Sawyer Hurlburt of Alfred lays on the snow as his mother Kristie Hurlburt puts his snowshoes on at Harris Farm in Dayton in 2021. Carl D. Walsh/Staff Photographer

If you’re looking to pick up a new winter sport, snowshoeing and cross-country skiing are both popular options that can be easy to learn.

But between the two, snowshoeing has a lower barrier to entry since it can be done almost anywhere and “in really widely varying conditions,” according to Lauren Jacobs, a lecturer in outdoor leadership at the University of Maine.

“I would guess there’s more snowshoeing days per winter,” she said.

Plus, equipment is more basic and less expensive, with snowshoes starting around $149 at L.L. Bean, while cross-county skiing equipment bundles (skis, boots, bindings and poles) start at just over $400 from the Freeport-based company, which said it sells more snowshoes than cross-country skis.

The difference is less significant when renting: Gorham Bike & Ski, which has locations from Wells to Waterville, rents snowshoes for $15 a day/$75 per week and cross-country ski packages for $20 a day/$100 per week.

For Mainers who already have equipment, Jacobs recommended getting it out and prepared a few weeks before the season begins.


“You don’t want to pull it out and realize something is missing or broken when conditions (outside) are perfect,” she said.

Typically, Mainers go out for one or two hours with each sport, but Jacobs said, with proper pacing, they can both be all-day activities.

“Just bring water and snacks, as well as some extra layers and a headlamp in a little backpack, and you’ll be all set for a longer outing,” she said.

Cross-country ski along the Buzzell trail at Harris Farm in Dayton. Carl D. Walsh/Staff Photographer

Both winter sports can provide good exercise, with snowshoeing primarily working the leg muscles while cross-country skiing is more of a full-body workout, since skiers also use their arms to push.

Jacobs said the level of challenge in each workout will depend on outdoor conditions.

“If you want a harder workout, go with softer snow. Go up or down hills. It’s a lot about individual choice,” she said.


Whether a trail is groomed also plays into how challenging a session can be. Cross-country skiing in ungroomed snow is very difficult, Jacobs said. Conversely, snowshoeing can be done anywhere.

Between the two sports, Jacobs said she believes cross-country skiing is more fun.

“Gliding over snow is lovely,” she added. “It’s relaxing and rhythmic and joyful.”



From free public trails to full-service recreation centers with rentals and private lessons, here are several spots in southern Maine where you can snowshoe or cross-country ski.


Pineland Farms

8 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily. Outdoor Center, 25 Campus Drive, New Gloucester, $20, $15 after 1 p.m., $16 seniors and youth, $12 after 1 p.m., free for 6 and under.

Pineland has over 5,000 acres of woodlands and fields that are open to the public for year-round outdoor activities. For your winter adventures, there are 30 kilometers of professionally designed trails for Nordic skiing and snowshoeing. They also rent equipment, so don’t let a lack of it stop you from getting out there. If you’re a newbie to cross-country skiing, Pineland offers private lessons. And be sure to hit The Market after you’ve gotten your fill of the trails to get your fill of coffee, baked goods and sandwiches.

Harris Farm

9 a.m. to dusk daily. 280 Buzzell Road, Dayton; $15, $10 students, free for 6 and under Monday through Friday; $18, $10 for ages 7-18 on weekends, holidays and school vacation weeks.

At Harris Farm, you’ll find 40 kilometers of trails that will bring you across gorgeous open fields, thick forests (complete with babbling brooks) and a 600-acre dairy and vegetable farm. There’s also a full-service rental shop with skis and snowshoes. Fat-tire bikes are also allowed on the trails when conditions permit. Repair to the lodge afterwards, where you’ll find a wood stove to warm up by as well as several snacks, including hot dogs. Rehydrate and recover with the farm’s chocolate milk. If skiing isn’t your thing, there’s a terrific sledding hill in front of the lodge (bring your own sled).


Smiling Hill Farm

9 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily. 781 County Road, Westbrook; $12, $8 youth weekdays; $16, $10 youth weekends and holidays.

It might be best known for its animals and dairy products, but that’s not all Smiling Hill Farm has to offer, especially in the winter. They’ve got about 25 kilometers of groomed trails, and the scenery is idyllic. Smiling Hill Farm also offers rentals. Leashed dogs are allowed on the trails Monday through Friday. If you plan your outing around lunchtime (11 a.m. to 2 p.m.), be sure to hit the Dairy Store for sandwiches and homemade soups. Cold sandwiches, mac and cheese, soup and chop suey are available from 2-6 p.m. And there’s no law against eating ice cream in the winter.

City of Portland

Multiple locations, free.

Portland is an absolute cornucopia when it comes to places to go cross-country skiing, including a small, groomed trail loop at Deering Oaks park. Groomed trails can also be enjoyed at Riverside Golf Course, which has a pair of side-by-side ones. Portland also boasts several great spots for snowshoeing or cross-country skiing in ungroomed locales. Some may include rocks, logs and other obstacles, which may be better suited for skis with metal edges. The list includes Evergreen Woods, Presumpscot River Preserve, Baxter Woods, Canco Woods, Fore River Preserve, Virginia Woods, Oatnuts Park, Capisic Pond Park, Riverton Trolley Park and the Western Promenade.


Sebago Lake State Park

Multiple trails. Off route 302 in Casco and Naples; adult rates differ, $1 for ages 5-11, free for 65 and older and under 5; bring cash.

Sebago Lake State Park is a sweet spot for both cross-country skiing and snowshoeing. For skiing there are 5.5 miles groomed trails on the Casco side (Access Road). Tracks are set on 3.7 miles with an additional 1.5 miles groomed for skate skiing. Rated as easy to moderate, the trails wind through the forest and by the Songo River as well as part of Sebago Lake. On the snowshoeing front, head to the Naples side (Campground Road) for 5.5 miles of groomed trails and another half dozen miles of ungroomed ones.

Gilsland Farm

10 a.m. to 4 p.m. daily. 20 Gilsland Farm Road, Falmouth; free.

Maine Audubon’s headquarters are on a 65-acre sanctuary with more than 2 miles of trails winding along a pond through forest, meadow, orchard and salt marsh, open year-round. Hiking, snowshoeing and cross-country skiing welcome. The visitor center and nature store are open 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. daily.


Wells Reserve at Laudholm

7 a.m. to sunset daily. 342 Laudholm Farm Road, Wells; free.

Easy to moderate trails are open to the public from 7 a.m. to sunset all winter for hiking, snowshoeing and cross-country skiing. A trail map is available online.

Wolfe’s Neck Center

Dawn to dusk daily. 184 Burnett Road, Freeport; free.

Wolfe’s Neck Center is open daily from dawn to dusk. More than 3 miles of free trails are open to the public all winter for hiking, skiing and snowshoeing.

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