I am heading up I-95 to spend the weekend in Aroostook County. I bring my dad along; he has snowmobiled all over Maine, and he knows what’s what when it comes to trail riding. As we climb north, way north, snowdrifts deepen and less and less grass peeks up from beneath the frozen landscape. For hours we cruise past woods where the forest is deep green, thick, and vast. The forest offers seclusion and recreation, but for many, I learn as we fly by lumber mills, paper mills, and tree farms, it’s a means of livelihood.
3:00 p.m. in Caribou
We stop in Caribou just as school is letting out. We let students, who are bundled up in jackets, cross the street as they disappear into the neighborhood that surrounds the school. We arrive at Plourde and Plourde, which sells snowmobile products. My dad needs a part for his snowmobile, and the staff is friendly and helpful.
4:00 p.m. in Madawaska
Early evening sets in and the sky dissolves from blue to sunset colors. The radio stations change to French as we brush up against the Canadian border. The air is chilling and fresh, and it feels detoxifying as it fills my lungs. I am excited to explore these towns at the top of Maine. Here communities are strong and neighbors close, even if not in terms of proximity. The stories of Acadian culture are as present as the Acadian flags that are painted or that fly throughout the towns.
4:10 p.m. @ Inn of Acadia
We are staying at the Inn of Acadia. The building, erected in 1956, was originally a convent. From 2003 to 2013 the building sat vacant, until JJ Roy, the current inn owner, renovated the interior and reopened it. Inside, the inn is modern but warm, and my room is decorated in a quiet and earthy palette of grays and browns. I’m staying in the king ’s suite, which is equipped with a kitchen, sleeper couch, and roomy shower. Everything about the inn makes me feel like I am staying in luxury, and based on our warm welcome, I know that we will be taken care of.
7:00 p.m. @ Long Lake Sporting Club
We find a table for two by the fireplace at Long Lake Sporting Club. It’s dark now, but the club overlooks Long Lake. We order our food and have drinks in one room, and when our food is ready, we are brought into the dining room where my salmon and my dad’s prime rib have already arrived. The sides of potatoes, salad, and ployes are neatly fixed around our plates. This is our first of many encounters with ployes, which are pancakes that are made of buckwheat and wheat flour, cooked on one side, and served with dinner like bread. Here they are delicious and we’re happy to embrace the tradition.
7:00 a.m. @ Inn of Acadia
We enjoy a continental breakfast in the Voyageur Lounge, which is located on the second floor of the inn. We sit by the window, enjoying the surrounding views of Madawaska and New Brunswick, Canada, just across the St. John River. My dad has been up for hours and tells me that he took advantage of the inn’s fitness center. We eat and open up a map of the nearby trails and plan our day.
7:30 a.m. on the trails
We leave from the inn on our snowmobiles, embarking on the network of trails that runs through Aroostook County. Before we leave, everyone tells us it’s a beautiful day for riding, and they are right. The sky is blue and the powder thick. The paths pass through woods and the trees’ shadows stripe the trails in purple and white, then the route opens up to wide pastures that have views of snow-covered hills with homes scattered throughout. We ride all morning on the trails that wind and dip, circle around neighborhoods, and bend along the river.
11:00 a.m. @ Lakeview Restaurant
We take a quick break at Lakeview Restaurant to warm up. The view is amazing at this restaurant on a hill and we notice that many other riders had the same idea as the lawn out front is full of parked sleds.
12:00 p.m. on the trails
We pass through many different communities on our ride: Frenchville, Saint Agatha, Wallagrass, and Fort Kent. Occasionally we pass other groups of snowmobilers, who signal to let us know how many are in their pack. Other than these few encounters, the trails, and it seems the entire county,is quiet and undiscovered, the terrain vast and open, tempting us to lay our tracks.
1:30 p.m. @ Rock’s Family Diner
We leave the trail network and follow one that borders the rushing dark blue waters of the St. John River and leads us into Fort Kent. We stop for lunch at Rock’s Family Diner, which is one of the busiest spots in town. Seafood chowder warms us up and we share a homemade whoopie pie for dessert. Around us people are gathered for lunch, speaking in both French and English. While we are in line, a man includes us in his conversation and seamlessly switches languages.
2:00 p.m. @ Theriault’s Snowshoes
I meet with Brian Theriault, whom with his dad, Edmond Theriault, has been making custom snowshoes for 40 years. Each snowshoe is made what we might consider the old-fashioned way, but to him, there is no other way. The shoes are built with brown and black ash and bound together with stretched cowhide; they are beautifully intricate and sturdy. The pair he shows me can hold 350 pounds.
2:30 p.m. on the trails
We cruise through some trails outside of Fort Kent, but the temperature is dropping and the wind is picking up, so we make our way towards Madawaska. Along the way, we see trucks and tractors buried in the snow and pass by barns that add color to the white landscape. Just before the sun sets, a sign points us back to the inn, and shortly after we’re inside and warm.
6:00 p.m. @ Dolly’s Restaurant
We drive to Dolly’s Restaurant in Frenchville. Inside the staff hugs customers whom they haven’t seen since before the holidays. We both order the haddock, which comes with more than enough sides and, again, delicious, filling ployes.
8:30 p.m. @ Inn of Acadia
We have dessert back at the Voyageur Lounge. As we peruse the options, dinner entrees pass by us and we wish we had one more night to enjoy dinner here, too. We devour the sweet, rich white chocolate cheesecake, and I make a resolution to take advantage of the fitness room in the morning. A local band, Boomerang, starts up and the room fills with energy and laughter.
7:00 a.m. on the trails
The quiet town begins to wake up; smoke rises from chimneys and church bells ring. We sneak out for a quick sunrise run and take advantage of the freshly groomed trails.
11:00 a.m. @ Inn of Acadia
Before checking out, I stop into the inn’s gift shop and buy The Weight of Winter, a novel by local author Cathie Pelletier. The novel is set in a fictional town of Mattagash, Maine.
1:00 p.m. in Fort Kent
We journey home the opposite way in which we came through Fort Kent. We have to stop at St. Louis Roman Catholic Church and peek inside the incredible structure. On Sunday mornings the parking lot is full.
2:30 p.m. on Aroostook County Scenic Highway
As we drive home, we reflect on our experience, the people we met, and the things we tried, and in our minds we plan another trip to the area. Next time I want to see what Long Lake is like without layers of ice and snow, and I plan on stopping into restaurants I didn’t get to try. As we head south, most of the time our view is blocked by hovering pines along the side of the road, but just before we leave Aroostook County the forest stops for a few miles and opens up to a view of Mount Katahdin. Once again, I am in awe of this beautiful place I get to call home.