A stunning gateway to Maine's capital city, the Kennebec River Rail-Trail follows the railroad right-of-way that once connected Portland to Augusta. The trail parallels the inactive railroad tracks, which have been maintained in the hope they will one day be used again. Granite quarter-mile markers mimic the original larger markers the railroad once used.
The trail also follows the 120-mile Kennebec River, a historic waterway named by the Abnaki Indians and meaning "long, quiet waters." Once extremely polluted, the river is now a thriving habitat for fish and wildlife, largely because of clean water laws and the removal of Edwards Dam, built in Augusta in 1837. Atlantic salmon, striped bass and American shad, as well as alewife, blueback herring, and rainbow smelt, visit the Kennebec. The river also shelters one of the few extant breeding populations of the rare Atlantic sturgeon. Don't be surprised if you spot a bald eagle soaring the river hoping for a good catch.
The trail begins beneath Augusta's Memorial Bridge, where you'll find parking and an information kiosk. Heading south along this asphalt-paved stretch, you'll soon leave the capital city's hustle and bustle. The picturesque Kennebec flows to your left, while a high slope on the right shields you from the nearby State Capitol complex. But near the 1-mile marker a side path leads down to the trail from the complex. Constructed of native granite, the building's portico and front facade, with a towering arcade, is the work of noted American architect Charles Bulfinch.
Between the 1.5- and 1.75-mile markers, the trail curves to the right. Here, the surface changes from asphalt to firmly packed stone dust. Note the massive stone blocks that form a retaining wall farther south on the inland side of the corridor. As a white church steeple comes into view, the trail diverges from the rail corridor and enters the town of Hallowell, where you'll find a variety of shops and eateries. The trail continues following the river all the way into Gardiner.
The trail is part of an effort called the East Coast Greenway to link trails all the way from Maine to Florida.
To reach the Augusta trailhead at the northern end, take Interstate 95 to Exit 30B and head east on US 202. At the traffic circle, take the exit for US 201/Western Ave./SR 17. Turn left on Swan, right on Grove, then right into the parking lot after going over the tracks.
In Hallowell, park along Water Street/US 201 near Front Street. In Gardiner, park at the trailhead where Church Street and Maine Avenue meet.