The North Woods
- Where to Go
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Longtime residents of Maine will tell you there are actually “two Maines”—the relatively rich coastline of the south, populated by citified professionals and sunbaked summer folk; and the large, untrammeled acres of the north, sparsely inhabited by poor and working-class folk eking a living out of the land. Nowhere is this more apparent than the far northern expanse of spruce and pine known as the North Woods, which encompass almost 4 million acres of undeveloped wilderness.
Talk to any North Woods resident for any length of time, and you are likely to find a somewhat justified disdain for their southern neighbors, who look upon the area as their own personal playground.
The North Woods are unique for their size and wildness, encompassing much of the last old-growth forest in New England, and one of the last truly wild places in the country. Because of that, many Maine environmentalists have fought to lock down the land as a vast ecological preservation, a charge led by the environmental group RESTORE, which has pushed the dream of a three-million-acre Maine Woods National Park, which would be larger than Yellowstone and Yosemite put together and bring more tourism to the area.
That push, however, has been resisted by the residents who make their living from the timber and paper industry, which is still vibrant (though diminished from its 19th- and 20th-century heyday, mostly because of competition from Canada).
The more likely cause of encroachment into the North Woods, however, is likely to be private, not public. Around Moosehead Lake, in particular, a great experiment is currently in the works to develop a portion of the coastline into private homes, while preserving the rest in a pristine state. Environmentalists are critical of the plan, even while many year-round residents are salivating at the prospect of additional taxes and business from summer folk.
New developments notwithstanding, visitors to this region come here for one thing: nature. The centerpiece of the North Woods, from an outdoors enthusiast’s perspective, is Baxter State Park, which is larger than most national parks and crisscrossed with hundreds of miles of trails. The centerpiece of the park, in turn, is Mount Katahdin, which pilgrims climb every year with the spring thaw to start their journey down the Appalachian Trail to Georgia.
Further north, the Allagash River attracts more adventurous outdoors-lovers to canoe and kayak its exhilarating Class V rapids. As the state stretches towards Canada, roads become thinner and fewer between, and timber country takes over. In this area, many private hunting and fishing camps still exist, some of them accessible only by seaplane, for the ultimate in wilderness experience.
Getting to the North Woods
To really explore the North Woods you’ll need your own car with a good draft on its undercarriage—or better yet a four-wheel-drive vehicle. To drive to the Moosehead region from Portland, head north on I-295 to I-95, then take exit 157 at Newport. From there, take Route 11 north to Corinna, Route 7 north to Dover-Foxcroft, and Route 15 north to Greenville (150 mi., 3 hrs. 30 min.). To drive to the Katahdin area from Portland, take I-295 to I-95 north, then take exit 244 to Route 159 west to Millinocket (200 mi., 4 hrs.).
If you don’t have a car of your own, many of the resorts and guide services in the area will arrange a pick-up from Bangor International Airport (207/992-4600, www.flybangor.com), a two-and-a-half-hour drive or half-hour seaplane flight from the Moosehead/Katahdin region. To fly to the North Woods, Folsom’s Air Service (Greenville, 207/695-2821) provides air taxi from Bangor to Moosehead by seaplane and to the new 4-runway Greenville Municipal Airport (Airport Rd., Greenville, 207/695-2421, www.greenvilleme.com), while Katahdin Air Service (Millinocket, 866/359-6246, www.katahdinair.com) services a seaplane base near Baxter State Park.
There is no regular bus or train service to the area.
Several private shuttle services provide transportation around Baxter State Park. Try Minutemen Taxi (Millinocket, 207/723-2000) or Maine-ly Photos (Millinocket, 207/723-5465, www.mainelyphotos.com). Many guide services also provide shuttle service for a nominal fee.
© Michael Blanding and Alexandra Hall from Moon New England, 2nd Edition