RIDING NORTHERN MAINE
I've never snowmobiled down a trail with stone markers in the middle. But I'm a law-abiding guy.
So I as we rode on that Border Trail between Maine and New Brunswick, I had visions of being pounced on by both U.S. and Canadian Customs & Immigration officers waiting in the woods.
That's because Maine's Trail 81, the "Border Trail", travels through the forest directly along the International boundary between our two nations.
If you're heading north, you're mostly on the Canadian side of these three-foot high border markers, but you're on the American side when travelling south. Fortunately, other than a few cameras, no one was lurking in the trees to stop us.
Just as well, because last winter, snowmobilers flocked to Aroostook County Maine thanks to more than 12 feet of snow that fell – and stayed – from November to April. Our Supertrax crew heard rumours in January that this popular snowmobile New England destination was already on track for a banner season, so we planned a visit in March to enjoy their long riding season for ourselves. We certainly weren't disappointed!
Aroostook County sits on top of Maine like its crown jewel of winter, thrusting up into Canada and bordered by Quebec to the north and west, and New Brunswick to the east. As such, Aroostook is the northern most county in the contiguous United States east of the Great Lakes. It also boasts the largest county landmass east of the Mississippi River.
This northerly positioning, enhanced by the Appalachian Mountain range, makes Aroostook a reliable and bountiful snow maker – and a snow magnet for riders from across New England and beyond. In Aroostook County they discover 2,300 miles of highly ranked, groomed trails, so there’s plenty for visiting sledders to enjoy here.
RIDING THE COUNTY
A quick review of Northern Maine Snowmobile Trails, a map produced by the Aroostook Chamber of Commerce, shows that an Interconnected Trail System anchors their network (as it does throughout the Maine Snowmobile Association sytsem.
Wanting to be in the centre of this action, we checked into the Caribou Inn & Convention Centre. Located in the Town of Caribou on the eastside of Aroostook County, this snowmobile-friendly hotel is well positioned for staging day ride loops in every direction.
For example, we snowmobiled south one day for 135 miles through Fort Fairfield, Presque Isle and Mapleton. Another 145-mile loop took us north via Limestone, Van Buren and Madawaska (don’t miss the lookout at the north end of Long Lake), while on a third day we got a late start and cruised west for 115 miles through Washburn, Ashford and Portage.
I should note that our relatively modest daily distances were due to time taken to explore, sight-see and take photos, not to any trail deficiencies. In fact, with regular grooming and no snowmobile trail speed limits in Maine, it’s easy to set a pace that really eats up the miles - as long as your speed remains reasonable for conditions and doesn’t endanger others.
Besides, visitors to The County need to take their time at intersections to ensure they stay on their intended trail, not blow through hoping for the best. In my preparation for riding there, I'd heard that the trail signage was somewhat old fashioned and might not be up to snuff for inspiring confident visitor navigation.
So I was pleasantly surprised to see sufficient trail number signs, but quickly learned to check them carefully at intersections to check for small print directions.
Meanwhile, the Aroostook County trails are well served with fuel stops, hearty restaurants and rustic lodges catering to snowmobilers. Many of them are marked on The County trail map and also appear on the back as advertisers, making it easy for visitors to plan their rides.
There’s also a "Quick Travel Reference" chart showing approximate mileages between various county destinations, but like me, I bet most visiting riders would appreciate a map face that showed actual distances for every trail.
During our stay in Aroostook, we met avid snowmobiler and county sledding ambassador Gary Marquis, who issues the popular Aroostook County Trail Report. It's a timely and valuable resource for visiting riders that details latest trail conditions and grooming reports in the region.
Whatever your choice, you'll discover that Aroostook County offers a massive snowmobiling playground each winter with an exciting variety of terrain and a welcoming "down-home" feel. Best of all, with oodles of snow and its well-developed network of snowmobile trails, The County typically delivers top notch riding from as early as December to as late as early April.
So do yourself a favour and add Northern Maine to your sledding bucket list of new destinations to discover!
WHERE WE STAYED
* Caribou Inn & Convention Centre
* Maine Tourism
* Aroostook County Tourism (includes sled registration info)
* Aroostook Snowmobile Trail Report
* Maine Snowmobile Association
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