Maine's North Woods aren't just stuck in time, they're going in reverse. The ten-million-acre (four-million-hectare) wilderness is about 25 percent thicker today than when Henry David Thoreau hacked his way through in the 1850s. North of Bangor the time warp hits hyperspeed, as paved roads give way to dirt logging tracks and town populations hit single digits. "It's the country's last big forest, totally undeveloped and nearly unpopulated," says Jym St. Pierre, director of Maine conservation group Restore. But thanks to a batch of seasoned guides and comfortable lodges, travel here is still seamless. In just four days you can climb the state's highest peak, commune with moose, and explore what Thoreau called "the fresh and natural surface of the planet Earth."
Day 1: On a half-day rafting trip with New England Outdoor Center, ripping the Penobscot River's Class V rapids via the Ripogenus Gorge is just the warm-up. The real challenge comes at paddle's end: surfing waves beneath the Big Ambejackmockamus falls. In the evening, drive six miles (ten kilometers) west to the 5 Lakes Lodge for waterfront views of 5,268-foot (8,478-meter) Mount Katahdin.
Day 2: The capstone of any North Woods trip is an ascent of Mount Katahdin via the legendary Knife Edge, a narrow arête with 1,500-foot (457-kilometer) drops on both sides. From Roaring BrookCampground, hike to your campsite at Chimney Pond, a glacial cirque at the base of Katahdin's 2,300-foot (1,606-meter) headwall. From there, it's 1.7 miles (2.7 kilometers) up Cathedral Trail to the summit.
Day 3: Hike 3.3 miles (5.3 kilometers) on Chimney Pond Trail back to your car, then drive to Moosehead Lake, where moose outnumber people three to one. Spend the day canoeing six lazy miles (ten kilometers) on the salmon-packed Roach River from Kokadjo to Moosehead (Northern Pride Lodge rents canoes and provides shuttles). Bed down nearby at The Lodge at Moosehead Lake.
Day 4: The forested summit of Mount Kineo, a 1,789-foot (545-meter) flint monolith jutting up from the middle of Moosehead Lake, affords the area's best vantage point. Rockwood-based Birches Resort rents bikes and offers ferry service to the 20 miles (32 kilometers) of trails that crisscross Kineo's slopes. For a snack, do as Mainers do: Grab a handful of wild blueberries.
Do: New England Outdoor Center ($79 for a half-day rafting trip; www.neoc.com); Northern Pride Lodge ($55 for canoe rental and shuttles; www.northernpridelodge.com); The Birches Resort ($75 for bike rental and ferry; www.birches.com)
Sleep: 5 Lakes Lodge Bed & Breakfast ($175; www.5lakeslodge.com); The Lodge at Moosehead Lake ($225; www.lodgeatmooseheadlake.com).
Map by Computer Terrain Mapping
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