Trip Report: XC Ski to Haskell Hut

I love winter. More precisely, I love snow – winter without snow? Blech, who needs it! Tired of the lack of snow here on the Maine coast, one recent evening I spontaneously (highly uncharacteristic; I am not a spontaneous person) decided to head a couple hours north to ski into a hut and spend a night in the middle of the Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument. By 9 AM next morning, I had determined the huts are in fact available for use in winter, secured my hut reservation, an overnight parking pass for KWW, and dog-care at the wonderful Katahdin Kritters for my furry friend Tess. So what that it was forecast to be the coldest night and weekend of the winter yet, with below zero temperatures, I’m a New England girl I can handle it! I dug out my back-backing gear from storage, put TWO sleeping bags in my pack not being sure exactly what “hut” in this instance would consist of, and off I went!

It’s a bit of a haul to get to the north end of the Monument from my home on Mount Desert Island, and I had a meeting on the way, so it was 2:20 in the afternoon before I reached the gate where I’d leave my car and set out on my skis – sadly at this time of year only 2 hours before sunset. But no problem – I had anticipated the late start, and it was plenty of time to ski the 6 plus miles (via the Old River Road trail along the Penobscot River) to Haskell Hut. Even if I lingered too long taking photos and didn’t make it before sunset, I had lots of warm gear and a good headlamp – not to mention a beautifully clear sky that would no doubt offer multitudes of starlight under which to ski – so while I preferred to arrive to a new place in the daylight to check it all out, I wasn’t concerned about darkness coming before I reached the hut.

The Old River Road XC ski track

The first stretch of trail, on the Old River Road, followed the banks of the Penobscot River. It was relatively flat and easy going, and with the trees heaped with fresh snow, and the dazzling sunlight illuminating the snowy trail as well as the water smoothly flowing by, I was in winter-wonderland-heaven. After about 2.25 miles, I came to a marsh on my right and crossed a small bridge where the marsh emptied into the river. The marsh afforded a beautiful view across to the ridge of a Bald Mountain. Alongside the open marsh, there was nothing to hinder the wind, but I braved chilled fingers to take off my giant mittens and snap some photos all the same! Just past the marsh, I came to the Oxbow Road, which took me right back up to the main trail (Messer Pond – Orin Falls Road).

From this point to Haskell Gate, I went up and down some gentle grades surrounded by the bare-leafed branches of deciduous trees. By now the sun was quite low in the sky, well hidden by the mountains, with dusk settling upon the landscape. The stark silhouettes of the tall trees and sharp angles of the branches were all the more emphasized by the purple sky glowing behind them. The patterns of the trees in the darkening dusk, the ever-changing light, the chill air stinging my exposed face (I had long before ditched the face mask I started with), the shusch-shusch-shusch rhythm of my skis sliding across the snow the only sound insinuating itself into the silent evening – I was totally absorbed by being in that place, in that time. Anything seemed imaginable. Lingering in the past holds one down; worrying about the future hems one in; but just BE in the present moment, and the world is suddenly full of promise and possibilities. Pure magic.

Dusk comes to Katahdin Woods and Waters

Past Haskell Gate, the trail took a bend downhill into a spruce forest, the spruce boughs heaped thickly with the recent snow delighted me. This was the final stretch before reaching the hut, to which I did arrive before it was entirely dark, though sunset was well past. While I liked the idea of skiing by starlight on such a clear evening, I was glad to reach the hut, new to me, before dark, so that I could take a look around and get my bearings. And make sure I knew the location of the outhouse (took me a bit to find it, even in the lingering light!)

When I decided to do this trip, I wasn’t sure what I would find as to my accommodations and exactly what sort of a hut this would be! But I was pleasantly surprised by how substantial Haskell Hut was – not necessarily in size, spacious enough but cozy too, sleeping eight – but well-enclosed, well-provisioned with cooking pots and pans and dishes, and games, books, and puzzles – and a rocking chair!

And, most importantly, quite the workhorse of a wood stove. As soon as I arrived – after finding the outhouse and snapping a few photos as well – my priority was getting a fire going before I cooled down too much from my ski. I huddled in front of the wood stove and worked on thawing out my toes while the temperature inside the hut began its slow climb out of the single digits. It took about an hour before it was comfortable enough – standing in front of the fire – to change out of my sweaty ski clothes, and start melting snow and heating water for my dinner. By the time I ate my dinner, I had to move the rocking chair well back from the fire and take off my hat; by the time I went to sleep, it was almost TOO hot in the hut! Frankly, I was much warmer in the hut than I would have been at home in my drafty house, with the not-so-great wood stove with which I heat it.

Haskell Hut in the morning light

Next morning I woke in the early hours of dawn; I could have laid there forever savoring the reflective light of the not-yet-risen sun lighting the sky over Haskell Deadwater and shining its way around the trees in through the windows. But I wanted to see the sunrise properly! So, still ensconced in my sleeping bag, I threw on some boots, hat, and mittens, grabbed my camera, and headed out into the chilly morning. It was magnificent! Minus eight degrees according to the thermometer, but I was relishing the wintry air. It was so still and serene – not a breath of wind, nor a murmur of sound to be heard. I spent a good half hour watching the sun emerge and slowly light the treetops, the hut, and finally the snow beneath me.

A re-warming by the stove, hot coffee, and some dried fruit and nuts were called for before heading back out for a morning ski. I made my way down the main trail to explore further along to the south. I found Haskell Rock Pitch, three-quarters of a mile down, and enjoyed the sight I’m much more familiar with in the summer, of the cascading falls of a river. I continued another mile and a half or so, completely reveling in the brilliant sunshine and utter snowiness of my surroundings. It seemed like mere seconds before my designated turn-around time forced me to head back to the hut.

The wintry Haskell Rock Pitch

When I saw the hut come into view perched atop the bank of the Haskell Deadwater, it felt like a homecoming of sorts even after just a single night there. I revived the coals of the fire to make some hot chocolate, giving myself some time to linger just a bit more. But reality was rearing its ugly head, and I needed to be off. I refilled the wood I had used from the woodshed, swept up, and said my goodbyes.

By this time, temperatures had warmed to the balmy low teens, so I ditched one of my layers from the day before and the morning, and set back out to the north. I couldn’t resist going the extra mile and a half to go back by way of the river again. When I reached that stretch, a small breeze afforded by the river’s proximity had both brought down quite a bit of debris to ski over, and completely obliterated the groomed trail with drifts, though the drifts were hard-packed enough to easily ski over. That wind, however, was just enough to send those cold temperatures right through my now-reduced layers of gear, resulting in my not being entirely sad when I reached my car! Plus, after not skiing all winter due to a lack of snow at home, 16 miles in two days, with a fully-loaded pack, had taken its toll on my quadriceps. Always hard to get back into the car and head back to the “real world” even after just a short time in the wilderness, but boy was I tired out!

I had departed the previous day at 2:20 and strangely returned to my car at exactly 2:20 to the minute the following afternoon. Such a short time really, but so huge in its significance. And to think, I could have – and almost – stayed home, sitting around avoiding the cold, and doing chores around the house. Instead, I made a tiny bit of effort, and had the most wondrous and unforgettable experience, enjoying the wintery wilderness of this amazing place that I’m lucky enough to call home.

Hope Rowan is the author of Ten Days in Acadia: A Kid’s Hiking Guide to Mount Desert Island, published by Islandport Press in 2017, as well as Ten Day in the North Woods: A Kid’s Hiking Guide to the Katahdin Region, due to be published this coming May. When not exploring the wilds of her beloved state or further afield, she resides in Southwest Harbor, Maine.

Save the Date for Head North Ski Days: March 16 – 22, 2019

This winter, we hope to guide you to exceptional experiences in the snowy Monument. If you’re a XC skier or snowshoer, you’ll want to save the dates of Saturday, March 16th to Friday, March 22nd, 2019 for the sixth annual Head North Ski Days. Head North Ski Days is a weeklong event with free ski rentals and access to groomed trails in the north of the Monument provided by Friends and Elliotsville Plantation, Inc.

Students and schools are invited to join Education Coordinator Kala Rush for educational trips into the Monument from Monday, March 18th to Friday, March 22nd. Please contact Kala at for more details.

More information about this annual event will be posted to the website soon.

Loop Road Gate and North Gate Closed to Vehicles for Winter

We have an important update on road closures from the National Park Service.

Due to snow, the Loop Road gate and the North gate at Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument have been closed to motor vehicles and will remain closed for the winter season.

For important updates about road conditions, you can always visit the current conditions page on the Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument NPS website.

Portland Monument Planning Meeting: Nov 14th

The National Park Service (NPS) will host a public meeting on November 14, 2018, to continue the conversation on the on-going management planning process at Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument.

Meeting Details:
Wednesday, November 14, 2018
6:00 PM to 8:00 PM
Portland Marriott at Sable Oaks
200 Sable Oaks Drive, South Portland, Maine 04106

The meeting will include an overview and welcome by Superintendent Tim Hudson and a presentation of mapped resources and past planning events. Following the presentation, participants will also have the opportunity to visit separate information stations in an informal open house format to provide input on the mapped resources and uses in the monument. Light refreshments will be provided.

Similar public meetings were held in Presque Isle on October 17 and in Bangor on October 30, 2018. Future meetings on the planning process will be held throughout 2019.

You are invited to participate in the planning process by attending public meetings and sharing your input via email. If you submit written comments, please cc us at to let us know how you’ve weighed in.

This is an important opportunity for Friends of Katahdin Woods and Waters supporters who are eager to take an active role in determining how the monument is managed and conserved. If you plan on joining us at the meeting or would like information on future meetings, please email our Operations and Special Projects Coordinator, Sam Deeran.

Brewer Monument Planning Meeting: Oct 30th

The National Park Service (NPS) will host a public meeting on October 30, 2018, to continue the conversation on the on-going management planning process at Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument.

Meeting Details:
Tuesday October 30, 2018
6:00 PM to 8:00 PM
Jeff’s Catering
15 Littlefield Way, Brewer, Maine

The meeting will include an overview and welcome by Superintendent Tim Hudson and a presentation of mapped resources and past planning events. Following the presentation, participants will also have the opportunity to visit separate information stations in an informal open house format to provide input on the mapped resources and uses in the monument. Light refreshments will be provided.

Additional public meetings will be held throughout 2018 including one in the Portland, Maine area on November 14, 2018.

You are invited to participate in the planning process by attending public meetings and sharing your input via email. If you submit written comments, please cc us at to let us know how you’ve weighed in.

This is an important opportunity for Friends of Katahdin Woods and Waters supporters who are eager to take an active role in determining how the monument is managed and conserved. If you plan on joining us at the meeting or would like information on future meetings, please email our Operations and Special Projects Coordinator, Sam Deeran.

Katahdin Region to Host Celebration of Darkest Skies East of the Mississippi at Annual “Stars Over Katahdin” Events

Friday, September 21st, 2018

Katahdin Region to Host Celebration of Darkest Skies East of the Mississippi at Annual “Stars Over Katahdin” Events

Patten, ME — An annual tradition of showcasing the dark skies of the Katahdin region will continue this year at Stars Over Katahdin on Oct. 6thand 9th, hosted by Friends of Katahdin Woods and Waters (Friends) and Elliotsville Plantation, Inc (EPI). Stars Over Katahdin will feature an exhibition of the United States’ darkest skies East of the Mississippi for the general public, while the educational events preceding will provide opportunities for students of the Katahdin region to learn about the stunning nights skies of their hometowns. The events take place as supporters of the Monument push to conserve the extraordinary night skies as an International Dark Sky Sanctuary as designated by the International Dark Sky Association.

As part of the place-based education program Katahdin Learning Project, students at Katahdin Elementary and Myal Oprick Elementary will be treated to presentations on the night skies from Northern Stars Planetarium. John Meader, Director of Northern Stars Planetarium in Fairfield, will be presenting age-appropriate lessons on the stars, planets, and distant galaxies to students inside a large inflatable dome designed for projections of celestial objects. Programs at Katahdin Elementary will take place September 24that 9:45am, 12:15am, and 5:00pm. Programs at Myal Oprick Elementary will take place September 25that 9:00am and 10:15am. These events are closed to the general public, but open to press upon prior request.

“Our night skies are becoming a source of local pride for students and community members alike,” said Kala Rush, Education and Engagement Coordinator with the Friends. “Through educational and interpretive programming, the Monument has elevated awareness of this increasingly scarce resource in our own backyard. This is one case where we’re proud to be in the dark.”

On Saturday Oct. 6th, Friends of Katahdin Woods and Waters members and Monument Volunteers Eric and Elaine Hendrickson of Presque Isle will be leading a guided day hike exploring the history and geology along the banks of the Wassataquoik Stream north to Orin Falls. Hikers will meet at Sandbank Stream Campsite to carpool at 10:30am.

Hikers with small children or a part of a family are welcome to meet Katahdin Learning Project place-based educator Scarlet McAvoy for a Family Hike at Sandbank Stream Campsite at 2pm with an optional picnic to follow (families provide their own food). Those interested in the Family Hike are invited to RSVP to

Saturday evening, astronomers, Monument volunteers, and star enthusiasts will gather at the Loop Road Overlook at Mile 6.4 for a campfire program (s’mores included) followed by a guided telescope viewing of the stars. Carpools and a reservation-only shuttle bus will be meeting at Sandbank Stream Campsite at 5pm. Those interested in shuttling to the Overlook should contact Susan Adams at to reserve a spot on the shuttle. Event attendees planning to camp out for the night in the Monument should be aware that campsites within the Monument are likely to be full with other visitors that weekend. Friends suggests attendees hoping to stay overnight book accommodations at the nearby Pine Grove Campground or at other local accommodations.

Tuesday, Oct. 9th at 7pm, the Millinocket Memorial Library will be showing an early screening of “Saving the Dark”, a film directed by Sriram Murali about night skies and the increasing effects of light pollution.

“ ‘Saving the Dark’ does a great job of laying out how precious and deserving of conservation our dark are,” said Nancy Hathaway, a Friends member who is volunteering her time to help organize Stars Over Katahdin. “The film is an important reminder of what’s at stake as we work to protect these lands and the skies above.”

Stars Over the Katahdin takes place while Friends, EPI, and the National Park Service continue their collective effort to have the Monument designated as a Dark Sky Sanctuary by the International Dark Sky Association. The efforts to conserve the night skies of the region were previously covered in the Portland Press Herald’s feature “Let there be dark: Advocates push Maine as astrotourism destination” and The County’s article “Dark skies a resource to protect”. Light pollution maps show that this part of Maine is home to a patch of dark skies larger than any other in the United States East of the Mississippi River. Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument sits in the heart of the dark skies of northern Maine. With a total eclipse expected to move directly over the Monument in 2024, dark sky advocates pushing for the International Dark Sky Designation hope Katahdin Woods and Waters can be a major destination for astrotourists from across the world.

Press Contacts:
Kala Rush, Education and Engagement Coordinator
Friends of Katahdin Woods and Waters
(406) 728 – 5692

Susan Adams, Recreation Manager
Elliotsville Plantation, Inc.
(207) 852 – 1291


Katahdin Area Students Volunteer at BikeMaine for an Educational Experience

Saturday, September 8, 2018

Katahdin Area Students Volunteer at BikeMaine for an Educational Experience

Fort Fairfield, ME – Katahdin Region students came together again to volunteer as the tent and porter crew for BikeMaine 2018: Acadia in the St. John Valley – La Terre Entre Deux (the land between). Students take seven days, including five away from school, to work setting up and taking down tents. They join cyclists for each meal, learn from a place-based curriculum in the afternoon, and then camp out each night in “tent city.” The week is facilitated and supported through multiple partnerships ranging from the Katahdin Learning Project, a place-based learning initiative offering educational opportunities at the Friends of Katahdin Woods and Waters, to Elliotsville Plantation, Inc. The work could not be done without the amazing teacher chaperones from Katahdin Middle High School, CariLynn Hanson and Kyle Quarles. Katahdin region schools such as Katahdin Middle High School have the opportunity to jump on board in order to offer students this week-long learning adventure.

What is the Katahdin Learning Project?

The Katahdin Learning Project, a project of Friends of Katahdin Woods and Waters, works to create educational opportunities through place-based learning in the Katahdin Region, using Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument and the surrounding communities as the backdrop.

MISSION: The mission of the Katahdin Learning Project is to foster and support authentic teaching and learning in the Katahdin Region that engages students in real projects in the community and the wild and natural places surrounding them.

VISION: We envision a future where our youth, public lands, and education will unite us, create vibrant communities, and ensure a prosperous future for the Katahdin Region.

Why do we partner with BikeMaine?

BikeMaine offers participating students a rare opportunity to learn through hands-on activities in nearby communities with a curriculum created by teachers and partners in order to enhance and provide the best and most educational experience possible. The crew also earn a substantial stipend for programs at their school, like resources for their outdoor education program.

Who participates?

Students, grade 7-11, from the Katahdin Middle / High School

Partners including Katahdin Learning Project/Friends of Katahdin Woods and Water, Elliotsville Plantation, Inc., Katahdin Middle / High School, and BikeMaine.


Kala Rush
Education and Engagement Coordinator
Friends of Katahdin Woods and Waters
(406) 728-5692

Marie Robinson
Principal at Katahdin Middle / High School Principal
(207) 365-4218

CariLynn Hanson
Teacher at Katahdin Middle / High School
(207) 365-4218

Susan Adams
Recreation Manager
Elliotsville Plantation, Inc.
(207) 852-1291


Stars Over Katahdin: Oct 6th and 9th

Stars Over Katahdin 2018

Saturday, October 6th and Tuesday, October 9th
Presented by Elliotsville Plantation, Inc. and Friends of Katahdin Woods and Waters

You’re invited you to join Elliotsville Plantation, Inc (EPI), Friends of Katahdin Woods and Waters (Friends), Volunteers In Parks (VIP) astronomers, and star enthusiasts to celebrate the stunning night skies of the Katahdin Region!

Guide Hike through Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument
Saturday, Oct. 6th
10:30am to 4pm
Meet-up at Sandbank Stream Campsite

Saturday, VIP guides Eric and Elaine Hendrickson will be leading us on an easygoing 6-mile hike along the banks of Wassataquoik Stream north to Orin Falls. Along the way, our guides will share some of the geologic and historical aspects of the area, including stories of Teddy Roosevelt’s crossing of the Wassataquoik and Donn Fendler ’s being Lost on a Mountain in Maine. It’s fall in the north woods, so it’s a great time to watch for birds, leaves changing, and fall wildflowers along the way.

Be sure to pack sturdy hiking shoes, lunches, water, day packs, clothing layers and a camera. Hikers will meet at Sandbank Stream Campsite at 10:30am on Saturday, October 6th and then car pool to the Wassataquoik Gate. We will return to Sandbank by 4pm. To RSVP email Susan Adams, Recreation Manager for EPI, at

Family Hike and Picnic
Saturday, Oct. 6th
Meet-up at Sandbank Stream Campsite

Hikers with small children or a part of a family are welcome to meet Katahdin Learning Project place-based educator Scarlet McAvoy for a guided hike at Sandbank Stream Campsite at 2pm with an optional picnic to follow (families provide their own food). Please RSVP to if you plan to attend the Family Hike and Picnic.

Star Viewing in Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument
Saturday, Oct. 6th, 5pm to 10pm
Overlook at Mile 6.4 of the Loop Road

Join us for an evening of campfire chats, s’mores, and guided stargazing at one of the darkest areas east of the Mississippi. While enjoying s’mores provided by EPI, we’ll hear tall tales of the north woods in the shadow of Katahdin as we wait for the sun to set and the skies to darken. Following our campfire program, we will walk up to the Loop Road Overlook where our Astro VIPs will teach us what lies overhead through interpretation of stars, planets, and celestial objects seen with telescopes, binoculars, and the naked eye.

Be advised that we do ask attendees to walk up to the Overlook rather than drive. A car’s headlights – or even the dashboard lights – can decrease the eye’s ability to perceive light from the stars above. The walk to the Overlook is uphill for about 100 yards.

For Saturday evening event’s please pack warm layers, water, sturdy shoes, personal camp chair, and a flashlight (red lights are preferred).  We also suggest you consider packing a picnic supper, personal telescope or binoculars, and warm mat to lie on to better view the skies. We will provide the campfire, s’mores, red cellophane to shield flashlights and phones, telescope, guides, and drinking water.

A free passenger shuttle service can be reserved for a ride from Sandbank Stream Campsite to the Overlook. The shuttle departs at 5pm and returns around 10:30pm. To reserve your seat email Susan Adams at There will also be carpools leaving from Sandbank Stream Campsite around the same time.

If you are hoping to stay in the Monument during Stars Over Katahdin, please be aware it is likely that campsites in the Monument will be full. Camping should be available at the Pine Grove Campground. You can also explore other local accommodations here.

The night sky viewing and overnight camping will be canceled in the case of inclement weather. EPI will post on their Facebook page if the event is canceled within 8 hours of the event’s start time.

“Saving the Dark” Film Screening
Tuesday, Oct. 9th, 7pm
Millinocket Memorial Library

Join local astronomy enthusiast Nancy Hathaway at the Millinocket Memorial Library for an early screening of Sriram Murali’s new film about the treasure that is the night skies and the ill effects of growing light pollution. You can watch a trailer for “Saving the Dark” here.

For more information on Stars Over Katahdin 2018, please contact Susan Adams, Recreation Manager for Elliotsville Plantation, Inc. at and follow along on the EPI facebook page.


Supporters of Maine’s National Monument to Gather at Sold Out 2nd Anniversary Celebration

Friday, August 24th, 2018

Andrew Bossie
Executive Director
Cell: (207) 899 – 9983

Molly Ross
Board President
Cell: (703) 819-2643

Supporters of Maine’s National Monument to Gather at Sold Out 2nd Anniversary Celebration
This year’s festivities take place as the monument makes progress on several fronts.

Patten, ME — Friends of Katahdin Woods and Waters (Friends) will kick off the 2nd Anniversary Celebration of the establishment of Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument this weekend. The events taking place Friday and Saturday evening are sold out, but organizers are encouraging the public to enjoy the beautiful late-summer weather forecast in and around the monument through suggested outdoor and community trips and experiences.

“We’re pleased with the progress our monument has made in just two years,” says Friends’ Executive Director, Andrew Bossie. “Signs are going up, visitation is strong, planning is underway, and the local economy is benefiting; we’re excited about the future of the park and for the gateway communities of the Katahdin Region. This weekend we celebrate the community of our public lands while also supporting it.”

The evening, presented with Maine Beer Company (MBC), will include dinner from Patten-based Casual Elegance Caterers, Woods & Waters beer and other selections from MBC, a silent auction of outdoor gear, experiences, and memorabilia, as well as live performances by the Magic 8 Ball Quartet, sponsored by The Wilderness Society. Following a speaking program and awards ceremony, guests will get the chance to experience the night skies of the area by walking a short distance from the event to telescopes and an interpretive presentation.

Friends partnered with L.L. Bean to encourage attendees to “Be an Outsider” and explore Maine and the nation’s newest public lands before and after the event. Organizers have posted suggested trips including hikes, paddles, bike rides, and drives throughout the monument.

Friends staff and board members, National Park Service staff, as well as local business owners and community members will be sharing remarks in a short speaking program on Saturday evening. In the midst of the speaking program, Friends will also be presenting three awards. Receiving awards for Excellence in Volunteerism will be Candace McKellar of Sherman and MaryAlice Mowry of Millinocket. The award for Outstanding Public Service will go to Julie Isbill, Rivers & Trails Project Manager at National Park Service and a former detailee at the monument. And the Conservation Colleague award will go to the Katahdin Area Chamber of Commerce.

The event is being supported by an impressive group of sponsors and individuals from around Maine and the Katahdin Region. The Bangor Daily News has published promotions in its print and online publications to help drive visitation to the event, the monument, and the surrounding communities. Graphic design for the event was done by a local sponsor, Millinocket-based designlab. Natural Resources Council of Maine, integral to the effort to designate the national monument, has continued their support as a sponsor at the event. Local sponsors, including New England Outdoor Center, Katahdin Trust, and others businesses are supporting the weekend’s festivities with proceeds benefiting various programming of the friends to attract and support park visitors, improve park infrastructure, and encourage revitalization efforts of the region.

Friends of Katahdin Woods and Waters is a non-profit 501(c)(3) membership organization made up of individuals and businesses who are committed to the mission to preserve and protect the outstanding natural beauty, ecological vitality and distinctive cultural resources of Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument and surrounding communities for the inspiration and enjoyment of all generations. To become a member or to learn more, go to


Trip Report: Mountain Bike Loop to Big Spring Brook Hut

Two weeks ago, I brought my hard-charging, forever Mainer, now Coloradoan sister Elsa up north for a mountain bike trip through the heart of the monument. After weeks of planning and anticipation, we rented bikes in Bangor and parked at Bowlin Camps, which sits across the East Branch of the Penobscot towards the north end of the monument’s main parcel. The camps’ caretakers Terry and Dave let us park overnight for $10 and offered a last-minute acquisition of some extra bug spray they happened to buy that morning.

We had charted a two-day loop that would take us to the Big Spring Brook Hut for the night and then back round to Bowlin Camps. Readying ourselves just after lunch, we made some quick notes about our path on our map and then set out. We crossed the Bowlin Suspension Bridge and biked up a short hill (full disclosure: Elsa biked, I dismounted for the first of many hills). At the top of the hill, we took a right onto the International Appalachian Trail (IAT) and then a left soon after to get onto the K Comp Rd, continuing onto the IAT again, and then on the K Comp Rd until we hit Little Messer Pond Rd. It was muggy and buggy, but once the wind got whipping past us on our bikes we could enjoy blue skies and clear air.

The terrain unfolded before us like a study in contrasts: steeps and flats, foliage and clear skies, empty roads and thick underbrush. I hadn’t been mountain biking since I was 12, and my sister, being both my eternal elder and a mountain biker trained in the mile-high air of the Colorado Rockies, whooped me on just about any terrain we encountered.

After a scare following a false fork in the path, we stopped to establish a good system of checking in. There were two reasons to be making occasional stops: my lungs were folding inside out and trail crossings on less maintained trails can be very deceptive. This trip would not have been possible without the Map Adventures recreational map (which is available to new and renewing Friends members through the end of this year). It shows detailed mile markings and gives you a sense of what trails to take and which not to take – which, in parts of the monument where there isn’t much signage, is crucial. Roads that are defunct or not on the map may look inviting. And sometimes the roads that are in use might be grown in. Crossing the Big Spring Brook on our second day, we hit a wall of five-foot-tall saplings. Deep in the heart of the monument and in the thick of summer, you can’t always rely on following trodden paths.

Once we hit the Little Messer Pond Rd we took a left, where we found well-worn, established road. This road is used by humans and animals alike, although I’d wager you’re more likely to see a moose than a park service truck. Elsa, afraid of startling a moose or a bear and inviting their jilted ire, made sure to clear the path by yelling greetings to the creatures in the woods ahead. There was no shortage of evidence that they were near – scat of all shapes and sizes showed they were well fed and on the move.

After the ups and downs of the northward trail so, we enjoyed some long, sweeping downhills along the Little Messer Pond Rd. After crossing several brooks and streams, we came to the leftward turnoff for Big Spring Brook Hut. At the hut, we dropped our packs and settled in. We had heard the propane was out, but were delighted to find that the tanks had been switched by Mark Adams from Elliotsville Plantation, Inc. (the non-profit led by Lucas St. Clair that was a leading force in the establishment of the monument). We could bike to a sunset vista up at the nearby Lookout and know we’d be returning to some hot grub.

From the Big Spring Brook Hut path, we took a left and stayed on the Little Messer Pond Rd until we hit the Lookout Trail on our right. We threw the bikes into the lowest gear and made the slow ascent, stopping only to eat some raspberries and to consider forks in the trail. About a mile up the Lookout Trail, we took the first left. There are a few forks leading left after the first one. Ignore all but the first. Eventually, the road gets washed out and winds into the woods. When the path got thin and the trees tight, we left our bikes. There was zero worry about theft up there – we hadn’t seen another human all day.

We walked 15 minutes through the slowly darkening woods and then made the view. There’s a helmet there, perched above exposed granite. It commemorates Jerome “El Dorado” Haynes, the trail master for the Traveler Mountain Snowmobile Club who originally built the Lookout Trail. El Dorado’s helmet looks out over a stunning panorama, showcasing the peaks, streams, and valleys of the monument, Traveler Mountain, and Mt. Katahdin off to the southwest. We luxuriated for a while, eating some peak blueberries and enjoying the view until we realized the sun was setting quickly. After the long, slow ascent up to the Lookout, we were rewarded with a ripping run back downhill.

An aside here about optimal mountain bike tire size. Elsa and I rented two types of mountain bikes, which allowed for some good A/B testing. Between my front-suspension bike with regular gauge tires and Elsa’s fat tire bike without suspension, there was a clear winner. In almost every area we biked, the fat-tire bike seemed to be performing better. It was less jilted by rocks and roots and seemed steadier on uphills and downhills alike.

Back at the hut, I took a dip down in the Big Spring Brook. The water’s cold, somehow feels like snowmelt even in the middle of July – just what I was looking for. I submerged my whole body and felt the aching muscles give up their knots. Elsa prepared some delicious pesto pasta and sausage. With a raging trail hunger, we quickly dispatched a few servings each. The sun was well below the horizon, so we lit the kerosene lamp and chatted until an early bed-time.

In the morning, we woke to the pitter-patter of rain. We filled our water bottles with water from the brook, boiled then cooled overnight. The second day and second half of the trip’s loop was much more forgiving than the first. The morning starts left along the Little Messer Pond Rd uphill past the Lookout Trail until you hit a hard left down the Keyhole Road. Along the Keyhole Road, it’s almost entirely downhill. The ground was slick so we took it a bit slow but still enjoyed carving along the double track of the once-driven road. We took frequent stops to consult with the map (again there were some deceptive forks) and to enjoy signs of beaver in the many ponds and streams we traversed. There’s an especially beautiful bridge crossing Big Spring Brook – mentioned previously because of the wall of saplings on its downhill side.

At the bottom of the long downhill, we turned left onto the IAT once more and made our way up gradual uphill until we hit the turnoff to head back across the East Branch of the Penobscot. Biking towards our car at Bowlin Camps, we were welcomed back by Terry and Dave, who gave a warm welcome and a friendly “I told you so” about the bug spray they had sold us. We said our goodbyes, packed up our gear, and hit the long, dusty road. Elsa dropped me off in Patten and then stayed south to Portland.

I left the trip feeling grateful for the natural beauty of the monument, the map that allowed us to explore it safely, and the sister who pushed me to my limits biking through it. The trip was equal parts enlivening and humbling. Finding myself on the brink of losing the path, or seeing paths grown in, I was often struck by the enormity of the work ahead for the National Park Service and Friends of Katahdin Woods and Waters. There are trails to be cut, signs to be posted, and important choices to be made about where those trails and signs lead (choices you can be a part of by attending NPS Monument Planning Meetings). Before then, there are guides to be written and reports to be shared. I hope this report has given you a good sense of how to navigate this trip yourself. Should you like to enjoy much of the same trip without as many orienteering challenges, you can also mountain bike from the Haskell Gate down the IAT to Little Messer Pond Rd and then back along the same path. This alternative route offers clearer roads and distinct signage.

If you have any questions about the trip Elsa and I took, or any other trips you might be considering, please feel free to reach out to For those interested in staying at the Big Spring Brook Hut – which is the only hut open to overnight visitors this summer – email Susan Adams at Elliotsville Plantation, Inc.

Sam Deeran, Operations & Special Projects Coordinator