A thick layer of sparkling snow coated the trees, weighing down boughs and clinging to bark in long, wind-swept lines. It had snowed several inches the day before and the transformation was dramatic — cartoonish, even. Under all the shimmering white, the details of the forest were hidden, the textures smoothed away.
Spruce trees, typically composed of sharp angles and spiky needles, had morphed into rounded, frozen giants. Tree stumps, rocks and fallen branches were just bumps in the white carpet.
To immerse myself in this snowy landscape, I took a walk on the trails of Woodlawn, a 180-acre historic estate in Ellsworth. I’d visited the property several times before, during all seasons. I knew that the wide, easy trails would be perfect for a quick adventure on a cold day.
Still, I wasn’t prepared for the property to be such a hub of winter activity.
As I drove up the driveway, I spotted at least a dozen children zipping down hills on sleds. The property’s expansive lawns offer plenty of space to play.
The estate’s main building, which functions as a museum, was closed. The beautiful brick mansion was built in the 1820s as a home for the family of Colonel John Black. Now it’s on the National Register of Historic Places.
When open, the museum hosts group tours and various events. Years ago, I attended a high tea there during the winter holiday season. It was quite fancy. The entire house was bedecked with Christmas decorations.
Sledding on the lawn has long been a tradition at the estate. Irma Eliason, a caretaker of the Black household starting in the early 1900s, served hot chocolate and cookies to children who would come and sled on the property.
During my recent visit, I was joined by my husband Derek and our dog Juno.
While I’m sure Juno would have loved to chase after children on sleds, we were headed for the trails. Woodlawn is home to about two miles of woodland trails, which form three intersecting loops. The trails were originally constructed as exercise tracks for the Black’s horses, so they’re wide and travel over fairly even ground.
Nowadays, the trails are maintained for foot traffic. In the winter they’re open for cross-country skiing and snowshoeing as well.
In addition, the first loop in the trail system passes by a small pond that’s maintained for ice skating when the ice is thick enough. Benches are located along the edge of the ice for spectators (and for skaters to more easily switch from boots to skates). A sign communicates when the ice is safe and open for skating.
Dogs are welcome, but they must be kept on leash. As we hiked two of the loop trails, we did our best to keep Juno (and ourselves) off the cross-country ski tracks. I know from experience that it’s easier to ski on tracks if they aren’t marred by paw or boot prints.
The sun shone bright in a clear, blue sky, making the day seem warmer than it actually was. Temperatures hovered in the mid-20s, which I would typically classify as cold.
A couple of days later, an Arctic blast swept through Maine, with wind chills of minus-40 degrees Fahrenheit. During that time, one forecast warned that if you stood outside, you could develop frostbite on your exposed skin within 10 minutes. I’ve since redefined the word “cold.”
If you’re not wearing warm enough clothes, hiking even in 20-degree weather can be uncomfortable and even dangerous. But if you bundle up, it’s a wonderful time to enjoy the snow.
Snow typically doesn’t melt, so you don’t have to worry about water or slush dripping on you from overhanging trees. The snow also tends to be fluffy rather than sticky, which means it won’t ball up as much in your ice cleats or snowshoes. At least that’s what I’ve found to be true. I’m sure there are exceptions.
The trail network at Woodlawn is broken up into three tracks: A, B and C. From the trailhead, the first loop is Track A. It measures 0.54 miles around. The next, Track B, is 0.98 miles, and the third, Track C, is 0.73 miles. They’re all well-marked with signs and maps at the intersections.
We hiked around Track A and B, leaving C for another day. Most of it was easy walking, though there were a few sections of narrow, wooden bog bridges. In the winter, people often walk to the side of those bridges, over the frozen ground. During other seasons, soggy ground and standing water in those sections of trail cause most visitors to use the bridges.
During all seasons, Woodlawn is a wonderful place for people to enjoy nature and local history. If you visit, you’ll likely run into a lot of local residents. You may even spot Derek, Juno and me. If you do, give us a wave, or pause for a chat. When out enjoying the great outdoors, we’re never in a rush.