The Eastern Trail is a joy to ride, and well worth the extra trip to get to it. It’s part of If the East Coast Greenway - if you are following that you should definitely plan to spend several days enjoying the trail and its environs. It's one of the loveliest, most interesting and most pleasant to ride sections of the ECG. The completed portions are not long - about 40 miles of offroad trail is completed so far, but the scenery, diversity and charm can't be beat anywhere. For much of the way you are riding through dense forest, even though you are in or near urban areas and close to conveniences and activities. From the forest, the trail will suddenly emerge onto vast spectacular marsh vistas such as the one at Scarborough.
The northeast end of the trail is in South Portland, near some wonderful sites and restaurants. The Southwestern end is just north of Kennebunk inviting a number of great sidetrips. There is a short break in the trail near Saco and Biddeford but there are excellent instructions on the website at Easterntrail.org. There are also recent florescent orange blazes painted on the roads marked ET with an arrow for guidance - I've attached a sample photo below.
From our wonderful campsite at Silver Springs we had the opportunity to experience the charm and diversity first hand with many different excursion loops.
Surface and Trail Notes
The surface is mostly hard-packed sand. From South Portland it is paved for 5.2 miles from the Bug Light all the way to the big sports fields Gary Maietta Way. From there you are on local roads with good shoulders mostly along Highland for 4.4 miles until you reenter the trail at the beautiful, eerie Scarborough marsh. From there you are on hardpacked sand for the next 7 miles. The surface varies from a bit rough starting at Pine Point Road to near perfect as you get near the town of Saco.
Just after you pass the Silver Spring Campground (which makes a great overnight stop for camping or cabins) you will come to the John Andrews Bridge across US 1 - a major accomplishment of the Eastern Trail Alliance.
A little way farther on the trail dips down to US1 to cross under the 295 extension to Old Orchard Beach. This area requires some caution since you cross 4 feeder roads, but we have found drivers to be courteous. Hannaford grocery stores are a supporter of the trail, and just under the freeway is a wonderful grocery store that can be easily accessed directly from the trail (use caution in the parking lot). The trail continues for a few miles, ending at the Thornton academy and from there you should pay careful attention to the trail cue sheet (from the ECG site) and the blazes painted on the highway. If you do you will discover a fun trail and a substantial bridge that bypasses the worst of Alfred Road and crosses at a safe crossing with traffic light. (Our only comment is again - why oh why must they put the barrier posts so close together??)
Here is a picture of Biker Jim heading northeast at the point (shown on small map) where the trail leaves the road soon after crossing Alfred Road. There is a good blaze, but you might still overlook it if you aren't watching for it.
Heading southwest, once you cross Alfred Road, you are back on the delightful off-road hard-packed trail, which you can ride 6 more miles all the way to Alewife Road. The trail crosses the I95 Maine Turnpike just before the end. (note: as of June, 2012 the trail is currently signed as "Closed" at the Turnpike, probably due to a small but visible fissure in the earth at the foundation at the ballwark for the bridge over the turnpike. It doesn't really look dangerous but it might be a good idea to check local conditions. )
From here it's an easy ride into Kennebunk and Kennebunkport and this is a highly recommended loop ride..
The completed portions of the trail are a huge accomplishment and well worth any effort it takes to get to the trail. It also has the precious advantage of an active and committed trail development organization with a grand vision so it will only get better.
Surrounding towns, facilities and area
Diversity and charm. And the other advantage of being in a very bikable area. If you’ve been following along, you know that what these intrepid but not super-jock bikers mean is gorgeous scenery, not too steep, not too many shoulder-less roads, and not too much high speed traffic and the drivers are aware and courteous to bikers.