Maine Huts & Trails Week: Day One, Hiking to Stratton Brook Hut

I’ve been pining to get to the Maine Huts & Trails for some time now, ever since I first heard about this new nonprofit group and their lofty ambition to build 12 eco-lodges in the glorious western Maine wilderness. It seems my patience has paid off. Seven years after the Poplar Springs Hut was first built in 2008, there are already four huts in the network across a 45-mile span. Spearheaded by the passionate Charlie Woodworth these past 3 years, who made the wise decision to move their office from Portland to Kingfield to be closer to the huts, a consortium of big-name players like L.L. Bean, New Balance, and the Sugarloaf Ski Area are now squarely behind the project. Yet, perhaps the most important group involved, especially for those of us who want to sample the huts in the warm weather is the Carrabassett Valley New England Mountain Biking Association or NEMBA , who are using the latest round of funding to create some of the finest singletrack trails in the East. Runs that surprisingly connect the huts and give you the rare chance to go mountain biking lodge to lodge.

Today, however, my wife Lisa and I would be hiking from the Stratton Brook Trailhead to the newest hut, Stratton Brook just in time for a pig roast and bluegrass band that would help launch the summer season. As soon as we left the car behind (happily for 5 days), you could smell the sweet balsam and follow the butterflies as they flew from goldenrod to goldenrod. We climbed gradually under the tall pines on the Newton’s Revenge Trail and some 90 minutes later arrived at the hut. What a beauty it is, all light wood with an interior that rewards with floor to ceiling windows overlooking the 4,000-plus foot mountains of the Bigelow Range. This is no century old AMC Hut from the White Mountains, where you often share crowded rooms with many other bunkmates. We had a private room, the opportunity to shower, and my personal favorite, a chance to down a Maine microbrew or glass of wine to toast your achievement. 

Lisa and I grabbed a Baxter Stowaway IPA and glass of South African pinotage and strolled up to the Vista, where a lonely bench looked out on a wide swath of uninterrupted wilderness including that stupendous view of the Bigelow Range and its mighty backbone that forms a ridge walk on the Appalachian Trail. A blanket of green formed a carpet on the flanks of the peaks, leading to ribbons of blue, where rivers carved through the valley. Not surprisingly, we would head back here the following morning before breakfast with our first cup of coffee. In the meantime, it was time to listen to the foot-stomping sounds of the mandolin, violin, bass, banjo, and guitar while downing my pulled pork sandwich. Not a bad start to the week.