25 Reasons Why Sugarloaf Mountain Should Be Your Next Family Vacation Spot
Updated: 5 days ago
What’s it like to visit the second largest ski resort east of the Rocky Mountains with young kids? It‘s like Disney World in the mountains. Sugarloaf has been one of Ryan and I’s most loved travel destinations for many years, so when we got the opportunity to visit with our kids for the first time, we jumped on it!
Where is Sugarloaf?
Sugarloaf Mountain, the second highest peak in the state, is located in Carrabassett Valley, Maine. Sugarloaf boasts 162 trails and with over 197” of annual snowfall, it would take you 3-days just to explore the vast terrain!
**pro-tip: Although it’s a slightly longer drive, we found flights to be much cheaper to fly into Boston (versus Portland).
Why you should visit Sugarloaf
1. There’s so much to do! While Sugarloaf is best known for its skiing there‘s plenty to offer for the whole family. From ice skating and fat-tire biking, to outdoor hot tubs, gourmet dining, shopping, and childcare camps, it’s sure to be a family favorite.
2. The anticipation
Your driving along and your GPS is telling you that you’re getting closer, but there is no ski mountain to be seen. And then, all of a sudden...oh my gosh, there it is! ‘Oh My Gosh Corner’ is famous for being the moment you round a corner a few miles from the mountain that you get your first glorious look.
3. The Scenery
Fun fact, Sugarloaf Snowfields offer the only above tree-line skiing in the east. From the summit, you can take in 360-degree views of Maine’s western mountains and New Hampshire’s White Mountains. And if you get the chance to ski the backside, do it! They only open a few days a year, so it’s a rare treat.
When we found out they were opening the backside on the day we visited, Ryan asked me if I wanted to partake. Although I was a competitive ski racer in high school, it had been years since I had skied. I was unsure if I would go, but when Ryan’s friend (and former ski patroller) said, “great photo opportunity," I was in. And guess what? He was right.
But don’t worry! You don’t have to reach the top to take in the gorgeous scenery. The mountain in itself is a delight.
From the Hotel, you‘re within walking distance to dozens of shops, restaurants, and the base area. You can also hop on the shuttle to visit the Sports and Fitness Complex, The Sugarloaf Inn, The Outdoor Center, and more dining options.
5. Sustainability: As sustainability and making positive impacts on the environment have become more important than ever, Sugarloaf is dedicated to reducing their carbon net footprint to zero by 2030. From snow-making and educating their guests, to waste management and a Snowfluent plant, Sugarloaf is recognized as a leader for environmental awareness.
6. The Future
If you thought the upgrades, new trails, and restaurants that came to life in the Sugarloaf 2020 plan were exciting, hold on! ‘Sugarloaf 2030’ is out of this world. Over the next decade, Sugarloaf aims to brings you more lifts, better snowmaking capabilities, newly developed terrain, more parking, a new spa in the Hotel, a tubing park, expansion of its summer offerings, and so much more!
What to do at Sugarloaf with kids
So now you know WHY to visit Sugarloaf, here’s what to do when visiting with kids:
1. Go skiing, of course!
Whether you’re a ski enthusiast or it's your first time on the slopes, Sugarloaf has varied terrain to suit all levels. And for the little ones they offer an exceptional ski school beginning at age three. They can participate in either half or full-day programs and also rent skis, boots, and helmets. Lunch is provided in the full-day program and each child gets a 'report card' at the end of their lesson to assess their new skills.
The Outdoor Center at Sugarloaf has miles of snowshoe trails and gear to rent as well. If it happens to be chillier or windy one day, I’d recommend using that day to explore by foot and hit the snowshoe trails.
**pro tip: bringing either a sled or backpack carrier as means of backup transportation for your toddler. Their energy will fade, trust me!
Whether your kids snowshoe, hitch a ride on your back, or are pulled by a sled, it’s a great activity for the whole family.
3. Ice Skate
Also located at The Outdoor Center is a NHL-sized skating rink. Rentals, as well as skate sharpening, are available for adults and children. The rink is open on a seasonal basis, generally mid-December to mid-March.
4. Relax in an outdoor hot tub
What’s the perfect way to unwind and ease tired muscles after a long day on the mountain? A hot tub of course! And what’s better, an outdoor hot tub! At Sugarloaf there are two outdoor hot tubs located at the Sports and Fitness Center and one at the Sugarloaf Mountain Hotel. The latter is more like a pool, it's huge!
**pro tip: Want to avoid the crowds? Visit during ski hours and you’re guaranteed a quiet soak.
5. Take Advantage of the Child Care
If you’re traveling with a child who is too young for formal lessons, or if you have older kids who aren’t keen on skiing just yet, take advantage of the onsite Child Care. Available for children ages 10 weeks to 4-years old, your kids will enjoy a mix of indoor and outdoor play at this licensed childcare facility. I opted not to take Rory because he was so excited to ski, but from my brief encounter it was clean, well-organized, and the staff was very friendly.
6. Get a massage!
With the kids in either ski school or childcare, it’s time to treat yourself! Within the Sports and Fitness Center, you will find a team of professional massage therapists where you can choose from a variety of body treatments. Sessions last 30-75 minutes and are by appointment only.
7. Hit the gym
Even though skiing and hauling kids around a mountain is hard work, you may find yourself wanting to get in a little extra cardio or strength training. The Sports and Fitness Center houses a full gym with treadmills, bikes, ellipticals, etc as well as a good mix of cables, free weights, and stationary equipment. And if you’re staying at the hotel and are looking for a super quick and convenient option, there is a fitness center located off the main lobby.
**pro-tip: if you have a little one and want to squeeze in a morning workout, bring them along! The gym at the Hotel is spacious (but with limited equipment), quiet, and has a TV to entertain them if need be.
8. Enjoy a little retail therapy
Within the base area, you'll find a myriad of shops, ranging from outerwear and ski gear to local merchandise, and home decor. Our favorite: The Sugarloafer Shop.
9. Sign up for an event! Explore Sugarloaf in a unique and fun way and try something new. Sugarloaf offers numerous seasonal events like moonlight snowshoe tours, night skiing, evening hikes to Bullwinkle’s, and more.
Where to stay at Sugarloaf
Sugarloaf Mountain Hotel
Located just steps away from the heart of the action, the Sugarloaf Mountain Hotel provides convenience and comfort. The rooms all have a classic rustic charm and the suites come standard with a kitchenette, a must for a ski trip! Our two-bedroom, two-bath suite was two-stories with a spiral staircase and a mountain view. (One of our favorite rooms to date!) As mentioned above The Sugarloaf Mountain Hotel also has an onsite fitness center, as well as a thirty person outdoor hot tub, and restaurant, 45 North (see below).
Prefer to ski to your room? Or do you want to be close to the Sports and Fitness Center? Whatever your needs the perfect condo awaits at Sugarloaf. Although a condo would put you a bit further from the base area, these are a good option for families because they generally offer more space and amenities.
Where to eat at Sugarloaf
All ski resorts have one thing in common, good food! There’s nothing more comforting that a warm bowl of chili or fire-roasted pizza after a fun-filled day in the snow. Sugarloaf Mountain offers over a dozen eateries, and below I have listed our personal favorites:
Shipyard Brew Haus:
Conveniently located off The Birches Trail (aka bunny slope) this ski-in/ski-out pub offers gorgeous views while you feast on traditional mountain fare. Shipyard serves breakfast, lunch, and dinner daily during the winter season.
** pro tip: if you’re visiting for dinner, bring your sleds! After your meal, hike up the trail and enjoy racing down! A fun way to cap off the day!
Open all year, 45 North, located in the Sugarloaf Mountain Hotel serves a daily, gourmet breakfast buffet and for dinner chose from a chef-inspired, seasonal menu. Although children are welcome, I’d recommend reserving this spot for a date night! (Reservations are recommended for dinner).
Ranked #1 by Skiing Magazine for “best burger," The Bag has been one of our tried and true lunch spots for years. The Bag is open seasonally for lunch and dinner and is also best known for its cheeseburger soup, brick-oven pizzas, and live entertainment.
Located just steps past The Bag in Village West, Hunker Down is the newest restaurant to hit the dining scene at Sugarloaf. Their menu features sustainably-raised meats and heart-warming comfort food, the perfect place to refuel after a day on the slopes!
**pro-tip: Arrive early! On weekend nights, The Rack is a happening place! Take a short drive or hop on the Sugarloafer Express to The Rack and enjoy the area's best BBQ. Owned and operated by Olympic gold-medalist, Seth Wescott, The Rack has regular live entertainment and is always a rip-roaring, good time.
Bullwinkles at night:
OK, so this is the only one on the list we haven’t visited BUT it’s been on my Sugarloaf dining bucket list for years. Why’s that? Well, for starters it’s a secluded restaurant located on the mountain offering a candlelit tasting menu. AND, because you can only get there via snow cat (a ride on the groomer). How fun is that?! Bullwinkles has numerous events and pairings throughout the year so check the calendar before your trip. Reservations are also required.
All that fresh air calls for a cup of Maine’s finest coffee. Java Joe‘s, an eclectic coffee shop, serves up Carabassett Coffee, espresso drinks, pastries, and other sweet treats to help you recharge for the day ahead.
The Eighty 8 Donut Cafe
Serving up some of the best donuts in Maine, the Eighty Eight Donut Cafe’s fun and creative donuts are sure to give you the ‘lift‘ you need! Their permanent home is located in the base lodge, and in the summer you can enjoy them from their food truck in Portland.
Ski enthusiast or not, if you love spending time with your family outdoors and trying new, fun activities where you never have to step foot off the resort, Sugarloaf is for you. If you are thinking of visiting a ski resort with your kiddos, we highly recommend Sugarloaf, we're confident you'll love it just as much as we do!
Ready to plan your trip? See the fun in action and watch our Sugarloaf vlog here. Stay tuned for a detailed 4-day Sugarloaf itinerary, ski vacation travel guide, and packing lists.
Have you vacationed at a ski resort with your kids? If so, where's your favorite? And if not, how can I help?
Note: Accommodations were provided by Sugarloaf, but opinions are always my own!
** UPDATE: Sugarloaf has temporarily suspended all ski operations in light of the COVID-19 outbreak and will remain closed until further notice.