Given the recent heat here in Maine, I hope you’ll indulge my switching back to ski columnist mode for a week.

Many of Maine’s ski areas open their miles of trails to hikers during the summer. Five of my favorites — Sugarloaf, Shawnee Peak, Saddleback, Sunday River and the Camden Snow Bowl — make for challenging hikes with unparalleled views.

Though the mechanics of hiking at a ski resort (move body up hill) are no different than hiking any other trail, it feels like a whole different sport to me. Where a “traditional” hike puts you on a narrow wooded path, ski trails can be the width of a football field. While most Maine hikes feel removed from civilization, hiking at a ski resort surrounds you with buildings and machinery.

Mountains also offer fantastically challenging hikes. Though a green circle might seem nearly flat when you’re skiing, you’d be surprised by how steep even an easy trail is when you’re hiking. Skiers look for the most direct route when cutting trails, and a descent that follows the fall line is never an easy ascent.

Perhaps my favorite ski area hike is an ascent of Sugarloaf in Carrabassett Valley. The climb takes you to the 4,250 feet in just a few miles, making the second-highest peak in Maine a bit easier to reach than the legendary Katahdin. From the summit, there are 360-degree views of Franklin County and beyond, with Redington, Crocker and Bigelow looming large in the foreground.

Visitors are given unrestricted access to Sugarloaf’s trail system, although areas where work is being done (such as this summer’s new lift installation) are occasionally blocked off. The most popular — and easiest — route up the mountain is via Binder, the access road that runs alongside the Tote Road ski trail. It’s still a strenuous 3.5-mile hike to the summit, but the well-worn road offers hikers more tread than the surrounding slopes.

It’s worth noting that, due to the construction this summer, machinery will be making use of Binder. I’d recommend hiking up Tote Road and Timberline, a path that offers roughly the same difficulty but no traveling trucks or cranes.

If you’d prefer a bit more wilderness in your hike, following the Appalachian Trail to Sugarloaf’s summit cuts the resort’s buildings and chairlifts from view.

Nearest to Portland is Shawnee Peak, a doozy of a hill with views of Bridgton and the lakes region. A ridge runs from the summit of Shawnee to the peak of Pleasant Mountain and Big Bald, and ambitious hikers can connect the mountains in a single trip. I recommend climbing the Bald Peak trail, which begins a mile south of Shawnee, and climbing down Shawnee’s eastern slopes. It’s a viscous ascent of nearly 1300 feet in a bit over a mile, but Shawnee’s peak is a great reward — and covered with blueberry bushes to boot.

New this year at Shawnee Peak are the Pleasant Mountain Yurts, furnished cabins near the summit that hikers can rent. If you need something to entice you to hike, there aren’t many rewards better than a comfortable bunk.

Like Sugarloaf, Saddleback is a mountain with some serious vertical and a shared summit with the Appalachian Trail. The route suggested by JoAnne Taylor, Saddleback’s marketing manager, is fairly direct. Start up the main Wheeler slope from the lodge, cross over to Grey Ghost (which runs parallel to the chairlift) and then follow Tricolor up into the saddle and to the summit.

My favorite route is a long, looping run up Hudson Highway, the beginner trail that skirts the resort’s western boundary. It’s a much longer hike, but with a gentler slope and a great chance of seeing wildlife.

Saddleback also maintains a coffee and sandwich bar in the base lodge during the summer, open Tuesday through Saturday. Along with the much-needed nourishment, the bar has trail maps for hikers, which include routes to nearby Rock Pond, Midway Pond and Saddleback Lake.

Saddleback’s 4121-foot peak is also accessible by the AT, via a trailhead south of Rangeley on Route 4.

With eight distinct peaks, Sunday River in Bethel offers hikers dozens of possible paths from base to summit. I recommend climbing from the South Ridge Lodge to North Peak and then following Three Mile Trail to the peaks of Barker, Locke and White Cap. It doesn’t put your feet on every part of Sunday River, but hitting five mountains out of eight isn’t bad.

With 132 distinct trails, Sunday River is one of the most intimidating resorts to approach as a hiker. Luckily, Sunday River’s website lists eight suggested hikes, ranging in length and difficulty. The resort has also jumped on the geocaching bandwagon, and hikers can rent GPS devices that lead them to caches of treasure on the trails.

At the Camden Snow Bowl, hikers are rewarded with a beautiful view of Camden Harbor and the Atlantic from the 1,300-foot peak. A view of the ocean from the hill is a bit more unique for skiers than it is for hikers, but it’s a classic sight no matter the season. Along with the harbor, there are clear views of nearby hiking destinations Mount Megunticook, Maiden’s Cliff and Bald Mountain.

The quickest way up Ragged is a direct, brutal climb from the base area up the main slope. Clipper runs straight from the lodge to nearly the summit, and a well-worn footpath takes you the rest of the way. The hike is only about a mile each direction, but you earn every single foot.

Like Sunday River and Saddleback, the Snow Bowl has a map of various hiking routes available on their website. Those looking for a longer hike can climb the mountain from a trailhead on Route 17, following a meandering route past the picturesque Mirror Lake and up the back side of Ragged.

Across the border in New Hampshire, Cannon and Loon are wonderful hikes that showcase Franconia Notch. Both also have the added benefit of lifts that run during the summer — a tram at Cannon and a gondola at Loon. Folks who hike up Loon’s trails can even ride the gondola down free of charge.

The two resorts are a touch more restrictive to hikers than their Maine counterparts, so it’s best to check in at the base of the lifts and see exactly where hiking is and isn’t allowed.

With the heat we’ve had in Maine this summer, there’s no better time to explore our state’s resorts and think very, very cold thoughts.

Josh Christie is a freelance writer and lifetime outdoors enthusiast. He shares this column space with his father, John Christie. Josh can be reached at:

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