Maine's Down East Sunrise Trail
By Seth Levy
f all the images Maine conjures—the woodsmen, the lobster, the rocky coast—one of the least common may be the most apt: the rising sun. Maine's coast sees the country's first rays of sunshine. Even our license plates announce that Maine is "Where America's Day Begins."
Come summer, endless rows of vehicles with local and out-of-state car tags follow that sunrise corridor along the coast, heading north to Mount Desert Island, home of the famed Acadia National Park. In Maine's nautical heyday, incoming ships had the prevailing wind at their backs as they sailed downwind and east from Boston. This narrow band of coast, extending from the Penobscot River to Machias Bay, earned its "Down East" designation from nautical slang and has attracted tourists since choppy waters mattered more than high gas prices.
Read the rest of Seth Levy's feature from the Winter 2012 issue of Rails to Trails magazine, and check out the Travel Facts below to help you explore Maine's winter wonderland.
For the most up-to-date information on trail conditions, news and programs, visit the Sunrise Trail Coalition. For an interactive GIS map of the trail, as well as photos, user reviews and loads of other info, visit RTC's online trail-finder website, TrailLink.com.
The Down East Sunrise Trail's southern terminus in Washington Junction (two miles outside of Ellsworth) is a three-hour drive north from Portland International Jetport (PWM), a 4.5-hour drive north from the larger Boston Logan International Airport (BOS) and an hour's drive south from the smaller Bangor International Airport (BGR). In the winter, PWM is more convenient, and ticket prices are often the same as for BOS. In the summer, BOS fares are often less expensive.
Car-free trips also are possible. There is frequent bus (Concord Trailways) and train (Amtrak Downeaster) service from BOS to Portland, and less frequent bus service from Portland on to Bangor. In Bangor, visitors can transfer from Concord Trailways buses to Downeast Transit or West's Transportation buses to travel to Ellsworth. West's buses continue on nearly to the northern terminus of the trail in Pembroke. West's also makes loops and shuttles possible. The bus route parallels much of the trail, and buses make twice-daily runs on Route 1 and Route 1A.
Bicycles are permitted on West's Transportation and Concord Trailways buses, and on Amtrak's Downeaster with a reservation and a $5 service charge.
Local Food: Eat Like a Mainer
Blueberry pie: In late summer, Maine's blueberry fields overflow with clusters of small, sweet, wild berries. Pie is the purest expression of Maine's wild blueberry.
Lobster: If you find a whole lobster challenging to eat or afford, despair not. A lobster roll is a hotdog bun containing a healthy dose of claw meat and a drizzle of mayo. No loans or bibs required.
Whoopie pie: This contender for Maine's official state dessert is two cupcake tops filled with dense, sweet cream. It's just the thing to cleanse the palate after a lobster roll.
Moxie: The secret ingredient of Maine's native soft drink is gentian root. It tastes like a mentholated cough syrup and root beer. Try it!
Places to Eat
Nearly every town the Down East Sunrise Trail crosses has a café or a gas station where at least snacks and coffee are available. Here are a few favorites.
Ellsworth: Try the Riverside Cafe for breakfast. Great blueberry pancakes, generous coffee refills.
Cherryfield: The Englishman's Bed and Breakfast will, with a day's notice, do a traditional high tea or a cream tea. This is an opportunity not to be missed.
Machias: Helen's Restaurant has great seafood and memorable blueberry pie. A slice of pie and a cup of coffee will reinvigorate even the most exhausted traveler.
Places to See — Nearby
Mount Desert Island: Home to Acadia National Park, this island is 30 minutes south of Ellsworth. Bicycle- and pedestrian-friendly, the island boasts a free bus system called the Island Explorer.
Schoodic Peninsula: Across the water from Mount Desert Island and devoid of crowds, this peninsula is the "quiet side" of Acadia.
Moosehorn National Wildlife Refuge: With nearly 25,000 acres of protected habitat and two wilderness areas, this U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service refuge has more than 50 miles of hiking trails.
East Coast Greenway: This evolving trail system shares the route of the Down East Sunrise Trail and links dozens of other rail-trails, greenways and on-road routes in a 3,000-mile network stretching from Maine to Florida.
Places to See — Along the Trail
Schoodic Mountain: Approximately 10 miles east of Ellsworth, Schoodic Mountain offers hiking trails and commanding views of the area. It's a bit more than 1,000 feet high, and the trail to the top is approximately 1.5 miles.
Cable Pool: Just west of Cherryfield, this lovely spot is ideal for a picnic.
Machias Bay: From the trail east of the bridge crossing in Machias, views of Machias Bay are wonderful.
Bike Rentals and Outfitters
In Ellsworth, you can stop by Cadillac Mountain Sports (207.667.7819) for bike rentals, bike service, outdoor apparel and equipment. Another rental option is Bar Harbor Bicycle Shop (207.288.3886). In Machias, Sunrise Canoe and Kayak (877.980.2300) offers rentals and minor repairs. Visit the L.L. Bean Outlet (207.667.7753) in Ellsworth for general outdoor equipment and apparel.
Summer: Horse riding, bicycle riding, ATV use, motorcycle riding, hiking
Winter: Snowmobiling (very popular here), dogsledding, cross-country skiing
Mud season: The Down East Sunrise Trail is closed during mud season (typically late March to mid-April) to protect the trail surface.