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The Down East Sunrise Trail is an 87-mile multi-use corridor connecting Ellsworth to Ayers Junction in eastern Maine. The trail is designed to accommodate hiking, thick-tire bicycles, ATVs, horses, cross-country skis, and snowmobiles.
The route roughly parallels the coast and the ocean is often visible, especially in Machias, which is right on the water. You’ll also enjoy views of Schoodic Mountain, salmon streams, and dense forests of birch and pine trees.
It follows the corridor of the former Maine Central Railroad, which transported goods, like lumber and blueberries, as well as passengers. The rail-trail was constructed in two phases with its first 85 miles opening in 2010. Its last two miles, between Hancock and Ellsworth, opened in 2016 and run parallel to an active railway. Less than a mile from its new westernmost endpoint, trail users can also pick up Ellsworth Rail Trail. The community is notable for being the gateway to Acadia National Park.
The rail-trail also plays a role in the multi-state developing East Coast Greenway network, which stretches from Maine to Florida.
On its western end, the trail can be accesses at the High Street Trailhead in Ellsworth. You can also access the trail from the many towns along its 87-mile distance.
For car-free options from Bangor, take Downeast Transit or West's Transportation buses to Ellsworth. West's buses continue 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 nominal service charge.
Was looking for a new "Rail" trail. Pulled into the parking area in Ellsworth, about 40 trucks with trailers. Very dusty with all the ATV traffic. I guess it is called the Sunrise Trail and not the Sunrise "Rail" trail. Everyone needs a place to ride so leave this one to the motorized vehicles and find a Bicycle trail.
I rode from Ellsworth out 20 miles and back yesterday and it was a pleasure! I have a fairly new mountain bike and my only regret was that I did not put knobby tires on it because the loose gravel and sand sometimes posed a challenge. However, for the most part with my 2.0 inch wide slick tires, I had no problem gaining purchase on the surface (it probably helped that the conditions were very dry).
I found the ATV riders to be courteous and they slowed to pass. There were not very many and I was alone for long stretches in the Maine wild. The scenery is excellent, although at times the bogs and forest can seem a bit monotonous. I saw beaver, osprey, eagle, hares, and various other birds (a nice flock of cedar waxwings, for example). I'm sure there are moose and bear in the area, particularly the former, but I did not see any (next time?!). Schoodic Mountain is a great place to stop for a picnic and there are ample picnic benches along that section of the trail to stop for snacks and pictures. I highly recommend the general store in Franklin, which is about 0.25 mile off the trail.
I can't wait to go back and ride the trail from end-to-end when the weather warms up a bit. This being Maine, I'm not sure when that will happen, although we're already into mid-June.
Great trail system use it all the time it's completely awesome atv
My buddy, and I, biked 35,25,and 21 miles on DEST in June,2015.It was great biking except for the ATV traffic. But the trail would never have been built w/out the local support. It's a tradeoff, as always. You'd never see the swamps, beaver ponds, animals, and backwoods w/out the Trail. I lived in Washington County for five years; it needs all the help, and support it can get! Take a trip. See the County. It's what Maine used to be. They should put the whole thing in a museum, to be preserved.
My wife and I road our mountain bikes for twenty five miles on the trail yesterday.It was great.For the most part we were the only ones on the trail.When a atv passed us they slowed down and were very friendly. The trail for the most part was in good shape.If you want to see the real Maine this the place.If your expecting perfection don't go here.
This trail is not a bike trail. It is a fire road for use by ATVs, motorcycles and other motorized vehicles. Today there were easily 10 such vehicles for every bicyclist, most are going over 30 mph when they pass by. Trail surface is badly torn up by the traffic, with long expanses of large, loose gravel that is a hazard to ride on, no matter how wide your tires. Save yourself the agony and stick to the carriage roads in Acadia.
I am looking forward to seeing this trail soon but am a little intimidated to have atvs running a straight line trail at any speed with my horse. In Fl where I live part of the year we have several parks and trails that utilize the same space but separated tracks and trails for mechanized vs non mechanized - Even the ATB in Acadia can be horse problem and there horses came first a loooong time ago.Atvs are not the only issue for horses - even bikers can be a huge problem if they speed up near horses it is like something chasing them and especially if riders dont speak as they get close the buzzing of a bicycle that seems non human to a horse and can cause them panic- seems that a nice solution would be a separated track - perhaps trail volunteers myself included could start working to id spots that are in harmony w quiet walking or horse sections and help diversify this trails use! horseback rider
DEST is a super highway of entertainment thrills for MOST who chose to utilize it. Yes, it's dusty, has loose gravel, and is proudly open to most modes of transportation.
Be reminded, many of those ATV riders are members of clubs; most are Maine residents, and spend hours of their personal time maintaining trails. They pay taxes year round, not just a week or two and contribute to the enjoyment of all.
It defies reason to suggest that tourists have the say as to how the trail is to be utilized.
Prior to setting out on a trek it is best to seek abundant input and the suitability of the trail to your needs. If you are accustomed to asphalt, concrete, or other urban prepared surfaces the Downeast Sunrise is not the trail for you.
People utilizing the trail have always been friendly and courteous.Sometime a bad experience is simply you reap what you sow.
My wife and I should have known better than to even try this trail, but we were vacationing in Downeast Maine, and after battling heavy car traffic and poor pavement conditions as we biked on coastal roads in the area, we thought that perhaps mingling with a few ATVs would be an improvement over the cars on the roads.
We were sadly mistaken. We accessed the trail on the Tunk Lake Road, north of Sullivan. There is a parking lot there. This was a sunny Saturday morning in August. We had read the earlier reviews of the trail, and we were therefore aware that some reviewers remarked about the loose, rather large-sized gravel. At least one reviewer, however, said that some in their party were successfully riding hybrids, which is what we have.
We spent about 15 minutes on the trail before we bagged it. The loose gravel, no doubt made looser by the ATVs, was too much for us. We couldn't concentrate on anything other than negotiating the darned gravel. We defintely do not recommend using hybrids on this trail.
We might have stuck with for a while longer, but even worse than the gravel were the ATVs. They were whipping past us in groups. They were not at all courteous, as other reviewers have testified. These often-scowling people were speeding past us, coming very close to us, spitting gravel and dust at us. We were appalled by the behavior.
We understand the popularity of ATVs in Maine. We do think, though, that it's a shame that they are among the user groups allowed on this trail. There are vast tracts of backwoods in Maine, riddled with dirt tracks that these ATV folks can traverse to their heart's content.
I should note that, in the days following this experience, we made a point of examining other sections of the trail when we happened to be driving on a road that intersected it. We found the same physical conditions as we'd encountered on our short bike ride, so we concluded that we had not simply had the misfortune of selecting a particularly nasty piece of the trail to bike.
From a cyclist's perspective, this is by far the worst multi-use trail we have ever encountered anywhere. Sorry, but we strongly believe that motorized vehicles are incompatible with non-motorized uses on trails. We'll stick to the wonderful rail trails we've encountered elsewhere in New England and the Maritime Provinces, which are appropriately restricted to non-motorized uses in the snowless months of the year.
We decided to ride this trail this past May as a fun training exercise in preparation for the grand daddy of mtb endurance races - the Tour Divide. With ages ranging from late forties to late fifties we planned on riding over and back in a two day challenge.
Starting in Ayers Junction on an overcast and cool May day, we proceeded to ride southwest towards Ellsworth with loaded mountain bikes. Fortunately for us, the cool weather and "not yet summer" timing prevented us from having to endure the wrath of the dreaded Maine Black Fly. They were just on the verge of emerging during our ride and having had plenty of experience in the Maine Woods, it would have been a different experience if they were in full bite mode.
As others have written, this is not a 'soft' urban rail trail. This is rugged country and this trail is bit more challenging surface than some may be accustomed to. Still, it's easily ridden and we didn't find the surface to be an impediment in any way. Overall, I'd say the trail is in excellent condition and we were able to carry steady speed over most of it. The only 'water' issue on the trail was one boggy section where beaver dams caused some water to rise to trail level. But it was insignificant and easily navigated.
We also came upon a handful of ATV'ers, but being a weekday, not many considering we covered 85 miles over to Ellsworth on day one. Ditto for the ride back to Ayers Junction on day two. Everyone we encountered was polite and quickly out of site.
The terrain and scenery on the route down and back is rugged backcountry. There isn't access to a whole lot of services in this part of northern Maine. The towns of Machias, Columbia Falls, Herrington and Cherryfield offered us an opportunity to grab something to drink and eat, but think general store, not gourmet restaurants. Anyone riding this trail needs to plan according to their ability to cover large distances as you'll pedal for hours without seeing a soul. Not a bad thing, just know before you go.
Like most rail trails, there isn't much in the way of elevation you need to be concerned about. What grades there are tend to long and gradual. It took us about 8 hours to travel from Ayers Junction to downtown Ellsworth. That was steady pedaling with short snacking stops every 20 miles or so. On our day one it rained off and on most of the day and by the time we arrived in Ellsworth we were wet, a bit chilled and tired. The plan had been to camp, but we made the easy decision opting for a hot shower and hotel room. Good choice.
This is a beautiful rugged part of the northeast. Anyone riding this trail needs to be able to make simple bike repairs like fixing a flat. Otherwise you could be walking a long way get help. Weather here along the Maine coast is ever changing. You should be prepared to deal with the elements and changing temperatures, here they're a fact of life.
As others have noted, because of the trail surface, this is a mountain bike trail. You could manage most of it with a good cross bike, but it wouldn't be nearly as comfortable in my opinion.
The reward is traveling over some beautiful country, along rivers, bogs, saltwater marshes, lakes and woodlands. If you enjoy being "out there" in nature, this trail is spot on. If your experience is more urban rail trailing, then the remoteness of the Sunrise Trail might be a bit intimidating in comparison. But this trail is easily doable with some planning and preparation.
Both the ride down to Ellsworth and back the next day were cool and rainy. We didn't see much sun or warmth for that matter. Still we had a great two days. The Sunrise Trail isn't for everyone, nor does it try to be. With limited access to services and a slightly rougher atv surface, this trail is perfect for those wanting to ride a modestly challenging remote trail.
Rode this trail from Ayers Junction down to Washington Junction with 9 friends. We were transported with our bikes from Ellsworth the first day. Took our time, staying in Machias and also in Milbridge. Very relaxing, enjoyable ride with great surface and wonderful views, the peace and quiet we were looking for. Would definitely do it again someday.
Rode this trail from Ellsworth to Cherryfield and saw some amazing views. Trail is in amazing condition. Great job Maine.
I rode the trail from Machias to Dennysville and back on a Tuesday. Unfortunately it rained the whole way but I still got a lot of great pictures and was all by myself. This section of the trail is an easy ride for mountain bikers as the trail is very firm. You get great views of coastal waters as well as inland waters. There are several sensitive habitat areas you ride through which provide for some spectacular views. Plenty of forest as well. If you get to Machias you have to stop into Helens Restaurant for the Blueberry Pie! The Machias Motor Inn is right on the trail which is convenient if you want to bike out of Machias.
This was my 5th Maine rails to trail I did during the week. Kudos to the rails to trails map download for GPS. It was spot on the entire way on every trail and very helpful. Combined with a road map download (I used a free download) and you're set for some great exploring.
Our experience with the Down East Sunrise Trail? It was disappointing. We didn’t have time to bike the entire length, so our plan was to carve it up into a few segments (my wife’s limit is about 25 miles - I’m OK with that) and to be shuttled back to our car. Our plans included taking interesting rest stops along the way and rewarding ourselves with overnight stays in B&B’s. I researched Ellsworth as our starting point. When I couldn’t find any fun place to stay (all chain motels) I looked at the next town up the line – Cherryfield. I did find a wonderful little B&B there. So, despite adding another 30 minutes to our drive up from Boston, we decided to start there, bike to Machias (~28 miles), stay overnight, ride on to the trail’s end at Ayers Junction (~29 miles), and get transported back to Cherryfield. I discovered a shuttle service, but the cost seemed unreasonably pricey (more on that later), so we modified our plan to bike out to Machias, stay overnight, and return to Cherryfield. The trail is designated multi-use and the surface is listed as hard pack. The truth is it’s primarily an ATV trail and the surface in many places is loose gravel. We were cautioned about the ATVs but we found them without exception to be friendly and courteous and willing to share the trail. As it was, we saw very few other bikers (maybe six or so over the two days). It would be a boring hike and I wouldn’t take a horse on the trail unless it was comfortable around machines. XC skiing might be fun in the winter but I’d think you’d have to work hard through the ATV tracks and grades (more on that also). There are some beautiful river crossings and scenic ponds on the Cherryfield - Machias segment but for the most part the trail isn’t interesting – just piney woods. Although the trail map shows some small towns along the way (e.g., Columbia Falls), you would have to get off of the trail and on to US 1 to find them. (Afterwards, we retraced along US 1 in attempt to find these towns. They’re either just crossroads or don’t have anything interesting to offer. Not even a general store - just gas stations. Obviously, the original railroad skirted them.) So instead of stopping and strolling, we biked straight through with only brief rest stops. We saw very little wildlife but I suspect that’s because the ATVs scare them off. As I noted, a lot of the trail surface is loose gravel, due, no doubt, to the ATVs tearing it up. There are some very long grades that, while not steep, nonetheless really work you if you’re a casual biker like us. (We have biked the entire length of the C&O Canal tow path, so, while casual, we are more than just ride-around-the-neighborhood types and are familiar with longer bike rides.) The weather was picture perfect, but the wind on the return trip, coupled with the loose trail bed, really exhausted us on a few of those long grades. (The last, of course, being at the very end when we were tired.) Machias is a fun little town – what we had hoped to see more of along the trail. We stayed a wonderful B&B and had a great meal. If you’re ever in that neighborhood, you have to eat at Helen’s. Regarding the other segments, Machias – Ayers Junction is in wilderness, and the Ayers terminus is a parking lot out in the middle of nowhere with Calais, at around 30 miles, being the nearest town. That’s why I now think the shuttle service is so expensive. We were later told that the Ellsworth – Cherryfield segment is the most scenic. While we have no regrets about taking the trail, neither one of us is motivated to return and explore these other segments and I certainly would not recommend the trail to anyone who had to travel any distance to get to it.
Three of us just rode the Sunrise Trail end to end; one on a mountain bike and the other two on hybrids. The Trail has some beautiful views, a hard but rough surface, 1 1/2 " minus stone base and in many places a high loose center berm that is hard to cross. The large stone size makes this easier to ride on mountain then hybrid bikes. There is steady but polite ATV traffic. Normal stone size would have been 3/8" or less. The larger stone size has enabled the Trail to withstand heavy ATV use but has made it less then ideal as a bike path. Users should plan to be self sufficient on the Trail. The Red Rooster and a organic food store on Main Street, both in Ellsworth are good places to provision. Cherryfield and Machias are good places to stop, staying at the Englishman's B&B and the Machias Motel. If you can add another 15 miles or so at the north end, stay at the Chadburn B&B and eat at the Pickled Herring. There is an off road/back road route from the northern end at Ayer's Junction to Eastport. Info on this is available by calling one of the Trail volunteers.
a nice trail through the woods - saw bogs and trees and butterflies and bugs - lots of bugs - be prepared for bugs (we stopped off in franklin to buy more spray as what we used at the beginning was ineffective) - lots of big ugly nasty bugs - the trail is maintained well - ATVers were courteous - but the surface was a little rough - bigger gravel and imbedded rocks than we're used to -
My husband and I have become frequent riders of Rails to Trails when we travel. We generally ride 20 to 30 miles at a time, but do not like to be on roads with traffic if at all possible. We loved the Carriage Trails in Bar Harbor's Acadia National Park, but also saw the Down East Sunrise Trail noted on this website and thought we would give it a try as well.
Very few people in Bar Harbor or in Ellsworth were familiar with this trail, even at the local bike shops, and as far as we could tell there was no easy way to rent bikes and get to the trail without riding on the roads for long distances. So, we drove to the Washington Junction section of the trail to get a lay of the land before deciding whether to make the ride at all.
A little hesitantly we decided to go ahead. We needed to rent bikes and bike rack, so we decided to try Cadillac Sports in Ellsworth. The manager of the bike section of the store had fortunately been on the trail, so after letting him know that we wanted to ride about 20 miles, he suggested the Tunk Lake to Cherryfield section of the trail for the best views. Since we were driving to begin our ride anyway, we drove out the extra 30 miles to get there.
When we did get there, we were out in the middle of nowhere. For us, a pair of 50 somethings, it was a little uncomfortable. I have to admit we are spoiled by paved paths with nice parking lots and facilities in most places that we have ridden. We also occasionally see other bikers. It was a Thursday, and we didn't see any other bikers but we did see several ATVs while we were out and all drove by slowly and waved. The path itself is dirt and gravel and is mostly flat with little tree shading. There are mile markers of a sort and we were able to stop at Lois' in Cherryfield for a drink and snack before heading back. There was also a small grocery store there.
By the time we headed back, we started to enjoy the ride. We knew what to expect by then and felt more comfortable with our surroundings. There was a nice bridge and river just outside of Cherryfield. We saw a deer hightailing it away from us as we rode by. There were also several pretty bogs, beaver dens and turtles. All in all, it was a good days ride, but a lot of effort with a lot of uncertainty for these two out-of-town bikers.
Took a ride Sunday October 24th on my ATV and wasnt expecting such a well detailed trail with the signs, especially the mile markers. I really enjoyed the scenery, and seen everything from horses to pedal bikes on the trail. Job well done!!!!!
Lisa Oettinger, Sue Shaw and Nancy Patterson at Columbia Falls.
1694 Castine Road
The three people from Massachusetts rode their bikes up to their truck and were grinning from ear to ear! My friends and I had just finished our ride and were loading our bikes and also grinning. Different versions of “Wow, what a great trail” were flying through the air. They were photographers…the kind who earn their living at it…and they had come up from Boston to take photos of and to ride bikes on the Downeast Sunrise Trail. We were locals who have enjoyed the trail all summer. We all agreed…it had been a perfect day! But then…the Downeast Sunrise Trail MAKES perfect days!
Sometimes I discover something new in my life that is just so amazing…so important…so HUGE…that I want to share it with everyone I know. I interject it into every conversation possible…I bring it up at any event or gathering. I mention it to strangers in the grocery store and people in parking lots!
So it is with the Downeast Sunrise Trail.
The Downeast Sunrise Trail, the completely finished and officially open to the public rails-to-trails corridor that stretches from Washington Junction in Ellsworth to Ayres Junction up by Dennysville, is magnificent….and I find it impossible not to broadcast the fact!
There is not a single stretch of trail that is not Maine beauty at its best. It crosses bogs, passes through woodlands of every configuration, parallels streams, rivers and saltwater, and has views of mountains, blueberry fields and cranberry bogs. In the spring it is going to be a birder’s paradise with habitat of every possible type from mud flats and beaches to forests and shrub rows. Its bridges go over beaver ponds, marshes, and some of the prettiest creeks imaginable. Although not always readily visible, stone work supporting the trail dates from early RR days. The workmanship and beauty of those arches, supports and spans rivals that of Mr. Rockefeller’s bridges in Acadia although on a much smaller scale.
The DST does all of this on a fairly level (perhaps a 4% grade?) surface that is wonderful for mountain bikes, walking, jogging and ATVs. It would be impossible to design anything more beautiful than the functional route laid out by the RR many, many years ago.
Trail access is very simple. There are small parking spots all along the trail where it crosses roads or passes through various towns as it wends its way down east from Ellsworth. Road crossings are frequent enough to be handy, but infrequent enough to preserve the feeling of being completely immersed in back country Maine. It is easy to “spot a car” so that a trip on the trail only needs to be one way…but there is so much beauty that a round-trip or ‘there and back’ is a good plan also.
The signage is very well done—there are mile markers, stream and bog names, caution X-ing, stop ahead, road names, county line markers, town boundary lines…everything that needs a sign has one. Signs are small, but bright and easily read.
The Downeast Sunrise Trail was built to be enjoyed by everyone…and is. I will admit I was worried about ATVs and snowmobiles sharing the trail with bicycles and hikers and those on X-C skis and snowshoes…but my fears have been proven groundless. I have not returned home once from riding my bike on the trail when I have not said, “every ATV we saw slowed down and waved or nodded!” Everyone I have spoken to that has biked on the trail has said the same thing. I sincerely hope the ATVers are able to go home and say, “Every single biker scooted over and waved!” It is for all of us, after all!
Perhaps the most often repeated phrase shared by folks on the trail no matter what they are doing is, “How wonderful that a few people had the vision to dream of this and then the determination to make it happen!” I hope that wonderful group can feel all of the “thank-you” messages winging their way from folks on the trail. Kudos—many, many kudos to them…what a gift they have given Downeast Maine!
The trail, as it becomes well known regionally and even nationally, should draw more tourists like the photographers from Massachusetts. Tourists...with their bikes, cameras, bird books, running shoes, binoculars, painting gear and sketch pads, walking sticks, ATVs and snow toys. Tourists…who will need meals, places to stay or camp, gas, and stores in which to shop. A gift, indeed.
I am very proud of the fact that, as of last Friday, my bike and I have covered every inch of the trail. As I said to the photographers from Massachusetts, I feel like I have finished a mini Appalachian Trail! I plan to do it again…and again…it is too wonderful an experience to experience it only once.
And since it is so wonderful I simply cannot remain quiet about it.
So…be warned…if you have a bike on the back of your car…if you are hauling an ATV or snowmobile trailer…at some time…some where…I am probably going to walk up to you in a parking lot and say,
“Hi--have you heard of our Downeast Sunrise Trail…..?”
We rode the trail on October 3rd. We noticed that everyone riding the trail, not only in our group, but others as well, were very respectful of the bicyclists even though it may have been difficult for the ATVer's to pull over to the side (due to the steep grade). The scenery was gorgeous to see, and it was such a pleasure to ride on a trail that is basically flat...a rarity in Maine. It is nice that we now have been provided such a gem to use for all our registration fees! We acknowledge that it might be intimidating for the bicyclists to encounter an ATV, but if the ATV's were not using the trail, the bicyclists wouldn't have a nice, flat surface, free of rocks to ride. We think it is the best for both worlds.
I'm so excited that this long awaited 85-mile rails-to-trails trail is now open. I live about at the mid-point (Cherryfield) between the beginning & end of the trail & often ride in both directions, and have ridden all but 4 miles of the trail & it's all scenic. The trails goes through beautiful wilderness, with lots of bogs & woods. Although there are ATVs on the trail, they are very respectful of cyclists on the trail. The surface is packed dirt & stones, so make sure you have a mountain bike or good tires on a hybrid bike. There are lots of things to do and see in this part of Maine, so plan to make your trip a biking/hiking/kayaking adventure.
Twelve bicyclists rode four days staying overnight in Cherryfield, Machias, Dennysville, and Eastport. Average age 78. Passed 58 ATV's the first day which was the first Sunday the trail was open. We kept riding and stayed in our lane while they went around us very politely. Much cheering and greeting. No flats, no problems. A great ride.
I rode 15 miles on the new section from Washington Junction in Ellsworth on Sept. 26th. The trail is in wonderful condition the sites were beautiful (early fall colors). I have never riden a rail to trail before and was a bit hesitant when I pulled into the parking area and noticed it full of ATV trailers. Fearing that I would encounter fast moving, rock throwing and close riding ATV's, I set out expecting the worst. I was pleasantly surprised to find that the ATV's that I encountered were respectful, friendly and polite. I'm planning another, longer ride tomorrow.
We accessed the trail in Machias at the old railroad station. Even though the trail is designated multi-use, it might as well be called an ATV trail. As bicycle riders we had to keep pulling over on the trail ALOT more than anticipated. On a bike, it's difficult to pull over due to the rocks are larger on the side of the trail which made the riding unsteady. The ATVs are causing ruts in the trail, as well, from overuse. Again, the ruts are probably not significant to ATV riders but to bicyclists they are. We will not be using this trail again.
we rode this trail in October 2009 and had no problems with it.
Going back to ride on this October 2010
We went running on the trail section in Pembroke this morning. It has not yet been improved...and is very muddy and rutted. Nonetheless, it is a diamond in the rough.
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