Moose Tracks
Maine’s North Woods: Lakes, lodges and whoopie


By Debra Simon & Brack Johnson


RecipesQuick: We say “Maine.” Your stomach growls, “lobster.” Or “wild blueberries.” Or “maple syrup.”

But ours growl, “whoopie pies.”

A whoopie pie consists of two round cakes sandwiching a frosted filling. In Maine, whoopie pies are everywhere from groceries to bakeries to cafés to convenience stores, where they’re usually piled high near the cash register.

We journeyed north — about as far north as you can go in the United States — to feast on the sweetest snack made in America at the Maine Whoopie Pie Festival. The bakeoff is held the last Saturday of June in the Maine hamlet of Dover-Foxcroft.

The timing was perfect to cater to our other pet topic: the moose. It may have started with those kiddie “Rocky and Bullwinkle” cartoons. But now, we were searching for the real article, the state animal of Maine.

More moose live in the North Woods of Maine than anywhere else in the lower 48 states: There are three of the animals to every one person! Moose are most visible in June, which happens to be a month that’s free of the black flies and mosquitoes that torment visitors.

Mega MaineaRecipes

Maine is well known for its craggy coast of classic beach towns and fishing villages, its rocky shorelines dotted by lighthouses. Acadia National Park, the first national park established east of the Mississippi River, tops it all with spectacular views of mountains sweeping down to the sea.

Moving inland brings you to the Maine highlands and the vast North Woods. It’s a region of superlatives. Most important for us: It’s the most plentiful area for moose in Maine!

Also, there’s the largest lake in the Northeast, Moosehead Lake. And there’s more parkland than anywhere else in the state, including 200,000-acre Baxter State Park, which is the terminus of the 2,160-mile Appalachian Trail that starts in Georgia and ends at mile-high Mt. Katahdin, the tallest peak in Maine.

“The Maine Woods”

Outdoor lovers have trekked to Maine's North Woods for more than a century. It’s a paradise for hiking, fishing, boating, Recipeswhitewater rafting, canoeing, kayaking, wildlife watching and camping as well as snowmobiling, ice climbing, skiing and snowshoeing. There’s plenty of solitude in this sparingly populated region, which extends north and west to Canada.

Henry David Thoreau, the author who idolized nature, was captivated by this region in the mid-1800s and extolled its beauty in his book “The Maine Woods.”

''It's all mossy and moosey,'' he wrote of Maine's forest. ''In some of those dense fir and spruce woods there is hardly room for the smoke to go up.''

Since those days, the wilderness has been affected by intensive logging, but — particularly along the lakeshores — it still retains a back-country character.

The landscape is teeming with wildlife; blanketed with spruce, pine and fir trees; and overflowing with crystal-clear lakes, ponds, rivers and waterfalls.

Writes one modern adventurer, “You can go on an eight-hour hike deep into the North Woods, passing one roaring churn of a waterfall after another along the way, and meet nary another soul…when you canoe your territorial waters, there may be moose or deer to challenge you but no other humans.”

On his deathbed, legend has it, one of Thoreau’s last words was “moose.”

RecipesMoosehead Lake

One of the largest freshwater lakes in the United States, Moosehead Lake is 40 miles long, 12 miles wide, chiseled with inlets and caves, and home to more than 80 islands.

In the early 1900s, Moosehead Lake was a relaxing retreat for the well-heeled who wanted to get away from the city. These gentlefolk traveled by rail and summered at grand hotels.

By the mid-1900s, timber titans filled the lake with steamships towing huge barges laden with logs.

Today, Moosehead Lake is a treasured destination for outdoor enthusiasts. But it’s not crowded. You can spend a day on Moosehead, visitors say, and feel like you’re the only person on the water.

Luxe lodging

After connecting flights from RDU, we arrived early in the evening and maneuvered a four-wheel-drive vehicle down highways and then route this, that and the other to the town of Greenville, the southernmost point of Moosehead Lake.

RecipesNo other cars occupied the road and the streets seemed to be rolled up. So, we already felt the luxury of breathing room as we pulled up to the Lodge at Moosehead Lake at 10 p.m.

The hideaway’s owners, Linda and Dennis Bortis, had left us the combination to the front door. So, we walked into a lodge right out of a Ralph Lauren ad — stone fireplaces, woven rugs, warm bookshelves, exposed wood, comfy couches.
The key to our room, “The Loon,” was waiting for us on a mini-moccasin.

Inland Maine’s only AAA four-diamond property, the Lodge at Moosehead Lake has won accolades from state and national reviewers. The secluded 1917 Cape Cod Colonial, a residence turned country inn, exudes a rustic elegance that complements unspoiled views of the lake and mountains.

The five lodge rooms and four carriage-house suites are one-of-a-kind. Our spacious room contained a hand-carved poster bed adorned with loons along with a gas log fireplace and seating area.

Moose talesRecipes

Sure, we could have sunk into Adirondack chairs on the back lawn and gazed at the pristine lake. But it’s clear that challenging outdoor activities, which the lodge staff will help arrange, attract most guests.

The next day at dawn, Ed Mathieu, a registered Maine guide, greeted us with a big smile, a thermos of coffee and two breakfast boxes. For our moose safari, he drove to a wilderness area where we hiked down a dirt trail to a pond. We saw deer, beaver, snowshoe hare, gray squirrel, otter, loon, osprey and other birds. No other people. And no moose.

Certainly, Ed left no stone unturned in our pursuit of moose, including a search of the marshy trading post of Kokadjo, where the welcome sign declares it to have a population of “not many.”

Just off a logging road, we caught a glimpse of a moose. As we reached for our binoculars and camera, the big guy lumbered away!

In the end, we’d seen only the rear end of a moose. But spending the day with Ed, a rugged outdoorsman with a great sense of humor who knows everything you’d ever want to know about nature, was a hoot.

It was back to the lodge for dinner. Dennis, who holds sway over the kitchen, calls his menu “casual but sophisticated.” While we dug into his Up North Cuisine, the dining room’s floor-to-ceiling windows offered a panoramic view of Moosehead Lake and the surrounding mountains.

RecipesWe lingered for hours in the hushed dining room, cooing over mains of fresh stuffed trout and buffalo meatloaf, desserts of warm mixed berry cobblers with vanilla ice cream, and libations from the martini menu, including the Mooseopolitan.

Back in the “Loon Room,” undeterred in our quest for moose, we noticed a sheet on Moose Facts in our guest info. Bullwinkle’s pals are vegetarians and seem to enjoy the local DOT maintenance yard, where salt is stockpiled.

The next morning, we tiptoed out of the lodge while it was still dark and drove a few miles, past the center of Greenville, to the DOT yard. Eureka! A moose! As the sun slowly rose, we watched, awestruck, as the moose slurped up salty water from the bog.

Gateway to the North Country

A laidback and woodsy crossroads, Greenville, population 1,400, is centered around the lower end of Moosehead Lake. It’s the ideal spot to do everything — or nothing at all.

RecipesWith no lakeside mansions or souped-up power boats but with a handful of souvenir shops, float-plane operators and friendly places to grab a bite, the town is perfect in its role as gateway to the North Country.

Greenville has the largest selection of lodgings in the region, but we weren’t overwhelmed by them because they’re pretty much adorably nestled. There’s a smattering of everything from the primitive (campsites with propane lanterns, cold running water, outhouses) to the cozy (cabins with woodstoves and American Flea Market furniture) to the upscale (inns that do “Maine” right).

Greenville is a draw for the fish-and-game set, but a stop at Northwoods Outfitters, which has an Internet café, made it clear that mountain bikers, kayakers and Appalachian Trial hikers use the town as base camp, too.

RecipesThe homemade food at local eateries is yummy and priced right. Although the best place to devour Maine lobsters is next to the waters where lobstermen bring them ashore, inland restaurants do serve them (more in lobster dishes than boiled as is common at the coast) as well as shrimp, scallops, clams and other seafood.

At night, sitting on a floating barge on the east cove of Moosehead Lake, we feasted on hamburgers cooked on an outdoor grill at the Black Frog restaurant and bar.

At Auntie M’s, which opens as early as 5 a.m. and serves breakfast all day, we polished off stacks of pancakes of various flavors accompanied by real Maine maple syrup. Our waitress was the daughter of the owner, who was in the kitchen turning out the home cookin’.

Whoopies gone wild

It’s an hour’s drive south from Greenville to Dover-Foxcroft. When we got there, the town’s population had doubled for the day to about 8,000 due to the Maine Whoopie Pie Festival.

Activities included music from bands, arts and crafts by local artisans, and a bounce house and balloon animals for kids.

But the star of the show was the whoopie pie. A mascot, Sweetie Pie, pranced around; competition heated up at whoopie-pie eating contests; and Nancy Griffin, the author of “Making Whoopies,” signed our copy of her book.

The round mound of cakey goodness is a “pie” only in the sense of having a filling. In the classic whoopie, two palm-sized chocolate cakes sandwich a thick layer of creamy, frosty heaven.

Most bakers scoop a dollop of buttercream between the layers. Some use marshmallow fluff. Others fiddle with ingredients, creating everything from pumpkin and peanut butter to exotic varieties.Recipes

Where to find the best whoopie pies in Maine? Ask a native and each one will tell you the name of a different place. That’s what’s so delicious about the festival. You get to try them all!

Restaurants, bakeries and amateurs from all over the state offered samples to festival-goers, who traded in wooden tokens purchased at the admission gate. One token equaled one sample. The milk to wash it down was free.

Al’s Pizza of Skowhegan nabbed the People’s Choice Award for its traditional whoopie pie. Anania’s of Portland garnered best traditional for commercial bakers. Best flavored went to Douin’s Market of New Sharon for its brownie whoopie pie with peanut butter filling (our fave!). Tied for most original were Betty Reez of Freeport for mint whoopies and Cranberry Island Kitchen for Mexican whoopies.

Flyers encouraged Mainers to “Help us make the Whoopie Pie Maine’s State Dessert…Contact your local legislator and Governor…Show your Support.”

That, apparently, upset the blueberry pie lobby. So, as of this writing, the bill before the state senate would make the whoopie pie the official “treat.”

Pennsylvania calls Maine’s actions “confectionary larceny.”

Yes, there’s a sweet smackdown going on between residents of Maine and Pennsylvania. They’ve cooked up a tongue-in-cheek tug-of-war over which state is the whoopie pie’s rightful home.

The Hershey Farm Restaurant and Inn, in Strasburg, Pa., makes more than 100 flavors for its Whoopie Pie Festival, which started several years before the Maine event.

Whether it originated in Pennsylvania (with Amish families?) or Maine (named for the yelp heard when spotted in lunchboxes?), the whoopie pie is this year’s “it dessert” at hipster hangouts all over the nation, taking over the cupcake’s crown.

Photos from top to bottom: The Lodge at Moosehead Lake by Jumping Rocks; Moose by Maine Office of Tourism; Whoopie pies, Trailhead sign by Brack Johnson; Greenville area by Maine Office of Tourism; Moosehead Lake by Maine Office of Tourism; The Lodge at Moosehead Lake by Jumping Rocks; Carriage-house suite at the lodge by Jumping Rocks; Picnic area by Brack Johnson; First Roach Pond, Kokadjo by Brack Johnson; Moose wades for aquatic plants by Maine Office of Tourism; Keep Out sign by Brack Johnson; Center Theatre: Maine Whoopie Pie Festival headquarters by Nancy Griffin