The scene at Pepper’s Landing in Ogunquit on trivia nights is still hopping in the off-season. Photo courtesy of Pepper’s Landing

It gets real in the bar at Peppers Landing in Ogunquit, where on a Tuesday night, neighbors square off against one other in a battle to the end. Well, until the end of the night, anyway – at which point one team will emerge victorious and win first place in the seafood joint’s trivia throwdown.

“Things get seriously competitive,” said manager Quinn McCollum, who oversees the weekly event night throughout winter. “Ogunquit is really different in the off-season.”

That understatement is why, in contrast to the tourist frenzy of on-season, the scene here is currently one of the liveliest around.

Like so many Maine towns that swarm with visitors all summer long, the tenor of Ogunquit changes dramatically in winter. Populations decrease significantly, and the majority of retail businesses and restaurants shutter until spring. But that certainly doesn’t mean there’s nothing to do; far from it. It simply means there’s more room to breathe, more parking, more time to enjoy the surrounding nature, and more free public space and opportunity to spend time with the year-round community.

Of course, just what those wintertime activities are reflect the summertime character of each town. In Ogunquit, that might mean a trivia night as easily as it could a drag karaoke, like the one offered every Friday night at Maine Street, the town’s convivial gay club.

A walker braves wind and blowing snow while visiting Ogunquit Beach in winter. Photo by Jill Brady/Staff Photographer

But it could also mean fresh air and serenity. Marginal Way, the town’s famed paved mile-and-a-quarter-long public footpath, keeps its dramatic show going all year long. Running along the Gulf of Maine, it winds past wild crashes of surf against the abutting icy rocks. And then there’s the beach. Ogunquit’s may be lovely in the summer, but its stark beauty in winter is equally so, and worthy of a (bundled up) stroll. And it comes with silver linings this time of year, like plenty of free parking in the adjoining lot. And, as with almost all Maine beaches, though dogs aren’t allowed here in the summer, they are in the off-season.


In nearby Wells, the year-round population is about 11,000, which leaves everyone room to spread out and hike the tidal pine marshes of the mile-long Carson Trail in Rachel Carson National Wildlife Refuge or cross-country ski and snowshoe at Wells Reserve at Laudholm Farm (where the trails are excellent, albeit ungroomed). Explore on your own or inquire about their discovery programs, including forest bathing and guided hikes. Afterward, duck into Congdon’s Doughnuts for a hot latte and a restorative maple bacon fritter.

Sledding is a popular winter activity in Harpswell. Derek Davis/Staff Photographer

Harspwell, too, transforms annually into a winter wonderland, with the community coming together around its network of rugged backcountry style trails like Cliff Trail and Mitchell Field – both popular for snowshoeing and cross-country skiing – and Otter Brook Preserve, where local kids congregate for epic sledding sessions at the trail’s entrance.

The same dynamic plays out in Naples, but on an even larger scale: The lakes and ponds that lure so many visitors with promises of waterskiing in warm weather instead now call to hardier folk, who beat their cabin fever by gathering on Long Lake and Brandy Pond for skating and ice fishing. And at Sebago Lake State Park, the 5.5 miles of groomed trails are also open for cross-country skiing and snowshoeing. Meanwhile the local Maine Lakes Winter Carnival in February gets larger each year, with everything from fireworks and horse-drawn carriages to polar dips and ice bars.

A Sebago Lake State Park employee grooms cross-country ski trails in the park for winter use. John Patriquin/Staff Photographer

On the opposite end of the boisterousness spectrum sits Peaks Island, where most stores and all but one restaurant are boarded up come winter. Yet peaceful cross-country treks beckon – to Sandy and Cairn Beaches (local ordinances dictate that dogs be leashed at both) – as well as chilly picnics at Battery Steele, the former military fort with resplendent views of Casco Bay. Head over to Trout Pond for some terrific ice skating, or to Peaks Café for the chance to catch a rousing game of Scrabble – a winter tradition in these parts. If needlework’s on your winter agenda, make for the island on a Tuesday afternoon, when The Peaks Knitting Group meets at the local library year-round.

Wiscasset used to become a ghost town by late fall after big summer draws like Reds, Sprague’s and all of the fishing excursions shut down, but that’s changed lately. Now serious antiquers make their way year-round to newer destinations like Wiscasset Antiques, and food lovers quietly stream in from all over the Alna Store for dynamite themed dinners. As for Wiscassetians, you’ll find them hiking the snowy meadows of the south loop on Eaton Farm Preserve, and lining up every first and third Wednesday at The Wiscasset Senior Center for the community suppers.

“We get lots of regulars,” said Marjorie DiVece, the Wiscasset native who spends upwards of eight hours cooking every meal from scratch. At $10 for members and $12 for non-members, the suppers are a steal. Which may be why each one draws around 40 people throughout winter. Either that or it might just be her homemade hot fudge brownie pudding cake. “Anything I make with chocolate,” she said, “they can’t seem to get enough of.”

Alexandra Hall is a longtime New England lifestyle writer who lives in Maine.

Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or login first for digital access. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.

filed under: