George

Mt. Chase Lodge on Upper Shin Pond is a wonderful north woods getaway. Close to the northern section of Baxter Park and the northern entrance to our new Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument, the area just west of Patton offers everything from superb biking and hiking to exceptional fishing and kayaking, along with all the winter sports.

Michael and Lindsay Downing took over the historic sporting camp last year from her parents, Rick and Sara Hill, who provided wonderful experiences there for 40 years. I took the entire board of directors of the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine there once for our annual planning retreat, and we had a great time.

Michael and Lindsay have been busy upgrading the lodge, which offers eight guest rooms. They also have several cabins with two to eight beds and kitchens, and a very interesting Yurt, built by a couple who work in Alaska from spring to fall and return to their Yurt to work at the lodge during the winter.

The lodge and camps are down in the woods on a quiet section of water. Lindsay and Michael are friendly hosts, eager to make your stay something special. They’ve been hosting events from breakfasts for Boy and Girl Scouts on their way north woods to weddings.

I was especially pleased by a Mark Picard photo in our room of a bear peeking out of a gorgeous fall bush. I wrote about that photo a few years ago, noting that Mark sat in that spot for three days and had only seconds to capture that bear. Mark’s shop in Millinocket is full of similar stunning photographs.

We pass right by the lodge on our way to our camp on Sourdnahunk Lake. After the fantastic dinner that Michael (a professional chef) served us, we’ll be stopping regularly here for dinner.

My pan-seared salmon with blueberry chutney, along with roasted broccoli and panna cotta, was something you’d expect in an expensive Portland restaurant — but not up in the north woods. Wow! And our breakfast was equally good, as we sat watching two loons diving for their breakfast just outside the dining room window.

Michael and Lindsey worked for two years in an upscale Alaskan Lodge, and brought those skills and services to Mt. Chase. I loved Michael’s story of how he started cooking breakfasts for his mom when he was 8 years old. And she paid him.

While the popular loop road in the national monument is in the southern section, I actually love the northern part of the monument, where a road takes you to a gate where hikers and bikers can continue all the way through the monument.

I’ve fished that upper section of the East Branch of the Penobscot River, and Linda and I kayaked there. I can tell you it is a world-class river with stunning rock formations and large brook trout. We also prefer the northern half of Baxter Park, close to Mt. Chase Lodge, because it is far less crowded, offers great mountain hikes, and is loaded with remote brooks, stream and ponds. And yes, I enjoy fishing many of them.

Linda

I remember George coming back from a SAM retreat raving about Mt. Chase Lodge years ago. It was finally my time to experience this wonderful place, and it was indeed wonderful.

The camp sits on Upper Shin Pond, something you don’t see until you travel the long driveway leading to the water. We stayed in the main lodge where they have named all the rooms after places in the national monument. The rooms have been refurbished in earthy tones with off-white trim. Rustic tree branch hooks, curtain rods and artsy birdhouses give a charming woods theme. Our room had both a full and a twin bed and a nice view of the pond. Rooms share two common bathrooms, and the Katahdin room is a suite with its own bathroom.

On the main floor, the large common room is a nice place to spend some time. There is a spectacular stone fireplace and comfortable rockers and couches. The enclosed porch overlooking the water makes a great dining spot, and we had some memorable meals here.

Michael cooked a delicious dinner, and he and Lindsey joined us. There was a story behind the incredible smell of fresh bread. They now make a special bread by order and deliver it to their customers. Fresh Cheddar Chive Sourdough Bread was as good as it sounds. If guests knew they would be getting some of that bread for toast for breakfast they might arise earlier.

My steak dinner was cooked to perfection and topped with a compound butter that was superb. (Michael shared that there was shallots, thyme and lemon zest in it.)

Their restaurant is open to the public Thursday through Saturday evenings by reservation. A meal here is likely to convince you that dining in the north woods can be a special experience. And once you arrive, you’ll want to stay.

Visit George’s website — georgesmithmaine.com — for book reviews, outdoor news and all Travelin’ Maine(rs) columns, found listed by town in the “Best of Maine” section.