A hiker pauses at one of several viewpoints on the Seboeis Riverside Trail in Penobscot County, Maine. Credit: Courtesy of Betta Stothart

In recent years, the Butler Conservation Fund has created two extraordinary outdoor facilities in Maine: Penobscot River Trails in Grindstone and Cobscook Shores in the Cobscook Bay area of Washington County. I’ve had the good fortune to hike the Cobscook Shores trails and have benefited from multiple excursions biking and skiing the Penobscot River Trails.

When Butler Conservation Fund spokesperson Betta Stothart invited me to join her for an inaugural overnight trek on the newly constructed Seboeis Riverside Trail, I enthusiastically accepted. A veteran of several whitewater and canoe trips on the Seboeis, which is located in the wilderness region east of Baxter State Park, the prospect of a trail network along the river that embodied the exceptional conservation fund’s brand was very intriguing.

In 2015, Gilbert Butler, founder of the Butler Conservation Fund, paddled the Seboeis River and was impressed with its wild scenic beauty. The landowner, Lumberman’s Museum, was contacted with a proposal to develop a hiking and snowshoe trail from Grand Lake Road to Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument. Subsequent negotiations resulted in Penobscot River Trails purchasing the land. The organization also gifted a sizable donation to ensure the ongoing operation of the museum.

Renowned trail expert Jed Talbot of OBP Trailworks was hired to design a 7-mile trail on the east side of the river from Grand Lake Road to Wipiti Road where Philpot Bridge crosses. Construction of the trail soon began with the assistance of the Maine Conservation Corps and was completed in 2021. Recently, the trailhead parking area was enlarged and a warming hut called Snowshoe Lodge was built about 2 miles downriver. The trail is now open year-round to visitors, free of charge, and can be traveled by snowshoe in the winter, and hiking in the summer.

A substantial rainstorm had preceded us when Betta and I arrived at the trailhead on a seasonably warm breezy December morning. The Seboeis was running high, almost overflowing its banks. Our immediate goal was to backpack to Snowshoe Lodge and, if time permitted, complete a trek to Philpot Bridge and back to the hut.

Initially, we hiked easily along the river on a well-designed gravel surface through a mixed canopy of hardwoods and softwoods. The path offered almost continuous picturesque views of the river with periodic rest stops and viewpoints. The normally gentle rapids in this section of river were feisty waves on this day.

After about a mile, a gigantic boulder on river left marked the beginning of a precipitous descent named Grand Pitch. We climbed a steep route to the top of a cliff to view the impressive falls that are impassable in a canoe. The new bypass around the pitch to a campsite below is a substantial improvement over the former portage trail that challenged even seasoned voyageurs.

Just beyond, we crossed a splendid metal footbridge high over Shin Brook. A natural surface replaced the groomed path as we trekked along the shoulder of higher terrain and subsequently down to Snowshoe Lodge.

The lodge is remarkable. Set back from the shore, it harmoniously blends with the surrounding environment. High windows on three sides of the rectangular structure allow occupants to fully appreciate the wilderness setting. The interior contains four wooden cots with comfortable mattresses, a table with four stools, and a woodstove in one corner. A toilet and woodshed are nearby. This was our luxurious home for the night. Use of the lodge is on a first-come first-serve basis.

After discarding unnecessary gear to lighten our packs, we began our trek south. Since it was one of the shortest days of the year, we established a turnaround time to avoid returning in the dark. Headlights and spare batteries were carried in the event of unplanned delays.

We proceeded over a very scenic trail in rolling terrain. Numerous wooden bridges enhanced the quality of our journey; however, minor flooding and teeming freshets were frequent problems. On several occasions, we considered turning back but found alternative routes around the impediments. A few minutes before our turnaround deadline, the elusive Philpot Bridge was spotted, enabling us to reach our goal with little time to spare. With strategies in place to negotiate the various obstacles on our return, we arrived at the lodge shortly before dark.

The woodstove was quickly fired up and we settled in secure from the elements. A full moon provided an opportunity for some evening photography. Temperatures dropped well below freezing, but we were warm and comfortable throughout the night.

Our backpack out in the morning only took a little over an hour. We both agreed a return after snowfall is a must and I’m thinking of a canoe trip come spring. The Seboeis is another Butler Conservation Fund triumph!

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Ron Chase, Outdoors Contributor

Ron Chase resides in Topsham. His latest book, “Maine Al Fresco: The Fifty Finest Outdoor Adventures in Maine” is now available at northcountrypress.com/maine-al-fresco.html. His previous books are...