A cross-country skier enjoys the freshly groomed Penobscot River Trails in 2019 near Grindstone. Credit: Aislinn Sarnacki / BDN

Maine is home to countless outdoor destinations for recreationists to enjoy. Yet it can be challenging to decide what places are best to visit in the winter, for activities such as snowshoeing, cross-country skiing, sledding and ice skating.

During the Bangor Daily News virtual event “Cabin Fever: Winter Activity Opportunities in Maine,” held on Jan. 29, outdoor experts from different areas of the state shared some of their favorite winter playgrounds. Here are a few of the locations mentioned, along with some information about what makes each place a premiere winter outdoor destination.

Mount Blue State Park in Weld

Visitors ice skate at Mount Blue State Park during the winter of 2013. Credit: Courtesy of the Maine Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry

Of all the Maine state parks, Mount Blue is one of the most winter-friendly, said Gary Best, southern regional parks manager for the Maine Bureau of Parks and Lands. Mount Blue State Park features 15 miles of groomed cross-country ski trails, both easy and challenging snowshoe trails, a massive sledding hill and an ice skating rink.

“In my opinion, it’s the most picturesque skating rink in the entire state,” Best said. “Where you’re skating, the backdrop is the Tumbledown Mountain Range, so it’s just really a special place. We have lights there, so if it’s later in the afternoon or early evening, you can still skate.”

Park admission varies from free to $7 a day depending on age and residency. Maine residents, children and seniors receive a discount. Dogs are permitted but must be leashed and picked up after. Dogs should be kept off groomed cross-country ski tracks.

Woodward Point in Brunswick

Woodward Point is one of the largest undeveloped parcels of land in northern Casco Bay, and it’s a great place to visit in the winter, according to Warren Whitney, the Land Trust Program manager for the Maine Coast Heritage Trust.

Conserved in 2019 by the Maine Coast Heritage Trust, the property features just over 1.5 miles of trails that branch out to visit points along the shore. These trails are great for cross-country skiing and snowshoeing, and they’re a great way to enjoy the ocean during the winter. Access is free. Dogs are allowed but must be leashed and picked up after.

Hammond Ridge Trail System near Millinocket

A sign marks the trailhead of Katahdin Area Trails’ Hammond Ridge trail network, which is located just north of Millinocket. Credit: Aislinn Sarnacki / BDN

The Hammond Ridge Trail System, built by Katahdin Area Trails, consists of more than 14 miles of trails that explore a large hill beside Millinocket Lake. This trail system includes groomed cross-country ski trails and trails that were designed for fat tire biking and snowshoeing.

The trailhead is located at New England Outdoor Center and River Driver’s Restaurant, where skis, snowshoes and fat tire bikes are available for rent. NEOC also offers lodging in cabins of various sizes. Trail access is free, though there is a donation box at the trailhead. Dogs are not permitted on the groomed ski trails, but they are permitted on snowshoe and bike trails.

Roberts Farm Preserve in Norway

Owned and managed by the Western Foothills Land Trust, Roberts Farm Preserve is home to 7 miles of groomed cross-country ski trails, as well as trails for snowshoeing. Rental skis and snowshoes are available at the preserve. During the COVID-19 pandemic, visitors must wear a mask or double-folded buff.

Groomed cross-country ski trails are for skiers only. Snowshoers and dog walkers are asked to use the trails marked for walking. A warming hut is open for use Saturday and Sunday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., and on school holidays from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. There’s a free equipment loan when the warming hut is open. Trail use is free, though the land trust welcomes donations to support trail grooming and plowing.

Aroostook State Park in Presque Isle

Nicole Cassidy of Easton (in front) heads down the snowtubing hill at Aroostook State Park followed by her aunt Lou-Ann Milton of Raymond and her daughter Sarah Cassidy. Credit: Melissa Lizotte / Star-Herald

Up in the northern part of the state, Aroostook State Park is home to 15 miles of groomed cross-country ski trails that weave through forests and farmland areas, with a warming hut at one of the trail intersections. The park also maintains a packed 6-mile snowshoe trail that leads to open views atop Quaggy Jo Mountain. A sledding hill is located near the park entrance, and an ice rink is located on Echo Lake, which the park abuts. Winter camping is also permitted, though you need to call ahead to make arrangements.

Park admission varies from free to $4 a day depending on age and residency. Maine residents, children and seniors receive a discount. Dogs are permitted but must be leashed and picked up after. Dogs should be kept off groomed cross-country ski tracks.

Penobscot River Trails near Grindstone

The Penobscot River Trails is a network of 15.5 miles of groomed cross-country ski trails that explore forestland along the banks of the East Branch of the Penobscot River near Grindstone. The network also features 9.3 miles of snowshoe trails, a visitor center with indoor restrooms and two spacious warming huts. The trail network and the 5,000-plus-acre preserve it’s located on is funded by a charitable foundation established by New York philanthropist Gilbert Butler.

The trails are open seven days a week, dawn until dusk. However the visitor center is only open on the weekends. All trails are open to cross-country skiing and snowshoeing, while fat tire biking is permitted on the Tote Road only. Cross-country ski and snowshoe rentals are available, by donation only, at the visitor center.

Highland Farm Preserve in York

Connecting thousands of acres of conserved land between Mount Agamenticus and the York River, Highland Farm Preserve is a haven for wildlife, including seven species that are rare in Maine. The property covers 151 acre and is an excellent place to go snowshoeing (or hiking if there’s not enough snow) and cross-country skiing in the winter. The preserve’s seven trails cover more than three miles of varied terrain. If looking for a quiet place to search for wildlife in the winter, this spot is for you.

Access is free. Motorized vehicles and bicycles are prohibited. Dogs are permitted but must be leashed and picked up after.

Camden Hills State Park in Camden and Lincolnville

A hiker stands near the summit of Cameron Mountain, which rises 811 feet above sea level in the north end of Camden Hills State Park in Lincolnville. Credit: Aislinn Sarnacki / BDN

With a vast network of trails for cross-country skiing, fat-tire biking, snowshoeing and snowmobiling, Camden Hills State Park is a popular winter destination. Snowshoers can climb to the top of multiple hills and mountains, including Mount Battie, Megunticook Mountain, Cameron Mountain and Bald Rock Mountain. Winter camping, in a rustic shelter, is available by reservation. Best said that this shelter, a reconstructed old ski lodge, is one of the park’s best kept secrets.

Park admission varies from free to $6 a day depending on age and residency. Maine residents, children and seniors receive a discount. Dogs are permitted but must be leashed and picked up after.

La Verna Preserve in Bristol

Owned and managed by Coastal Rivers Conservation Trust, the 120-acre La Verna Preserve features 2.7 miles of trails and a long coastline that’s walkable at all tides. If you’re looking to visit the ocean during the winter, this preserve is a great choice. The shore offers stunning views of outer Muscongus Bay and its islands.

When there’s enough snow, both cross-country skiing and snowshoeing are permitted on the trails. Access is free. Dogs are permitted but must be leashed and picked up after.

The Bait Hole in Millinocket

One of the many cross-country ski trails of the Bait Hole recreation area in Millinocket travels along the shore of scenic Elbow Lake in 2015. Credit: Aislinn Sarnacki / BDN

The Bait Hole public recreation area lies just outside Millinocket and is home to several miles of groomed cross-country ski trails that travel through a beautiful forest and along the shore of Elbow Lake. The largest loop, the Bait Hole Loop, is wide and nearly 3 miles long. While traveling the loop, you can take short cuts or explore side loop trails to reduce or increase the distance from 1 mile to 8 miles.

The trails are groomed and maintained by the Northern Timber Cruisers Snowmobile and Cross Country Ski Club, which is responsible for about 20 miles of cross country ski trails in the area. Access is free. Dogs are not permitted on the trails at the Bait Hole or the trails surrounding the nearby Northern Timber Cruisers Clubhouse.

These are just a few of the many winter playgrounds in Maine. Trail networks and parks scattered throughout the state offer a multitude of opportunities for enjoying the snow and ice. Get out there and have some fun.

Aislinn Sarnacki

Aislinn Sarnacki is the BDN Act Out editor, focusing on outdoor recreation and Maine wildlife. She can be reached at asarnacki@bangordailynews.com. Follow her on Twitter: @1minhikegirl, and Instagram:...