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A former Maine Central Railroad line provides a year-round playground for motorized and nonmotorized trail users to explore the western hills of Maine. The long, flat, mostly straight stretches of the Whistle Stop Rail-Trail, running from Farmington to Livermore Falls, primarily serve ATVs and off-road vehicles in warmer months and snowmobiles in winter, but the trail is also accessible to mountain bikers, hikers, dog walkers, horseback riders, cross-country skiers, and snowshoers. Hybrid cyclists will find sandy sections passable but difficult.
Trees shade the trail as it passes through wetlands and rural farmland. Several small towns with services stand along the trail, but most interactions with civilization are limited to the occasional road crossing or the backyards of scattered houses or industrial buildings, including some remnants of rock quarrying from years gone by.
The trail follows the historic corridor of the Androscoggin Railroad, which served mill industry and agricultural centers on the Sandy and Androscoggin Rivers. The railroad reached Livermore Falls in 1852 and Farmington in 1859, becoming part of the Maine Central Railroad in 1871. Guilford Transportation, which has become Pan Am Railways, acquired the railroad in the 1980s. While much of the original line is not in use, the trail follows still-active tracks for a very short distance in Livermore Falls.
From the community of West Farmington on the Sandy River, the packed dirt and gravel trail surface is easier for bicyclists to traverse than sections farther south. In 6.5 miles the trail arrives in Wilton, formerly a booming manufacturing center where Bass shoes and boots were made for 122 years until the factory closed in 1998. A mile or two south of town, the trail surface turns to deeper sand that poses more of a challenge to bicyclists.
You’ll pass marshy lowlands to the east along the middle section of the trail from Wilton to North Jay. At 3.7 miles past Wilton, you can take a 1-mile side trip on Old Jay Hill Road to Woodman Hill Road to visit the North Jay White Granite Park. A hiking trail goes to the edge of a lookout over the quarry, where desirable white granite was mined for many uses, such as monuments in Washington, D.C.
The sandier surface continues south to the town of Jay, where the trail comes into view of the Androscoggin River. On the final 2.5 miles to Livermore Falls, you’ll see signs for the French Falls Recreation Area, which can serve as another trailhead with bathrooms and parking closer to the southern end. At this point, sand yields to a harder-packed—albeit somewhat rutted and potholed—surface.
You’ll have scenic views of the Androscoggin River and a railroad trestle that carries tracks across the river for the final mile to Livermore Falls. The trail ends in the heart of the town of Livermore Falls near various retail establishments.
To reach the trailhead in West Farmington from I-95, take Exit 113 toward Belgrade on SR 3. Head north on SR 3, go 1.4 miles, and turn right onto SR 8/SR 27/New Belgrade Road. Go 22.4 miles, and turn left to join US 2/SR 27. Go 9.6 miles, turn left onto Intervale Road/US 2, and almost immediately after crossing the Sandy River, turn right onto Bridge St. Go 0.2 mile, turn left onto Oak St., and look for parking in 300 feet.
To reach the trailhead at the French Falls Recreation Area in Jay from US 202 and SR 41/SR 133 in Winthrop, turn onto northbound SR 133/SR 41 in Winthrop. Go 1.5 miles, and bear left to stay on SR 133/Wayne Road. Go 15.8 miles, and turn left onto SR 133/SR 17/Depot St. Go 0.2 mile, and turn right onto SR 4/SR 17/Main St. Go 1.7 miles, and turn left onto French Falls Lane. Go 0.2 mile, and look for parking straight ahead. The southern endpoint is 1.7 miles south along the trail.
Started our bike ride at West Farmington. There's lots of free parking. We went to Shelly'sHometown market in Wilton and turned around, approx 8 miles rt. Nice easy ride, flat with hard surface. Going to try to go further the other way next time.
The trail is a muti use trail. The ATVs that use it have tilled up the surface with their tires and made it to soft to bike on even with wide tires.
I road the trail end to end on a Wednesday leaving at 7:30 am. I was a little worried about "soft" terrain based on some other reviews but only encountered it in a few areas and was not that bad. I would still only venture out on a mountain bike and not a hybrid. You do need the wider tires. I finished in about 3.5 hours with plenty of stops for pictures and short breaks. I only saw one ATV along the way. Food and drink can be obtained at several locations along the trail. There is a nice mix of forest, rivers, and marshes. There is very little if at all elevation change. Very enjoyable trail. Definitely recommend it to other mountain bikers. This is the first of several more rails to trails in Maine I plan on doing over the next two weeks. Off to do the Kennebec Valley Trail and will provide updated review as well.
The Northern portion of the trail from the trail head in West Farmington to Main St. in East Wilton and the Southern portion from the Old Jay Hill Rd to downtown Jay have good good, firm well graded gravel surfaces. They were in good condition in spite of recent heavy rain. The center portion of the trail, beginning South of Main St in East Wilton was increasing difficult. First there were trail-wide puddles from rain 36 hours earlier, then the trail surface became unsuitable for hybrid bike use. It is rough, rocky and too loose for safe riding. Serious mountain bikers who are looking for a workout many find this section useful but this rider does not recommend a full length ride of this trail for recreational riders. This is a great trail for 4 wheelers but a full length round trip on two wheels was more work than fun and I can't recommend it.
On Wednesday, August 18th, my wife an I rode a tandem, mountain bike equiped with shocks, on this trail from Jay to Farmington and back. It was a tough, tough ride. We have ridden several rail trails in New Hampshire and this was the hardest we have ridden. It was very sandy for most of the trail. In parts, where is ran next to the highway nearer to Farmington, the trail was wavy with loose sand between the dips. There were also stretches with rocks protruding from the trail. If the scenery was beautiful, which my wife claimed it was, I couldn't say as I was very focused on steering us though the trail's maze. At one point, nearer to Framington, the trail crosses the main highway. There was considerable traffic with only a very small safety island between the lanes. It was a scramble.
When we arrived at Farmington there were two riders loading their bikes onto a bikerack. We spoke and they told us they had planned to ride to Jay, but the trail was too sandy so they turned back. They expressed surprise that we had made it.
My wife and I walked the bike into Farmington, about a mile+ and had a nice lunch at a local coffee shop, then rode back down to the trail and back to Jay. It was an exhausting ride back, and I expressed surprise we had made it.
During the roundtrip we passed several ATVs the riders of which were considerate of us and pulled over to wait for us to pass, three or four lunchtime walkers near a business establishment, and four bicyclists. There was lots of evidence of ATV use on the trail. Personally I would this rail trail, in it's current condition, is more suitable for the ATV.
Wow, what a surprisingly nice trail! My DH and i rode this trail Sunday May 9 2010 from Farmington to the Munson Rd Crossing in Wilton. We've rode the Nashua Rail Trail from Ayer to Nashua (all paved and not very challenging-12.25 miles one way) and we've rode the Warren County Bike Trail and went right into the Feeder Canal Trail. (Paved and unpaved-We did 28 miles round trip that day).
Using the directions on this site it was very easy to find the parking area in Farmington. It had rained all day the day before but the trail, being a hard packed gravel trail, was not wet at all, except for a few puddles when we got close or around the Wilton area. We rode our full suspension MTBs. A hybrid bike would work great for this trail. We did find the trail is more loose gravel and a sand gravel mix beyond West Wilton, but it also had lots of evidence of ATV use, which most likely made the trail gravel loose. Not horrible or unridable at the time we rode it, just a little more challenging and engaged a little more cardio to get past this area. This trail also follows the river quite a bit, which was beautiful and appeared very clean. The day we rode it was a little cold out, so we only came across a couple of hikers and a couple of joggers. Very quiet.
We lingered for a short time at the Yurt, which is only 2-3 miles from the Farmington parking area, also we rode the trail by the yurt which goes behind the hospital property. That was nice and FUN, but we had to double back and get back on the WST (whistle stop trail) It was also nice that there were signs pointing you to restaurants, coffee, etc. along the way and in West Wilton there is a little convenence store you ride right past, picnic tables behind it by the river. So if you really didn't want to bring snacks, lunch or drinks with you, you can get stuff during the ride.
We did about 7-8 miles of the trail, but we'd love to go back sometime and ride the Jay end toward Farmington. Our trip took about 1hr 45 mins. I'll try to post a few picts of the trail.
"The northern third of this trail, between Wilton & Farmington has an improved surface, which is hard-packed and suitable for hybrid or Mountain bikes."
This trail should be resurfaced with material suitable for bikes. I tried the trail on a mountain bike and found it not enjoyable. My tires sank into the sand constantly making it almost impossible to ride.
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