Ok, so my real purpose of staying overnight at the Appalachain Mountain Club’s Gorman Chairback Lodge and Cabins outside of Greenville, Maine was to propose to my girlfriend (she said yes, by the way). But the trip was also a test to find places in the North Maine Woods that aren’t completely overrun by lazy tourists or completely destroyed by logging. And while the 66,000 acre preserve just outside Baxter State Park (which also includes two other AMC camps, the Appalachian Trail, numerous backcountry campsites, and several breathtaking natural features) does border prime lumber harvesting land, once inside the preserve, you’ll be hard pressed to even think of chainsaws and Ax Men (a tv show filmed nearby) leveling the forest.
A former sporting camp built in 1867, the Gorman Chairback lodge and cabins got a major facelift last summer thanks to underwriting by the outdoors outfitter L.L. Bean. The brand new main lodge is a LEED certified building, powered by solar electricity, and with features that would rival many local ski lodges. Most of the furniture in the lodge and cabins was provided by L.L. Bean, which lends the place a rustic, outdoorsy “upta camp.”
All meals are included in the cost, with breakfast and dinner served family style in the spacious, airy dining room. The room itself is inviting, despite rather bland concrete floors. Long wooden dining tables are lined with fine crafted wood chairs, and you can enjoy a gorgeous view of Long Pond and the surrounding woods while you eat thanks to the large windows lining the walls. The food is prepared by a trained chef, and is warm, hearty, and delicious. On our trip, pancakes, fresh fruit, and yogurt for breakfast; a custom prepared sack lunch; and two types of homemade lasagna, a couscous, and fresh squash for dinner rounded out a delicious menu that changes daily.
Just off the main dining room is a communal living room/lounge area, furnished with comfortable Morris style lounge chairs, a wood stove, and enough books to keep you busy for hours on a rainy day. Taking an hour or so to sip a cool adult beverage (available for sale through the kitchen) and look out over Long Pond is well worth the time.
Storage areas, a small gift shop, and a sauna round out some of the features of the main lodge. The shared bathrooms are interesting as well. Composting toilets help keep the facility off the grid and environmentally friendly. Showers are hot and refreshing.
The best feature of the Gorman Chairback camp is the group of cabins that line Long Pond. Four new cabins join eight older original cabins to give guests a private or semi-private outdoors experience. The new cabins, sitting slightly nestled into the woods, feature private baths and large living areas with wood stoves, various bed sizes, small tables and chairs, and individual gas lamps. Some of the newer cabins are also ADA accessible.
If you have a smaller group, and can snag them before someone else, the older cabins line the shore of Long Pond, offering quiet water views. While the older cabins don’t have private baths, they do feature gas lamps, comfortable beds, and wood stoves for those chilly Maine North Woods evenings. The older cabins all received a facelift during last summer’s construction, so you won’t find yourself wanting when you rent these guys out. All the cabins have linens and pillows provided, and most feature a front porch with rocking chairs and recliners, perfect for sipping iced tea and listening for loon calls in the evening.
A native Brook Trout habitat, Long Pond stands dominant along the border of the Gorman Chairback Lodge. The pond stretches just over 3 miles in length, and offers miles of coastline and several small islands to explore. During my one day and night there, I managed to see a flock of ducks, several loons (well, I heard the loons), countless birds, and the lodge’s resident red fox. Rumor has it that moose occasionally visit the pond in the early mornings. It was pretty windy when I visited, so I didn’t get any fly fisihing in, but I was perfectly happy enjoying the quiet pond and its natrual inhabitants.
Speaking of water sports, the Gorman Chairback lodge offers free use of several canoes and kayaks. Paddles and life jackets are provided, so everyone can enjoy a day on the water. If you’re so inclined, you can arrange a fly fishing lesson with one of the AMC staff members who, for $25, will rent you a fly fishing outfit and teach you the basics of the sport, then get you out on the water to try your luck at landing a record Brookie.
Thanks to the logging companies, there are miles of logging roads suitable for biking and walking. The 66,000 acre AMC preserve, part of Maine’s famous 100-Mile Wilderness, is bisected by the even more famous (or infamous) Appalachain Trail, winding its way through the woods to its terminus at Mount Katahdin in Baxter State Park. Throughout the AMC lands are miles upon miles of hiking trails, with several peaks to summit, including Second Mountain, Third Mountain, and Chairback Mountain. If you have a few days, there is a natural wonder you won’t want to miss. Gulf Hagas has been called “The Grand Canyon of Maine.” Featuring numerous waterfalls and steep ledges, this naturally cut canyon stretches for several miles along the Pleasant River.
The only thing that might be off-putting for anyone looking to stay at Gorman Chairback is the cost. Up front, the prices look pretty high for a per-person rate. Ranging from $74 to $137 per person per night (midsummer prices; AMC members get discounted rates), the cost can quickly add up for a several night stay at the camp. But when you break it down, the cost is actually very reasonable.
For that per person nightly rate, you get a fine, newly refurbished cabin with gas lights, wood stoves, and water views; a beautiful new LEED certified lodge that includes a freaking SAUNA; three daily fresh, home-cooked meals; unlimited use of canoes and kayaks; access to over 80 miles of AMC maintained hiking trails; miles of former logging roads for biking; a 3-mile long pond filled with native Brook Trout; and so much more.
Time to Go
For the price, a stay at the AMC’s Gorman Chairback Lodge and Cabins is a bargain. With so many included features, a family friendly atmosphere, and thousands of acres of Maine forest, spots tend to fill up quickly. A friendly and courteous staff will help with any special needs and are always happy to point you towards some fantastic outdoor activites on the property. If you’re ready to take a few days off from the rat race (I hate that cliche), Gorman Chairback Lodge and Cabins is a fantastic place to do it.