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Keep your ears open for the haunting call of loons along the scenic Kennebec Valley Trail. They’re just one example of the wildlife—another is the moose—that inhabits the river, woods, and fields surrounding this nearly 14.5-mile rail-trail from Bingham to North Anson. The trail traces part of the grueling river route that Benedict Arnold’s troops took in their ill-fated Revolutionary War attack on British forces in Quebec in December 1775.
American Indians—and later settlers and railroad builders—considered the Kennebec Valley a natural corridor for traveling in the wilderness. In the 1870s, the Somerset Railroad eyed the route as it began pushing toward Quebec from southern Maine. Running out of money when it reached North Anson in 1877, the company reorganized as the Somerset Railway and laid track to Solon by 1889 and Bingham by 1890. The Maine Central Railroad took over in 1911, hauling timber and agricultural products. Traffic declined with road improvements in the area, and the Maine Central discontinued using this section in 1976 after the last sawmill closed in Bingham.
Folks on ATVs and mountain bikes travel this remote rail-trail until the first snowfall, which brings out snowmobilers and cross-country skiers. Snowshoeing and dogsledding are also permitted. Mountain bikes are recommended for cycling, as parts of the trail suffer rough conditions. In Bingham, the trail links to more than a thousand miles of trail in Maine’s Interconnected Trail System.
The Kennebec Valley Trail starts in Bingham, where sawmills used to process timber floated downriver from the north. Consider stopping in town for provisions, as there are few towns with services ahead. The trailhead is south of town on Goodrich Road.
Gazing at the river as you head south, you’ll soon realize why it’s named Kennebec: it translates to “large body of still water or large bay” in local tribal language. The Kennebec is so wide and calm in places that you have to remind yourself that it’s a river and not one of Maine’s lakes.
The riverbank is forested for most of the next 6.5 miles to just north of Solon, where the trail veers right and crosses the river on an old railroad bridge across rocky Caratunk Falls and a modern hydroelectric facility. On October 7, 1775, Arnold’s force arrived at a point below the falls that’s now called Arnolds Landing. His boats were leaking, and his men were wet, cold, and sick. After a good night’s sleep, they carried the boats around the falls and continued their journey through the wilderness to Quebec. You can take a footpath to Arnolds Landing before crossing the river. Falls Road heads into Solon before you cross the bridges.
After a 1.1-mile jaunt on Levee Road along a tamed section of river, you’ll pick up the Kennebec Valley Trail again as it enters a more agricultural district. Traveling along the high ground, you’ll catch only occasional glimpses of the river in the valley below. After passing through Embden in 2.1 miles, the trail gets rougher in places over the next 4.5 miles until you arrive in North Anson.
To reach official trail parking in Solon from I-95, take Exit 133 toward Skowhegan on US 201. Go 30.1 miles north on US 201 through Solon, and turn left onto Falls Road. Go 0.4 mile to a parking lot. From here, the Bingham trailhead is 6.7 miles north; the North Anson trailhead is 7.8 miles south.
There are no official trail parking areas near the endpoints in Bingham or North Anson.
Visiting Maine in August we found no place to rent bikes within 80 miles of the Trail. We decided to hike the section from Bingham south as we like free flowing rivers, not lakes behind dams. First issue was the Bingham Goodrich Rd trailhead. It is in the woods and out of sight from US 201 or houses. We chose to park at a more publicly visible location at a Supermarket across from North Country Rivers Outfitters where the Trail crosses a corner of the Outfitters property. We did get permission from the Supermarket and recommend parking here, not the Goodrich Rd. trailhead.
Second, the main issue for us was the Trail. This included the lack of views of this section of the river being obscured by Summer vegetation, the condition of the trail with muddy potholes and lack of a gravel surface and the permitted use of the Trail by ATV’s. The ATV drivers were respectful of hikers and slowed for us, but the vehicles were still noisy and created dust. We terminated the hike early and had ice cream at Here’s the Scoop in Bingham, sitting quietly on the bank of the Kennebec.
Headed south on US 201 to Arnolds Landing where the trail crosses the Kennebec. The trail is on the river bank and would have provided better water views had we hiked this section. Had to leave, as it is a slow drive from I-95. In summary, the Bingham area portion of the Trail would rank as our worst RTT experience from Maine to Virginia. We would not return even for ice cream on the river bank.
I did the trail end to end on a Thursday leaving out of North Anson at about 8am. Only saw one ATV. The beginning of the trail as you approach the power plant is fairly solid and an easy ride although the only scenery is forest and an occasional farm field for the most part. Had to go thru one puddle over the pedals but it did rain heavy the night before and this was the only issue along the way. Once you reach the river at about the midway point you follow it pretty much to the end and it makes for great views. I was fortunate to see a Loon and hear the amazing sound they're known for. Keep in mind that when you do reach the river the road can be sandy and soft for much of the way. Very doable but you do work a little bit more. Definitely would not take skinny wheel bike on it. Very little elevation change and completed ride in just under 4 hours with plenty of stops. Spend some time exploring the rapids around the power dam. Very good mountain biking trail. Off to the St John Valley Heritage trail.
We missed doing this one after finding the Solan Falls Rd mid-point parking spot. It was off in the woods and thought the location was wrong. Not making the excursion ended up being OK, as we lost a bike tube on one of the bikes before starting.
Second hand report from fellow campers, however, said that starting at the Solan mid-point is a great ride up to Bingham where they stopped in a shop for sandwiches before heading back. Trail was described as ATV and great for bikes.
This route parallels the Kennebec river and Rt 201 with all of the moose crossing warning signs.
If biking/fishing, a possible note of caution here that may or may not quite apply to this section of the river is to be aware of the upper water releases into the river up through The Forks area. Check with locals for water rise times if fishing. If in or near the river, look for the high water marks which may still be damp. Rapid water rises occur on a scheduled basis, and water marks are as much as 6 feet above in The Forks area.
Take my rating with a grain of salt. We drove this route of 201 several times, but a bike maintenance issue prevented use from actually riding it and giving a more accurate description. Really wanted to do this one!
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