JEFFERSON — The chance to camp in a cabin deep in the Maine woods in winter is an unusual experience. Staying in a remote woodland cabin near an urban center is rarer still.

At Hidden Valley Nature Center, just 30 minutes outside Augusta, a backwoods hut system is converting novice campers.

The 1,000-acre nature center has become home to local skiers and those who enjoy the woods. Regulars flock to the center’s 30 miles of Nordic trails during winter. But this year, manager Andy McEvoy said skiers new to camping have been showing up as well to rent the center’s primitive huts.

“All the buildings are booked,” said McEvoy during one of February’s coldest weeks. “I don’t know any of the folks renting this week.”

The primitive cabins, equipped with bunks and wood stoves, require a ski or hike to reach – ranging from a half-mile to two miles. Campers must carry in and out any gear and supplies. The cabins, which sleep several, range in cost from $50 to $70 a night during winter.

One cabin sits on a lake, another has a clear roof with views to the stars, and “Hermit Hut,” as the name implies, is farther off the beaten path. The yurt, set high up on a hill, offers the primitive experience of a canvas-walled structure.


“This is a unique experience. Where else can you do this?” said Seth Bolduc as he and his girlfriend, Lucy Atkins, skied out from a hut one frigid morning.

For two couples who came to camp, doing so on one of the coldest nights of the winter proved a challenge – such as getting up in the middle of the night to feed the wood stove.

All four campers said they’d be back to camp again, albeit with more clothes and food.

“It’s different from what I’m used to,” Bolduc said. “We could hear coyotes and barred owls, and the moon was out. It was absolutely beautiful.”

Bolduc had never camped before in winter, and Atkins had limited winter-camping experience. To have their own yurt in the middle of a forest was a new experience for both.

But the Whitefield couple planned to return with friends, so the February overnight was a test run. Despite the cold, they were looking forward to the next adventure.


For Meredith Batley and Taylor Stenger it was the same story. The Damariscotta couple came for Stenger’s 30th birthday.

“This was my present,” Stenger said with a big grin as he skied out the next day.

Neither had camped in winter before. Getting up at 1 a.m. to fill the wood stove was new. And it proved colder than expected, with temperatures hovering near zero at daybreak.

But they brought frozen gumbo and enjoyed a hut off the beaten track. Batley said with better planning, the next rugged outing would be marked by comfort, relaxation and solitude.

“It’s rustic and cozy,” Batley said. “The wood stove is amazing. It was a little too cold for breakfast so we’ll go make it at home. We just had granola bars.”

Still, on their ski out, Batley and Stenger wore smiles and proudly showed off their homemade sled that held their backpack, which Stenger had strapped to his waist.

After shopping online and finding a backcountry ski sled for more than $100, Stenger instead used a little Maine ingenuity to make one with PVC pipe, bungee chords, duct tape and a plastic sled for just $18.

“Negative temperatures are not ideal for cooking,” Stenger said. “But for a young couple, it’s a reasonably priced trip. It was very secluded. And the sky was so clear. If the roof had not been covered in snow, we’d have been able to see the stars from our bed. It was magical.”


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