A cross-country skier enjoys the freshly groomed Penobscot River Trails on Feb. 23, near Grindstone. The trails are now open on the weekends for the public to enjoy, fre of charge. (Aislinn Sarnacki | BDN)

Nordic Ski in the Katahdin Region

Snow cloaks the forest, weighing down branches and dusting the rough bark of tree trunks. It surrounds you, glittering in the breeze and sunlight, dancing across the nearby lake.

Pressed into the snow, two parallel ski tracks wind through the woods ahead. They follow an established trail, which leads to a warming hut and a view of Katahdin, Maine’s tallest mountain. Ready for an adventure, you step into the tracks with your Nordic skis, push off and glide.

Nordic skiing — also known as cross-country skiing — is a wonderful way to explore the beauty of the winter. The activity is fairly easy to learn, and you can set your own pace, traveling easy trails before attempting any hills or sharp turns. It’s also a peaceful way to travel. While snowshoes and ice cleats crunch through the snow, Nordic skis are nearly silent as they swish over the surface.

Many trail networks throughout Maine are open to Nordic skiing, when conditions are right, but few areas rival the Katahdin Region in what it has to offer. Over the years, the region has become a hub for Nordic skiing as more and more groomed trails have been established by a number of organizations.

You could spend a week or more in the area, exploring all of the different trails. Maybe you should. Here are just a few trail networks to get you started.

A cross-country skier enjoys the freshly groomed Penobscot River Trails near Grindstone. (Aislinn Sarnacki | BDN)

Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument near Patten
Beginner to Advanced

Established in 2016, this hunk of nationally protected wilderness has quickly become a Nordic skiing destination. Skiers enter the property from the north entrance, from which there are more than 15 miles of groomed trails to explore, plus intersecting packed trails.

The trails visit several scenic spots along the East Branch of the Penobscot River, including Haskell Rock Pitch, a 20-foot high rock pillar that protrudes from the river in the middle of a series of rapids. The trails also lead to a few spots for winter camping, including two huts that must be reserved ahead of time.

Trail use is free. For more information, visit www.nps.gov/kaww/planyourvisit/winteractivities.

Hammond Ridge Trail System in Millinocket

Beginner to Advanced

This system of groomed Nordic Ski Trails is located on Hammond Ridge and Black Cat Mountain. Designed by Olympian John Morton, the trails total nearly 16 miles and provide stunning views of nearby Katahdin, views of Mount Katahdin, Millinocket Lake, Ambajejus Lake and Jo-Mary Mountain.

The network is a part of the Katahdin Area Trails system, which was established in 2014 and has been expanding ever since. The trailhead is right across from the parking lot to the River Drivers Restaurant, where you can grab a bite to eat and rent ski equipment.

Trail use is free. For more information, visit www.neoc.com/winter-activities.

Bait Hole Recreation Trails near Millinocket

Beginner to Intermediate

Named after a small pond on the property that once held baitfish, this trail network is located just outside of Millinocket, in T3 Indian Purchase Township. The groomed trails total about 7 miles. They explore the forest and the shore of Elbow Lake, which provides views of nearby mountains, including Katahdin. 

This outdoor destination has been popular among locals for years. It’s maintained by volunteers of the Northern Timber Cruisers. Trail use is free. For more information, visit www.millinocket-maine.net

Pines and Ridges Hut is one of two warming huts of the Penobscot River Trails near Grindstone. It sits on a small hill, from which you can see Katahdin on a clear day. (Aislinn Sarnacki | BDN)

Penobscot River Trails in Grindstone

Beginner to Intermediate

This fairly new outdoor destination features more than 15 miles of groomed Nordic ski trails, plus over 9 miles of snowshoe trails. Threading through the forest, the trails travel along a beautiful stretch of the East Branch of the Penobscot River to views of Katahdin and other nearby mountains. Two large warming huts — with wood stoves, tables and heated restrooms — are spaced apart in the network, and a visitor center near the parking area offers rental equipment. 

The trail network opened to the public in 2019. Trail use is free. For more information, visit penobscotrivertrails.org

Baxter State Park near Millinocket

Beginner to Advanced

Home to Maine’s tallest mountain, Katahdin, this park is a popular spot for hiking, camping, paddling and fishing in the summer. In the winter, the park sees far fewer visitors, but it’s open for Nordic skiers, snowshoers and snowmobilers to explore. 

From the winter parking area off the Golden Road near Abol Bridge, you can ski into the park and visit a number of beautiful and remote places. These places include Foss and Knowlton Pond, Daicey Pond and Abol Pond. Some adventurous skiers jump onto the unplowed Tote Road to visit various campgrounds and even hike Katahdin — something that requires a lot of experience and planning.

Trail use is free. To learn more about winter use of Baxter State Park, visit baxterstatepark.org/winter-basics. 

This story was originally published in Bangor Metro’s Winter 2022 issue.

AISLINN SARNACKI is a columnist for the Bangor Metro and a registered Maine Guide. An expert on the Maine outdoors, she’s the author of the guidebooks “Dog-Friendly Hikes in Maine,” “Maine Hikes Off the Beaten Path” and “Family Friendly Hikes in Maine.” Follow her adventures at bangordailynews.com/outdoors. You can also find her @mainenaturehikes on Instagram and @1minhikegirl on Facebook and Twitter.

Aislinn Sarnacki

Aislinn Sarnacki is a Maine outdoors writer and the author of three Maine hiking guidebooks including “Family Friendly Hikes in Maine.” Find her on Twitter and Facebook @1minhikegirl. You can also...