The Penobscot River Trails features an exceptional network of ski and snowshoe trails along the East Branch.
An impressive metal suspension bridge spans Shin Brook on Seboeis Riverside Trail near Grindstone in February 2023. Credit: Courtesy of Ron Chase

The Penobscot River Trails are exceptional in winter. Created by the Butler Conservation Foundation, they consist of a network of ski and snowshoe trails along the East Branch of the Penobscot River in Grindstone and a scenic snowshoe path on the Seboeis River a few miles west of Shin Pond. 

Since my wife, Nancy, and I enjoyed outstanding skiing and snowshoeing at the impressive Penobscot River Trails system in Grindstone last year, we resolved to return again this winter. Last fall, I hiked the latest Butler Conservation Foundation creation Seboeis Riverside Trail for the first time and wrote a column about that premiere hiking experience. The prospect of visiting them both for a two-day Valentine’s Day vacation was very appealing.

The weather wasn’t completely accommodating when Nancy and I arrived at the Penobscot River Trails facility in Grindstone. The skies were gray with moderate winds and there was a chance of sprinkles or mixed precipitation. Despite the less than stellar forecast, several vehicles were in the parking area.

A Nordic skier on the Penobscot River Trail in Grindstone in February 2023. Credit: Courtesy of Ron Chase

Nancy planned to snowshoe while I hoped to ski. I prefer extended ski trips. The Penobscot River Trails offer one of the longest and best in Maine. The approximately 16-mile loop trip travels north along the river and then returns via a more direct route on Tote Road Trail. That was my optimistic goal assuming the snow conditions cooperated.

An outing at the trails begins by signing in at the luxurious Visitor Center, which includes a wood stove, communal area and bathrooms. There is no trail fee and skis, snowshoes, poles and boots are available for a donation.

My optimism was well-founded as trails were nicely groomed and the tracks fast, perfect for a long-distance ski. A classic skier, I began my trek on Silver Maple Trail. After more than 3 kilometers, I came to a junction with Riverside and Tote Road Trails. I chose Riverside.

Long Meadow Warming Hut is located at the top of a hill at the northern end of the Penobscot River Trail in Grindstone in February 2023. Credit: Courtesy of Ron Chase

The hilly, winding Riverside Trail travels adjacent to the river for more than 11 kilometers to Long Meadow Warming Hut. The challenging route is double tracked, accommodating two-way traffic. Skiers can choose shorter loops by taking any of four link trails that connect with Tote Road.

Light freezing rain commenced at about the same time I met two skiers traveling south near Link 2. The friendly couple was confident the precipitation would soon end. Their cheerful prediction proved accurate. They were the only skiers I met during my outing.

Following a two-hour workout, I arrived at the distinctive warming hut situated at the top of a hill in an open field. On a clear day, Katahdin can be observed from the elegant structure. Alas, not on this cloudy afternoon.

I stopped for a snack and added Glide to my skis for the generally downhill cruise south to the Visitor Center. My return featured a spate of exhilarating double poling to end the day. Nancy reported excellent snowshoeing on Long Logan Loop and Silver Maple Trails.

Early the next morning, we drove north from Medway through Patten and Shin Pond to the Seboeis Riverside Trailhead on Grand Lake Road on a seasonably warm, sunny day. Two Butler Conservation Foundation workers, Chad Day and Nick Dickerson, were in the parking lot when we arrived. Chad departed on snowshoes carrying a chainsaw for trail maintenance. Nick left for a drive to a separate trail where he would transport equipment and building materials by snowmobile to the Snowshoe Lodge located 2 miles downriver.

The trail surface was packed by previous hikers and superb for snowshoeing. We hiked the well-designed path along the ice and snow-covered river through a mixed hardwood and softwood forest. Chad had cleared blowdowns in two locations.

After a long mile, a portage sign indicated we had arrived at Grand Pitch, where the river flows through a spectacular gorge. A spur trail led to an overlook. Prominent Sugarloaf Mountain could be made out farther downriver.

A hiker arrives at Snowshoe Lodge on Seboeis Riverside Trail near Grindstone in February 2023. Credit: Courtesy of Ron Chase

Soon after, we crossed an impressive metal suspension bridge that spans Shin Brook. Easy snowshoeing continued to Snowshoe Lodge, another Butler Conservation Foundation masterpiece. Nancy and I stopped for a break at the hut and enjoyed a conversation with the busy foundation workers who were finishing construction of a shed to store emergency equipment and tools.

Our return on the picturesque rolling trail was a delight. We completed the 4-mile round-trip trek in about three hours. The entertaining excursion is a must for outdoor enthusiasts who want to experience a new and unique wilderness adventure. Another 5 miles of trail extend beyond the hut for those seeking a more substantial expedition.

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Ron Chase, Outdoors Contributor

Ron Chase resides in Topsham. His latest book, “Maine Al Fresco: The Fifty Finest Outdoor Adventures in Maine” is now available at His previous books are...