Lighthouses, lobsters, L.L. Bean ... Maine may be renowned for these things, but we’re confident that its miles of multiuse trails belong on this list as well. Teams of visionary and devoted trail advocates across the state have created plenty of these amazing experiences for the whole family to enjoy.
As Portland native Henry Wadsworth Longfellow once wrote:
Let us, then, be up and doing,
With a heart for any fate;
Still achieving, still pursuing,
Learn to labor and to wait.
Let us, then! Labor to get the bikes or cross-county skis on the car, and don’t forget to wait and see what that chickadee or dancing fall foliage will do next. Here are just 10 of our favorite trails in Maine.
RELATED: A View From the New England Rail-Trail Spine Network in the Winter 2021 issue of Rails to Trails magazine
At the heart of the Portland trails system, the 3.6-mile Back Cove Trail provides a wonderfully accessible route all the way around the city’s tidal basin. With a hard-packed gravel surface and plenty of room for users of all ages and abilities, the trail is the perfect place to take your little one’s training wheels off. You can leisurely watch the sun come up over the city or get in a strenuous evening workout. The pathway also offers connections to several other greenspaces, so you can extend your experience on the Eastern Promenade Trail, Bayside Trail or in Payson Park.
Second only to the Down East Sunrise Trail on our list in terms of length, the Bangor and Aroostook Trail offers an opportunity to immerse yourself in the wilds of Maine’s far northeast corner. Running 63 gravel miles along the old corridors of its namesake railroad, the trail forms an upside down “Y.”
At the northern end in Van Buren, just across the St. John River from New Brunswick, Canada, you’ll find a statue commemorating many of Maine’s official things: a moose, a Maine Coon cat, chickadees, a landlocked salmon and, of course, a can of Moxie (a soda created in the state in 1876). ATV riders enjoy and maintain the trail, so you’re likely to pass a few of them on your journey. One thing to keep in mind is that the trail may prove a challenge in mud season.
Since opening in 2016, the Belfast Rail Trail on the Passagassawaukeag—or the “Passy Rail Trail” as it’s colloquially known—has been delighting visitors across all four seasons. With a flat, hard-packed granite surface, the trail provides a serene 2.2-mile escape along the Passagassawaukeag River, named by the native Penobscot people.
Enjoy the quiet of the forested bedrock cuts and stand on the trestle bridge watching the tides rush under your feet. The trail also connects downtown Belfast to the City Point Central Railroad Museum, where visitors can see the old train cars up close and learn about the history of the region.
Note: Per the museum’s website, scenic train rides are normally available from the Belfast museum, but during summer and fall 2021 they are only available from the depot in Unity, about 20 miles north of the trail.
Laying claim to the first trail mile of the East Coast Greenway (or last, depending on your direction of travel), the well-maintained Calais Waterfront Walkway runs along the banks of the beautiful St. Croix River across from St. Stephens in New Brunswick, Canada. You’ll find plenty of benches to enjoy the view, which often includes bald eagles snatching a meal from the water.
Although only 1.5 miles long, the flat, gravel route packs in plenty of scenic beauty along the old route of the Calais Railway, chartered in 1832 (just 12 years after Maine gained independence from Massachusetts).
Counties: Hancock, Washington
Stretching 87 miles along the old corridor of Maine Central Railroad’s Calais Branch, the Down East Sunrise Trail is the longest off-road section of the East Coast Greenway and could be the highlight of your whole trip. Travel through peaceful forests, bogs teeming with wildlife and welcoming villages.
While the trail is well-maintained, the weather should always be considered before setting out; the trail, like others in the region, is closed during mud season. A more leisurely, paved rail-with-trail experience can be found just north of its western end on the 1.6-mile Ellsworth Trail.
The Eastern Trail, another of Maine’s East Coast Greenway components, is a beloved multiuse pathway that is being developed to connect communities along a 65-mile corridor from the New Hampshire border in Kittery to Bug Light Park in South Portland. Today, 22 of those miles are open in safe, off-road sections, like the trail through beautiful Scarborough Marsh. In the nearby Scarborough Marsh Audubon Center, you can learn about the surrounding wildlife or rent kayaks.
The last 5-mile section of the trail—which leads to Bug Light, a historical lighthouse on the Portland Harbor—is known locally as the South Portland Greenbelt Walkway and passes by the site of a Lovell Arms factory that produced 10,000 “Lovell Diamond” bicycles a year at its peak in the late 1890s.
On the Kennebec River Rail Trail, you’ll travel right alongside the disused but still visible tracks of the old Kennebec and Portland Railroad that was completed in 1851. And the pleasantly flat, winding trip provides plenty of opportunities to stop and take in river views and explore the charming downtowns of Augusta, Hallowell and Gardiner.
The 6.5-mile trail is also a key link in the Maine Trails Coalition’s Maine Rail-Trail Plan, a vision which would see about 250 new miles of interconnected trails built around the state.
Counties: Cumberland, Oxford
Envisioned as a 52-mile multiuse pathway from Portland to Fryeburg on the New Hampshire border, the Mountain Division Trail is currently open in two sections totaling 10 miles and is enjoyed by users of all ages and abilities throughout the year. It serves as the backbone of a growing bicycle and pedestrian culture in the area and is a wonderful example of what rail-trails are all about: safe, enjoyable connections to communities and access to nature. As you travel the tree-lined route, keep an eye out for many species of birds, including small eastern blue birds with their beautiful, iridescent plumage.
Celebrating its 20th anniversary in 2021, the Narrow Gauge Pathway, also known as the Carrabassett River Trail, rolls 5.4 miles along the Carrabassett River in the shadow of Sugarloaf Mountain, Maine’s iconic ski destination. With a well-maintained natural surface, the trail offers a gently sloping journey through a forested railroad cut and a wonderful way to explore the area’s picturesque terrain.
A trip to the northern reaches of Maine wouldn’t be complete without a ride along the Saint John Valley Heritage Trail, which stretches 17 wide, natural-surface miles between Fort Kent and Saint Francis. The trail skirts the Canadian border and, prior to the Aroostook War (also known as the Pork and Beans War) of 1838-39, it was contested as to which country this area belonged.
Between 1903 and 1970, the route the trail now follows carried Bangor and Aroostook Railroad cars loaded with timber and potatoes. Travelers today can enjoy a peaceful mix of forest and river views with town amenities on each end.
The Sipayik Trail has an interesting claim to fame as the easternmost rail-trail in the country. The paved 1.9-mile route travels through the beautiful Pleasant Point Reservation of the local Passamaquoddy Tribe along the Little River, Gleason Cove and Western Passage waterfronts. As you stand at the trailhead, Canada’s Deer Island dominates the view across the bay; watch the waves for seals, porpoises and whales.
If you don’t like sweeping vistas of the ocean dotted with islands and sailboats, don’t come to the Eastern Prom. But if you do, enjoy the salty breeze as you travel 2.1 miles from the edge of Portland’s Old Port up around the east end of the peninsula to the Back Cove Trail. Toward the north end of the trail, keep an eye out for the old St. Lawrence and Atlantic Railroad swing bridge over the bay. This abandoned corridor is part of the Casco Bay Trail vision, a 68-mile trail system that would connect 13 communities and their beloved pathways. Don’t forget to check out the Maine Narrow Gauge Train Museum and get a ticket to ride!
Want to experience one of these or some of the other great trail destinations in Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont? You’ll find maps, helpful details and beautiful photos of 60 multiuse trails across the region in our Rail-Trails: Northern New England Guidebook, available in our online Trail Shop.