Once Mother Nature spreads her blanket of winter white, the Maine Bureau of Parks and Lands is at the ready, and not just with snowplows. Groomed cross-county ski trails, snowshoeing options galore and events like Winter Family Fun Days are some of the reasons to brighten Maine’s long winter by exploring the stunning landscapes that are its state parks.
The bureau clears snow for parking outside the gates at some parks that close for the off-season. Counting these locales, about 20 parks are regularly plowed to provide some winter parking. There are no staff or facilities at the gated parks, but you can enter all 48 state parks and historic sites on foot any day of the year.
During the past half-dozen years or so, the bureau has expanded opportunities for winter recreation at parks around the state, with great results, said Mike Leighton, the bureau’s northern region manager. More events and trail improvements are planned, and as of last winter the bureau has had a second ski and snowshoe trailer traveling to parks with loaner equipment for visitors.
Park fees (from $2 to $4.50 for adult residents) aren’t charged at the seasonal parks, but if there’s a fee box, feel free to contribute. Try to bring cash to the year-round parks: With fewer staff off-season one of these “iron ranger” boxes may be on sentry. If an entry booth is manned, you might be asked about buying a park pass ($70 vehicle; $35 individual). They last for the calendar year, so winter is a good time to get one.
Sure, winter activities boost park system revenue, but the impact is much greater, helping meet the state’s goal of keeping Mainers active and getting us to “Take it Outside.”
Here are some winter park highlights:
WINTER FAMILY FUN DAYS: The 2017 lineup includes ice fishing derbies Jan. 29 at Lake St. George in Liberty and March 4 at Range Pond in Poland. The other events offer snowmobile tote rides, cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, nature walks, a bonfire and additional activities depending on the park.
Here’s the rest of the Fun Days schedule: Feb. 4 at Mt. Blue in Weld, Feb. 11 at Holbrook Island Sanctuary in Brooksville, Feb. 18 at Cobscook Bay near Lubec, Feb. 25 at Aroostook in Presque Isle and March 11 at Lily Bay. Lunch is included ($1.50 fee for ages 12-64; all others free). A ski and snowshoe trailer will be at all the events.
SKI & SNOWSHOE TRAILERS: In addition to Winter Family Fun Days, these visits are scheduled so far: Jan. 21 and 22 at Sebago Lake State Park in Casco, Jan. 28 and 29 at Wolfe’s Neck Woods in Freeport, Feb. 11 and 12 at Range Pond, Feb. 18 at Mount Blue in Weld and Feb. 25 and 26 at Bradbury Mountain in Pownal.
GROOMED CROSS-COUNTRY SKI TRAILS: Eight state parks have groomed or designated trails, most with set tracks and some with areas for skate skiing. Aroostook has 15 miles; Bradbury Mountain, 12 miles (no set track); Camden Hills, 6 miles (no set track); Cobscook Bay, 6 miles; Lily Bay, 10 miles; Mt. Blue, 15 miles; Range Pond, 2 miles (no set track), and Sebago Lake, 11.5 miles, about half set track. Route design and difficulty aligns with a park’s layout and geography. At Cobscook Bay, for example, trails are on park roads closed to vehicle traffic. At Sebago Lake, there are stretches along the lake and Songo River.
SNOWSHOE TRAILS: Five state parks have snowshoe-only trails: Aroostook, Camden Hills, Cobscook Bay, Lily Bay and Mt. Blue. Bradbury Mountain is known for challenging snowshoeing on its multi-use trails (there are some easy ones, too). The park rents snowshoes and hosts a snowshoe race series.
ICE RINKS AND GROOMED SLIDING HILLS: Aroostook, Cobscook Bay and Mt. Blue offer both. Cobscook Bay’s rink is on a pond near the park office and sliding hill. Mt. Blue sets up a rink in a parking lot by headquarters and has a warming hut. Families sled on Center Hill. Aroostook, which often has as many visitors in winter as it does in summer, clears snow on Echo Lake.
ICE FISHING: Four state parks clear snow to the lakefront for ice fishing access: Lily Bay, Range Pond, Damariscotta Lake in Jefferson and Lake St. George. Some folks drive in simply to enjoy the wintry scene. At Lily Bay on Moosehead Lake, you may spot kids on the waterfront playground no matter how deep the snow.
AT THE MAINE Bureau of Parks and Lands website, parksandlands.com, click on “Trail Activities” on the home page or go to park websites for more detailed information on snowshoeing, cross-country skiing and snowmobiling and trail condition alerts.
TO SPEAK with someone, call the year-round parks or the regional offices (Bangor, 207-941-4014, for northern parks; Augusta, 207-624-6080, for southern).
WINTER camping with permission is allowed at some state parks.