This hut-to-hut ski system is something every x-c skier should experience. Maine Huts and Trails, a nonprofit organization, has created a beautiful network of groomed skiing and well-built hiking trails that connect fairly posh overnight lodges (for this kind of thing). The huts have shared bunkrooms (with some private ones) and serve meals.
There are many more hiking/biking trails in this network that I haven’t put on my map. (On my map, however, the narrow trails for bikes and snow shoes are marked in red. The blue are groomed ski trails. The multi-use ATV/snowmobile trails are marked in olive green.) Here’s a great map.
In my map above, I have included the flat, six-mile Narrow Gauge Trail, which is maintained by the town. This is a great ski, particularly for beginners since it is flat, along the charming Carrabassett River, starting at the Stratton Brook trail head and ending at the town offices. Along with a groomed track for skis, there are numerous “single-track” paths that weave around the main trail.
Back to the Maine Huts and Trails system: Stratton Brook Hut and Poplar Hut are two of the more difficult huts to access in the network, in terms of elevation gained. If you’re a beginner skier, be warned that you will be climbing quite a bit to reach them, which also means fast downhills.They might be two of the easier to access by car, though, since their parking lots are right off Route 27, the big road to Sugarloaf Mountain.
Of the two huts, Stratton Brook is quite breathtaking, with lovely vistas of mountains. Poplar Hut has a waterfall nearby. Both are comfy and inviting. You don’t need to stay at them to enjoy them, either. Skiers can drop in and have coffee and a treat, and savor the warmth. The lodges are open year-round, with a full staff much of the year who serve guests dinner, breakfast and a packed lunch. In the weeks of they year that they are “self-service,” from late March until late June, and late October until mid-December, the lodges cost less and you have to bring in and prepare your own meals. There is a caretaker.
If you can make it, I found the ski from Poplar Hut to the halfway yurt, and to the glorious vista beyond, a really lovely part of the trail. It’s a gentle climb to the yurt and vista.
The ski to Grand Falls Hut from the Big Eddy parking lot follows the scenic Dead River. (There is a short walk from the Big Eddy parking lot along the road to the trail head.) The first five miles are flat, and fairly open. Don’t forget to look back for the views! There are nice views all around, actually. For the last three miles, you enter beautiful woodland. Be sure not to miss the Grand Falls waterfall! It is off the main ski trail and on one of the side walking paths. There are a few snowmobile paths that crisscross this section of trail. Grand Falls Hut is comfortable, like the other huts, and has lovely views.
You can find lots of information about this ski trail online. I believe the system includes more than 45 miles of groomed ski trails, four lodges, and many more miles of hiking/biking trails.
As for dogs, they’re only allowed on the trails from April 15 to Nov. 30, and aren’t allowed in the huts. They are allowed on the Narrow Gauge path.
Directions: If you can, stop by the Maine Huts & Trails headquarters on your way to Carrabassett Valley. Here’s the address: 496C Main Street, Kingfield. There are several parking lots to access the trail. The two closest to Sugarloaf Mountain are off Route 27. The lot to Stratton Hut and the Narrow Gauge trail is just beyond the access road to Sugarloaf. The lot for Poplar Hut and the Narrow Gauge trail is almost directly across from North Ridge Road. Be warned that Carriage Road is not accessible in the winter.