A rider descends Link 2 Trail. Credit: Ron Chase / BDN

When a friend told me there were new bike trails in Grindstone that rivaled the carriage roads in Acadia National Park, I was skeptical. It wasn’t that I thought he was guilty of hyperbole. I simply had difficulty believing any trail system could compare with the carriage roads.

That someone would endeavor to build them in the tiny northern Maine town of Grindstone seemed unbelievable.

Since I had a business meeting in nearby Lincoln, I undertook some research. Sure enough, a wealthy philanthropist named Gilbert Butler, using his family foundation as a vehicle, had constructed a network of crushed dust trails along the East Branch of the Penobscot River in Grindstone. That was sufficient motivation for me to complete an in-person investigation.

Still a little dubious when I arrived at the trailhead located 12 miles north of Medway on Route 11, my misgivings diminished upon entering a spacious parking lot with a huge information kiosk. Just beyond the kiosk, I found an impressive visitor center with restrooms, a communal area and an information counter.

Visitors are required to register to use the 16-mile network of trails. A brochure with a trail map is available. It includes a few common sense rules. Among them, walkers and hikers are also welcome but pets are prohibited. Major trails are one-way for cyclists.

My ride was a delight. The quality of the trails was excellent. A serpentine area near the visitor center included junctions connecting with Long Logan Loop Trail on the southern end of the network and Silver Maple Trail, l which leads north along the East Branch to more distant bikeways.

A cyclist rides along the East Branch of the Penobscot River on Riverside Trail. Credit: Courtesy of Ron Chase

After traveling north for about two miles, I reached a junction with Riverside Trail and Tote Road. This is the beginning of one-way traffic for cyclists. Riders must proceed north on Riverside and return on Tote Road. Since Riverside Trail is a narrow twisting path with many bridges, moderately steep inclines, and exhilarating descents, one-way traffic was a welcome safety feature. Bikers can shorten the outing by connecting east to the Tote Road at four separate links.

The scenic Riverside Trail closely followed the contours of the East Branch in many locations. Pressed for time due to my business meeting, I decided to return at Link 3. After a predominantly uphill climb on the connector route, I enjoyed a gradual descent on the wider Tote Road to the visitor center. According to my odometer, my excursion was about 11 miles. Since the trek was thoroughly entertaining, I resolved to return as soon as possible to ride the entire system.  

When I reported my discoveries to my wife, Nancy, she was enthusiastic about joining me for a return trip. It seemed the ideal way to celebrate our 53rd wedding anniversary.

Only one vehicle was in the parking lot when we arrived. Riding north, Nancy was immediately captivated by the trails. At Link 2, we took a right turn to visit a winter warming hut. Open year round, the luxurious cabin easily qualifies as a “cooling hut” in the summer. While resting and enjoying the view, a retired game warden joined us. A frequent trail user who lives nearby, he extolled the benefits of skiing the trails in winter.

A cyclist rides along the East Branch of the Penobscot River on Riverside Trail. Credit: Courtesy of Ron Chase

Departing the hut, we continued our tour north on Riverside Trail. We found the hills between Links 2 and 4 to be more demanding climbs and exciting descents than the remainder of the trail.Just beyond Link 4, a large group of canoe trippers were observed on the East Branch.  Friendly waves were exchanged.  It was a little over nine miles to the northern terminus, Trails’ End. Just beyond was a second warming hut. This one is perched high on a hill and offers a phenomenal view of Mount Katahdin.

From the warming hut, riders have a choice. Follow the Tote Road back to the visitor center or lengthen the trip by turning left on Long Meadow Hill Trail. We chose the latter which includes a substantial climb to the top of the hill. The reward was a steep invigorating decline to the Tote Road followed by a pleasurable primarily downhill ride to the visitor center.

Completing the hilly Long Logan Loop before finishing our journey, ours was an outstanding day of riding on an exceptional trail system. Skiing there next winter is a must.

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Ron Chase resides in Topsham. His latest book, “Maine Al Fresco: The Fifty Finest Outdoor Adventures in Maine” is now available at northcountrypress.com/maine-al-fresco.html. His previous books are...