Difficulty: Easy-moderate. Some trails are constructed for beginner skiers, snowshoers and hikers, while other trails are narrower and have more hills.
How to get there: From I-95, take Exit 244 (Medway/Millinocket) and follow signs to Millinocket on Route 157/Route 11.You’ll pass through the small town of East Millinocket on the way. Drive through downtown Millinocket and turn left after the light onto Katahdin Avenue. Drive 0.3 miles and turn right onto Route 11. Cross the railroad tracks, and from there, drive 2.9 miles southwest on Route 11 to the parking area, which will be on your right and marked with a white ski trails sign.
Information: The Bait Hole public recreation area — named after a small pond on the property that baitfish used to be kept it — lies just 3 miles southwest of downtown Millinocket and is home to several miles of maintained trails.
In the summer, bicyclists and hikers use the trails, which lead through a beautiful mixed forest to the shore of Elbow Lake, where you get views of nearby mountains, including Katahdin. In the winter, the trails are groomed for cross-country skiing, and snowshoers use the trails by walking to the left of the ski tracks.
After parking in the parking area off Route 11, follow a trail across the railroad tracks and you’ll come to a large display of a color-coded trail map, which shows the name and length of each trail.
The largest loop, the Bait Hole Loop, is wide and nearly 3 miles long. In the winter, it’s groomed to at least two parallel classic cross-country ski tracks. While traveling the loop, you can take short cuts or explore side loop trails to reduce or increase the distance from 1 mile to 8 miles.
The map also labels points of interest along the trails. These points of interest include man-made structures such as foundations of an old boathouse and an old steam-powered sawmill; Green Bridge and North Twin Dam; remains of an old wooden tole boat that can be seen when water is low; and an old road to Norcross. The points of interest also include natural features, such as holes in trees created by pileated woodpeckers, beaver dams and a vernal pool.
The trails are groomed and maintained by the Northern Timber Cruisers Snowmobile and Cross Country Ski Club, which is responsible for about 20 miles of cross country ski trails in the area. Trails are normally groomed after each major storm (a snowfall of about 6 inches or more), according to the club website.
The trail system is popular because it lies just outside of town, can be skied with minimum snowcover and is suitable for skiers of all abilities. While some trails are single track, many of the trails are wide enough to be double track, so you can ski beside a companion.
Dogs are not permitted on the trails at the Bait Hole or the trails surrounding the nearby Northern Timber Cruisers Clubhouse.
Signs and maps are posted along the trails to help you navigate the network, but carrying a trail map with you is always a good idea. Trail maps are available at the clubhouse and at www.northerntimbercruisers.com. Also, 8-by-10-inch trail maps are often posted on a fence by the parking area for visitors to use.
While these trails are open to the public year round for free, visitors can send donations to assist with maintenance costs to: Northern Timber Cruisers, P.O. Box 269, Millinocket, Maine, 04462, with the notation, “ski trails.”
For information on the Bait Hole Trails, along with daily reports on skiing conditions, call 723-4329 and ask for Don Nodine, a local cross-country skier who is also one of the trail systems’ originators, architects and groomers.
Personal note: I met Don Nodine, a man who dedicates much of his time to the trails in the Millinocket area, at a sportsman’s show a few years ago. He told me about The Bait Hole and handed me a few maps, encouraging me to make the trip north and check it out. It sounded like the ideal cross-country ski spot to me, an inexperienced skier. But time slipped by, and it wasn’t until this year that I finally made the trip.
From the detailed maps posted near the parking area to the recently groomed trails, it was clear to me that Nodine and other members of the Northern Timber Cruisers were taking good care of the trail system. My boyfriend Derek and I clicked into our new cross-country skis and set out to ski the 3-mile Bait Hole Loop.
We skied through evergreen tree tunnels and soon made our way to the shore of the iced over Bait Hole, which Derek instantly shot out onto, his skis still on his feet. I joined him, slipping around on the ice. “Is this bad for our skis?” I asked him. He wasn’t sure. After a few minutes of gliding over the smooth ice (we should have brought ice skates!), we retreated to the trail and continued on our way.
On that sunny day, the rippled ice of Elbow Lake reflected the blue of the sky overhead, and we could see clear to the mountains miles away. Wind whipped over the lake, freezing the little exposed skin we had. Both of us were wearing fur-lined bomber hats, which we’d fastened around our chins to protect our faces; but the wind was so cold that when it hit my eyes and nose, it temporarily gave me something like an ice cream headache.
At one point, we caught glimpse of mighty Katahdin, covered with snow, but it was partially obscured by the trees. Unfortunately, the frigid wind deterred us from exploring the shore to find a better view of Maine’s tallest mountain.
While many of the photos I took during the trip were of the beautiful views along the shore of the lake, much of the trail was sheltered in the woods, where I admired a number of large yellow birch trees (my favorite tree), their peeling golden bark shining in the sun.
Along the way, paused to watch a red squirrel, which seemed to be storing food under one of the small wooden ski bridges on the Bait Hole Trail. But aside from squirrels, we didn’t see much in the way of wildlife. I did notice a variety of animal tracks, however. And at one point, I stopped to investigate what at first appeared to be dog tracks but didn’t have any claw indents. I suggested it might be a wild cat, which have retractable claws, but I don’t think Derek was confident in my tracking skills. I don’t blame him.
Derek and I especially enjoyed the gentle hills on the east side of the trail system. Cruising down the tracks was a great way to end our ski. And as we were walking across the railroad tracks to the parking lot, who did we run into? None other than Don Nodine himself, headed out with a shovel to do some trail maintenance.
On the way home, we stopped at Pelletier Loggers Restaurant in Millinocket for a beer and a hot meal.