How to Winter in Maine
Cozy resorts, romantic fireside getaways, snowmobiling, and more.
How to Winter in Maine
From sleigh rides and romantic dinners to saunas and snowmobiles, this roundup of seasonal activities and package deals will keep you engaged all winter long.
by Genevieve Walker
Photography by Peter Frank Edwards and Nicole Wolf
Issue: January // February 2023
Maine’s winters are storied, and not just because they’re cold. (If you’ve ever spent time in the Midwest, you’ll know Maine has it pretty good.) But in Maine the season lasts, the snowfall is plenty, and the daylight hours are few. The trick to winter here is to plan: get the right boots, gloves, and a proper hat, and build extra time into your commute for salting, shoveling, and running the car five minutes before you hit the road.
But that’s just the short term. Long-term plans are about optimizing (or reframing) the months of deep darkness, because once the early seasonal festivities are out of the way, that’s when winter in Maine really begins. In January, February, and March it’s time to ski, skate, snowmobile, and snowshoe; to cut holes in the frozen lakes to fish, mush dogs across snow-padded trails, and cozy up under blankets on the seats of horse-drawn carriages. Unlike other famous winter destinations, if you’re here in February, you’re guaranteed the kind of chill that warrants a sauna and drinking mulled cider by a fire.
The upside is there’s so much to experience, you’ll have a hard time packing everything into one season. To help narrow down your winter-weather to-dos and to kick-off your long-term planning, we’ve rounded up some of the Pine Tree State’s most popular activities and winter events, along with a selection of our favorite cozy lodges and package deals. This is winter in Maine, after all —go enjoy yourself.
Each winter, outdoor enthusiasts flock to Maine to glide, skate, or motor their way across the frozen landscape. Motoring, in particular, is wildly popular. The snowmobile—a motorized sled guided by ski-like feet—allows its pilot to cover a ton of ground, and unlike other wintry pastimes, doesn’t require hills, lifts, or frozen ponds. Snowmobiling is so beloved, in fact, that it’s considered a lifestyle. The state’s consistently heavy snowfall (albeit less reliable these past few years), its robust network of trails, and 280-plus dedicated clubs make Maine the place to go for anyone looking to spend months in the snow, slipping between pines.
If you don’t have a snowmobile, you can rent from one of the state’s many licensed operations, found on the Maine.gov website. The licensing of renters helps to ensure rider safety while funneling funds to the upkeep of miles of trails. The Interconnected Trail System, or ITS, is a network of 4,000 “primary” miles that link to another 10,000 for a total of 14,000 miles of track to explore.
Aroostook County, Maine’s northern “hunting-cap-shaped” region (look at a map—you’ll see) that abuts Canada is snowmobile central. Other hotspots are Moosehead Lake and Kennebec Valley, where Coburn Mountain calls to the more experienced riders capable of climbing 3,700 feet to its summit.
New to the sport? Sign up for a safety course listed on Maine Inland Fisheries and Wildlife’s Programs and Resources page. Visit the Maine Snowmobile Association (MSA)’s site for a downloadable safety pamphlet, and hire a guide or book a package that includes oversight by an expert. You can start your research by looking up a club in the area you’re hoping to visit, also available via the MSA.
Snowmobiles are not without their detractors. Among the complaints are noise and environmental pollution as well as disruption to animal habitat. But there are things you can do to minimize impact, like staying on marked trails and avoiding aftermarket add-ons that change emissions. All of this is part of being a good snowmobiler. The ground rules, as the MSA states, are: “Ride to the right. Ride sober. Ride at a reasonable speed. Stay on the marked trails. Use hand signals. Ride defensively.”
Not 100 percent comfortable with hiking alone in Maine in February? It’s true, ten minutes standing in the snow staring at a map makes your toes numb (and the cold kills phone batteries pretty quick). Consider working with a recreational guide. A licensed guide knows what permits you may need as well as how to properly outfit for the journey, mitigating time-consuming guesswork in the field. More than that, guides bring you closer to the experience you’re after, which, as anyone who has hunted adventure can attest, is never exactly as the books, magazines, or internet say it’s going to be. MaineGuides.com is a good place to start looking for an expert in pretty much any outdoor activity you’re hoping to tackle.
Lodges + Packages
Yes, you love to ski and snowmobile and ice skate. You’ve always wanted to sit in one of those huts on a frozen lake like the guys in Grumpy Old Men, catching fish through a hole, but equal to this is your desire to relax in a rough-hewn cabin next to a fire and read the hardback you bought at the airport. If this is you, consider the package deals offered by numerous hotels and resorts throughout the state. Not only do you get a cute place to stay, but you’ll also be connected to reputable guides who know the area and get premium access to gear rentals at some hard-to-beat prices. Here are a few good ones, for starters.
Pineland Farms, New Gloucester
This sprawling, working farm offers a quaint, comfortable, village-like experience. Wander through multiple gardens, check out the market, and stay in one of three guesthouses equipped with everything you need for a quiet, stately retreat. There’s also access to trails for cross-country skiing and snowshoeing, as well as nearby gear rental, with day and season passes available. Sledding and skating on the farm’s 100- by 50-foot rink are free. Hot drinks and bites to take out are available in the Welcome Center.
Inn by the River, The Forks
This picturesque, white-paneled inn is set in Maine’s premier snowmobiling country. Choose from one of ten rooms in the inn or one of six winterized cabins. Hunt and snowmobile with a guide, and fuel up on-site. The inn partners with the Coburn Summit Riders Snowmobile Club and 201 PowerSports. Enjoy a proper meal and a drink at the inn’s restaurant and pub.
Carter’s XC Ski, Bethel
For the backwoods experience —think “glamping at a cabin”—check out Carter’s XC Ski, where the family-run and operated establishment manages a series of off-the-grid but well-curated and photo-ready cabins accessible by ski or snowshoe. Rentals, passes, and lessons are also available.
Moose Mountain Inn, Greenville
For great package deals, head to central Maine’s Greenville and the Moose Mountain Inn, a hop and a skip from Moosehead, the second largest lake in New England. The inn is a tidy, two-story, motel-like strip with rustic decor. Choose from one of many deals, like two nights’ lodging plus a choice of two activities: a guided hike on snowshoes to a waterfall; a half-day, two-person snowmobile rental (pay extra to make it a guided tour); or a guided ice-fishing trip.
New England Outdoor Center (NEOC), Millinocket
The NEOC lodge is situated on Millinocket Lake and faces Maine’s highest peak, Mount Katahdin, making it a perfect base camp for adventure. Choose from a series of winter-ready cabins, whether an eco-build or traditional log. Bring a group, plus your dog (for a $20 fee). There’s also an on-site restaurant and access to cross-country skiing, fat-tire bike, and snowshoe trails as well as ice fishing. If you’re looking to snowmobile, book a package that combines a cabin with rentals.
Based in Rangeley, this three-day event held in January is put on by the Rangeley Lakes Snowmobile Club. Though 2023 programming is still to be determined, it typically includes snowmobile races, stunt snowmobile riders, parades, fireworks, food, and the attendant partying.
On the Roberts Farm Preserve in Norway, the festival is set to launch on February 18th this year, with events spanning to the 25th. Though the lineup is still in flux as of this writing, you can expect activities like “a race to pancakes,” skijoring, sledding, a fat bike race, and, new this year, snowshoe yoga. Of course, a lot will depend on how the winter unfolds, but if the weather holds, there will be ice skating on the lake, too.
For you disbelievers, consider this a culturally sanctioned excuse to get away from everyone except your spouse, partner, or special friend, or even by yourself, to eat a good meal (including chocolate-covered strawberries and sparkling wine) and stare at a fire. Here are a few ideas to get you going.
February is for lovers
Visit Kennebunkport’s entire-town celebration of the red and chocolate holiday. Last year, establishments participated in all kinds of ways, from dance parties at bars to spa and hotel packages. Check kennebunkportmainelodging.com for 2023 programming.
Horse-drawn sleigh rides
Several farms throughout the state offer romantic rides in horse-drawn buggies. Check out the Deepwood Farms carriage that leaves from the Bethel Inn or from Goranson Farm in Dresden.
Dog sledding for two
That’s right: Ultimate Dog Sledding Experience offers a dog-sled trek by a snowy lake that ends with a fire, “seating for two,” cookies, and cocoa (and for $135 extra, a charcuterie board).
The possibilities are endless if what you’re after is dinner by a fire with a view of ice crystals hanging from eves.
For straight-up Romance with a capital R, book a dinner at the Lovell Inn in Lovell to enjoy a fine meal replete with “soft lighting and an original wood-burning fireplace.”
If you’re after classic fine dining in a picturesque New England village, try Paul’s Steak House in Boothbay Harbor.
Looking for exceptional (and award-winning) local cuisine and contemporary atmosphere? Check out Wolfpeach in Camden.
Dinner on a boat? Go to DiMillo’s, where an old-school red sauce establishment meets the Old Port. DiMillo’s offers a special Valentine’s Day menu and wine list.
Go rustic at the White Barn Inn Restaurant in Kennebunkport, where you can dine in yes, a barn, albeit a well decorated one featuring a picture window.
Winter is hard on the body. Daylight hours are scarce, and aside from the lucky few who are skiing daily or weekly, the rest of us are scraping by on our exercise mats and treadmills. The dry heat of heaters and stoves does its own damage. Few things combat these realities like a good sauna.
This infrared sauna in Bar Harbor is a different experience than the traditional wooden room version but is no less effective or enjoyable.
Portland’s slick contemporary experience for all genders. There’s also a cafe with post-sweat snacks.
Richmond Sauna and B&B
A Richmond B&B that opened in 1976 and offers the rustic, Finnish style experience—wood-fired sauna, hot tubs, and a swimming pool. Note: This is a traditional, clothing-optional situation. Evening sauna is included in a stay.
Based in Saco, this reasonably priced mobile sauna can be rented for the day, the weekend, or an entire week. It’s probably the best thing anyone with a winter birthday could possibly add to their party.
A luxury mobile sauna experience, choose to rent a 13- or a 20-foot sauna or a wood-fired hot tub, and build onto the experience with Atlantic cedar camp chairs, robes, towels, and even a moveable firepit.
Not afraid of the dark? Good, because the sun sets around 4:30 p.m., which means long shadows and dinner vibes start at 3:30, and there’s a whole lot of “day” to go after the sun sets. Check out opportunities for guided night-sky-viewing walks through organizations like the Western Foothills Land Trust, and full moon tours led by Carter’s XC Ski. There are also winter running clubs led by Fleet Feet.
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