About this Itinerary
Fresh lobster, beautiful landscapes and a peaceful trail is what you’ll find when you experience the Saint John Valley Heritage Trail in northern Maine. The Saint John Trail connects the communities of Fort Kent, Saint John and Saint Francis as it runs along the south bank of the Saint John River. The trail is 17 miles long, is primarily flat and ideal for a family ride. The surface is compacted crushed stone. The views are full of forests, farmlands and wetlands along the river. The trail is shared with pedestrians and recreational motorists.
The Saint John Trail is located in Aroostook County, Maine’s largest and northernmost county. It is bordered to the east, west and north by Canada. Aroostook is a Native American word that means “beautiful river” and the area lives up to its name. The majority of land is forest and farmland with lakes, ponds and rivers mixed in. The rail-trail is built on the former Fish River Railroad, which was later taken over by the Bangor & Aroostook Railroad, a rail line that transported goods and passengers across northern Maine. The Saint John Trail links with the regional snowmobile and ATV trail networks and with a spur of the Trans Canada Trail in Clair.
To get to the area, you can fly into Bangor International Airport and rent a car. The drive to Fort Kent is about three and a half hours. An alternative is to fly into Boston’s Logan Airport and then fly to the Northern Maine Regional Airport in Presque Isle, Maine. PenAir provides non-stop daily service from Logan to Presque Isle. Fort Kent is an hour and a half drive from the Northern Maine Regional Airport.
If you want a bit of French flavor with easy access to Fort Kent and Canada, we recommend staying at The Inn of Acadia. Located in the St. John Valley of Madawaska, Maine, the Inn is 25 minutes from Fort Kent and only 5 minutes from New Brunswick, Canada. The Inn is an independent hotel with top-of-the-line service and luxurious rooms. It is a family-run business operated by the descendants of French-Canadians who immigrated to the St. John Valley in the 1800s from present-day Québec. If you’d prefer cabin life with all the amenities of a hotel suite, we recommend Camel Brook Camps. Located in Fort Kent, you will enjoy a picturesque view of the Northern Maine woods while sipping morning coffee from your cabin. Cabins sleep anywhere from one to 16 people. The largest cabin has four bedrooms, a loft and a full kitchen. The smallest cabin has a double bed and four twin bunk beds, and includes a toaster, coffee pot, microwave, hot plate, electric skillet and a small refrigerator.
You can begin your journey in either Fort Kent or Saint Francis. In Fort Kent, the trail begins on the west side of Market Street. Stop by the wooden blockhouse fort, which is the only remnant left of the Aroostook War of 1838-39. The war was a border dispute between Maine and New Brunswick, Canada, and was settled before actual fighting started. The fort is located on Blockhouse Road at the confluence of the Fish and Saint John rivers and is listed in the National Register of Historic Places. Also, be sure to stop at the restored 1902 train station, which served as the Fish River Railroad terminus and is now a museum devoted to the railroad.
Back on the trail, you will cross over Fish River on a pedestrian bridge. You will then ride through downtown Fort Kent, which has a number of spurs leading to restaurants, stores and service stations. As you continue on the trail, you soon find yourself in the middle of lush forests and wetlands. Once you reach the town of Wheelock, you need to cross to the north side of Route 161. Once across you will be treated to amazing views of farms and villages in New Brunswick.
When you reach the town of Saint John, you will cross back over Route 161 and pass behind shops and homes. As you reach the end of the trail in Saint Francis, you will pass a historical railroad turntable and a path that leads into town. The trail ends at a large parking lot and trailhead.
In Saint Francis, the trail begins at an intersection with Sunset Drive, just south of Route 161.
For dinner: Whether staying at the Inn of Acadia or not, we recommend the Voyageur Lounge, a local favorite. The Voyageur is a full bar and restaurant with live entertainment every Friday and Saturday. Enjoy a drink with your choice of pub-style favorites or gourmet meals with a twist. Each week, the chef offers a different take on the poutine, an Acadian favorite. The original dish is made with French fries and topped with a gravy-like sauce and cheese curds. We also recommend the Mill Bridge Restaurant. Located in Fort Kent Mills, this is a local favorite. Enjoy breakfast, lunch or dinner as you look out on the Fish River. Dishes range from rainbow trout to chicken pot pies, which will make you think of home.
There are many things to see and do in the area to round out your trip. One historical site to visit is America’s First Mile, the most northern terminus on US 1. This road has great significance in history for commerce and access to the eastern border.
If you’re ready for adventure, grab your passport and head to Grand Falls/Grand-Sault in New Brunswick. This is one of two places in Canada with its official name in two languages, English and French. Visit the amazing site of the Falls and Gorge of Grand Falls and then take a stroll down Main Street where there are cafes and restaurants for all palates. If you’re a thrill seeker, experience the Grand Falls Gorge from the air when you zip line between steep rocky cliff walls while hearing the roar of the water falls below. Zip Zag has all you need for this adventure. Allow about an hour to an hour and a half for this excursion, which includes two crossings. If zipping through the air is not for you, you can take a guided tour and descend 225 steps to reach the shores of the St. John River. To reach Grand Falls/Grand-Saults, you can take the scenic route through Maine from Madawaska. The drive will take you about an hour. Or, to make it there in 45 minutes, cross over into Canada and take the highway.
If you want to try your hand at fishing, plan your trip around the International Muskie Fishing Derby, hosted by the Town of Fort Kent. Muskie fishing is done in freshwater and the St. John River is the perfect place for this sport-fishing event. Individuals and families are welcome to participate. The Derby is usually held the second weekend in August and fish weigh-ins are held throughout the weekend. If you need fishing equipment, Quigley’s Outdoor can set you up. If in town for the Derby, you will catch the Annual Ploye Festival. This festival celebrates the ploye, an Acadian buckwheat pancake, and includes activities such as making the world’s largest ploye, music, vendor booths and more.