Wednesday, August 28, 2013

The Ups and Downs of Mountain Biking in Maine

Cycling is one of my favorite activities.  When I lived in Pennsylvania I rode bike more frequently than probably any other outdoor activity.  I spent most of my time road cycling since it was convenient but I have always favored mountain biking.  When I moved to Maine road riding became more of a hassle.  I live on very rough dirt roads that aren't suitable for a road bike.  There aren't too many appropriate paved roads without driving a great distance.  I now have only a mountain bike.

Mountain biking in Maine has its ups and downs.  Despite miles and miles of dirt roads, finding a good place to ride is challenging.  Many of the roads are logging roads.  Most of these are able to be ridden.  Unfortunately many other roads dead end, become overgrown, or are swampy and not ridable.  It takes a lot of exploring and local knowledge to discover a decent place to ride.  I have found a few places to ride that allow for a decent ride and I still try new areas hoping to find more options.

The past week I rode several days.  One place was new and two were areas I regularly frequent.  Two of the rides made for a pleasant experience.  The other was a big waste of time.

Last weekend I headed to West Forks, Maine.  This is the northern trailhead of the Maine Huts and Trails system.  Currently this trail runs about 50 miles one way and passes several full service huts for overnight use.  Mountain bikes are allowed to use nearly all of the trails in the system.  I started at the West Forks trailhead because it is the closest access to my house. 

Unfortunately the ride was a bust.  My plan was to ride to the Grand Falls hut and back, about 28 miles.  This section of the trail apparently doesn't see any summer use.  Immediately leaving the parking lot the trail was heavily overgrown with thorny brambles.  With the exception of a short section of trail that shares use with a dirt road, much of the trail was nearly unridable.  Less than a 1/4 mile into the ride I hit a rock hidden in the tall vegetation that sent me over my handlebars and required a minor adjustment to my bike afterwards.  Most of the trail was covered in at least knee to waist high vegetation with some areas covered in weeds over my head.  A few sections had vegetation so thick that I could stand my bike upright in it without it falling over.  Many obstacles were hidden in the weeds making the riding miserable.  I rode less than 4 miles before I gave up and turned around.  I rode a couple miles on a dirt road but that came to an end shortly and I returned to the trailhead.  I rode just under 10 miles and didn't enjoy any of it.

Typical trail with knee high vegetation

Vegetation so thick it held the bike upright.  That is the middle of the "trail"

On Saturday I headed to Greenville, Maine.  There are a couple of loops I discovered last year that offer fairly consistent riding.  I chose a 28 mile loop this time.  Generally the ride navigates around Big Squaw (Moose) Mtn.  After a short stretch on the paved road, my route takes me over various logging roads and ATV trails.  Along the way there are several decent views, including views of the Bigelows and Katahdin, with several up close views of the Big Squaw Range.  The ride is never too technical and quite often fast on rolling terrain.  There is one big climb at 22 miles into the ride that climbs over 1000 feet in 1.5 miles and is semi-technical, riding over washed out and rocky terrain.  Only one section that was flooded by beaver caused any problems  This ride is fairly remote and wild with many chances for wildlife sightings.  In fact I saw a bull moose with a nice sized rack on this ride.

Approaching Eagle Rock

Close up of Eagle Rock (A great hiking destination)

Stream flowing out of Moore Bog

Typical trail.  Wide enough for an ATV to pass but not much more.

Trail flooded by beavers.  About 50 yards of the trail covered and quite deep.

A rough section of trail.  This ride never gets too technical.

Finally on Sunday I headed to Acadia National Park with the J Man.  Acadia has the carriage road system with 45 miles of trails for mountain biking.  These trails are never technical.  They are nicely graded with fine gravel.  A few of the trails offer long climbs and descents with many switchbacks. 

Our ride started at the park visitor center.  We made our way to the Around the Mountain loop which climbs high on the shoulder of Sargent Mtn.  We then descended along Jordan Pond before crossing the park loop road and passing Bubbles Pond.   Along the way the carriage roads pass numerous ponds and offer nice views of surrounding mountains and glimpse of the ocean.  We wrapped up our 26 mile ride with only a very short stretch of overlap.  During the summer, you won't get Acadia to yourself, but not too many places to ride do you have views of mountains and the ocean with nearly 50 miles of trails.  As far as mountain biking goes, Acadia doesn't offer any technical riding, but you can put in a decent length ride over rolling terrain with some nice hills on the Around the Mountain section.  The carriage roads are always in good condition and seldom muddy.  Occasionally you can see some wildlife too.  In the past we have seen deer and even a coyote. 

Somes Sound

Carriage road on shoulder of Sargent Mtn

Eagle Lake with harbor in distance

View across Eagle Lake.  North Bubble in middle.

Heron along the trail

View of harbor and islands


  1. If you've never mountain biked before, here are some tips for a safe riding experience.

    biking tips

  2. Do you have a map of the loop in Greenville? I'm heading up there this weekend. Ever check out the Bangor MTB trails?

    1. I don't have any official map. The Maine Delorme atlas is your best bet. Here is my route. I park at the end of North Rd (road to Big and Little Moose trailheads) I travel north on 15 about 3.5 miles to Burnham Pond road. I follow Burnham for just over 3 miles. An ATV/snowmobile trail comes in from the right. Follow signs for the ATV trail the remainder of the distance. The ATV trail makes a right turn off the main logging road about 10-11 miles from the starting point, there is a sign marking the turn. 18 miles from the start you will reach a sign for an ATV trail to Greenville North Road Loop. Follow the ATV signs the remainder of the way. You will be on logging roads part of the way, ATV trail the rest. At 22 miles from the start you reach North Road Loop. Straight takes you directly over Little Moose Mtn on a logging road that deteriorates into rough double track and climbs nearly 1000 feet. The left keeps you on a logging road. Both ultimately end at the end of North Road at RT 15. Hope this helps.