Last weekend, we headed up to the wilds Maine to check out the new, growing system of Maine huts. Modeled after similar huts-and-trails systems in Europe and New Hampshire, the huts are wooden lodges spaced apart by a comfortable day’s hiking. Four huts have been built; eight more are planned.
There are four crucial differences from the AMC huts in the White Mountains: first, the Maine huts have showers. Second, the buildings and showers are also heated. Bonus. Third, the Maine huts are open during the winter for those who prefer to schuss from hut to hut. And, last but not least, Maine huts will sell you great local beer and not-too-shabby wine. That puts an excellent exclamation point on any day of hiking, skiing, kayaking, mountain biking, or fishing.
It’s not quite glamping, but it’s pretty luxe; the hut crew also whips you up a delicious, hot dinner and a hearty cooked breakfast, as well as packing you a bagged lunch to take on your trek (for an extra $10 charge). And it’s not too expensive; we paid $69/night/person for our recent excursion, and winter rates are just a bit more. For the savers out there, you can go midweek for a discount, or during “caretaker season” (late fall, early spring) for about $30/night, when you have to do your own cooking. The exception: Thanksgiving, when Poplar Hut is hosting a Thanksgiving dinner on November 22 (and post-Thanksgiving breakfast on the 23rd). If the idea of Old Uncle Ebenezer’s pro-Todd-Akin rant or Crazy Aunt Angelina’s post-dessert interpretive dance is too much for you this year, perhaps escaping to the piney air of the Maine woods is just the thing.
While it’s difficult to get to superior hiking from Poplar Stream without a car, the secret access road we used makes it easy enough to return to your vehicle and get to the trailhead. Behind the hut, a broad fire road leads back to a smallish parking area. It’s not the official way into the hut, but it does shorten the trek. It might have felt like cheating except for the hike we did — up into the 4,000-foot peaks of the Bigelows, Avery Peak and West Peak. It’s a decent out-and-back slog, but not too steep, and features winding streams, dramatic overlooks, and mossy boulders the size of Escalades before you break out onto the bare, rocky summit of Avery peak and its unimpeded views of the Maine wilderness.
All in all, it’s a lot of wholesome fun for all ages. Poplar Stream Falls Hut, where we stayed, is the most accessible of the huts; it’s the southern-most hut, closest to Boston. (It’s a 2.5-mile hike from road-to-hut if you take their recommended path, but about a mile on a secret path we discovered. Heh heh.) Flagstaff Hut sits on gorgeous Flagstaff Lake and is a short 1.8-mile hike in, while the most remote hut, Grand Falls Hut, is supposed to feature both incredible views and fantastic salmon fishing.* The newest hut, Stratton Brook, is scheduled to open this December. And if you’re hunting for Christmas presents, they do gift certificates.
*This means we will be visiting soon, no matter what I do or say.