AS THE APPALACHIAN TRAIL‘S last stop before Mt. Katahdin, Monson marks the beginning of the bittersweet end for northbound thru-hikers. But weekend trekkers have no such baggage, so they can dig the adjoining Hundred Mile Wilderness for the stellar stretch of North Woods that it is. For a sampling, talk to Keith Shaw, proprietor of Shaw’s Lodging, who has hosted more than 40,000 hikers since 1977. For a modest fee, Shaw shuttles hikers 30 trail miles north for a few blissful days’ hike back to town on the AT. You’ll start off by walking through the Hermitage, an old-growth stand of white pines that measure 10 feet in diameter and tower up to 150 feet overhead. Five shelters along the way (Mainers call them “lean-tos”; no reservations required) expand your camping options; the aptly named Cloud Pond Lean-to features one of the sweet swimming spots you’ll encounter, plus a resident moose. Have a week to burn? Barrel through the Hundred Mile Wilderness all the way to Katahdin, 120 miles or so in all. Then unwind in Monson, a mellow hamlet where tourists browse antique and craft shops while seasonal residents relax with paperbacks in their “camps”–Spartan second homes with vast swaths of porch.