What a perfect day. We just got back from exploring the wilderness and I have to tell you that this winter hiking really is a thing. There were people all over the place in the woods. I was so surprised. I even snapped some photos of them to prove it.
I used to think that only people on Youtube actually hiked around out there in the snow. That really isn’t the case. From what I saw today, half the state of Maine was either skiing and snowboarding at Sugarloaf Mountain, snowmobiling through the thousands of miles of trails we have here, snowshoeing up in Carrabassett or cross-country skiing in the same area. It was crazy. I was actually very pleased with all of it because seeing everyone out and about inspired me to get out there more. There really is no excuse. Lord knows there’s enough gear to keep me warm and trust me when I say that there’s no shortage of opportunity. Within minutes, I can be on brand new cross-country skis and up in a trail trying them out. It’s nuts, really.
I have a fun story to tell you about today. Earlier in the week, I made a plan to get out there and do some hiking in an area I found online. Laura and I have been nearby this area before, but never in the snow, nor the winter for that matter. The problem was, since I have never actually seen any of the trails I wanted to visit in person, I had no idea what the topography was like. Also, after looking on a web page that described the area last night, I learned that the dirt road I had planned on driving up was closed for the season. That was fine. I told Laura that we would just hike up the trail that traveled the length of the road, right next to Poplar Stream. Sure, it was two and a half miles each way, but we’d make it. No problem.
The goal for today was to visit Poplar Stream Falls. This is a waterfall that sits up inside a nook on a mountainside about three miles from the closest paved road. To get up there, you either have to drive when the weather is good or hike when the weather is bad and the road isn’t passable. If we were feeling extra good, we could continue past the falls and visit Poplar Hut, which was built and is operated by Maine Huts & Trails. I’ll write a post that describes this organization at a later date, but let me just tell you that they really do have something spectacular going on up here in Maine. I’ve never even heard of something like what they have and it’s inspiring, to say the least.
During today’s hike, I took tons of photos. As I usually do, I’ll share the photos below and offer some commentary to go along with them.
When we first arrived, we decided to park at the Carrabassett town offices. They have a parking lot that anyone can use when they’re hiking. The Maine Huts & Trails Poplar Stream parking lot was closed. So basically, we had to park all the way at the bottom and walk up the road to see how far we could get. After that, we’d cross a small bridge and enter the trail.
Here’s the first photo. We just parked and I asked Laura to grab one of me. I was feeling very handsome.
The Carrabassett River is right near the parking lot and there was an extraordinary amount of huge ice chunks all over the place. I tried to get some decent photos of them. Here’s one.
Look at how clear that ice is.
As soon as we made it out onto the road, five snowmobiles passed right by us. I grabbed a photo of them when I thought about it because I’m still in awe that these things are allowed to drive around anywhere like this. In this photo below, they are heading down Carriage Road and are ready to cross Rt. 27 to head into some other trails.
You know you’re in snow country when you start seeing a-frame houses. On Carriage Road, this type of home is quite popular. I took some photos of the different styles of houses here, just in case you’re interested in that. Check out these photos.
Here are two photos of the road itself. I took these after we walked about a quarter mile. The first is Carriage Road facing south, towards the parking lot from which we came and the second is Carriage Road north, where we’re headed.
Here’s a photo of one of the entrances to the Narrow Gauge Railway Trail that we’ve hiked in the past. I wrote about this trail many times. You can read one such post here. There’s a parking lot in there, but this is the one that was closed. People still walk down there to access the bottom of the trail though, so that’s why I suspect the area was so popular.
And here’s Poplar Stream itself. This stream goes all the way up the mountain to who knows where. It’s pretty long. It feeds right into the Carrabassett River.
Okay, so here’s where things get interesting. As we were walking, I noticed an open gate at the bottom of the more rugged part of Carriage Road. Since I read online that the road was closed, I was expecting the gate to be closed as well. Apparently, it was not. And to make matters worse, as we were standing there looking at the gate, I waved to two SUVs as they passed us by and headed up into the mountains. I started walking back to the car and as I walked, I explained to Laura that we were about to take a risk. I had no idea what was up that road, but I did know that the car has all-wheel drive and we were going to go for it. If the SUVs can do it, we can do it. The very worst thing that could happen was that we’d somehow drive off the road and plummet to the bottom of the ravine. The second worst thing that could happen was that we’d get stuck and have to do a lot of walking. The third worst thing that could happen is that we could have to turn around and come back, only to repeat the walk that we just did, which would be really annoying. But, if things turned out in a more positive manner, I said that we would reach heights of glory we’ve yet to experience here on earth. That’s what I was hoping for anyway.
So, with all this in mind, we walked all the way back to the car, started it and drove up the mountain. The road was plowed, but it had a snow-packed base. I actually hopped out of the car half way up, just to get a photo.
This car is actually a lot of fun to drive in the snow.
The spot where I took the photo is obviously flat. There were a lot of ups and downs though. I’ll tell you this – there was one area where I almost lost my cool. We were climbing the mountain and the road narrowed quite a bit. To the right was a deep ravine with Poplar Stream at the bottom. I didn’t really know how slippery the snow was, but we didn’t have any issue. What I did know was that I wanted the parking area I had seen on satellite view to appear very soon. I had no idea how twisty and turny this road was. Plus, there’s no cell coverage up here and if we got stuck, there would be no one to call. We were on our own. It was exhilarating. I mean, really, when do you get the chance to do something like this?
Apparently, the parking area/trail that I was expecting to find wasn’t as easily identifiable as I thought it would be. We passed right by it. By the time we turned around, we were a good five miles into the mountains. I knew we had gone too far when I saw a large pond that wasn’t supposed to be there. We were actually very close to Flagstaff Lake as well, which wasn’t supposed to be there either. We eventually turned around and decided to hike into the area that looked closest to what we were looking for. There was even another car parked there.
In the above photo, you can see the car I just mentioned to the right and in the back is Little Bigelow Mountain.
After we parked, I was so excited to be out of the car that I just had to have a photo taken of me. I really should be a model for some sort of clothing line with these types of poses.
Now before you think I wasn’t wearing enough clothing, I’ll tell you that I had a t-shirt on, a thermal, a wool sweater and that hoodie. I was pretty damn warm. I also had my trusted Dr. Martens on my feet, so I was in good hands. I’ll also tell you that I ordered some winter hiking boots just a few hours ago. With this type of thing right in our back yard, we’ll be going back a lot. I’m getting serious about the whole idea.
Anyway, here’s where we parked the car for the afternoon. I’d say the time was about 11am by this point.
Just a few dozen yards into the trail, we found an abandoned snowmobile. If I had to guess, I’d say this belongs to the Maine Huts & Trails people. It’s strange for it to be just sitting by itself there though.
You can also see the tow sleds next to it to get supplies to the huts (I’m assuming).
This is the trail that leads to the waterfall. The hike to the falls is about a quarter mile.
After walking through the snow for a while, we came across a bridge. This assured me that we were in the correct place. There were only a few bridges up in this area and I knew exactly where we were. I had no idea where we were going, but I knew where we were.
What I really wanted to see was the waterfall in action. I knew it was closeby, but I didn’t hear anything. Apparently, according to this sign, I was standing right on top of it.
The falls were frozen solid and getting down to the area where they were visible was a bit treacherous. We did make it down there somewhat, but not enough to get a great view. The snow was pretty deep and the terrain was steep. We’ll have to wait until spring to get down there for some photography.
As we were walking around, we began noticing signs all over the place. Because of this, I knew we in the proximity of the Poplar Hut.
We began hiking into one of the trails. I really didn’t have any intention of visiting the hut, but since we had already gone about half a mile and stumbled across this sign, I said, “Let’s go.”
In all, the hike to the hut would be just over a mile into the woods. There are no roads that go there. The hut is completely off-grid and in the middle of nowhere. You really need to learn about this operation. As I said, it’s remarkable.
This particular part of the trails weren’t groomed at all. They traversed through a beautiful hemlock forest and were quite narrow. What we walked through was just packed snow from others before us. We walked through over a half mile of this.
After a while, we made it to the next sign. I read it and knew we were onto something. The trail we intersected with was wider and well groomed.
If memory serves, there was less than a half mile to the hut to go, so we kept on walking. It was very pleasurable to do so too. The weather was cooperating (minus a few flurries) and it was about 40 degrees out.
Finally, we heard kids laughing and we saw them sliding down a big hill on a sled. They were really having the times of their lives. Such a great experience for kids. We walked a bit farther and saw Poplar Hut through the trees. There were a few people bustling around outside of it.
Since we were up there, I thought I should take some photos to show you how things looked. There were a few buildings and inside of the main one, you can eat lunch and warm up. We didn’t do that because we were all about business. Here are some photos of the complex.
If you wanted to, you could rent a room up here to stay overnight. That’s what the hut system is all about. Today, we saw so many people snowshoeing, cross-country skiing and just hiking around. We also saw the guy who grooms the trails on his snowmobile. He was having a good time.
We hung around exploring the hut for a while and then decided to leave. On our way out, we heard some sort of a commotion towards the bottom of the first hill. When I looked up, I saw a bunch of guys on mountain bikes. Those bikes with the really fat tires. I had no idea you could ride those things in the snow.
Check them out as they’re riding down the trail.
The trails were so packed that people really didn’t need their snowshoes. Many simply took them off.
There were those who insisted on keeping them on though. Also, we saw hikers of all ages. It was nice. It’s really great exercise to be out there in the woods like this.
Overall, everyone was very friendly and we had a lot of nice conversations.
I don’t know why I did this, but I saw a nice cluster of hemlock pine cones, so I picked them up and snapped a photo of them . I thought it was a pretty nice picture, so I’m sharing it with you.
After an hour or so, we made it back to the bridge, where I grabbed a better shot of Little Bigelow Mountain. You should see this thing. It’s not visible in these photos, but this mountain is very imposing. It’s huge and right next to it is the Bigelow Mountain range.
Now, as a little surprise for you, I took some video of us driving on the mountain road. I just uploaded it straight to Youtube, so there’s no editing or anything. I simply wanted to capture how fun it was to drive on this thing. This is a relatively flat area. If you’re on a computer, you can see this. If you’re reading this in your email account or are on a phone, you can’t. If that’s the case, click the link below.
Overall, this was a spectacular day. My favorite part was driving on the mountain road and hiking all the way to the hut, which was unexpected. We’ll be spending a lot more time up in this area because there are a few more huts and endless hiking. It’s like a giant playground for adults.
UPDATE: If you want to see a video that deals with Poplar Hut, check this out: