Mountaintop views are distinctly wonderful in the winter, when the naked trees give way to scenes that summer foliage tends to hide.
On winter hikes, I dig seeing the earth dusted in white and hearing the rhythmic squeak of snow underfoot. I relish the rosy cheeks and the cold nose. And I love earning that summit, boot step by uphill boot step, the effort evident in the puffy layers I’ve peeled off on the way.
Of course, I also like reclining in a wood-fired sauna, closing my eyes, and simply letting myself sweat.
The best winter days will include both – the hike and the sauna. And in southern Maine, this special winter pairing is possible. My favorite combination: A hike up Pleasant Mountain in Bridgton, followed by a sauna at Nurture Through Nature in nearby Denmark.
There are certainly other preserves, hills, and beginner-friendly peaks in the region (you can also snowshoe on the trails at Nurture Through Nature), but I prefer Pleasant Mountain because it has a supremely scenic summit and offers enough elevation gain to feel like you’re working for those views.
You’ll likely break a sweat here before you even get to the sauna. (As always with winter adventuring, be sure to wear those all-important wicking layers and avoid cotton entirely. Remove layers as you warm up.)
Pleasant Mountain has a few trail options, but I recommend the Ledges Trail. There’s a dedicated parking lot off Mountain Road (another trail, Bald Peak, is also accessed from Mountain Road, so be sure you’re in the right lot). The trailhead is just across the road.
Ledges Trail is 1.8 miles long with 1,600 feet of elevation gain, making it a fairly accessible day hike for newer hikers or those just getting into winter hiking. It is uphill, of course, with terrain that can include roots and rocks, ice and snow, so hikers should be comfortable in those conditions and have proper traction. The summit can be quite windy, too, so pack appropriately.
But there’s no need to rush your way up. The trail has some nice overlooks along the way, which are ideal for taking pictures or stopping for a snack, water, or a short break as you make your way to the top.
There will be no doubt when you do reach the summit – the old fire tower is an easy giveaway. But you’ll quickly be lured to the expansive and rewarding views. You can scan a whole horizon of mountain tops, including Mount Washington, if it’s a clear day. Find a seat on an outcropping of rock on the mountain’s edge to breath deep and take it all in. And snack. Summit snacks are very important.
Eventually you’ll be ready to make your way down and take advantage of stage two of this adventure: The sit-and-sweat part.
Nurture Through Nature is a retreat center at 77 Warren Road in Denmark. From the Ledges Trail parking lot, it’s a 15-minute drive. The center offers group retreats and workshops, yoga, and eco-cabin and yurt rentals. They also have a Finnish-style wood-fired sauna tucked into the woods, a short hike in from the parking area.
You can rent the sauna for private sessions on Fridays and Saturdays. The sauna holds 18 people, so if you have a large group or simply want your own space, book a private rental. Or take advantage of a winter special called Super Sauna Saturday.
On Saturdays from 4-6 p.m. in October-March, the sauna is open to the public for a discounted rate of $15 ($10 for students). No appointment is necessary for Super Sauna Saturday, but do check Nurture Through Nature’s website in case of last-minute changes or bad weather to make sure they’re open.
Wear a swimsuit (and bring a towel and water), and enjoy some sweat-inducing down time. It feels fantastic, especially after a day on the trails. And if there’s snow on the ground, you might even jump into it to cool down, then head back inside the sauna. For more info about Super Sauna Saturday, and what to bring or expect: ntnretreats.com/sauna.
Freelance writer Shannon Bryan lives in South Portland and is the founder of fitmaine.com, where she writes about the coolest ways to be active and get outdoors in Maine.
Portland’s sauna game is heating up
Opportunities to hike-and-sauna (or swim-and-sauna or ski-and-sauna) continue to grow in Portland.
A permanent sauna, The Washington Baths, is slated to open on inner Washington Avenue later this year. And the recently launched Little Red Sauna is a mobile sauna you might see popping up at events around greater Portland this winter. Check out these upcoming Little Red Sauna events:
• President’s Day Pop-Up: 12-6 p.m., Monday, Feb. 17, East End Beach, Portland. Take a winter plunge into the cold waters of Casco Bay and then warm up inside the Little Red Sauna. Proceeds go to Friends of the Eastern Prom; $20 per person.
• Winter Family Fun Day: 9 a.m.-3 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 22, Bradbury Mountain State Park, Pownal. Find the sauna at this family-friendly event hosted by Maine’s Bureau of Parks and Lands. The day includes sledding, guided snowshoe hikes, fat bike racing, and more; $20 per person.
— Shannon Bryan