It’s easy to fancy yourself a bold winter explorer as you cross-country ski the backcountry trails of Maine’s 100-Mile Wilderness.
The solitude on the 8.3-mile trek to Gorman Chairback Lodge and Cabins in Greenville allows your attention to focus on the chattering of birds in the trees, the rhythmic swish of your skis, the peculiar snake-like tracks in the snow (which you’ll later learn were probably left by a vole).
The remoteness is a definite thrill. And you could very nearly let yourself believe you were all alone out here with just the conifers – except the trails are exceptionally groomed and well-marked, your overnight bags are being brought in by snowmobile, and the woodstove in your cabin will be blazing and warm upon your arrival.
Winter at an Appalachian Mountain Club Maine Wilderness Cabin is not exactly roughing it.
It is a fantastic and memorable getaway (or ski-away, if you prefer) into the Maine woods, where off-the-grid intersects with hot showers and a seasonal beer selection. Not to mention the family-style meals, composting toilets, and wood-fired sauna.
Whether you’re an avid outdoorsperson looking for a relaxing wintertime respite or you’re just dipping your boots into cold-weather adventure, AMC’s Maine Wilderness Cabins make for a welcoming winter oasis.
The AMC lodges include Gorman Chairback Lodge, Little Lyford Lodge, and Medawisla Lodge. Many winter visitors ski lodge to lodge, staying a night or two before packing up and heading on like happy Nordic-skiing vagabonds. Little Lyford and Gorman Chairback are particularly popular for this.
The 8.3-mile ski into Gorman Chairback Lodge and Cabins is a big part of what makes the trip so worthwhile. The adventure begins in the AMC winter parking lot on KI Road, 11 miles from the center of Greenville.
Here you’ll tag your bag and place it into a gear shed near the trailhead. The sheds are labeled by lodge, and staff will swing by and ferry your bag to the lodge for you, which means you can ski with a lighter day pack. There’s helpful information at the sheds, too, like when each trail was last groomed and whether specific trails are open or closed. If you’re headed to Gorman Chairback, you can note whether the trail across the pond is open.
Make sure you’ve got a trail map (there are some at the gear sheds if needed), extra layers, a headlamp (just in case), water, and plenty of snacks for the journey ahead, and you’re off.
The trails are groomed on the regular and there are signs galore to guide you, making navigating a breeze. (Even so, check that map just to be sure.) You’ll be met by rolling hills with inclines that increase your heart rate and downhills that also increase your heart rate – for a completely different reason.
You’ll glide by spacious stands of birch trees and then, a few minutes later, marvel at how the bows of firs crowd the trail. You might spot a pileated woodpecker or the tracks of a fox. And you may meet fellow skiers on the trail, but you’ll also have loads of time to breathe and be quiet and wonder about what woodsy inhabitant peeled the bark off that tree.
There are several trail options to choose from to get to Gorman Chairback. The Long Pond Trail, which goes south around Long Pond, is 8.3 miles. The Gorman Lodge Trail, which runs north of Long Pond, is 7.3 miles and considered more beginner-friendly. And if the ice is solid and the trail is marked, you can ski right across the pond.
Depending on how quickly you ski and how often you stop to gawk, snack, and take photos, the trek will take about three to four hours. And soon you’ll ski up to Gorman Chairback Lodge, step out of your skis, and start ooohing over your new abode.
Eight cabins keep a lookout at the edge of Long Pond. Equipped with a woodstove, gas lamps, and a jug for water, the cabins sleep up to five people. They were part of a recreational camp that has existed here since 1867. One cabin, in the shape of an octagon, is the oldest on the property.
AMC took over the property in recent years and built four deluxe cabins, including one that’s ADA accessible. These cabins have electricity and full private baths with composting toilets and running water. They’re downright fancy and delightful. There’s also a bunkhouse that accommodates 10 guests.
Wherever you’re resting your head for the night, you’ll be warmly welcomed by the lodge manager when you arrive, and you’ll be warmly welcomed by your cabin, too – staff will have already lit the woodstove for you.
Meals are served family-style at the main lodge, where you can scoop something hot and homemade and delicious onto your plate while you socialize with your fellow guests and swap adventure stories. Bonus: there’s beer and wine for sale.
How you spend your time at Gorman Chairback is totally up to you. Recline with a book at the main lodge, play cribbage with a friend, relax in the wood-fired sauna. You can trek out onto the frozen pond to look up at the moon or explore the network of trails and work on your animal track identification.
Whatever you do, the Maine woods will surely work their rejuvenating magic. The Long Pond views, snow-covered trails, and AMC hospitality sure don’t hurt. Reservations are open now, and the season runs from Jan. 13-March 5, 2022.
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.