Medawisla Lodge and Cabins

After we concluded our Mount Katahdin Adventure, and bid adieu to our family and friends, Debbie, the kids, and I drove from Baxter State Park to Medawisla Lodge and Cabins near Kokadjo, Maine.

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We pulled out our Maine Gazetteer (there was no cell service, hence no Google Maps) and navigated a patchwork of logging roads. We took the Golden Road for part of the way and drove along the Penobscot River. We saw one moose, and a lot of rafters and kayakers. The roads were rough, but our Subaru Outback handled the bumps fine. It took a little over two hours to reach the lodge, and that was counting the 30 minutes from Roaring Brook Campground to the Gatehouse. We couldn’t average more than 20 miles per hour.

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Medawisla is the newest of the Appalachian Mountain Club’s Maine Lodges. It is so new, that it just opened on July 1st, and isn’t quite complete. We were there on the third night. Debbie and I are both active AMC volunteers, serving on the Board of Advisors and Board of Directors. We have been involved with AMC’s Maine Woods Initiative since its infancy. I was eager to visit the new lodge. We visited Little Lyford Lodge and Cabins (back then it was known as Little Lyford Pond Camps) on a winter trip in 2003, shortly after it opened, but hadn’t been back. Gorman Chairback Lodge and Cabins was acquired around 2008, and then rebuilt in 2011. Like Little Lyford, Medawisla was a legacy sporting camp that the AMC substantially renovated. In the case of Medawisla, which was purchaed in 2006, it was, and still is, being rebuilt from the ground up. There are definitely some loose ends to tie up, but when you are a 146 year old organization with a long-term time horizon, you can invest the time to get it right.

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Our organization’s long history of operating the White Mountain Huts (129 years) highlights our track record in mountain hospitality. The Maine lodges offer a very different experience than the New Hampshire huts. The mountains are smaller, but they still offer a great hiking and trail running experience in the warmer months, and awesome cross-country skiing and snowshoeing in the winter months. The abundance of ponds, lakes,  and streams are fantastic for paddling and fishing. The three AMC Maine lodges are all located on the water. In the case of Medawisla, it is on Second Roach Pond, which is part of AMC’s Roach Pond Tract of land.

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AMC describes the initiative on its landing page: “The Maine Woods Initiative is the Appalachian Mountain Club’s strategy for land conservation in the 100-Mile Wilderness region. The Initiative is an innovative approach to conservation that combines outdoor recreation, resource protection, sustainable forestry, and community partnerships. To date, AMC has purchased and permanently conserved 70,000 acres of forest land, created over 120 miles of recreational trails, opened three sporting camps to the public, established an FSC-certified sustainable forestry operation, and developed a partnership with local Piscataquis County schools.”

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AMC has invested more than $6 million into the rebuild of Medawisla. “Green building” techniques are a hallmark of AMC’s facilities and Medawisla has many modern sustainable building features. The cabins are beautiful. They come in a few configurations; some have private baths and others make use of a shared bathhouse. Each has a kitchenette, but full meal service at the lodge is an option. The cabins accommodate 5-6 people. There are also two bunkhouses that can accommodate up to 16 guests.

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We stayed in one of the Waterfront Cabins. It had two bedrooms. One had twin beds. The other had a double bed. There was a pull out couch, if needed. It was well-appointed with lovely furniture. Much of the decor came from L.L. Bean, a long time AMC supporter. Bean and the Maine sporting camp industry are well-connected. Dozens of other privately owned camps and lodges dot the lakes of the Maine woods, particularly in the northwest region. The trout fishing and game hunting are world-renowned. The Livingston’s don’t do much fishing and we don’t hunt, but these activities are a big part of Maine’s rich outdoor heritage.

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Another neat thing about the cabins and bunkhouses is that they have lovely screened in porches. In our case, the mosquitoes were pretty bad. They either followed us from Baxter where they were vicious, our Medawisla has its own supply. Regardless, we had a hard time keeping the bugs out of our porch, so we had to keep the solid door to the cabin shut at all times. I know that some of the mosquitoes followed us onto the porch from outside. They were literally clinging to us. It is also possible that some were coming up through slats in the floorboards. Another nice feature of each cabin and bunkhouse is the wood stove. We didn’t need to use it, but I imagine that in the colder months, you could turn your accommodations into a sweat lodge!

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There are lots of other features that I’m neglecting to mention, but the AMC site has lots of information. We checked out the soon-to-be-complete large sauna, which is located in the lodge. That will be awesome in the dead of winter. It will take some time to build buzz, but even with a six-hour drive from southern New England, the location is worth the effort and cost to get there. Just this week, one of AMC’s Medawisla area trails, the Hinckley Cove Trail, was featured in the Bangor Daily News.

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I said in my Mount Katahdin post that our family plans to return to Baxter State Park to explore all that it has to offer. You could spend two weeks in Baxter and just scratch the surface. The same could be said of AMC’s Maine property. We have to return for at least a week. One sport I didn’t mention, that could be a growth opportunity for Maine lodge activities, is cycling. There are so many dirt logging roads that could be explored. I don’t know if all are open to public access, but with the proliferation of gravel/adventure bikes, you could put together a great lodge-to-lodge bikepacking adventure. This is definitely on our to-do list.

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We crammed quite a bit into the 23 hours we were at Medawisla. On Monday afternoon, we explored the grounds, which also include the main lodge, a pavilion, waterfront buildings, the generator building, manager’s residence, staff bunkhouses, and various outbuildings. After our walk, we took a canoe for a paddle around a small island. We were on the water for 45 minutes or so, but opted not to venture too far. One highlight was seeing some beautiful loons, which are a feature in Medawisla’s logo.

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Our kids wanted to do the paddling, and they got a good lesson in the effort required to keep the canoe pointed in the right direction. The wind was blowing steadily at more than 20 miles per hour, which made the return to camp quite challenging. We taught them a little bit about water safety, plus the J-stroke and other paddling techniques. Then we took over for the rest of the way. Debbie and I did a fair amount of kayaking in our adventure racing days, and both have canoe experience from our Scouting days, but it isn’t our regular mode of transportation. That made it even more fun.

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It was too windy and rough to use the stand up paddle boards (SUP’s), but we were ready to wind down for the day. We had a “family style” dinner with the other guests at the main lodge, and then returned to our cabin to relax. AMC has always been good about our vegan/vegetarian dietary preferences.

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I got up early on Tuesday morning and drove two miles via the local dirt roads to the Shaw Mountain trailhead. I used this great map as a guide. I could have run from the lodge, but it would have added 2.8 miles to my trail run. I opted to start at the bottom and just run the Shaw Mountain Trail 1.3 miles to the North Summit (2,499 feet), then over to the South Summit (2,641 feet) and back. The trail to South Summit isn’t finished yet, so it just dead-ended in the woods. It will eventually connect to West Branch Pond Camps, a family owned sporting camp that is in between Medawisla and Gorman.

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I parked a little ways down the road so I had a short warmup before the vertical running started. It was humid, but pleasantly cool. Remnants of the trail existed prior to the Medawisla renovation, but signs indicated that AMC’s Trail Crew was actively working on the route. Sections were fresh-cut, which meant the tread way was soft and “cushiony” like running on a pillow. That was perfect recovery after hiking on rocks all-day on Sunday. My total run lasted an hour or so and I was back at the lodge in time for 8:00 A.M. breakfast with my family and other guests.

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The pond was much calmer in the morning, so after breakfast, we hit the waterfront again. I took our son on a canoeing adventure around the peninsula and explored the shallow northwest corner of the pond. We saw so many neat birds, but no moose. It felt like we were the only ones for miles, and with the exception of the lodge guests, that was true. Debbie and our daughter took out one of the SUP’s and we intercepted them on our return trip. We were on the water for an hour or so. Next time, we hope to explore the entire lake. It would be an all day adventure to paddle the three miles or so to the east end where AMC has a few campgrounds, one on the north side, and one on the south side. There will be many more hiking opportunities as the trail network expands.

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We were packed up and back on the road by 11:15 A.M. The trip whet our appetite for more Maine adventure. It was a no frills drive home, with the only stops for fuel and stretching. All in all, it was a fantastic four-day weekend.

 

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