The Portland Phoenix

Letter from Aroostook: Go north to beat cabin fever

Biathlon skiers on one of the groomed trails at the Fort Kent Outdoor Center. (Courtesy Aroostook County Tourism Archive)

It has been a strange winter.  Often, the southern part of the state has had more snow than The County, leaving us a bit strapped for things to do. But the last two storms dumped enough so that there is plenty to do here in the Crown of Maine. 

Most of the small towns and cities scattered throughout Aroostook have skating rinks and cross-country or downhill skiing, snowmobiling, and ice fishing, and even hills groomed just for sledding or tubing. 

At the southernmost end of The County, from Patten east to Danforth, then north to Madawaska and Allagash, there is always something to do outdoors that will put a blush on your cheeks and keep you smiling. And, just as important, there is terrific lodging, great dining, and interesting shops to browse after a day of snowmobiling or skiing. 

In Danforth, with Grand Lake hugging the Maine-Canada border, there’s great snow sledding and ice fishing. There’s also Route 2A through the Haynesville Woods, made famous by Dick Curless’ song “A Tombstone Every Mile” (based on the number of accidents along the route, especially a dangerous hairpin turn where, before Interstate 95 was completed, there were often deadly accidents involving truckers hauling potatoes south to market). 

Houlton, a quaint little town that offers great dining, shopping, and comfortable lodging, has a ski trail right along the Meduxnekeag River, and a great co-op with local crafts, organic foods, and terrific lunch menus. It’s a great base for any kind of outdoor activities in the southern part of The County. 

Farther north, Big Rock in Mars Hill offers downhill skiing and tubing, and excellent snowmobiling maintained by local clubs. There’s also downhill skiing at Quoggy Joe in Presque Isle, and some of New England’s best cross-country skiing at The Nordic Heritage Center, also in Presque Isle. The Fort Kent Outdoor Center has had the IBU World Cup Biathlons, as well as other national and international Nordic and biathlon events, along with Lonesome Pine Trails, at the top of The County. 

On the western side of The County, which includes some stunning views of Mt. Katahdin, leave I-95 in Sherman, and follow Route 11 north, all the way to Fort Kent at the top of The County. There are numerous opportunities for lodging and great food along the way in Oxbow, Ashland, and Portage, and some gorgeous views of the western mountains in the Big Woods. 

Jacob Pelkey of Northern Maine Development Commission says the work of local clubs means that the entire region offers some of the best snowmobile and cross-country skiing trails in New England, often with trailside lodging and dining. For those who are new to snowmobiling, there are several locations that will rent snowmobiles. It usually requires a safety course on operating the powerful machines, and in some instances, first-time snowmobilers are required to go out with a staff person from a club, just for safety’s sake.  

For those who want to snowshoe, there are also many trails to burn off energy and calories from the great food available, and there is often a greater chance of seeing wildlife along the way. For those not quite sure they want to head out too far in the wild, many communities maintain trails in and around the downtown areas. Aroostook State Park has 16 miles of cross-country trails, and Limestone, Frenchville, Fort Fairfield, and Caribou all have trail systems.  

So, if you are suffering from cabin fever, head north to enjoy the quiet, the great lodging and dining, and even some terrific shopping in small local shops. You won’t regret it.

Jan Grieco is a retired college instructor and former reporter for The Forecaster. She lives in Perham, where she farms and lives off the land.

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