Hitting the Trail

The Down East Sunrise Trail has options for all, regardless of how they travel

The footprints, tire treads, and hoof marks on the Down East Sunrise Trail mark not only the number of people who utilize the 88-mile trail but the many ways in which they traverse it. The multiuse trail, which stretches from Ellsworth to Ayers Junction in Pembroke, is open to many forms of recreation, including walking, running, bicycling, ATV riding, and horseback riding. In the winter, this list expands to include cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, and snowmobiling.

The scenic trail takes travelers through wooded areas, past bogs and rivers, and through small coastal towns. The first six miles of the trail in Ellsworth are a crushed concrete surface, which is conducive for all modes of transportation, says Steve Rees, the Sunrise Trail Coalition president. Once the trail turns to gravel, he says, narrow-tire bicycles aren’t the best choice. Instead, he advises travelers to use hybrid or mountain bikes to navigate the bumpy surface, and to pack a pair of padded cycling gloves to wear on the rockier sections.

The trail runs through several small towns that have food and rest stops, and Rees says the trail has clear signage indicating how far away the next stop is. The first three towns with amenities, Franklin, Cherryfield, and Machias, are relatively close together with smaller towns in between, but the trail then becomes very rural for “many, many miles,” Rees says. The next stop is in the Dennysville area, more than 30 miles from Machias.

Riders on ATVs can complete the trail in one day, Rees says, but most people, espe- cially those on foot or horse, travel only a section of it. Lodging in the towns along the way allows visitors to spend multiple days on the trail. Near Cherryfield there’s also the option of one of half a dozen sites at a first-come, first-served campground, and in fact, according to Rees, people can camp anywhere along the trail.

The trail is open 24/7 and closes only in the case of severe mud or bad weather, but Rees says people should always check online before making the trip. While the trail was mostly used by locals when it opened in 2010, it now draws hikers, campers, and wildlife enthusiasts from all over Maine.