Regardless of what that groundhog in Pennsylvania and his lack of a shadow earlier this month might have us believe, official winter is here for five more weeks. Getting outdoors to tackle these five progressively higher and more difficult day hikes, one each weekend until spring, should help keep the winter blues at bay.
Champlain Mountain (1,058 feet)
Celebrate Acadia National Park’s centennial with a ramble over the easternmost peak on Mount Desert Island, which offers outstanding views of Frenchman Bay, the Schoodic Peninsula, and Dorr and Cadillac mountains. Start from The Tarn on Route 3 just south of Bar Harbor. Take Beachcroft Path up Huguenot Head, skirting its summit before scrambling the final pitch to the top of Champlain. Descend the North Ridge Trail to the Park Loop Road (closed to vehicles in winter), completing the 3-mile loop via Sieur de Monts Spring.
Rumford Whitecap (2,214 feet)
The 752-acre Rumford Whitecap Mountain Preserve includes the bald summit ridge and southerly slopes of its namesake mountaintop. Owned by Mahoosuc Land Trust, the peak features panoramic views ranging from the rugged Mahoosuc Mountains along the Maine-New Hampshire border, to the Androscoggin River valley, to Black Mountain and its community ski area. Begin from East Andover Road in Rumford, about 3.5 miles north of Route 2 via Route 5. Follow the Orange/Red Trail up and back, a distance of five miles round-trip.
Burnt Mountain (3,600 feet)
From the shapely cone of Sugarloaf to Spaulding Mountain and the Crockers to Abraham and the Bigelow Range, hikers will revel in the stunning views from this beautiful Alpine summit, which is reached by the Burnt Mountain Trail, a 6-mile out-and-back route. The path climbs Burnt Mountain via Sugarloaf’s new side country terrain, known to adventurous skiers as the Eastern Territory and Brackett Basin. Park in one of the lower base area lots (E or F), then hike through the condo village on Mountainside Road. Turn left on Bigelow Mountain Road to find the trailhead for Burnt Mountain at its end.
Old Speck (4,170 feet)
Maine’s fourth-highest summit is reached via Old Speck Trail, which also serves as the route of the Appalachian Trail, a hike of about eight miles round-trip. The trek begins at the parking lot on Route 26 at the height-of-land in Grafton Notch, the feature attraction of the 3,191-acre state park. Switchbacking for the initial mile, the path tops out on the Eyebrow, an 800-foot cliff reached by a short side trail. Beyond, the AT climbs over a series of wooded knobs to reach the high shoulder of the mountain. The Mahoosuc Trail then leads left along the narrow ridgeline to the summit observation tower, with fine views over the impressive notch to the Baldpates, as well as across the wild Mahoosucs to the White Mountains.
Mount Adams (5,799 feet)
Katahdin is Maine’s only summit exceeding 5,000 feet, but since it doesn’t fit the day hike criteria in winter, New Hampshire’s Presidential Range is a good place to look for a challenging alternative in that elevation range. Lofty Mount Adams rises 4,500 feet from the Appalachia trailhead on Route 2 in Randolph, and its Alpine heights reward with panoramic views worthy of the significant effort involved (10 miles round-trip). Valley Way is a straightforward route to the treeline, and Madison Spring Hut at 4,825 feet is in the col between Mount Madison and Mount Adams. Closed in winter, the hut walls at least offer some shelter from the wind. From there, Gulfside Trail climbs around the exposed north side of Adams to intersect Lowe’s Path, which tops out on the summit pyramid.
Winter trekkers should check the Appalachian Mountain Club’s winter gear list at www.outdoors.org, while updates on hiking trail conditions can be found at newenglandtrailconditions.com. Remember, reaching the summit is optional but returning to a car is mandatory.