The temperature hovers near zero as the sun sinks out of sight, setting the forest aglow with streams of orange and pink. Despite the frosty cold, there’s nary a breath of wind, and with perfect powdery snow underfoot, the skiing is fantastic, and the warmth generated from the pleasant kick and glide effort is delightfully sustaining.

Sugar Ridge Yurt is one of five remote, off-the-grid overnight facilities at Hidden Valley Nature Center. Carey Kish photo

Wood smoke wafting through the still air eventually becomes too strong a draw, and after a final loop around the hilltop in the fading light, we return to our wooded retreat, the Sugar Ridge Yurt. Stoking the stove, we cozy up and settle in for the long, quiet winter’s night in the beautiful backcountry of the aptly named Hidden Valley Nature Center in Jefferson.

HVNC encompasses 1,000 acres of forests, ponds, wetlands, streams and rocky ridges. All told, it’s one of the most ecologically diverse tracts of undeveloped and roadless land in this area of the Midcoast, right in the heart of the 320-square-mile Sheepscot River watershed. A 25-mile multiuse trail system of old woods roads and footpaths crisscrosses the property.

Visitors to HNVC can enjoy a bonanza of outdoor recreation possibilities, from hiking, trail running, mountain biking and horseback riding to canoeing, kayaking, fishing, swimming, bird and wildlife watching, and camping. And in winter, the place transforms into a popular Nordic center for cross-country skiing, snowshoeing and fat tire biking on rolled and groomed trails.

Sugar Ridge Yurt is one five remote, off-the-grid overnight facilities at HVNC; the other four are Joe and Doe Cabin, Pond Cabin, Hermit Hut and Two Dog Hut. Each offers rustic accommodations, including bunks, wood stove and firewood, table and chairs, and a privy.

Everything else – sleeping bags, insulating pads, cooking gear, food and clothing, and the like – you’ll have to tote in by backpack or sled. Potable water is from a central well pump. For the heartier types, there are two campsites for tenting.


“When you leave the parking lot behind and get into the woods, you immediately get a palpable sense of being ‘out there.’ It feels really remote, yet the place is very accessible,” said Tripp Henderson, the director of HVNC. “The variety of terrain, the wild character, the maze of trails, it’s all very magical. It’s quite an experience. There’s nothing like it.”

A silver gate with an artistic flare marks the entrance to Hidden Valley Nature Center. Carey Kish photo

A silver gate with an artistic flare and the large letters “HVNC” greets you at the Egypt Road trailhead. Soon after is the first stop for visitors, the Roland S. Barth Welcome Center. Staffed on weekends, it’s a place to get in out of the weather, get information and advice, and rent cross-country skis, snowshoes, fat tire bikes (with studded tires) and kick sleds (think scooter with skis). During the week, you’ll need to make an online reservation for rentals.

“We groom 98% of our trails,” Henderson said. “We only need 6 inches of base to groom. If there’s less than that, we’ll roll it with a roller. We’ve got six different grooming attachments that we run behind a snowmobile depending upon conditions. The trails aren’t very wide, so it’s an exercise in patience and care.”

When conditions allow, it’s a true delight to ski on beautiful Little Dyer Pond. Carey Kish photo

The machined trails are wonderful, but with seemingly endless elbow room at HVNC, you’re free to wander hither and yon. If Little Dyer Pond is frozen over and there’s a good surface of snow, for example, there’s no finer delight than skiing along its undeveloped length, making your own set of tracks – and perhaps following those of resident critters – in the snowy white under bluebird skies.

HVNC is dedicated to providing year-round nature-based education, sustainable forestry and, of course, outdoor recreation opportunities. To help break down barriers to getting outside, the center offers Nordic ski and snowshoe clinics, full moon hike and ski treks (and lots of other programs and events), and an equipment lease program where you can rent a package of skis, boots and poles for the winter and take them home for use anytime.

HVNC was established by Tracy Moscovitz and Bambi Jones, who assembled the preserve through a series of land purchases over two decades. It was opened to the public in 2007. In 2016, HVNC joined three other area conservation organizations to form the Midcoast Conservancy, now one of Maine’s largest, with 14,000 acres and 56 public lands under their care. Learn more at

Carey Kish of Mount Desert Island is the author of “Beer Hiking New England,” “AMC’s Best Day Hikes Along the Maine Coast” and the AMC “Maine Mountain Guide.” Follow more of Carey’s adventures on Facebook and on Instagram @careykish

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