Linda

Okay, I was clueless about the Maine Huts & Trails system before this adventure. When George explained to me that we would hike in — maybe in the dark — and sleep in a “hut,” I may have been a bit apprehensive. He sweetened the deal by saying that was the weekend Bob Duchesne was leading a winter bird watch. I hadn’t been birding in so long, a winter bird hike sounded awesome to me.

Then George explained that all we needed to take was sleeping bags, and that all the meals were prepared for the guests at the lodge. We could snowshoe in. No problem.

As it turned out, the gorgeous snowshoe in was extremely easy, even carrying our gear. The walk up the well-groomed service road was only a mile. A more scenic trail in along Flagstaff Lake is 1.8 miles. We decided to explore more trails once we unloaded our gear.

At the lodge, we were met by friendly staff and noticed several guests taking advantage of the lounge area, including a family enjoying a game of dominoes. As more people arrived, guests visited, relaxed and enjoyed the fire.

Dinner was more than impressive. They try to use locally sourced ingredients and make everything right there. People gathered at the long tables and were served family-style. The menu that night was shepherd’s pie featuring local beef, green beans in a mustard sauce (soooo good) and homemade focaccia bread — made with Maine Grains flour. I have to say I probably had more than my share.

They also served the best kale salad I have ever had, for certain. Fresh, bright green kale was tossed with almonds, dried cranberries and shaved parmesan cheese. It was so good that most of us had seconds. There is no excuse to leave the table hungry here. After a great day in the outdoors, appetites are big and a hot, home-cooked meal is quite a treat.

After a fantastic breakfast — oatmeal, pancakes, egg scramble, bacon, coffee and juice — we were directed to a big table to make ourselves a bag lunch. A curried chickpea salad wrap was my choice and I made George a BBQ chicken sandwich. Fruit, granola bars and cookies completed a hearty lunch bag.

We rounded out our adventure learning more about bird identification with a slideshow by Bob on Friday night, and followed up with a walk around the grounds the next morning. I was pretty excited to see a boreal chickadee! I always learn something new when I go birding with Bob. A few of us diehard birdwatchers ventured out in our vehicles with Bob toward Cobb’s Camps for two more hours of birding on Saturday afternoon. I learned a few more bird calls, saw a black-backed woodpecker and had great fun.

George

This is high adventure with an even higher comfort level. While the hikes and shared bunk rooms might discourage a few, the four huts and 50 miles of trails deliver a great experience in a family friendly environment. Some of the huts offer private rooms, but all have bunk rooms holding from four to 16 people. Shared bathrooms in the lodge featured composting toilets and hot showers.

The Flagstaff hut is the easiest to reach, so of course we chose that one. Well, actually, we chose it because our friend and favorite birding guide, Bob Duchesne, was offering a birding adventure there that weekend.

The gathering/dining room in the lodge is gorgeous and welcoming. Everything in the room is Maine-made, including chairs by W.A Mitchell, tables by Native Woods LLC, and John Orcutt’s awesome photographs. The huts are heated by Tarm wood gasification boilers.

We were joined at dinner on Friday night by Lani Cochran, Maine Huts & Trails marketing director, who also owns Allagash Canoe Trips with her husband Chip. They guide canoe trips down the Allagash. Yes, Lani knows adventure!

Huts & Trails features special events every weekend. In May and June, guided fly-fishing retreats for beginners to advanced anglers at the Grand Falls Hut are offered. May 15-17, Chip Cochrane hosts a weekend of outdoor adventure. And May 29-31, retired U.S. Fish and Wildlife biologist Ron Joseph leads a birding adventure. Fun!

The Flagstaff hut is on the shore of Flagstaff Lake and features stunning views of Bigelow Mountain. The 22-mile ride from North New Portland to the hut’s parking lot was beautiful, but very slow and bumpy thanks to frost heaves. Instead of Long Falls Dam Road, Linda suggested it should be called Long Dam Road. But really, it wasn’t that bad. And it passes through some beautiful forests. This is the real Maine — the one that keeps us here.

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


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