ALLAGASH, Maine — When it comes to snowmobiling in Maine, the folks who live at the end of the road want people to know they are not, in fact, the end of the road.

“Beyond [Allagash] is a ‘Mecca’ for backcountry snowmobiling,” said Darlene Kelly, owner of the small community’s only restaurant Two Rivers Cafe. “Once they are here, there is 3.5-million acres for them to play in.”

With just 239 residents according to the 2010 census, Allagash is among Maine’s smallest towns and while there is no official tally, its population soars those days when the snowmobiling conditions are at their best during the winter and dozens of sleds pass through.

It’s not uncommon during the winter for snowmobiles to outnumber cars in the diner’s parking lot.

“We see them come riding in every day,” Kelly said. “It gets so busy at the diner, it’s hard to keep track of the numbers.”

Among them is Steven Conti of Revere, Massachusetts, who has been driving north hauling his snowmobile on a trailer for close to three decades to ride on Allagash powder.

“I try to come four times a year,” Conti said as she sat down to lunch at Two Rivers on Sunday. “It’s the best riding around up here.”

For Conti, it’s the combination of trail conditions and the people that bring him back every year.

“There is so much history up here,” he said, gesturing to the photos of lumber camps, log drives and wildlife on the diner’s walls. “And I’ve never been here when the trails are not in great condition. To me, this is a little piece of heaven.”

Volunteers in the local Moose Town Riders Snowmobile Club maintain and groom around 100 miles of trail, according to the organization’s President Nola Begin.

“When someone calls and invites you to ride here, you just go,” said Jennifer Dearborn of Hollis. “The people are so friendly up here and there is really no place like this down home.”

Dearborn was with her husband Richie Dearborn and friends Karen Hamblen and Jeremy Hamblen of Gorham.

“We try to get up here once a year,” Karen Hamblen said. “There is really nothing better than [Aroostook] County riding.”

Her husband agreed.

“The farther north we go, it’s some of the best snow you are going to see,” Jeremy Hamblen said. “Plus out on these trails we see deer, moose and other wildlife.”

As nice as the trails leading north out of Allagash are, Kelly said the larger draw for sledders these days are the acres of fresh, ungroomed powder in the North Maine Woods.

“What is really catching on here is off-trail riding,” she said. “We are really getting the word out that for people who want adventure riding, this is the place to come.”

In off-trail or ‘backcountry” snowmobiling, riders use sleds built to break through and ride on powder and ungroomed trails.

For these riders, according to Kelly, the extreme northwestern portion of Maine with its acres of wilderness, is a giant playground — within limits.

“People need to be respectful of the landowners and contact them before heading out,” she said. “And people are doing that [because] they know it’s important to maintain good relations with the landowners.”

Thanks to social media, Kelly said, people interested in traveling to the top of the state can check in on up-to-date snow conditions and where it is permissible to ride before heading out.

“All that information is at their fingertips,” she said. “This is an industry we really want to keep building up here.”

Adventurous snowmobilers do need to take steps to prepare for riding in the north, according to Kelly.

There is no gas station in the town, but fuel is available at Chamberlain’s Store in St. Francis, seven miles before the town time and directly on the trail.

“People who go into the backcountry on sleds know to bring extra gas,” she said. “But if you just want to ride the trails, you can stop in at Chamberlains, gas up and you are good to ride all day.”

Keith and Marybeth Leo of Sturbridge, Massachusetts spend their winter vacation riding the trails in Maine and on Sunday it seemed the farther north they can ride, the happier they are.

“Look at this place,” Marybeth Leo said pointing to the trail coming out of the woods west from Fort Kent. “These are the best trails around, so who wouldn’t want to ride up here?”

Their friend Doug Heald, a snowmobile club trailmaster in Upton, agreed.

“I’ve been coming up here 15 or 20 years,” he said. “The people are real nice and I love the trails.”

Kelly is not at all surprised to hear that sledders like Heald and Conti have been coming to her town for decades.

“We see so many familiar faces every year,” she said. “It becomes tradition [and] for 40 years Two Rivers has taken care of everybody who comes up that road or up the trails or down the river who lands here.”

Attracting riders in the winter is becoming increasingly important to the town’s limited economy, Begin said.

“Riders have been coming here for 30 years or more, so seeing snowmobiles up here is really nothing new for us,” she said. “But we really rely on them more and more now for revenue and bringing money into the town.”

Club vice president Judy Pelletier said she is thrilled the word is getting out about the prime snowmobiling conditions in the Allagash region, but understands if some sledders do not share that enthusiasm.

“Some of the ones that come back year after year are a bit reluctant to say how great the conditions are,” she said with a laugh. “They like having the trails without a lot of other people on them.

But the word is out.

“You can tell taking care of these trails up here is serious business,” said Darryl Sittler of Massachusetts. “Riding up here is exactly what I’d expect Maine riding to be.”

That’s music to Kelly’s ears.

“Once people get here I tell them straight out, you can’t say you’ve snowmobiled in Maine unless you’ve snowmobiled in the Allagash,” she said.

Current snowmobling conditions are available by calling Two Rivers at 207-398-3393 or on the Moose Town Riders Facebook page.

Avatar photo

Julia Bayly

Julia Bayly is a reporter at the Bangor Daily News with a regular bi-weekly column. Julia has been a freelance travel writer/photographer since 2000.