Overlook Yurt sits atop a hillock 1 1/4 trail miles from the main lodge of The Birches Resort, located on Moosehead Lake just north of Rockwood. When the winter sky turns dark, the cold settles in and the coyotes and owls make their audible presence known, this little round shelter in the snow takes on a distinctly wild character that feels that much more remote.

Hauling a sled loaded with gear and provisions for a stay of several nights, it takes a pleasant hour or so to ski or snowshoe into Overlook Yurt, the most accessible of The Birches’ three backcountry yurts open to winter campers. Three Sisters Yurt is 2 1/2 miles from the main lodge, while Poplar Hill Yurt is 5 or 6 miles, depending on the chosen route.

The Overlook Yurt, one of three backcountry yurts at The Birches Resort, is 1 1/4 trail miles from the main lodge. Carey Kish photo

Step through the door of Overlook Yurt and you’ll find the wood stove front and center, with a merry blaze kindled by resort staff ahead of your arrival already producing welcome warmth. There’s also a big stack of split wood and a 5-gallon jug of fresh water that’s been delivered by the fire maker, who will also have shoveled the path to the yurt and the nearby privy.

Along the yurt’s walls are bunk beds, a futon and a table with benches. There are also gas lights, a two-burner Coleman stove and a kitchen box with pots, pans, utensils and other such essentials. Sheets and pillows complete the outfit (you’ll need to bring your own sleeping bag). With these simple amenities, this snug canvas haven will feel like home in no time.

Inside Overlook Yurt, you’ll find the essential amenities for a comfortable overnight stay in the snowy woods. Carey Kish photo

Some 40 miles of machine-tracked cross-country ski trails crisscross the vast 10,000-acre swath of multiuse forestland that comprises The Birches Resort, which ranges across the lower half of the unorganized Tomhegan Township from Moosehead Lake west to Brassua Lake and north to Baker Pond. Snowshoers may also share the ski trails or wander at will off-piste.

The beautiful main lodge and the string of 15 rustic shoreline cabins were built of hand-hewn logs by a French Canadian logging contractor in the 1930s, and The Birches has operated as a traditional year-round sporting camp ever since. The resort faces east with a full-on view across Moosehead Lake to the prominent backside of 1,789-foot Mount Kineo.


It takes a pleasant hour or so to ski or snowshoe into Overlook Yurt, the most accessible of The Birches’ three backcountry yurts open to winter campers. Carey Kish photo

John Willard, a jack of all trades, has owned and operated The Birches Resort since the 1980s. The sporting camp has been in his family since 1969. Carey Kish photo

John Willard, an accomplished float plane pilot, forester, outfitter and Master Maine Guide, has owned the place since the 1980s, when he bought the camps from his father, who had owned it since 1969. Willard then acquired the surrounding leased land from Great Northern Paper Company to protect this scenic chunk of the Maine Woods as a nature preserve.

With any number of loop possibilities, ski and snowshoe enthusiasts can venture far and wide across The Birches backcountry terrain, where there’s a high likelihood that you’ll see a lot more wildlife than people. On at least one of your tours you’ll want to land at the lodge for a good warmup and a hearty lunch of soup, salad and sandwich with a scenic view to boot.

The lodge’s lounge features a fieldstone fireplace, comfy couches and a small library of books and games; it’s a sweet spot to relax with a drink after a good day out on the trails. As part of your meal planning, you should consider donning your headlamp and night hiking to the lodge for a scrumptious home-cooked dinner in the dining room. There’s a special every evening: on Saturday nights it’s the wildly popular prime rib, while Sundays feature roast turkey with all the fixings. There are vegetarian options, too.

Adjacent to the main lodge is the shower house, sauna and hot tubs; all are available to yurt dwelling guests. Rental skis and snowshoes and gear shuttles can be arranged at the lodge, where the uber-friendly staff is happy to provide information (plus a few good laughs) and a trail map to help you navigate around. Willard is regularly out and about, so if you see him, do introduce yourself. John has a deep, abiding love for this big land and plenty of stories to match that are worth a good listen.

To make reservations for your snowy yurt adventure, visit to birches.com. Or call them at 207-534-7588.

Carey Kish of Mount Desert Island is an award winning member of the Outdoor Writers Association of America. His latest book, “Beer Hiking New England,” will be out in print in March. Follow more of Carey’s adventures on Facebook and Instagram @careykish

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