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New England Regional

Flagstaff Lake near Rangeley, Maine

By boat, hike, and mountain bike

July-August 2009

Paddlers enjoy the serenity of Flagstaff Lake, Maine.

Paddlers enjoy the serenity of Flagstaff Lake, Maine.

Photograph by Chan Weller

Imagine paddling a canoe 740 miles across the top of New England, from the Adirondacks to the Canadian border. This largely wilderness tract, known as the Northern Forest Canoe Trail (NFCT), is surprisingly close to home, yet offers labyrinthine waterways and true North Woods beauty, along with black bears, moose, bobcats, and soaring birds of prey. “We have people who do the whole 740-mile trail; they are the ‘through paddlers’ and are kind of the heroes. Others do the whole thing, but take different trips in pieces,” says Kate Gunness Williams, executive director of the nonprofit NFCT, based in Burlington, Vermont.

For the rest of us, the NFCT has created 13 maps that neatly cover sections of the trail, each complete with destinations, recommended outfitters, lodgings, resources, and area attractions that make navigating this northern frontier feasible enough even for families with younger children.

One such trip is on and around Flagstaff Lake (Map 9). The 20,000-acre lake was created by the construction of the Long Falls Dam on the Dead River; several villages were flooded at the time, and visitors can still spot relics from old homesteads in the shallower waters. The lake offers majestic views of Bigelow Mountain (among Maine’s highest peaks) and access to the Appalachian Trail, along with fishing, swimming, campsites, and two new huts that provide healthy food and comfortable beds. The huts, operated by the nonprofit Maine Huts and Trails, are the first of 12 planned to extend across 180 miles of hiking and mountain-biking trails, akin to a European alpine system. The existing huts have parking lots and trailheads on the shoreline, but are also accessible by boat along two- to five-mile routes. This is also the first season that Maine Huts has partnered with a pontoon operator based in Stratton who ferries people to and from one hut three days a week.

Ideally, visitors will park a car at a boat launch, paddle to a campsite or a hut, and take off from there on short or numerous expeditions--especially along the rugged Appalachian Trail--into some of the most glorious natural beauty New England has to offer.