A legendary sporting retreat in Maine’s North Woods gets guests warmed up for winter.
By Ian Aldrich
Jan 03 2022
Roughly 80 miles of AMC-maintained trails entice cross-country skiers at Little Lyford.Photo Credit : Greta Rybus
Daylight was fading fast when the Little Lyford sign finally came into view. For three solitary hours, my 10-year-old son, Calvin, and I had skied the seven-mile Hedgehog Trail, a through-the-forest course that made us feel as if we had the entirety of Maine’s North Woods to ourselves. And then, just as our bodies had started to yearn for a warm cabin and a hot meal, our destination was at last within reach.
“Let’s go!” Calvin shouted, bursting ahead on the final meandering stretch to the Little Lyford Lodge & Cabins campus. What we arrived at was like something from a Virginia Lee Burton illustration: cabins aglow with kerosene lamps, smoke curling out of chimneys, fellow skiers putting up their equipment for the day. Not long after, my son and I were in dry clothes and parked in front of our cabin’s stove as we feasted on the cook’s dinner of seasoned salmon with rice, vegetable soup, and blueberry cobbler. A short time later, in the winter silence, we were sound asleep.
For generations of travelers, Little Lyford has had that kind of effect. The allure of this former 19th-century logging outpost in Maine’s Moose-head Lake region, along the next-to-last section of the Appalachian Trail known as the 100-Mile Wilderness, resides in its remoteness. There’s no electricity, and good luck picking up a cell signal. But in a region that can see snow six months of the year, Little Lyford affords guests the chance to go as deep into the backwoods winter experience as they desire. Some 80 miles of groomed Nordic trails snake through the surrounding landscape. There are sleds and snowshoes to borrow, ponds to skate, and small mountains to traverse.
There are also other nearby camps to explore. Along with Mediwisla and Gorman Chairback, Little Lyford is one of three properties owned by the Appalachian Mountain Club within a day’s ski of one another, which means that over a long weekend you can hunker down at one camp or hang your hat at a different cabin each night. The AMC will even snowmobile your luggage from car to camp and back again.
We chose to stay put, but around us were the comings and goings of all manner of skiers: a family of five from Maine who’d broken away for a quick vacation, a trio of old friends from Massachusetts, and, much to my awe, a couple with their toddler son, whom the dad had pulled by sled on their ski over from Gorman.
What united us was a kind of jubilation for a season that can feel like a slog to get through. On our first morning, I woke to the sound of another guest belting out a decent version of “Northwest Passage” on his way to the lodge. Elsewhere there was banter about ski itineraries and routes.
Calvin and I didn’t exactly fill the hills with music, but our time there did include a lunchtime climb to Laurie’s Ledge on Indian Mountain, where we were rewarded with sweeping views of ponds and mountains that extended all the way to Mount Katahdin. Calvin palled around with new friends, building and testing sledding jumps. We skied out to a nearby pond. And we feasted—a lot. “We sometimes refer to the AMC as ‘Another Meal Coming,’” joked co-manager Tiffany Soukup.
It was pushing dinner before we spent any serious time in our cabin. Nighttime brought books and card games. Finally, at an hour that was far earlier than we were accustomed to, we called it a day. The night was still and quiet. We lay in the dark, listening to the stove as it crackled away and soothed us to sleep. outdoors.org/destinations