Scattered throughout the hilly, rocky wilderness of Maine are dozens of smooth, wide trails that have been carefully constructed to provide people of all abilities access to the great outdoors.
These trails were designed for people who use wheelchairs, strollers, walkers and other mobility devices. They’re also great for people who have a difficult time walking over uneven terrain, and those who are simply looking to have a stroll without having to watch their footing.
“A lot of effort has been put into building these trails,” said Rex Turner, outdoor recreation planner for the Maine Bureau of Parks and Lands. “At the same time, I think it’s fair to say that there’s a lot more work to be done. It’s an important aspect of managing the outdoors because we want everybody to have really good opportunities to experience the outdoors.”
When a trail is labeled as “accessible,” that usually means that it meets all standards of the Americans with Disabilities Act for a wheelchair-accessible trail. These standards include requirements for trail surfacing, width, grade and cross slope, rest spots (level areas), passing spaces, lack of obstacles and signs.
In addition, many trails in the state that do not meet ADA standards may still be navigable by people who use wheelchairs and other mobility devices, depending on their abilities. Detailed description of trails — provided in brochures, guidebooks and online — can help people make decisions about whether or not a trail will be appropriate for them.
The Maine Bureau of Parks and Lands uses several terms to describe trails at state parks that might be accessible by people who use wheelchairs. The first term, “accessible,” means a trail meets all ADA standards. The other terms the bureau uses to describe trails are “generally accessible, “accessible with assistance” and “somewhat accessible.” Each term has its own definition.
“Instead of just saying ‘this trail is fine for a wheelchair and this one is not,’ it’s important to provide information so trail users know what they’re going to encounter on trails and can make decisions themselves,” Turner said. “That’s something we’re trying to do more of and get more proactive about.”
If you’re unsure if a trail is right for you, Turner suggests contacting the trail owner or manager to ask for details. And try to plan ahead, just in case it takes the land trust or park ranger a couple of days to get back to you.
Here are some wheelchair-accessible trails in Maine that were designed to meet ADA standards. This is not a complete list, and more accessible trails are being constructed in the Maine wilderness all the time.
Trail of the Senses, Hirundo Wildlife Refuge, Old Town
The Trail of the Senses consists of two trails that meet ADA standards: the 0.15-mile Meadow Loop Trail and the 0.24-mile Pond Trail. Both trails are adjacent to the Hirundo parking area at Gate 1, where there are two wheelchair-accessible outhouses. The trails are wide with a hard-packed surface. A guide rope runs along the entire length of both to assist those with visual, physical or mental limitations.
Interpretive signs are scattered throughout the trails, and interactive stations offer opportunities for visitors to easily touch and smell natural objects in the environment. The trails travel through a variety of habitats, such as meadows, pond edges and different forest types. They also feature a wooden, wheelchair-accessible observation deck by a pond.
Dogs are not permitted. Trail access is free, however donations are welcome. For more information, visit hirundomaine.org or call 207-394-2171.
The Woodcock Trail, Moosehorn National Wildlife Refuge in Baring
The 0.25-mile, paved Woodcock Trail introduces visitors to the American woodcock. In April and May, it’s a great place to view this bird’s elaborate courtship flights.
Moosehorn National Wildlife Refuge is also home to 50 miles of dirt roads, which are closed to private vehicles and may be acceptable routes for people who use wheelchairs. In addition, the refuge features a wheelchair-accessible wildlife observation deck, fishing pier and restrooms.
Access is free. Pets are allowed but must be leashed at all times. For more information, visit fws.gov/refuge/moosehorn or call 207-454-7161.
Bog Brook Cove Preserve in Trescott
A wide, gravel, accessible path travels from the preserve’s parking lot to a rocky promontory and scenic views of a cobble beach and Grand Manan Island. The trail is approximately 0.2 mile long and edged with bushes and a variety of low-lying plants. Birding is especially good along this trail.
Bog Brook Cove Preserve is owned and maintained by the Maine Coast Heritage Trust, and it’s split into two parcels — so be sure to pick the Moose Cove Lot in Trescott.
Access is free. Dogs are permitted if kept under control at all times. For more information, visit mcht.org or call 207-729-7366.
Valentine Farm Conservation Center in Bethel
The Mahoosuc Land Trust maintains a 1.2-mile accessible trail at Valentine Farm Conservation Center. Surfaced with crushed stone, the trail forms two loops that travel through forestland and alongside fields, waterways and the Habitat for All Garden.
The mixture of habitats on the 150-acre property support more than 120 species of birds, as well as moose, bear, fox, white-tailed deer and other wild animals.
Access is free. Dogs are permitted but must be on leash or under voice control at all times. For more information, visit mahoosuc.org/valentine-farm or call 207-824-3806.
Orono Bog Boardwalk, Bangor and Orono
One of the most popular nature walks in the Bangor area, the Orono Bog Boardwalk is accessible and forms a 1-mile loop. To get to the boardwalk, which is built of composite materials, you must travel about 0.25 mile on a wide, gravel, accessible trail through the Bangor City Forest, starting from the parking lot at the end of Tripp Drive in Bangor. A trail map at the parking lot will help you navigate the trail network to the boardwalk.
The boardwalk winds through a forested wetland to emerge into an open peat bog, filled with interesting plants. Interpretive panels with color photos, diagrams and illustrations help visitors learn more about the various habitats the boardwalk travels through.
Access is free. Dogs are not permitted on the boardwalk, though they are permitted throughout the rest of Bangor City Forest if on leash. The boardwalk is closed during certain times, such as the winter, so check before visiting. Visit umaine.edu/oronobogwalk/.
White Pines Trail, Wolfe’s Neck Woods State Park, Freeport
Just minutes from downtown Freeport, Wolfe’s Neck Woods State Park features a trail network that includes the accessible 0.5-mile White Pines Trail. The trail features interpretive displays and leads to an overlook on the shore where you can observe the ospreys nesting on nearby Googins Island.
Many of the park’s public nature programs are also accessible. The day use fee for the park is $4 for adult Maine residents and $6 for adult non-residents, with a discount for seniors and children. Dogs are permitted but must be leashed and under control at all times. For more information, visit maine.gov/wolfesneckwoods or call 207-865-4465.
River Trail, Round Top Farm, Damariscotta
Round Top Farm serves as the headquarters for Coastal Rivers Conservation Trust, and its trail network includes the 0.3-mile accessible River Trail. Surfaced with stone dust, the trail visits the Whaleback Shell Midden State Historic Site and connects to many other trails in the network that are not considered to be accessible.
Access is free. Dogs are permitted but must be leashed. The trails are open year round and feature picnic areas. For more information, visit coastalrivers.org/trail/round-top-farm or call 207-563-1393.
The Woodland Gardens, Birdsacre in Ellsworth
A 540-foot accessible boardwalk through The Woodland Gardens at Birdsacre is a place where people can identify a variety of native plants. It’s also an excellent place to go birding. Built to ADA standards between 1999 and 2001, the boardwalk travels through five diverse environments: woodland meadow, ledge, evergreen forest, fern-moss area and a bog.
Birdsacre, which is also called the Stanwood Wildlife Sanctuary, is a 200-acre piece of quiet woodland surrounded by the hustle and bustle of downtown Ellsworth. The sanctuary includes a trail network, bird rehabilitation facility, nature center and 19th century homestead.
For more information, visit birdsacre.com or call 207-667-8460.
Ship Harbor Nature Trail in Acadia National Park
Leading to the rocky coastline through a whimsical spruce-fir forest, the 1.3-mile Ship Harbor Nature Trail forms a figure eight. The first loop is surfaced with gravel and designed to be wheelchair accessible. However, the second loop is not surfaced with gravel and features many obstacles such as narrow bog bridges, tree roots and rocky sections.
Throughout the trail, beautifully illustrated nature displays help walkers interpret their surroundings. Visitors must carry a park pass May through October. The cost is $30 for a private vehicle pass that’s good for seven days, $55 for an annual pass and $20 for an annual senior pass (for people who are 62 or older). Dogs are permitted if on a leash no longer than 6 feet.
Other accessible trails in Acadia include the Hemlock Path, Jesup Path and some of the trails around scenic Jordan Pond — however, these trails may not meet ADA standards. The park’s 45 miles of Carriage Roads (which are closed to motor vehicles) are also a good option, though some may be too steep for people using wheelchairs. The Carriage Road that travels along the shore of Bubble Pond is fairly level.
Many of Acadia National Park’s natural wonders, such as Thunder Hole, are accessible. For more ideas of where to go, check out the park’s online accessibility guide. For more information, visit nps.gov/acad/ or call 207-288-3338.
These are just a few of the wheelchair-accessible trails scattered throughout Maine. A few more are pinned on the map included with this story. If you know of a wheelchair-accessible trail that you’d like to share, please do so in the comment section.