maine. I was suddenly, stunningly dazzled.
In 2008, nonprofit organization Maine Huts & Trails (MH&T), based in Kingfield, opened its first hut in the state’s Western Mountains region. Since then, another three huts of a projected dozen have been opened, with the rest to be completed over the next decade.
Each hut is connected via a system of 80 miles of primarily flat backcountry trails, which, while not technically difficult, meander through a series of beautiful and varied ecosystems along Flagstaff Lake (which provides ample opportunities for serene paddles). Given the chilly temperatures this far north, the foliage tends to turn color early in the season, with a variety and vibrancy of hues that make the traditional leaf-peeping palette look gray scale in comparison. Great splotches of saturated color crowded each other off the edge of my vision as I hiked along, like the pages of a toddler’s coloring book. Trying to take in all the gold, amber, and crimson was an experiment in overstimulation and nearly tripped me up more that once on the trail.
The MH&T huts themselves all fall into the “comfort camping” category. Each off-the-grid site is comprised of bunkhouses in various configurations, along with a main hall with showers, kitchen, and dining area. This is where it gets really fun. The bunks themselves are clean and seriously no-frills—pillows and mats are provided, but you need to bring your own linens or sleeping bag—but between the nearby lake and trails and strong sense of community among staff and guests, you won’t be spending much time in them.
In the evenings, relax with a glass of wine or local beer; the staff prepares delicious family-style meals best enjoyed over story swaps with fellow adventurers; and a fire is kept burning in the common-area stove to keep you toasty as you read or play one of the board games on hand. If you’re interested in off-the-grid living, be sure to take a guided sustainability tour of the building with staff members.
Explore: Huts are about 12 miles apart, or a good day’s hike on MH&T’s own trails. If you’re feeling extra energetic, hop on the Appalachian Trail where it crosses MH&T, or take a side trip to nearby Bigelow Preserve. Self-guided and guided hikes are available, and mountain biking is allowed on nearly all trails. For the aquatically inclined, guided and self-guided paddles are also available between huts via spectacular Flagstaff Lake and Dead River and can be combined with hikes.
Dine: Your options are limited to whatever the staff is preparing for the family meal. That said, I had some of the best pulled pork I’ve ever eaten at dinner my first night at the huts. Pulled pork in remote, western Maine—who’d have thought? In the morning, staff members will prepare a hot breakfast and provide a trail lunch for you before you set out through the great, colorful beyond.
Insider’s Tip: Before you go paddling on Flagstaff Lake, ask staff members about the history of the man-made body of water, created by the completion of the Long Falls Dam in 1950…and what lies underneath it.
Maine Huts & Trails
496C Main St, Kingfield, ME (207) 265-2400; www.mainehuts.org
Distance from White Plains: 6.5 hours Details: Rates through October 26 for most huts start at $96/night for adults.