Coastal Maine is often associated with summer, but much of the region’s beauty reveals itself during the off-season. Farms and fisheries don’t slow down, so lobster is always on the table, while seasonal farmers’ markets and holiday celebrations pop up in every small town. Best of all for the outdoor enthusiasts, there are just as many pursuits to enjoy despite it no longer being beach season. And now that Cliff House has re-opened as a year-round destination, most of the adventures are just steps from your winter hideaway along the coast.
“Winter really opens up the outdoors,” says Alex Bousquet, Cliff House Recreation Leader. “Snow builds up the mountains, making them more challenging for serious hikers to climb, and you can see more wildlife because the leaves have fallen and there are fewer people in the woods.”
Especially beautiful are the snow-covered beaches, which are not so deserted as one would imagine. Along with snowshoeing up and down the coast, beachgoers can be found lying in the sun on mild days and watching the surfers brave the cold ocean waters, said to be the best for waves in the wintertime.
Hiking (or snowshoeing) is still a wonderful way to explore the mountains and the coastal bluffs, with many trails open year-round, like the on-site paths at Cliff House. Marginal Way stays open during every season and offers stunning views of the ocean, Perkins Cove, and Ogunquit Beach, while Mount Agamenticus, or Mt. A, offers a more difficult hike just 15 minutes from Cliff House and boasts views of the White Mountains in New Hampshire to the north and the Boston skyline to the south.
On-site at Cliff House, there will be sledding and moonlit snowshoe hikes throughout the off-season, as well as sledding and snowshoeing on the hills of the adjacent Cape Neddick Country Club. Sledders should also visit Kennebunkport’s Sea Road Dump, Portland’s Munjoy Hill, and Portland’s Eastern Prom for a fun family day on the hills.
As for cross country skiing, there are endless destinations throughout southern Maine. Wells Reserve at Laudholm Farm has 7 miles of beautiful trails to explore, and Harris Farm in Dayton offers more than 500 acres of dairy and tree farm, including more than 25 miles of trails.
Downhill skiing, snowboarding, and tubing call for a longer drive from Cliff House, but the mountains are well worth the trip. Lost Valley and Shawnee Peak are closest, about a 1- to 2-hour drive from the resort. Snowmobiling and dog sledding, too, are about 45 minutes to 1 hour from the resort. (Those interested in dog sledding should also look into skijoring, a new trend that involves skiing while harnessed to one dog.)
In the nearby towns of Ogunquit, Kennebunkport, and Portland, visitors enjoy horse-drawn sleigh rides and horseback riding excursions along the coast. The towns are decorated for the holidays in December and often in February too, providing that festive, small-town ambiance quintessential of winter in New England.
Surfers can find their calling in the off-season too. Most beginners opt for a summertime lesson, but those who don’t mind wearing a (thick) wetsuit can set up a lesson at the Cliff House recreation center. Cliff House has partnered with the local surfing experts at Liquid Dreams to offer instruction for every skill level—not to mention, knowledge of the best breaks.
Throughout your adventures, plan to attend some of the wonderful local festivals and holiday celebrations like Nubble Light’s lighting ceremony, held on the Saturday after Thanksgiving, and Christmas by the Sea in Ogunquit, where Santa arrives by boat. The little coastal town is actually known as one of the best small towns in America to experience the holidays.
At Cliff House, there will be a fun run after Thanksgiving to celebrate the resort’s 144th year. And on New Year’s Day, the recreation team will lead a sunrise hike up Mt. A to see the first rays of sunlight in 2017. There will also be indoor programming for families at Cliff House, with holiday crafts like gingerbread houses, and the fitness center, spa, and indoor pool will stay open throughout the year.
At the end of the day, or between excursions, the fireplace at Cliff House is a fitting place to unwind and take in panoramic views of the magnificent, wintery ocean.