George

Macannamac Camps in the north woods is a relaxing and restorative place, the idyllic Maine we talk about but rarely experience. The late Jack McPhee built most of his log cabins in the 1980s on Haymock, Spider and Cliff lakes, 50 miles northwest of Millinocket, He was a warden pilot, knew every lake and pond in the north woods and selected these for their remoteness and great hunting and fishing.

Today, they are still busy in the spring and early summer with anglers, and in the fall when hunters flock here seeking deer, moose and grouse. Open all winter long, Macannamac is also popular with ice anglers and snowmobilers. Ironically, they are least busy in July and August, when we visited. If you are looking for a summer getaway in the real Maine, put these camps on your list.

Most of Macannamac’s guests come every year, many with family members or hunting/fishing buddies. Now that Linda and I have visited, I don’t doubt that we will become regulars here. For one thing, I want to stay in every one of their seven camps.

Imagine you are the only ones in a cabin on a beautiful remote lake at the end of a road. That would be their Cliff Lake cabin. Picture yourself here with a small campfire, roasting marshmallows, on the cliff at water’s edge — the place where a young fellow once caught a 4-pound lake trout and, just before he lifted it up out of the water, it was grabbed by a huge laker that wouldn’t give up his meal. The young fellow hauled them both up the cliff. Yes, lifetime memories are made here.

I am especially drawn to their Macannamac Camp, one of four camps spread out on Spider Lake. It’s the first cabin Jack built, with a wall filled with deer and moose antlers, including the set of antlers from Jack’s first deer, shot when he was 10 years old. Over the years I’ve heard many fishing tales from this lake and, boy, do I want to fish here.

Of course, I am thinking about returning with the group of guys I bird hunt with each fall, to rent the lodge on Haymock Lake, a gorgeous and very large building with a huge living and dining room and beds for up to a dozen people. There are many remote roads and trails where you can hunt without ever encountering another hunter.

Josie McPhee, Jack’s widow, kept the camps going for nearly two years after his death, with lots of help from family members, eventually marrying the local game warden, Dave Allen, who recently retired from that job. They are a great team, keeping the camps updated and immaculate.

There are a few things you need to know. There is no internet or cellphone coverage here (yes, trust me, this is a good thing). They do have a satellite phone. There are full baths in the Haymock camps, outhouses in the others. Full kitchens are available in all camps, and Josie serves meals to the lodge guests in the fall if they want. Judging by the dinner she served us, most lodge guests probably sign up for Josie’s meals. It’s a bit of a drive on gravel roads but not at all difficult. You will travel on the north Maine woods roads, paying a fee at the gate for that privilege. And you will never, ever, be more relaxed than you are here.

Linda

For those of you who love secluded getaways, Macannamac Camps offers a little slice of heaven. You can stay in their main lodge with a large group or choose from two other camps on their beautiful property on Haymock Lake, where owners Dave Allen and Josie McPhee live year-round. Haymock One, where we stayed, is a nice big log cabin with two bedrooms, a large living space and kitchen and a full bathroom. We spent a lot of time sitting on the covered deck, which overlooks a pristine piece of woods of stunning birch trees with the lake just beyond.

You’ll find a canoe for your use and a private dock for each of the camps here. But if you want secluded and remote, select their other camps. These outpost camps are right near the water and offer the quiet peacefulness one finds in the true north woods.

I enjoyed the drive on the Golden Road and the Telos Road. At some point we crossed into territory I had never seen before. The dirt road was in good condition, but I was glad to be in the Suburu and not my little car. We stopped for a picnic at the Cribworks on the west branch of the Penobscot River, enjoying lunch on the cliffs above the rapids, along with the view and sound of the rushing water. That five-hour trip, much of it on those dirt roads, let me appreciate just how vast the northern part of our state is. The North Woods system covers three million acres, so we were barely in it. Holy cow.

A few of my favorite things here were the peace and quiet, the fresh, clean air, sounds of birds I rarely hear at home, stunning views and a tour of the area graciously given by Josie. Oh, and a bed so comfortable that I was astonished to wake up after 7:30 a.m. Welcome to the north woods; feel free to slow down and sleep in.

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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