Capitol Park, Augusta

I almost felt like I was strolling in the Jardin des Tuileries here, with its wide esplanade (or, rather, allée!) between rows of trees and benches spaced out along the path edge. It needs more little dogs, though, to feel truly Parisian! The capitol building looms over one end. It’s really picturesque, albeit somewhat small. The paths are wheelchair accessible. You can read a brief history here.

Directions: The park is sandwiched between Capitol Street and Union Street. I parked on the side of Capitol Street on the weekend day I visited; I imagine it’s harder to find a spot during the work week. There are a lot of parking lots nearby for various state buildings, as well.

Augusta Greenway Trail, Augusta

Blue trails represent the Kennebec Rail Trail; green trails are the Greenway Trail

This is a wonderful extension of sorts to the fabulous Kennebec Rail Trail, which is across the river. Except in this case, the trail is not paved (but still wheelchair accessible) and passes by interesting historical sites. It’s also slightly more pastoral than the trail on the other side.

The one-way trail begins (or ends) at Old Fort Western, the oldest surviving wooden fort in the U.S. It was built by the British in 1754 and served as a storehouse that could hold goods destined for Fort Halifax, 17 miles north. Benedict Arnold used the fort as a staging point in 1775 during the American Revolution. Now it’s a living history museum, with people in costumes!

The other interesting part of the trail is at the other end, closer to the trail head across Independence Drive. After descending down a steep path (which is not wheelchair accessible), you’ll come to the Greenway trail and walk by the former Kennebec Arsenal, an imposing series of stone buildings with lawns sloping down to a riverside patio. The arsenal was built between 1828 and 1838. In the early 20th century, it was converted into a hospital for the mentally ill before the hospital closed in 2004.

The main portion of the trail runs between Independence Drive to the Old Fort Western. There is additional track running south through the AMHI woods that ends at a sand pit-like area.

Directions: The best place to park is at the Old Fort Western, which can be accessed from Cony Street, right before (or after) the bridge.

Howard Hill, Augusta

You can get your aesthetic political fix here, on Howard Hill’s 164-acres, because its high point is an overlook with a lovely view of Maine’s capitol building.

The best place to access the roughly 3 miles of trail here is at the end of Coos Lane, where you can park at the 8-acre Effie L. Berry Conservation Area kiosk. This little preserve provides access to the trail system on Howard Hill.

Otherwise, you can access the trails at the end of Blaisdell Street, Ganneston Drive, or Parkwood Drive. The trail at the end of Blaisdell Road (and I’m not sure you can park here) is the quickest and steepest way to the view.

When I visited in the winter of 2018, the flagged trails were easy to follow, with maps posted at every intersection.

Directions: From Winthrop Street in Hallowell, turn onto Coos Lane. Continue onto the end loop of the lane; you can park behind the building, close to the trailhead kiosk.

Kennebec River Rail Trail, in Gardiner, Hallowell, Augusta, and Farmingdale

Blue trail is the Kennebec Rail Trail; the short green trail on the other side of the river is the Greenway Trail.

This is a really great rails-to-trails project — it’s beautiful, and much of it is quiet and pastoral-feeling despite being in a fairly commercial area and near a busy road. It’s a splendid paved walk, almost 7 miles in total between Gardiner and Augusta. Throughout you have views of the wide Kennebec River. It is also popular with joggers, dog walkers, and parents with strollers, although it rarely feels crowded. If you would like to do the whole thing, you can stop in Hallowell—a red-brick old town—for a snack or coffee. There is also a playground at the YMCA if you want to give kids a break to swing. Gardiner has a lovely downtown as well, for those who are not familiar with it.

In addition, you can cross the Bridge Street bridge, at the north end of the trail, and walk down the unpaved but still wheelchair accessible Augusta Greenway Trail. This portion is roughly 1 mile long. It passes a historic fort and an old arsenal, and is scenic and more pastoral than the other side.

If you don’t have time to do the whole thing, I particularly enjoyed the trail section between Hallowell and Farmingdale.

Note: for those biking or walking with kids, this trail is absolutely great. The small section in-town in Hallowell, however, can be a bit harrowing because of the traffic. It’s possible to ride or walk behind the buildings on the river side of Hallowell, on a private dirt driveway, or go off the main road onto one of the side roads that run parallel to the river. And it is wheelchair accessible, of course. 

Distances: From the end in Augusta to Hallowell, it’s about 2.4 miles. The section through town is a little over half a mile. From the trail start in Hallowell to Gardiner, it’s about 4.2 miles.

Directions: From the traffic circle in Augusta, take the exit for US 201/Western Ave./SR 17. Then turn left on Swan, right on Grove, then another right into the Maine State Housing Authority parking lot. To reach the second access point, turn onto Union Street just south of Capitol Park and turn right into the parking lots for the ball fields at Capital Park, near the YMCA. In Hallowell, park along Water Street/US 201 near Front Street. In Gardiner, park at the trailhead where Church Street and Maine Avenue meet.

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Bond Brook (x-c ski trails), Augusta

This is a lovely place to ski, with several miles of rolling groomed trails. (There are additional snowshoeing/mountain biking trails, too. I’ll add these later.) These “rolls” include quite a few steep hills. Make sure to ski in the right direction on the one-way trails because I imagine people ski fast here. In total, this city park has 270 acres.

My one wish is that the city would put up more trail maps at intersections. I found it very easy to get turned around in the woods because one trail can very much look like another!

In the winter, the best place to park is off at the top of the long driveway, or Tall Pines Way according to my Google map. Turn onto Tall Pines Way from Bond Brook Road. You’ll see a big sign for the park. Then drive almost one mile to the top of the hill, where there is parking, an open meadow area, and a trail kiosk. (The other place you might be able to park (not in the winter) is in the Mt. Hope Cemetery, where there is a small lot at the far end. I assume this is kosher because there is a parking place, but I’m also not 100 percent sure.)

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University of Maine Augusta Fitness Trails, Augusta

Tucked behind the university buildings (and a little difficult to find for a newcomer!) are roughly 2 miles of trails in woods and small fields. When I visited in the winter of 2016, the trail signs had fallen into disrepair. It’s a little hard to block out the roar of the highway.

Directions: Drive along Community Drive toward the Augusta Civic Center. Turn left into the parking are for the Maine Municipal Association. The trailhead (which has a kiosk) is behind the tennis courts, to the side of the baseball fields.

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Augusta Nature Education Center, Augusta

The 175-acre Augusta Nature Education Center, offers a network of about five trails. The mostly wooded area is conveniently close to downtown, and has lots of access points. There’s a stream in the center, and many, many trails that wind (wend?) all about.

Directions: The trail system is bordered to the north by South Belfast Ave, or Route 105, and to the south by Cony Street Extension. On the west side is the Hodgkins Middle School and on the east side is the Vocational Technical Center and Cony high school. There are many access points, although for people not familiar with the area, parking at Cony High School is probably easiest (on weekends).

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Viles Arboretum, Augusta

This is a magical 224 acres, close to downtown Augusta, filled with trees, gardens, sculptures and vistas. You’ll find something interesting or beautiful around every corner. It’s popular with locals and their dogs, although if you reach the trails farthest from the parking area, you might not run into anyone. I hear that some of the paths are groomed for skiing in the winter.

In the fields, the trails are wide, mowed and fairly easy to walk along. I even think one could push a wheelchair here, if the wheelchair is hardy enough. The arboretum has an interesting history, and a small visitor’s center that’s open during business hours. The only thing missing here is an outdoor trail map, or one on their site. Perhaps the visitor’s center has one, but on the day we went it was closed. The best we could do was wander around and do three miles of walking, which was more than delightful. There are signs at the major intersections, but there are a lot of trails here, so it is easy to feel a bit directionless at times! Plan on spending an afternoon or morning here.

Directions (from Maine Trail Finder): From North: Take I-95 Exit 113 for Augusta/Belfast. Continue straight on ME Route 3 through two traffic lights crossing the Kennebec River. After the bridge, turn right at the traffic light at the intersection of ME Route 3 and US Route 201/ME Route 100 and follow US Route 201/ME Route 100 South. Staying on US 201, US Route 202 will join on the left and in another half mile there will be a traffic circle. Take the ME Route 9/Stone Street exit (the third after entering the circle). Continue on ME Route 9 for 1.2 miles (going straight through a traffic light), and turn into the Arboretum’s Visitor Center on the left.

From East: Follow US 202 to its with US 201 in Augusta, and follow the directions above from there.

From South: Take I-95 Exit 109 for Augusta-Winthrop-US 202, and head east towards Augusta on Western Avenue to the rotary. Go 180 degrees around rotary and continue on US 202/Western Avenue (2nd exit). Go over the Memorial Bridge crossing the Kennebec, and at the next rotary, take the first, immediate exit onto ME Route 9/Stone Street. Continue on ME Route 9 for 1.2 miles (going straight through a traffic light), and turn into the Arboretum’s Visitor Center on the left.