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Flagstaff Lake (Photo by JohnOrcuttNaturePhoto.com)
Flagstaff Lake Hut (Photo by JohnOrcuttNaturePhoto.com)
Poplar Stream Falls (Photo by JohnOrcuttNaturePhoto.com)
Flagstaff Main Room (Photo by JohnOrcuttNaturePhoto.com)
Backpackers have long considered the vast forests and mountains of western Maine one of the Northeast’s top spots for scenery, wildlife, and unsurpassed solitude. Now you can get its backcountry rewards with daypack effort on a four-day, 39.4-mile traverse of the Maine Hut Trail, which opened in 2008. Pass through quiet stands of white birch, pine, and cedar, trace rushing streams, and hug the shore of sprawling Flagstaff Lake at the foot of the 4,000-foot Bigelow Range. You may lose count of the moose, deer, and loons you see. The route links three full-service huts (breakfast and dinner included, with a bag lunch option) that sleep 32 to 44 people. And these “boutique huts,” as staffers call them, each have hot showers, eco-toilets, drying rooms in winter, and outside porches with year-round seating. The hut scene is very social, with family-style meals and big living rooms.
Day one’s hike to Poplar Stream Falls Hut is just 2.4 miles, leaving plenty of time for the three-mile Larry’s Loop Trail, an optional bonus that starts at the hut and cruises past small cascades, swimming holes, and 20-foot Poplar Stream Falls. From Flagstaff Lake Hut on your second evening, walk the Birch and Shore Trails to watch the sun set behind the Bigelow Range. Follow the Dead River on days three (stay in Grand Falls Hut) and four. The route’s highlight: Grand Falls, a 40-foot-high, 120-foot-wide wall of whitewater (when flows are high in spring and summer) at mile 23.3. A fourth hut, Stratton Brook, set to open this winter, will expand route options by connecting to Poplar Stream Falls Hut via a rolling, roughly 10-mile trail.
Season Late September/early October for fall colors and fewer bugs; May/June for waterfalls
Map BACKPACKER PRO Map Maine Hut Trail ($20; backpacker.com/promaps)
Get there Drop a shuttle at the West Forks trailhead on US 201. Begin at the Gauge Road trailhead off ME 16/27 in Carrabassett Valley (east of Sugarloaf Ski Area). Maine Huts and Trails (mainehuts.org) provides a shuttle service between trailheads.
Cost/info Starts at $59/person/night for a bunkroom, $159/night for a private room; reserve two months in advance for summer (nine for winter); mainehuts.org