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The Eastern Trail connects the historic towns along Maine’s southern coast from the woods near Kennebunk to South Portland’s harbor lighthouse; 24 miles of the route follows off-road rail-trail and greenway interrupted by two major on-road gaps in Saco/Biddeford and Scarborough. Plans are underway to close at least one of these gaps and extend the trail another 19 miles southwest to Kittery. The East Coast Greenway incorporates the Eastern Trail on its 3,000-mile-long trail project between Maine and Key West, Florida.
A significant distance uses the old Eastern Railroad route, chartered in the 1830s to run passenger and freight trains between Boston and Portland. Its rival, the Boston & Maine Railroad, leased the Eastern in 1884 and then bought it outright in 1900. Guilford Transportation, which became Pan Am Railways, purchased the Boston & Maine in the 1980s, and later discontinued use on many underperforming routes.
In the southwest, the trail starts just north of the town center of Kennebunk, where quaint, old New England architecture draws tourists in the summer. The Kennebunk Plains blueberry barrens, where you can pick the berries after August 1, and the Rachel Carson National Wildlife Refuge are nearby. The trail crosses small roads and streams for 6.2 miles to the first gap in Biddeford. Follow directional signs for 4.5 miles through Biddeford on streets and sidewalks and across the Saco River at Springs Island to regain the trail on Clark Street at Thornton Academy in Saco.
After about 2 miles, you’ll cross US 1 on an overpass about 0.5 mile south of Funtown Splashtown USA, a Saco tourism destination. About 4 miles later, you’ll arrive at Scarborough Marsh, a breathtaking expanse of saltwater wetlands that is Maine’s largest at 3,100 acres. Keep an eye out for marine birds and enjoy the ride along nearly 2 miles of beautiful coastal trail. The trail ends after the marsh, and a 4-mile on-road section begins. It’s well marked, but traffic is heavy and fast, so be cautious riding on the shoulder. The Eastern Trail Alliance has been raising funds to close this gap to the Wainwright Recreation Complex, where the trail starts again.
The final 5-mile leg soon becomes urbanized, traveling along a stretch known as the South Portland Greenbelt Walkway. As you approach the Fore River, which separates South Portland from Portland, the corridor meanders between off-road trail and on-street routes. Follow signs for the East Coast Greenway to help you stay on-course. The trail ends at Bug Light Park, named for the smallish lighthouse that has stood here since 1875. Enjoy the views of tankers and sailboats in the harbor and the Portland skyline.
To reach the Kennebunk trailhead from I-95 N, take Exit 25 toward SR 35/Kennebunk/Kennebunkport. Go 0.4 mile, and turn right onto SR 35, and then go 0.2 mile, and turn right to stay on SR 35/Alewive Road. Go 0.8 mile, and turn right into the Kennebunk Elementary School parking lot. A short path to the trail is at the south end of the parking lot. From I-95 S, take Exit 25, and turn right onto SR 35/Alewive Road. In less than 0.5 mile, the Kennebunk Elementary School will be on your right.
To reach the South Portland trailhead from I-295 N, take Exit 4 toward Casco Bay Bridge/Portland Waterfront. Go 0.7 mile, and merge onto the Veterans Memorial Bridge, and then go 0.4 mile, and merge onto US 1A/Fore River Pkwy./W. Commercial St. Go 1 mile, turn left at the traffic light near Goodyear, and merge onto SR 77/Casco Bay Bridge. Go 1 mile, and continue onto Broadway; then go 1.6 miles, and turn left onto Breakwater Dr./Benjamin W. Pickett St. Go 0.1 mile, and turn right onto Madison St. Go 0.4 mile, and look for parking straight ahead.
To reach the South Portland trailhead from I-295 S, take Exit 4 toward US 1/Main St. Merge onto US 1, go 0.4 mile, and merge onto US 1 S/Main St., and then immediately turn left onto Alton St./Huntress Ave. Go 0.3 mile, and turn left onto Broadway, and then go 1.8 miles, and turn right to stay on Broadway. Go 1.6 miles, and turn left onto Breakwater Dr./Benjamin W. Pickett St. Go 0.1 mile, and turn right onto Madison St. Go 0.4 mile, and look for parking straight ahead.
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