I’m just back from spending three totally magical days in the Maine North Woods in the Moosehead Lake region, and the leaves are already starting to change!
This is my first time visiting the Maine North Woods Moosehead Lake region, and I’m happy to report it won’t be the last. A northerly drive from Portland Maine, this region is brimming with grand landscapes and enthusiastic Mainers anxious to welcome visitors and share their “Wicked Good” bounty – our kind of people!
The Mt. Katahdin/Moosehead Lake region is about a 5 hour drive from Boston and well worth the journey north. Up here where the air is crystal clear and fragrant with balsam, you’ll find miles of hiking trails, hundreds of pristine lakes, fantastic traditional Maine Sporting Camps, and picturesque New England villages.
First stop: Dover-Foxcroft, gateway to Piscataquis County.
A quick stop at the Piscataquis Chamber of Commerce pointed us to the essentials – Pat’s Dairyland (best fried clams in Maine!), Pastimes Pub (cold brews served from the vault of an historic bank building), and Ice Cream Creations for some frozen bliss to send us on our way. The Chamber offers terrific Villages Tours (on CD & mp3) that lead you through the countryside with a lively narration, original music compositions, local tales and poetry – very entertaining! I’m still humming “There’s A Moose In My Garden” blues!
Our ultimate destination is the Appalachian Mountain Club (AMC) Maine Wilderness Lodge, Gorman Chairback. The skies have opened and it’s near torrential rain as we pass through the gates at the Katahdin Iron Works site. We glance wistfully at the beehive ruins of the Iron Works kiln – we won’t be touring them in this weather sad to say. Over the gravel road we bounce, keeping our eyes peeled for moose and lumber trucks, to the AMC lodge.
Every time I have an encounter with AMC, I am blown away by the wonderful facilities they offer and the exceptional staff that greets you.
Perched at the edge of Long Pond are a dozen picturesque hand-hewn log cabins, some dating back to the original private camp constructed in 1867. Thankfully, AMC has updated them for comfort and warmth. Our view out to the pond is enchanting with colorful kayaks and canoes just waiting to be taken for a glide.
As the rain eases away, our ever-smiling guide, Shannon, coaxes us into taking a hike – nothing too strenuous (although those are available if you like) – just a 2 mile ramble through the woods over brooks and boulders to the Stair Falls. – Fabulous!
Staying at one of the New England AMC lodges (in the Maine Woods or White Mountains of New Hampshire) makes communing with nature an almost pampered experience. The cheerful “croo” prepares three delicious meals per day as well as providing comfortable accommodation in cabins or bunk houses, hot showers and thanks to their relationship with LL Bean, access to all the outdoor sporting equipment you could desire. As you might imagine, the lodges will be humming with activity and special programs during the upcoming fall foliage season. Check out the specials and destinations at Outdoors.org.
Since the mid-1800’s families have been making the journey north to Moosehead Lake, the largest mountain lake in the eastern United States. The region has a rich history dating back to Indian tribes who came here to mine flint for their tools; to wealthy Victorian era families who took the train north to experience the great Maine woods and the clean mountain air. The 20th century saw the growth of Maine sporting camps and brought visitors by float plane. Today families come to explore by snowmobile and ATV, while nature enthusiasts find world renowned fishing, kayaking, cross country skiing, and hikers traverse the final 100 miles of the Appalachian Trail. The local historical society and Moosehead Marine Museum have done an outstanding job in preserving artifacts of the region and telling the story of the lumber industry and tourism that have shaped the region. A visit to both are a must.
Every few minutes brings the distant buzz of an approaching sea plane lining up a landing on the lake’s surface. It’s quite a scene of brightly colored sea planes of every shape, make and size. Over the coming days experienced pilots will attempt to out-fly each other in displays of aerobatics, mock rescues and flying precision. Quite a show!
Next up is a boat excursion on Moosehead lake. We’re boarding the historic steamship Katahdin for a 3 hour cruise (no Gilligan jokes, please!). Sitting in the sunshine with the mountain ranges and dozens of islands before us, it’s a glorious way to cap off our Maine getaway. Captain Bob gives a detailed and entertaining descriptions of the area and activities on the lake through the ages. We make our way half way up the lake to Mt. Kineo where a grand New England resort hotel once welcomed turn-of-the-century travelers. How I wish it was still there today – what a trip that would make!
Although our Maine North Woods getaway is coming to a close, we’re really not ready to leave! We still haven’t played golf, gone fishing, seen a moose sloshing through a bog or an eagle swooping overhead. There’s just one thing for it….. we’ll have to come back again…and again! This year rather than fight the traffic over on the coastal roads, visit the Maine North Woods and get right into the middle of all the glorious fall foliage scenery.
A personal note of thanks go to Sheila Grant for coordinating our tour for the New England Travel Writers Network. Sheila is a wonderful writer as well as an avid and knowledgeable advocate for her home county of Piscataquis. You might want to pick up her book 50 Great New England Family Fishing Vacations to find more New England gems like the Maine North Woods.