By Katie Williams
Saturday, February 19: The wind that can whip Maine’s Flagstaff Lake into a froth in summer was doing its best to wreak equivalent winter havoc, but no dice. The sun was shining, the temperature relatively mild, and the trees along the trail effectively blocked that pesky wind. Our skis raced along the trail from the Long Falls Dam Road parking lot to the Flagstaff Hut, our lunch destination. My husband Rob, and our children Anneka (11) and Theron (8), were out for a day ski to visit part of the NFCT route in winter thanks to the fabulous trail and hut network maintained by Maine Huts & Trails.
We had a pretty perfect experience. The 1.8 mile ski from lot to hut was speedy under our skate skis, with good grooming and the trail’s gentle grade welcoming not only our family but several others, most on classic skis and many trolling pulk’s and sleds for an overnight stay at the hut. We had opted for the exploratory lunch trip, but we’re already making plans for an extended overnight to include both the Flagstaff and Grand Falls Huts, both of which are along the NFCT route. Why would we want to lug stuff around the winter woods just to stay at a couple of remote huts? Let us count the ways!
1) It’s really cool to experience the wonder of the NFCT in winter:
2) The skiing is lovely, with clearly marked and well situated trails:
3) The huts are truly amazing – as Anneka said when we walked into the soaring dining room of the Flagstaff Hut, with its flagstone floor and golden pine woods, “Mom, I thought you said this was a “hut”?!”:
4) The food was piping hot and delish (we opted for the beef chili and cornbread, but could as happily have selected the potato leek soup):
5) The social aspect of the experience was an unexpected treat – we ended up sharing a table in the full dining room with two couples from Camden who were on an extended overnight trip, and with whom we found both much in common and a great deal of inspiration. And at the table next to us we reconnected with Bob Peixotto, chair of the Maine Huts & Trails board, out enjoying a couple of days on the trail.
NFCT in winter lends itself to many different kinds of experiences, much as it does in summer. Maine Huts & Trails opens new overnight possibilities for those who want to almost rough it, and it also contributes to terrific day experiences (earn your lunch!) as part of a visit to the wonderful Flagstaff area, with the breathtaking ridgeline of the Bigelow Range presiding over the expanse of the lake. For example, you could spend a night in Stratton at Tranquility Lodge or the White Wolf Inn, and then venture out for a day or more on the winter NFCT. No matter how you approach it, an adventure on this section of our Trail (Section 9 for those of you reaching for your maps…) will bring smiles and keep you connected to the amazing North Country.