On the Huts and Trails System in Maine

Soaking in nature by day and indoor comforts by night in western Maine

I stepped into the crisp chill of a Maine night and padded to the edge of darkness. Clouds dancing across the moonlit sky cast eerie patterns on trees guarding the expanse of Flagstaff Lake. I glanced back at the warm glow coming from the lodge and smiled. I’d found my happy place.  

Getting nine women, all writers with conflicting schedules, to agree on a location for a rip-roaring, wild-and-woolly, let’s-catch-up overnight wasn’t easy. We wanted to be off the grid but not off the map; we wanted wilderness, but refused to sacrifice creature comforts; we were willing to work to get there, but not to work up a big sweat. Which is how we found ourselves at Flagstaff, one of four full-service huts along the Maine Huts and Trail system.  

Launched in 2008, the network cuts through some of the state’s most spectacular backcountry, with the main trail stretching about 45 miles between Carrabassett Valley, best known as the home of Sugarloaf ski area, and The Forks, renowned for its Kennebec River rafting adventures. Despite being off the grid, each hut has lights, heat, hot showers, and composting toilets—our kind of roughing it.  

We gathered at the Long Falls Dam Trailhead, piled our overnight bags for a prearranged shuttle, and headed off on the 1.8-mile trail to the hut. The main trail, an 8-foot-wide maintained pathway, cuts through the wilderness, but we detoured onto the Shore Trail to walk through the woods alongside Flagstaff Lake. 

Carolann and Suzie, both Registered Maine Guides, gave us some history. In 1775, Benedict Arnold marched north, following the Dead River through this rugged wilderness; and the white-capped mountains dropping to the south shore are named for expedition scout Colonel Timothy Bigelow. In the 1950s, the damming of the Dead River submerged a village as the rising waters created the 20,000-acre Flagstaff Lake. The 1976 Bigelow Preserve Act protects 36,000 acres and 20 miles of shorefront from development.  

Home sweet home

Aromas of freshly baked bread and cookies welcomed us to Flagstaff hut’s main lodge. “Dibs,” Nancy called, flopping onto the leather couch facing the woodstove. Kathy snagged the rocking chair, and the rest of us wedged in around them. 

“How do you like our wood-burning TV,” the hut manager quipped. Our overnight bags awaited us at the back door. Bunkhouses were steps away. 

As day turned to night, wine and beer lubricated a gab- and gossip-fest in the main lodge. Our circle by the woodstove grew as other guests arrived; Flagstaff Hut can sleep 44 people. One group had come in from Poplar Hut 11.4 miles south; another was bound 11.8 miles north for Grand Falls Hut the next day. We shared adventures over a feast of squash soup, house-made bread, beef cabernet pie, and chocolate cake.  

We awakened to the promise of a bluebird day. After scarfing down eggs, bacon, and blueberry muffins, we geared up and hit the trail. This time, we followed the main trail, breaking into camp songs as we marched back to civilization, happy wanderers, all.

Flagstaff hut in Maine

Dining is a communal affair at Flagstaff Hut on the Maine Huts and Trails System. | Photo by Hilary Nangle

Do

The free Maine Huts and Trails system is open all year. When winter conditions warrant, the main trail is groomed for cross-country skiing. 207-265-2400; mainehuts.org. 

Stay

Flagstaff’s main lodge includes a great room, kitchen, small living room, drying room, and bathroom with composting toilets and six-minute hot showers. Bunkrooms vary in size and sleep two to 12, depending on location. Pillows and fleece blankets are provided, but guests must bring sleeping bags and pillowcases. Rates for adult nonmembers range from $40 to $138 for a bunk room, depending on season. Summer (June 21 to September 2 in Poplar and June 21 to October 14 in the other huts) and winter (from December 21 to March 31) are full service. Overnight rates include dinner, breakfast, and bagged trail lunches. Beer and wine are available for purchase. Day-trippers can purchase lunches or snacks at the hut during full-service times. No meals from September to mid-December in Poplar and from October through December in the other huts. 

Annual membership is $50 for individuals and $100 for families (defined as immediate family with children under 18 years old); members save $10–$15 per night on lodging rates. Gear transport is $36 (members) and $40 (nonmembers) per bag per shuttle.

Getting there

The Maine Huts and Trails network is near Sugarloaf Mountain, about 75 miles northwest of Augusta, Maine. The Long Falls Dam Trailhead is about 30 miles north of Kingfield, Maine, via Route 16 and Long Falls Dam Road.

Top photo: Flagstaff Lake | Maine Office of Tourism

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