OH, YOU THOUGHT THIS WAS THE OFF-SEASON? WITH INCREDIBLE (AND AFFORDABLE) WINTER WEEKEND GETAWAYS IN EVERY CORNER OF THE STATE, MAINE DOESN'T HIBERNATE — AND NEITHER SHOULD YOU.
By Will Grunewald • Jennifer Hazard • and Brian Kevin
Chalk it up to better marketing, milder winters, some new outdoor-rec opportunities, or just a boost in hardiness among would-be tourists, but in the last six years, overnight visitation to Maine has grown more dramatically in winter than in any other season. Nearly 3.5 million leisure travelers spent a night (or longer) in Maine last winter — that’s a 13 percent leap over the previous year and nearly a million more visitors than in 2012. And it’s hard to blame all those new wintertime tourists. From Woolwich to Waterville to Kokadjo to Katahdin Woods and Waters, more than a dozen new winter trail systems have come online since the start of the decade. In many of the state’s more traveled destination towns, year-round lodging isn’t as rare as it once was. Several of the four-season inns, lodges, and hotels on the following pages didn’t exist at all a few years back; others have welcomed new owners with their sights set on offering warmer winter welcomes.
Sorry snowbirds, but it’s all good news for those of us who don’t mind layering up and taking advantage of everything — from quiet woods to cozy galleries to lodging bargains to reservation-free dining — that Maine has to offer in winter.
Photographs by Greta Rybus
At the edge of the Hundred-Mile Wilderness, Medawisla is the Appalachian Mountain Club’s only Maine “wilderness” lodge with winter drive-in access. Now in its second season, the lodge welcomes guests to a compact campus of cabins and bunkhouses on sylvan Second Roach Pond, some 26 miles northeast of Greenville. The place feels fresh, the vibe somewhere between a sporting camp and a nice youth hostel, and it’s comfier than a lot of budget motels, with a huge double-sided fireplace in the lodge, solar-generated electricity, cozy flannel blankets on the beds, and more.
$106–$242 (discounted for AMC members). Smithtown Rd., Greenville. 603-466-2727.
Stay: In one of nine private cabins (that sleep up to six) or two shared bunkhouses. Both bunkhouses and some cabins have kitchenettes, and all are heated by woodstoves (wood’s provided). The five “hilltop” cabins are the more genteel, closer to the lodge and with private bathrooms; guests in the “waterfront” cabins share a central bathhouse. Everybody shares the lodge’s wood-fired sauna.
Play: On the labyrinthine, AMC-groomed winter trail system, which traverses woods, mountains, and frozen lakes. In its 90-mile entirety, it connects with two other lodges to the south, for those who want to ski lodge to lodge. About a third of those trail miles surround Medawisla, and most are beginner-friendly, encircling Second Roach Pond and accessing smaller wilderness lakes nearby. (There’s a gear shed for skis, fat bikes, and such.) Watch for moose, raptors, and — if you’re real lucky — bobcats or lynx.
Put Away: Pancakes and eggs for breakfast. In the evenings, big dinners of salmon, pizza, pasta, prime rib, veggies, homemade desserts — stick-to-the-ribs meals for folks who’ve been burning calories all day. Both are served family-style by a seasoned kitchen staff that also sends guests out with bagged lunches during the day. For post-meal downtime, the lodge is stocked with books and board games (and beer and wine are available).
So You Want To Ride a Snowmobile
1771 Rte. 201, The Forks. 207-663-4466.
Rent a sled for a half-day ($209–$259) or full day ($289–$339) and explore 150 miles of groomed trails through the mountains of western and northern Maine. Cabin rentals start at $105 for a “Cozy” and run up to $549 for a four-bedroom “North Woods.” Park your snowmobile out front and be on trail in seconds. The lodge even rents coats, pants, boots, and gloves ($45).
30 Twin Pines Rd., Millinocket. 207-723-5438.
NEOC’s green-certified lodges and cabins (starting at $291) offer quick trail access and stellar views of Katahdin, along with meals at the (surprisingly urbane) River Driver’s Restaurant. Rentals available ($259–$279), as are lodging/rental packages and half- and full-day guide services ($150–$275).
87 State Park Rd., Presque Isle. 207-768-8341.
If you have your own sled, scenic trail ITS #83, part of the state’s Interconnected Trail System, rides the ridges of the park’s Quoggy Jo Mountain and passes the Presque Isle Snowmobile Club. Follow the trail another 15 miles north right up to a fully furnished log cabin at Arndt’s Aroostook River Lodge & Campground (starting at $145; 95 Parkhurst Siding Rd.; 207-764-8677), where you can also ditch the sled to explore crisscrossing snowshoe trails on 135 riverside acres.
All year long, 250 Main hosts visitors in town for Rockland’s top-notch art museums and galleries — the copious art around the hotel comes from the same galleries, with work rotating in every few months. Come winter, the airy property is an effective remedy for cabin fever, with high ceilings, mod furnishings, and abundant natural light attracting staycationers seeking a break from seasonal claustrophobia. The place is still plenty cozy: it’s not uncommon to spot couples dozing in front of the big lounge fireplace while cold winds rattle in off the harbor.
$169–$259. 250 Main St., Rockland. 207-594-5994.
Pets welcome (with a deposit and a phone reservation).
Stay: Every room has distinct layout, décor, and furnishings, some of which are made at a local boatyard. The immodestly named Spectacular Room has wraparound windows overlooking the waterfront.
Play: At the Farnsworth Art Museum, five blocks away, this winter’s Maine and the Index of American Design shows off vintage illustrations of decorative art from Depression-era Maine, from busts to gargoyles to quilts. The Center for Maine Contemporary Art features its Biennial exhibition, spanning a wide range of media, including some wild installations. You can easily pass an afternoon perusing the fine-art galleries downtown, but when you’re ready for an art break, it’s a quick trip to Camden for alpine skiing with an ocean view at the Snow Bowl or snowshoeing in the state park.
Put Away: Sip a glass of complimentary wine or beer by the fireplace during the hotel’s afternoon social, then decide between the dizzying number of great restaurants in town. Within a few blocks of the hotel, there’s Fog Bar and Cafe for cocktails and eclectic eats, Cafe Miranda for hugely creative (and just plain huge) plates, and In Good Company for elegant small plates in a living-room-esque space.
If you’re looking for the classic Maine sporting camp vibe — long on comfort and adventure planning, short on frills — book one of eight rooms or five cabins at Mt. Chase Lodge, established in 1960. Lindsay and Mike Downing took over the unpretentious North Woods chalet from Lindsay’s folks in 2015 and found themselves in the dooryard of the newly established Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument a year later. Clientele is a mix of cross-country skiers and snowmobilers; in the evenings, a motley crew gathers in front of the huge lodge fireplace for drinks, card games, and chitchat.
$98–$189, $40 for the breakfast and dinner meal plan. 1517 Shin Pond Rd., Patten. 207-528-2183.
Stay: In one of the private cabins. The lodge rooms are as clean and comfortable as any economy hotel, but the cabins have the romance — particularly the cozy Penobscot, a single-room, knotty-pine affair heated by a woodstove. Others are propane-heated, and some have full kitchens. All are spare and rustic, and only two are more than $150 a night.
Play: On 16 miles of groomed cross-country ski trails on the wild East Branch of the Penobscot, at the monument’s north end, 15 miles up the road. Trail options include the 3½-mile Old River Road loop, which skirts small rapids and beaver ponds, or a 12-mile out-and-back to the gnarly mid-river rock formation called Haskell Rock. The Downings monitor trail conditions and offer guided snowshoe excursions (and the occasional yoga weekend). They’ve also just cut the first short ski trail right out the lodge’s back door.
Put Away: Heaping plates of comfort food — we loved the haddock cakes and terrific rustic breads, baked in-house — served at a long, shared table every evening. Dinners are convivial, and there’s a cash bar for wine and Maine beer (which you’ll want for those post-dinner card games).
So You Want To Go Ice Skating
10 Thompsons Pt., Portland. 207-222-3031.
This covered rink on the Fore River offers unlimited skating ($6–$10), plus skate rentals ($3) and a separate kiddie rink. Off the ice, there’s a food truck, a warming lounge, and a yurt with cocoa, beer, and wine. Stay downtown at The Press Hotel (starting at $170; 119 Exchange St.;207-573-2425) where families can buy a $50 welcome package that includes a picture book, milk and cookies, a plush lobster toy, and more.
Lower Mall Park, Maine St., Brunswick. 207-725-6656.
A tree-lined outdoor rink surrounded by downtown Brunswick’s shops and stately historic homes. Free admission, but no rentals, so bring your own skates. Within walking distance (and with a lobby fireplace) is the inviting Brunswick Hotel and Tavern (starting at $129; 4 Noble St.; 207-837-6565;).
3 Round Top Ln., Damariscotta. 207-563-1393.
Nestled alongside a grand Victorian farmhouse and historic barn, this free commmunity rink is BYO skates (helmets required for kids under 18) and has a warming hut with cocoa on Saturdays. Up the road a ways, the Oxbow Farmhouse (starting at $255; 274 Jones Wood Rd., Newcastle; 207-315-5962) is a rustic rental that sleeps nine and offers skiing and snowshoeing on 18 acres, plus the Oxbow Brewery tasting room next door.
Most Bar Harbor lodges call it quits in the off-season, but not the Acadia Hotel, making it popular with cross-country skiers, snowshoers, ice climbers, and others who want to have Acadia National Park more or less to themselves. The hotel wrapped a major expansion last year. Rooms in the original building have a classic, homey feel. In the new building, they have a contemporary vibe, somewhere between business class and boutique. Throughout the winter, guests huddle with drinks around heat lamps on the front porch or soak in hot tubs out back — both perfect for warming up after a day of exploring.
$99–$269. 20 Mt. Desert St., Bar Harbor. 207-288-5721.
Stay: If you just want a warm bed to crash, standard queens and kings are well-kept and cozy. If you’re traveling as a family — or if you just like to spread out — several suites each offer different perks: an extra bedroom, a kitchenette, a living room.
Play: Bar Harbor’s biggest draw, no matter the season, is always the national park. Cadillac Mountain Sports, just three blocks away, offers ski, snowshoe, and skate rentals so you can head out onto the park’s groomed cross-country trails, snowy hikes, and frozen lakes. Indoors, catch a concert or movie at the Criterion Theatre, or stay right at the hotel and play a round on the golf simulator in the basement. Local golfers buy memberships and have a running league competition. For the rest of us, it’s $30 per hour.
Put Away: Leary’s Landing Irish Pub recently moved into a handsome new space just down the road. The hearty fare — bangers and mash, shepherd’s pie, fish chowder — and convivial company are perfect for winter. A handful of other local favorites also stay open in the off-season: Havana (Latin-inflected fine dining), McKays Public House (spruced-up classics), and Side Street Cafe (eclectic pub food).
Amanda and Jay McSharry took over the former Portsmouth Harbour Inn last summer and set out to update the 1879 Victorian property — a B&B since the 1980s — without sacrificing its old-school character. Step one was ditching the B&B concept altogether in favor of keyless self–check-in (guests receive a door code upon reservation). The former dining area is now a bright, welcoming, self-service coffee and snack bar, and elsewhere, the McSharrys (who also own The Sailmaker’s House in Portsmouth and a fleet of Seacoast restaurants) have added mod furnishings and pops of bright color but smartly left most vintage fixtures intact. History and maritime buffs, look for plaques commemorating the flat-bottom gundalow barges that once characterized trade on the Piscataqua River — which a few rooms overlook.
$89–$395. 6 Water St., Kittery. 207-994-9735.
Stay: All six rooms have en suite bathrooms and boutique-y details like pillow-top mattresses and Bluetooth speakers, along with exquisite patterned wallpapers that speak to the inn’s history. If you have a crowd, consider the adjacent two-bedroom apartment, a three-story former barn with a modern seaside motif.
Play: The Kittery Outlets don’t close in winter, nor do the indie shops in Kittery Foreside or, across the river, downtown Portsmouth. It’s a 20-minute drive to Powderhouse Hill in South Berwick, a terrific town-run ski hill with a rope tow, three gentle trails, and a sledding hill. The inn has a garage to stow winter gear.
Put Away: At breakfast, find to-die-for crullers at the snack bar from nearby Lil’s Café. It’s a short (if chilly) walk across the Badger’s Island Bridge to Texas-style barbecue at Ore Nell’s, also owned by the McSharrys, or to Foreside for chef-y pub food at The Black Birch or rich and fragrant noodle bowls at Anju. That’s the tip of the iceberg — Kittery is one of Maine’s best restaurant towns.
So You Want To Soak and Sauna
40 Bowery Beach Rd., Cape Elizabeth. 207-799-3134.
Spa guests at this seaside inn enjoy private steam rooms. The “INNcredible Spa” package includes a two-night stay (starting at $338/night), with two 60-minute Swedish massages in the spa and breakfasts at Sea Glass, the in-house restaurant with dramatic ocean views. High rollers can upgrade to a suite with oversized soaking tub.
77 Warren Rd., Denmark. 855-207-7387.
An authentic, wood-fired, Finnish-style sauna in the woods, with eucalyptus and orange oils ladled over lava rocks while you shvitz. Through March, Super Sauna Saturdays welcome bathers from 4–6 p.m. for just $15. In nearby Naples, guests at Fern Hill Farm Bed and Breakfast (starting at $95; 150 Wiley Rd.; 207-693-4320) can cross-country ski among the Nubian dairy goats and laying hens on the 19th-century working farm or snowmobile on a trail system just next door.
21 Broad St., Bethel. 207-824-2175.
For $27, non-guests can enjoy the resort’s 40 kilometers of groomed Nordic trails and its outdoor heated pool and sauna. Winter lodging packages with breakfast and trail passes start at $185 (and you can tack on a 30-minute horse-drawn sleigh ride on Saturday nights for $13–$16 per person).