Saint John Valley Heritage Trail


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Saint John Valley Heritage Trail Facts

States: Maine
Counties: Aroostook
Length: 16.9 miles
Trail end points: Market St./SR 161 btwn W. Market St. & N. Perley Brook Rd (Fort Kent) and Sunset Dr. south of Main St./SR 161 (Saint Francis)
Trail surfaces: Crushed Stone
Trail category: Rail-Trail
ID: 6016089
Trail activities: ATV, Fishing, Horseback Riding, Mountain Biking, Snowmobiling, Walking, Cross Country Skiing

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Saint John Valley Heritage Trail Description

History seems to appear around every corner in Fort Kent and Saint Francis for travelers getting underway on the Saint John Valley Heritage Trail. The gravel trail rolls along the south bank of the Saint John River for nearly 17 miles between the two towns and offers clear views of forests and farmland across the river in New Brunswick. It’s used primarily by mountain bikers, ATV riders, and snowmobilers who can connect to more than a thousand miles of off-roading on Maine’s Interconnected Trail System. (In the winter, snowshoeing and dogsledding are also permitted.)

The trail traces the former Fish River Railroad, which opened in 1902 and was sold a year later to the Bangor and Aroostook Railroad (BAR). The old Fish River Railroad Station, taken over by BAR, remained in operation until 1979 on Market Street about 0.8 mile north of the trailhead. It’s now a museum open during the summer and run by the Fort Kent Historical Society.

Beginning on Market Street in Fort Kent, the trail immediately crosses the Fish River, a tributary of the Saint John River. Leaving the trail at the first cross street (Aroostook Road) with a wide shoulder and sidewalk, you can visit the Fort Kent State Historic Site 0.6 mile north. The wooden blockhouse is the only remaining fortification of the Aroostook War, also known as the Pork and Beans War, which took place in 1838–39. Diplomats settled the border dispute between Canada and the United States before battles broke out, although militias were mustered throughout the region.

Back on the trail, watch for road crossings and spurs that lead to restaurants, service stations, and other businesses. When you stop, you may overhear a local dialect of French spoken in stores and cafés. Descendants of French colonists settled all along the Saint John River Valley in the 1700s after the British government deported them from Acadia for refusing to support the crown. The families and Acadian culture survive to this day.

Beyond town, the trail follows the Saint John River through forests and wetlands. Although the trail parallels ME 161 for several miles, the mixed forest remains quiet and serene. The trail crosses to the north side of ME 161 at mile 8.2 in Wheelock and rolls along the riverbank, offering the best views of villages and farms in New Brunswick. About 4 miles later, the trail again crosses SR 161, passing behind homes and shops.

About 0.25 mile from the trail’s end on Sunset Drive in Saint Francis, you’ll pass a 1904 vintage railroad turntable that local high school students restored for the Saint Francis Historical Society Museum. A path leads from the turntable to the museum on SR 161/Main Street (across the street from the Saint Francis Town Office), which is open Sunday, Wednesday, and Friday afternoons from May through September. There’s also a Bangor and Aroostook Railroad caboose, covered picnic tables, and a memorial display at the museum.

Parking and Trail Access

To reach the trailhead in Fort Kent from I-95, take Exit 302 onto US 1 heading north. Go 26.4 miles north on US 1, and turn left to remain on US 1 in Mars Hill. Go another 27.7 miles, and in Caribou, bear right onto SR 161. Go 3.6 miles, turn right to stay on SR 161, and then go 39.4 miles to Fort Kent. Look for parking on the left side of ME 161/Market St. just after passing a convenience store with gasoline pumps on the right.

 To reach the trailhead in Saint Francis from I-95, take Exit 302 onto US 1 heading north. Go 26.4 miles north on US 1, and turn left to remain on US 1 in Mars Hill. Go another 27.7 miles, and in Caribou, bear right onto SR 161. Go 3.6 miles, and turn right to stay on SR 161. Go 40.2 miles to Fort Kent, and turn left to stay on SR 161. Go 16.9 miles, and turn left onto Sunset Dr.; look for parking on the left in 0.2 mile.

Saint John Valley Heritage Trail Reviews

Rode the trail end to end on a Saturday. Only saw a couple of ATVs. The trail is firmly packed the entire way making for a great ride with no extra effort. You can really make great time as a result. What a beautiful trail. You go through the small town of Kent and soon are in the middle of some beautiful forest. About half way you reach the river which provides for great views for several miles to the end. You can get some great pictures of New Brunswick Canada just on the other side of the river. The river separates the US and Canada and you pretty much follow the border the entire way. This trail is at the very top of Maine but if you get up there I recommend you give this one a try. One note on trail head location. The trail introduction talks about being behind the gas station but there are a few of these on Market street. The trail is actually right behind a little store / pharmacy on the left side leaving town. About .75 miles. I stayed in Edmundston Canada which is only about 18 miles away but there are many smaller places on the US side I wished I looked up before committing to the Best Western. Anyway it is a great hotel. Off to the Aroostock Valley Trail.

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